The Vivitar 283 and Vivitar 285 Flash


Two flashes that have been around for a long time are the Vivitar 283 and 285. Introduced in the 80’s and 90’s and used throughout the 90’s until today. These two flashes have withstood the test of time even in the digital era. Some of you may have heard of these flashes, some of you may not. But these are some of my favorites to use for various reasons.

The Vivitar 283 was introduced first in the 80’s I believe. This flash is probably one of the most basic and simple flashes to use. This flash has 5 settings which are color coded (Purple, Blue, Red, and Yellow). These are the auto settings which are set according to the guide on the side of the flash. All you do is rotate the dial to the ISO you will be shooting at on the camera, find the F stop you want to shoot at, and then turn the dial to the appropriate color. There is also a distance guide listed on the dial as well. The Vivitar 283 has the auto thyristor technology which reads how far away your subject is and adjusts flash power accordingly. You can over ride this and shoot at full power with every shot by switching the power dial to M (manual) mode. ┬áThe flash will shoot straight on as well as 45, 60, 75, and 90 degree angles. The flash has a sync port that will allow you to hook up to a wireless receiver to trigger the flash off camera.


The Vivitar 285 / 285 HV is the younger brother to the 283. A few advantages the 285 has over the 283 is that it has various manual power modes such as 1/16, 1/4, 1/2, and full power. It does also include the 4 auto settings that the 283 has. Another advantage the 285 has is that the flash head has three settings (wide, normal, and tele). This flash, like the 283 has a sync port so that you can hook up a radio receiver to trigger the flash off camera. Both cameras have a button on the back so that the distance guide lights up so you can select your distance in the dark.

283 Cons:

  • fewer power setting options
  • no zoom
  • slow recycle times

283 Pros

  • small
  • durable
  • quality made, built in Japan
  • can be bought for under $20 or $30

285 Cons:

  • “newer models” made in China
  • slow recycle times

285 Pros:

  • You can find one built in Japan
  • more powerful than the 283
  • zooms
  • more power settings than the 283
  • can be bought for under $20 or $30

So would I suggest purchasing one of these? Of course! These flashes can be had for very inexpensive. These are great for photographers just learning flash and these, especially the models made in Japan, are built to last. Even when you decide to upgrade you can keep these as back ups, fill flashes, or hair lights in studio. You can purchase 3 to 4 of these for under $50 and do full on┬ástudio work. Recycle times are slow, but what do you expect from flashes that are this inexpensive? I’ve owned 3 to 4 of these over the years and they have come in handy.