Vivitar 285 HV Flash

Sometimes people think with off camera lighting you need expensive, big gear to slug around all day with you. They get scared of off camera lighting because they think it is too difficult to learn or for wedding photographers that it will slow them down too much. Today we are going to review a classic flash unit that is inexpensive and very simple to setup for off camera light….. The Vivitar 285. This until was a classic years ago as a reliable and inexpensive flash until that was all manual so you have full control of the light. Vivitar discounted these awhile back but a few years ago re-released them as the Vivitar 285HV.

Even though I have a few Canon 580’s they rarely get used anymore. The TTL and auto features that these new flash units have never seem to work great, the exposure is always off and if you leave them on TTL you can’t get creative with the light. I bought a few 285HV’s a few years ago and now use these much more than my Canon 580’s. There are a few reasons why I really love these flash units:
1) They are totally manual simple to use flash units. There are only 4 settings for the flash; full power, 1/2 power, 1/4 power and 1/16 power.
2) They are a great deal, you can pick them up on Amazon for just $89. Vivitar 285HV Auto Professional Flash
For that price you can pick up about 5 units for the price of a normal Canon or Nikon speedlight.

Our normal setup for a wedding reception we will just use two of these Vivitars setup on light stands to light the dance floor and for a medium sized room they will give you plenty of light. We also use them for artistic night shots of the bride and groom or even during the day in full sun to get creative. I’ll be posting a entire series of articles on off camera light in the coming weeks with sample images and how we created those so stay tuned.

In addition to the flash until there are a few additional things you need to remotely fire these flashes (or any off camera flash) and these are where a little more of the expenses come in. We use basic 7′ light stands that are very lightweight and travel easy. These are fairly inexpensive you can usually get one for $30-$40. On top of the light stand we use a Multiclamp that rotates so we can adjust the angle of the flash and that connects to a hotshoe mount that has a miniphone jack which will plug into the pocketwizard. We use Pocketwizards transceivers to fire the flashes and just velcro those to the side of the flash unit. I know its a lot of stuff plugging into each other and can be a little confusing. Here is a photo of the setup so you can see how it all fits together.
vivitar_setupViivtar flash setup

You can also see from the detail photo that we use some gaffers tape on the hotshoe mount. Those never seem to have a good fit to the flash so we throw a little tape on it to secure it and make sure there is a good connection with the flash.

Here are some amazon links to a few products we use for our setup:

Westcott 750 Photo Basics 7.0-Foot Light Stand

Shoe Mount Multiclamp

PocketWizard PWP-TR 801-125 PLUS II Transceiver (Black)

Paramount 1′ Straight Sync Cord, Miniphone to Hot Shoe Female, Pocket Wizard

And finally for all of you tech people out there, here are the tech specs for the flash:

• Guide number 120 (ISO 100/feet).
• Automatic exposure range to 70 feet.
• Accepts optional high voltage power sources for faster recycle time and more flashes.
• Four auto f/stop settings for controlling depth-of-field and maximum auto flash range.
• Zoom flash head has three positions for covering 35mm, 50mm and 105mm camera lenses.
• Bounce flash capability for softer lighting.
• Removable sensor can be camera mounted with the optional sensor cord permitting automatic exposure when using side bounce flash photography.
• Built-in vari-power for convenient fill flash and rapid sequence photography.
• Auto Thyristor circuitry for faster recycle time and greater number of flashes.

In conclusion if you are looking for a really great way to get creative with off camera flash and don’t want to spend a great deal of money try adding a couple of these to your gear bags. The possibilities are endless with off camera flash!

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. We’re new in the wedding photography industry and are purchasing lighting for the reception. I’ve read your posts about dance floor lighting and they were very helpful! One question I have is about the Pocket Wizards…and this may sound like a dumb question…but do I purchase one Pocket Wizard for the flash and one for the camera??

    Thank you so much for the great information!

  2. Hi Kelly,

    Yes, with the pocketwizards you do need to have 2 of them. One will sit on top of your camera and the other will connect to the flash. Some pocketwizards at Receivers (they only will work on the flash) others are Transmitters (will only work on the camera to transmit the signal) and others are transcievers (work on both which is usually what I prefer). If you are shooting with a canon you should check out the new PocketWizard flex units, they work just like any other pocketwizard but also allow you to use the TTL on your flash as well as a high speed sync. I’ll be doing a review of these sometime in the next few weeks so look out for that. Amazon always has them for a good price, here are a few links to check them out:

    PocketWizard MiniTT1

    Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 Transceiver

    Let me know any other questions.


  3. That’s great…thank you so much. Another question, to connect the pocket wizard to the vivitar flash, am I going to need a special cord? I just got the flash and pocket wizard today and am not sure how to connect the two.


  4. Hi Kelly,

    It depends on the type of pocketwizard. The newer Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 Transceiver have a hot shoe on top so you can just pop the flash on the top of the pocketwizard and your done. For the pocketwizard plus models you would need a hot shoe adapter, that has a hot shoe you slide the flash into and then a miniphone plug that goes into the top of the pocketwizard. Here is one that I have used:
    Hotshoe to miniphone adapter


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