Steve's Web Site

A History of my Photography

Camera Lighting Equipment


    This page cover some of the camera mounted lighting equipment I have used. I have found that flash units have a much more limited lifespan than cameras. Flash capacitors dry out, flashtubes leak, rechargeable batteries die and sometime the little units develop legs of their own. Technology also obsoletes earlier units - external sensor automatic flash units made obsolete the older fixed power units, then the thyristor circuits made the original automatic units obsolete. The introduction of TTL flash units made the earlier unit obsolete, then digital cameras sensors made the TTL system too difficult to work so newer systems were invented meaning another new system.

    Camera manufacturers have not helped thing either, Even after everyone settled on a standard hot shoe design every one modified it for their own purpose and there has been no standardization for 35mm cameras. Every one had their own design and some like Minolta totally redesigned the flash mounting altogether.


Honeywell 770 Automatic Flash

Front view of the entire 770

    I bought this flash unit with my Pentax Spotmatic in 1970. It was one of the first automatic flash units made. It was what was called a "potato masher" flash meaning it had a large tubular body with a larger top part containing the flash head. The body contained the capacitor and the head contained the removable Ni-Cad battery pack plus the flash tube and all the circuitry and controls.

Front view of just the flash head portion of the 770. The small black cylinder near the flash reflector is the external light sensor. The area around the "Auto 770 label has the red flash trigger button plus sockets for the sync cord and the charger/AC adapter

    These early flash unit used a unique system to control the flash. When the photocell on the front of the flash detected enough light had been provided it fired a second flash tube (called a quench tube that was hidden inside the flash head and burned up the remaining charge on the capacitor. This meant you had to fully recharge the capacitor each time and the unused energy was converted to heat. Since you were using the same amount of energy each time you fired the flash you could easily figure the remaining number of flashes since the battery pack was good for 80 flashes with a recycle time of about 10 seconds between flashes.

Rear view of the flash unit. The red switch is the on off switch. The black knob in the center of the exposure guide is the Auto/Manual switch. The ni-cad batteries are contained in the guide assembly and can be remove by squeezing the latches on the side.

    The 772 provided only one automatic setting which of course varied with the ISO of the film you were using. I can remember shooting rock concerts in San Francisco with it and saving some flash charge in case of a mugging attempt on my way home late at night. In the dark of night the output was truly blinding.


Honeywell 882 Automatic Flash

    I replaced the 770 with the 882 model in 1972 or 1973. The 882 had two differences from the 770. The first difference was the power source. The 882 used an external 510 volt battery to power the flash. this provided a recycle time of less than 2 seconds. This battery was quite expensive and had a limited shelf life. you could store the battery in the refrigerator to extend the life but you had to allow several hours for it to warm up.

    The second difference was the capability of using a remote flash sensor with adjustable setting so you could mount the sensor on the camera and then aim the flash for bounce lighting.


Vivitar 283 Flash

Oblique view of the Vivitar 283 flash unit. The sensor unit unplugs and can be used with an extension for bounce flash.

    I bought this flash in 1976 while in the Philippines. My smaller Rollei flash had been stolen and I needed a compact flash unit. This was before the time of TTL  flash, but this unit was an automatic flash with four aperture settings to choose from. The sensor was removable and a provided extension cord allowed mounting the sensor on the camera. It could work with a hot shoe or a sync cord. It ran on four AA batteries or an AC adapter which I never bought. An add on front holder took filters to color the light and lenses to match it to you camera lens.

Rear view of the 283. The switch at bottom is the on/off switch and the button near it is the ready light and test button. The two small circles near the tilt point are the flash Ok indicator on the left and the guide illuminator on the right

    Since I worked a lot with electronics I discovered was able to make up another accessory box that went between the sensor and the flash and performed several functions:

Side view showing the illuminated flash guide. The 283 had four automatic ranges that were color coded.

    These functions could be used singly or in combination. All the parts came from Radio Shack including the box it was mounted in. The flash lasted about five years and just died. They are inexpensive and I had all the accessories so I bought another one and It lasted about seven years. I haven't bought any more even though they are still available and cheap ($50).



Sunpak 444D

    After receiving my Nikon N2000 and using it a few times with the Vivitar 283 I wondered how well the camera would work using TTL flash. The 283 did not support TTL so I purchased a Sunpak 444D flash unit and a module for Nikon cameras. The Sunpak uses different modules to support different camera manufacturers TTL flash systems.

    I found the difference was amazing. TTL flash exposures were fare more accurate and consistent than the external sensor methods used. I put my Vivitar 283 aside and only used it with my Bronica camera. I purchased a remote cord for the 444D that allowed the flash to be use away from the camera for added flexibility.

    The 444D was fairly simple to use. Al five position side switch on the back selected between TTL mode, the three external sensor automatic flash settings and manual mode. When in manual mode a second slide switch allowed selecting the power level from full to 1/64. The flash head had a manual lens system that went from 28mm to 105mm by sliding the lens in and out. It also had a deflector card to reflect some of the light directly on the subject when using bounce flash.

    It was a handy unit that lasted me many years until the electronic began to fail. Even then it would still flash, but only at full power.


Nikon SB-800 Flash

Nikon SB-800 from the front. Notice the pull out and fold down auxiliary lens and the bounce card above the flash lens.

   One of my disadvantages of my Nikon D70 was that it used a new system of flash control that was called iTTL. It uses pre-flashes to measure the light and to control auxiliary flash units. It would not work in TTL mode with my Quantaray PZ1. The only flash unit available at the time that it would work with was the Nikon SB-800 a new unit just introduced. No third party flashes were available yet so it was the SB-800 or be stuck with the weak little built in flash. I had never bought a Nikon flash before since they were more expensive than the third party units.

SB-800 from the rear. the object on the right is a holder for an additional AA battery to speed recycling.


The control panel of the SB-800 showing the graphical LCD.

    The SB-800 was a big surprise. It feels more solid than the third party units and the overall quality and ease of use make up for the higher price. The flash operates in just about any mode with any of my Nikon cameras. It has a sensor for the old style "Automatic" flash plus another sensor for iTTL pulse data. It came with a add on battery holder that holds an additional AA cell for even faster recycling. It has a built in zoom system plus an additional lens that slides out and folds down for 14m and 17mm lens coverage. It automatically senses when the auxiliary lens is down or the diffusion dome has been mounted. It has a large easy to read graphical LCD display with automatic back lighting. And it works great giving consistent results. In this case you get what you pay for.



Promaste FTD 5500

Front view of the flash without a module attached. The LED is a ready light.

    I bought this flash because I needed a flash to work with my Pentax Super Program camera as well as my older non-TTL cameras. It uses a dedicated module to attach to various makes and models of cameras. I bought it with  standard module, which has a sync cord, as well as a Pentax manual focus module and a Nikon manual focus module. When I bought a Canon A1 it was a simple matter to add a Canon manual focus module to my collection.

Rear view of the FTD 5500 showing the simple controls. The top section is a guide to figure out what f stop to use. The red LED is the ready light and the green LED is the adequate light indicator. the switch below the red LED is the on off switch and the button below the green LED is the test button.

    I have used this flash with a wide variety of cameras. The Nikon SB-800 will do any thing this unit can do with the exception of other manufacturers TTL, but it is an expensive flash unit so I limit using it to where I need it. The real heart of this system lies in the modules which customize the flash for specific brands of cameras. Most modules provide for three different setting of external sensor automatic flash capability as well as TTL.

This shows the rear of the Nikon manual focus module. The left hand switch selects between manual, TTL and automatic flash.The right hand switch select the range in automatic mode.

    This flash unit used four AA cells to power it. Other models are available with more power, Zoom heads, dual flashtubes, all taking the same modules. A new line of flashes has been released to support the new models of digital SLR cameras with an new series of modules for the newer cameras. The new flashes are backward compatible with the older modules.

Side view of the flash with the standard module mounted - notice the sync cord. The three dedicated modules are show in the foreground.


Nikon SB-25

Front view of the Nikon SB-25

    The SB-25 came with the F5 and F100 cameras as part of the package. It is in full working order. It provides me with an alternative to the SB-800 when shooting with my film cameras and is a much better unit than the Promaster 5500. Figuring out how to use it was simple since the controls are individually labeled. The instruction manual is 140 pages long since it includes information on using the flash on every Nikon camera between the F2 and the N90s.

Close up of the SB-25. The red window covers the auto focus assist lamp. The small circular window is the sensor for external automatic flash. The three prong connector is for external power.

    The SB-25 is normally powered by four AA cells but has a connector for an external pack such as the Quantum or Sunpak battery packs. A sync socket is provided as well as a connector for the Nikon wired TTL system.

Rear view of the SB-25 showing the LCD panel and the controls.

    This flash unit provided balanced fill flash as well as a repeat flash and manual flash with full to 1/64 power. I usually carry it with my N80 to make up for the weak built in flash of the N80.

Upper controls on the SB-25. The switch in the center at top is the latch for rotating the flash head. The left hand switch selects normal or rear curtain sync. The right hand switch is the mode selector. the A position is external automatic flash, the M is manual flash, the three wavy lines are repeating flash and TTL position is for TTL flash.

    I may be old fashioned but I like the controls on the SB-25 better than those of the SB-800. I like dedicated switches rather than the one control set does all of the SB-800.

The lower controls on the SB-25. The Zoom button cycles through the zoom positions, the red button is the ready light and also the flash test button. The up and down arrows change the ISO or f stop as selected by the SEL button. The M button controls the power level or flash compensation depending on the mode. The button with the light bulb illuminates the LCD and the Off On STBY switch turns the unit on and if in the STBY position allow it to go into standby.

    When you use the SB-25 with a late model camera like the N80 the ISO, Zoom, and f Stop are all sent to the flash automatically.

The diffuser lens and the bounce reflector. The diffuser allows coverage of up to a 20mm lens instead of the 24-85mm range normal provided. The bounce card is used to reflect some of the light directly onto the subject while bouncing the main part of the light.


Nikon SB-26

The front of the SB-26 flash unit

    This flash is another product of the deal for the F5 and F100. Except for a few additional features it is identical to the SB-25. The new features include widening the coverage with the diffuser lens to cover an 18mm camera lens, adding a red eye reduction light (flashes a white light in your subjects face to get their pupils to close down), and a slave cell to fire the flash slaved to another one. The slave can be set to fire after a delay to avoid interference between flashes. This feature was dropped in later flashes and instead an accessory called the SU-4 was sold to provide the slave function.

Close up of the front of the SB-26. the left headlight is a red eye reduction light and the right headlight is the sensor for slave operation which is controlled by the switch between the headlights. everything else is the same as on the SB-25



Promaster Digital TTL Macro Flash

Front view of the flash unit with the macro ring connected to the base unit.

    I had previously owned a couple of ringlight attachments for one of my previous flash units. They have long since died of old age. The original ringlight attachment was a flash tube that was formed int a circle with almost 360 degrees of coverage. This would provide an even rather flat light for close up photography. The light tended to be a little too flat. I would frequently add a bare bulb flash to the left or right side to apply a greater feeling of depth to the subject. This must have been a common problem because most modern ringlights are not true ringlights like my early units but typically contain two discrete flash sources on either side of the subject. Most units allow using one or both lights and if both lights are used allowing a difference in brightness between the two units. Some manufacturers have gotten away from the ringlight idea entirely and allow independent positioning of two or more light sources mounted to the front of the camera lens.

    I was looking for a macro light source for my current and older gear. The new Nikon close up flash systems are quite expensive and if you want to use them with non i-TTL cameras require two $100 cables to connect the light sources. I was able to buy this Promaster system for the price of just an add on light for a Nikon Macro flash. It came with an i-TTL module for use with my D70 but it also works with my other Nikon cameras that support TTL except my F3. It also supports my other Promaster modules so I can use TTL with my Canon and Pentax cameras that support it.

Front view of the ring light the two large oval shaped parts are the flash tubes. the small clear windows to the left and right are small focusing lights

    The unit has two flash heads located top and bottom in the photo above. The two small windows to the left and right are small incandescent lights to aid focusing. The ISO 100 guide number is 36 but at macro distances this is typically more than enough power. If you are using a digital camera you will typically need to use a low ISO setting and a small aperture.

South end of the ringlight showing the 1/4-20 socket and the bulge over the flash tubes.

    The enclosures for the two flashtubes are domed to provide a wide angle of coverage. if you want to mount the ringlight assembly off of the camera lens you have two choices - the ringlight snaps onto the power unit or there is a 1/4-20 screw thread to mount it with.

This shows the back side of the ringlight. The two large controls release the ringlight from its mount. the two small window with small knobs are for the diffusers. the switch selects the left or right flashtube or both

    The ringlight has a selector switch on the back that allows selecting the left or right or both flashtubes for use. Using one flashtube only provides slightly more light than two tubes. Each flashtube has a sliding diffuser the can be positioned over the tube. I think diffuser is a translation error and the real purpose is to reduce the light level. With the diffuser halfway across the tube the light is reduced 1 f stop and the diffuser totally covering the flash tube provides 2 f stops. The diffusers are controlled independently by two wheels on either side of the ringlight. An indicator is provided for each control showing half and full coverage for each diffuser.

The rear of the power unit with a Nikon i-TTL module attached.

    The power unit uses four AA cells for power and requires about 10 seconds for full recycling to full power with fresh batteries. The rear of the power unit contains the rest of the controls and the exposure guide.

The slide switch is the power switch and the push button fires the flash. The green button light when the unit is mounted on an i-TTL camera and the red light indicates that you didn't use full power.

    The two main controls are the power on/off switch and a flash test button. Some modules contain additional controls but the i-TTL module does not, it simply has a green LED for i-TTL communications and a red LED to indicate the flash did not use it's full power.

Here is the exposure guide that give you f-stop versus ISO and magnification factor. The left push button lights the two small focusing lights. The right but fires the flash in modeling light mode. The lightning bolt is the ready light and the square window is for a flash OK LED

    The flash guide give a rough indication of the f-stop to use for various ISO values and magnification ratios. Two buttons are provided for the two modeling light systems. The left button toggles the two incandescent light on and off . This is primarily to aid in focusing in low light. The right button fires the flashtubes in a low level high frequency mode to provide some indication of the effect of the lighting.

Here are the mounting accessories that came with the flash. At the bottom are two mounting rings for 48mm and 52mm lenses. The left hand adapter allows you to attach the flash using a Cookin P series adapter ring. The right hand adapter attaches to a Cookin P series filter holder so that you can use Cookin filters while using the ringlight.

    There are four accessories for mounting the ringlight to a lens. Two threaded rings are supplied one for 48mm and one for 52mm that attach to lenses that take that filter size. The other side snaps directly into the ringlight. The third device is a ring that allows Cookin P size adapter to connect directly to it. Since I have Cookin adapter rings for nearly all my lenses this is extremely convenient. If you wish to use Cookin filters while using the ringlight the fourth device attaches to a P size filter holder on one side and plugs into the right light on the other.