Vivitar 283 with various accessories and Sunpak 522

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(Old Flash Page)



I have owned a number of different flash units.  Some good, some not so good.  When I started shooting weddings for a studio (about 25 years ago), they required that I have a Vivitar 283 and a Quantum 1 Battery set-up.  The reason was that the flash was very common and quite good, and the battery was capable of lasting through a whole wedding on one charge.  I got both and still have them (25 years old and still working like new!)

Here's what I can do with just one Vivitar 283:  Adding a couple more should be all good...

Vision for a Budget Strobe System

The diagram below depicts the plan for a reasonably complete small strobe system.  It does not show the SunPak 522, soft box, light stands and umbrella brackets, but shows all the main components for the system.  It does not show duplicates.  Effectively, this configuration is repeated four times - once for each flash unit, so that all options can be applied to all flash units.

Here is a breakdown of the actual components.

Vivitar 283

Vivitar 283Vivitar 283

Quantum 1 Battery and Power Cord


In all the time I've had these units they never let me down.  I can't say that about some of the other flash equipment so when I had to start thinking about flash again, I just dug out my old Vivitar 283 and Quantum Battery.  And that's when I learned that the world had changed.  First off, the combination produces too much power to safely run on my Canon 5D Mark II without eventually frying it.  Secondly, the dedicated Canon flashes have a number of really cool features that I'd really like to have.  But at $400 per flash, and needing three or four, I had to hold off until I generate some funds and have some jobs to offset/justify the cost.  Add to that the accessories (like new Quantum Battery packs and cables) and it gets to be a couple thousand dollars.  Since I don't shoot that much with flash, it doesn't make a lot of sense to go out and sink that kind of money unless I get REALLY busy shooting jobs that requires it...

Having said that, it means continuing to use my old gear for a little while longer.  But first I had to protect the camera from the trigger voltage of the flash. And I needed some flexibility that suggested a few accessories.

Wein Safe Synch

I looked for and found the Wein Safe Synch.  Though pricey, I got it anyway.  Comparing the cost of having the camera damaged to the price of this unit, it's not a bad trade.  Since I plan to trigger my other flash units with optical or wireless slave triggers, only one flash will be directly connected to the camera.

Click to Enlarge - Wein Safe Sync SSHSHS
Wein Safe Sync SSHSHSWein Safe Sync SSHSHS

Additional Flash Units

Vivitar 283 with Heavy-duty sync cable and remote sensor lead

The good thing about Vivitar 283's is that they're a dime a dozen.  So I went onto eBay and herded a few together.  In the process I selected those packages that had additional parts that would be useful.  I watched for Variable Angle Lens kits, Varipower (VP-1) controllers to enable setting strobe power manually, extension cables for the automatic sensor (for running the flash inside a soft box and still using auto-exposure).  I found a variety of things and in the end tracked down three Varipower controllers, another flash, some heavy duty synch cords, a lens kit, and a couple sensor extensions.  Here's a typical package - this one came with a heavy duty Paramount cord, the sensor extension, and a lens kit - all for $11.00.  Depending on how you look at it, that's about $100 worth of gear.


Vivitar Remote Sensor Cable

Vivitar Remote Sensor Lead

This provides a way to separate the automatic sensor from the flash so that the flash may still be operated in automatic mode with placed inside a soft box or on a stand away  from the camera. 

Vivitar Remote Sensor LeadVivitar Remote Sensor Lead

Vivitar VariPower VP-1

Vivitar Varipower VP-1

With this unit, it's possible to dial the power of the flash from full power down to 1/64 power.  I have observed that most people shooting interiors are using variable power strobes to provide fill light in their shots.  The only way to do this with the 283 is to use this unit.  It's a good interim solution to a more expensive flash and should be easy to resell later.

Vivitar Varipower VP-1Vivitar Varipower VP-1Vivitar Varipower VP-1Vivitar Varipower VP-1

Vivitar Variable Angle Lens Kit and Vivitar Lens/Filter Adapter

Click to Enlarge - Wide-Angle Diffuser

The Variable Angle lens kit with adapter enables the use of wide angle lenses and telephoto lenses with the 283 (the flash attachment widens or narrows the flash beam).  The adapter also doubles as a holder for grids and snoots.  The more expensive strobes have this built in, and the dedicated Canon ones are even automatic when you zoom your lens!  For now this will cover me.  This one came as part of a package with a flash and cables.


StoFen Omni-Bounce Diffuser


Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce (OM-B)Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce (OM-B)


The StoFen attachment gives a bare bulb effect with a soft light.  I have had good results with this attachment shooting people so grabbed a couple more so I can use one on each unit if necessary.


Vivitar 283 with Varipower VP-1, StoFen Diffuser and Vivitar SL-2 Slave Trigger

Optical Slave Triggers

Click to Enlarge - Vivitar 283 with Varipower VP-1 and SL-2 Slave Trigger

I had a SL-2 optical trigger and needed another so decided to get a couple more.  I found an auction listing that had another 283, two SL-2 slave triggers, a colored filter kit and adapter, and cords!  $30 and shipping.  Hard to beat that.  I had been looking at Wein triggers as well.  This gives me three flash units that can be tripped without wires.  I have some synch cable splitters  if I need to run more near the camera.  Here again, I am going with a temporary solution - the wireless triggers (like the Pocket Wizards) can run between $15 for the junk, to many hundreds of dollars for good ones.  Since I want good ones, I need to earn the money to buy them first...


Wein Slave TriggerWein Slave TriggerWein Slave Trigger


Click to Enlarge - Vivitar 283 with various accessories


Click to Enlarge - Snoot

I made a pair of long snoots so I can direct the light on a small space if necessary.  I had some honeycomb construction material that I cut up and assembled for this purpose.  I got some adhesive Velcro to attach it to the flash.  Judging from these pictures I probably need to spray paint them black to make them look a little less home-spun...




Click to Enlarge - Grid

After reading about and seeing the effect produced by grids, I decided to use the same approach as the snoot and make a couple grids.  These are made to fit inside the Vivitar adapter.  Here again, some paint and a cleaner retaining method will clean this up nicely.



Sunpak 522 with remote sensor attachment

Click to Enlarge - Vivitar 283 with various accessories and Sunpak 522

The Sunpak is a huge unit that produces lots of power and may be set to varying power settings out of the box.  I was able to get a StoFen diffuser (seen here lit up on the right).   But it needed a remote sensor.  I got lucky and found one for a reasonable price.  Now if I could just find a replacement rechargeable 510-volt battery....

SunPak RS-CA-5 Remote Sensor for SunPak 522
SunPak RS-CA-5 Remote Sensor for SunPak 522SunPak RS-CA-5 Remote Sensor for SunPak 522



Photoflex LiteDome 293 with hardware http://www.photoflex.com

Photoflex Lite Dome

When I was shooting pictures for my die cast columns I picked up this soft box.  It's terrific and has been in service for ten years.  It's still like new and has always given me good results.  This is great when I need to widen and soften the light.  The strobe fits inside on a cold shoe.  I have a long remote sensor mount for the strobe inside this unit too.

Light Stand and Spare Tripods (2) (can use cold shoes with 1/4-20 bases to hold flashes

Each unit needs a stand or clamp.  I have extra tripods that are good enough for holding a strobe and a few clamps that have cold shoes on them for more "creative" use.

Typical light stand with soft box mounted.

Manfrotto Umbrella Clamps (2)

Bogen - Manfrotto Swivel Umbrella Adapter

The umbrella clamps attach the soft box to the light stand and enable some adjustments for aiming the soft box.  The one I have has never failed - sometimes the good stuff is your best choice!






This "bargain" exercise is quite a contrast to the way I have outfitted myself with a top-end DSLR and premium lenses.  But the risk is that I won't shoot enough engagements that require me to use strobes.  So dropping a couple grand on the gear right away would potentially be a waste of money.  I have set myself up on a budget with the following basic capability:

Four completely adjustable strobes that I can control the light, trigger remotely, and run easily (remember, I've used these units for almost 30 years). 

The thinking is that I will generate some revenue and save for the dedicated units and wireless triggers.  In the mean time, I might get lucky like I did with the camera and see technology advance, making it possible that instead of Canon Speedlite 580EX II's I might be getting the next generation product!

Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM Canon EF 16-35mm 2.8L II USM Lens Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Zörk Panorama Shift Adapter and Zeiss 1:2.8 f=80mm Planar (Hasselblad 500C/M Vivitar 283 with various accessories and Sunpak 522 Nikkor-S·C Auto 1:1.2 55mm EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Canon Extender EF 1.4X III
3/20/2009 Update
Update 12/12/2010 Update
Update 12/5/2012 Update 12/15/2012









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