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A Flash for All Cameras


Introduction - What are we talking about here.

    So your old dedicated flash for your CanNIKPenYatica camera has given up the ghost. You could buy the new do everything model and it will support your old camera, but it costs more than your camera did and the manufacturer's lesser models don't support your old camera. Plus you have another old camera from another maker that uses a different TTL system and you don't want to shell out big bucks for the special flash for it. You also have an old medium format camera that doesn't support TTL flash and you would like an old style pre-TTL external automatic flash to use with that. It would be great if you could buy one flash that would work with all of them. Well you can.


Promaster - The brand name for the little camera store.

    Promaster is the brand name for the Photographic Research Organization. It buys products from many companies with a goal to providing low cost alternatives to the big brand names. They market a wide range of items such as cameras, lenses, flashes, tripods, monopods, lighting gear, cases all at lower prices than most brand names. You won't find their stuff at the big stores in NYC or LA but more likely at a camera store where you live. They don't sell to the mega marketing stores, just to photo specialty stores.


High Tech - High Complexity.

    The camera accessory shoe as we now know it originated with the early Leica cameras. The first Leicas used the shoe to hold a Leica vertical range finder. After the range finder was built into the camera the shoe was used for viewfinders for telephoto or wide angle lenses and flash bulb flash guns. Other designs were in use - for example my Graflex Speed Graphic has a similar but wider and longer shoe to hold its view finder. I think it was during the early 1970's that the hot shoe with a center flash contact was standardized. Not everyone used it - The Nikon F and F2 had their own mount along side the rewind knob, but would sell you an accessory that would provide a hot shoe. This situation didn't last long - with the coming of TTL new contacts were added and every camera maker made their system a little different. You still had the center contact for firing the flash but additional contact were added in different places and with different electrical signals between camera and flash. The worst examples were the Nikon F3 which was a unique outgrowth or their earlier shoe and only used with that model and Minolta who designed an entirely new flash shoe that was totally incompatible with the old style.

    The advent of auto focus cameras with microprocessor control  added to the complexity of communications between camera and flash and flash units needed to provided illumination for auto focus operation in low light. New modes of operation such as red eye removal, rear curtain sync, and fill flash made for more complex interfaces.

    The advent of digital photography made the existing TTL methods obsolete. TTL flash systems used light reflected off the film to tell the flash when to turn off. Digital sensors reflect too little light off axis to work properly so a new system had to be developed. This uses early weak flashes of light fired from the flash before the mirror is raised and processed by the standard metering system. After the mirror is raised the flash is fired with the necessary remaining power to expose the picture. This has necessitated change in the flash design to accommodate the pre flashes. Nikon has added additional pre flashes to communicate with other flash units wirelessly to further complicate matters.


Camera Modules - The secret to success.

    To meet the challenge of functioning with all the different TTL systems some third party manufacturers make their flash units in two parts - the flash unit itself and a module dedicated to a particular make of camera and sometimes certain models. Metz has made a very good living off of their module system, supporting TTL in some medium format cameras as well as 35mm and digital. Sunpak has reduced their line of module flash units preferring to make dedicated flash units. Promaster now has the widest range of module flash unit covering a very wide range of cameras from manual focus models to the latest digital cameras, and they do this at lower prices than anyone else.

Front view of the Promaster 5500 without a module attached. The red LED is the front ready light.


Rear view of the 5500 showing the simple controls. The slide switch is for power and the button fires the flash. The red LED is the rear ready light and the green LED is the flash ok indicator.

    I first ran across their system when I was looking for a flash to use with my Pentax Super Program. When I found out that other modules were available I bought one for manual focus Nikons and a generic one that had a sync cord for use with my medium and large format cameras. Later on after buying a Canon A1 I bought a module for manual focus Canon cameras that supported the A1.

    The flash I chose is the model 5500 which has the following specifications:

        Guide Number - 100 (ASA 100)
        Power Source - 4 AA Batteries
        Recycling time - 0.3 - 10 Seconds
        Angle of Coverage - 70 degrees Horizontal 53 degrees Vertical - equal to 28mm lens on 35mm cameras
        Bounce Angle -  -7 to 90 degrees
        Swivel Angle - 0 to 180 degrees

    This model only works with non-digital cameras. At the time I bought it there were no digital flashes available from Promaster. The have been able to duplicate the technology now and offer a number of modules for Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony digital cameras. These modules require newer flash units to function. They also have manual focus modules for a wide variety of  manual focus cameras, modules for auto focus cameras and a module that turn the flash unit into a slave flash.

Side view of the 5500 with the Standard module mounted. The Pentax, Canon and Nikon modules are shown looking at the rear of each module.

    The modules I have, which are all manual focus modules, all support external sensor automatic flash for use with cameras that do not support TTL flash. On the Canon module the module detects whether the camera supports TTL and if it doesn't automatically uses the external sensor. All of the other modules have a switch to select it.

The front of all four modules showing the external automatic exposure sensor in each module.

    The guide on the rear of the flash is useful for determining what f stop to use and what the useful flash range is for that f stop and film speed. For automatic use the minimum range is typically 1/10 the maximum range.

A view of the exposure guide on the rear of the flash. The slider is for the guide and does not control the flash.

    The module are readily removable with the push of a button and are marked rather cryptically as to their use. They work off of the batteries in the flash and the contacts are easy to clean if necessary.

The rear of the Nikon module. The Pentax one is identical. The standard module lacks the TTL position.

    All of the modules I show here are manual focus. The auto focus and digital modules all have auto focus assist lamps on the front instead of external automatic sensors. The manual focus modules will work with the digital series flashes.

The rear of the Canon module. You set the film speed on the right and the mode on the left. The colored dots are for TTL ranges Full is full power manual and 1/16 is 1/16 power manual.