Ode to the 283

May 11th, 2008

D20 0395 Ode to the 283

OK…this is the techie rant you were warned about. If you aren’t a photographer this most likely won’t mean much to you. Feel free to stop reading now. Nekkid wimmin will return to this space at some time in the near future. And some new dance photos soon, too, I hope.

Meanwhile, for those of you still reading…

I have a wedding to shoot this Saturday. Now, mind you, I don’t shoot weddings. I used to. Once upon a time I had an “anything for a buck” strip mall photo studio. I shot lots of weddings. I shot seniors, families, commercial catalog photos, model portfolios…like I said, anything for a buck. When I closed that studio I swore I’d never do retail again. And I haven’t.

But every once in a while someone I like or am related to…or both…asks me to do their wedding photos. I usually say yes. I don’t charge anything to do it. I have to like them that well or I won’t do it.

It’s been a while since I did a wedding. In the old days I always took studio strobes to do the group photos. And I always worked with an assistant. These days there is no assistant and I’ve officially declared myself too old to drag all that stuff around at a wedding. So it’s going to be on-camera flash…well, on bracket flash…I use a bracket that positions the strobe a little higher and allows me to rotate the camera from horizontal to vertical while keeping the flash in place above the camera.

These days I don’t use flashes outside the studio much at all. When I’m out shooting in nature I’m not really interested in trying to force the light into some pre-conceived idea of what it should be. I’m much more interested in seeing what the light is really doing and seeing what sort of photos I can make that take advantage of that light. Sometimes this approach works very well, sometimes it fails totally. That’s a fine approach for art photos, in my opinion, but not so much for a wedding. Failure is not an option.

So I started digging around in the equipment cabinet for my shoe-mount strobe stuff. Like most pros from my generation, I have used Vivitar 283 flashes a lot. I still have two of them. But, they are getting a little ragged. One only works with a hot shoe. The other only works with a sync cord. I was not feeling real comfortable about their reliability for this wedding. After all, they are 25-30 years old…might even go back to college…I don’t really remember when I bought these two.

So, I naively thought I’d just go buy a new one…or if the 283 wasn’t available, something similar. HA! How can it be that there are no simple, non-dedicated electronic flashes available today?

I ended up buying a Nikon SB-600. It’s a nice little flash. It costs way too much money. Its manual is thicker than my camera’s manual, and harder to understand. It does all kinds of neat lighting tricks that I’ll never use and could care less about. The good old 283 always…yes, always…gave a perfect exposure. It didn’t have to look at the film plane and communicate 47 different ways to do it. The sensor on the flash was dead on accurate. And I could just set the shutter speed I wanted to allow ambient light to register and improve the look of the photos.

I hate Nikon’s dedicated strobes. I have an SB-25 that has never…yes, never…worked accurately. And it cost about 4 times what a 283 cost. And until today I’d never even been able to get it to fire on my D200. Finally figured that out as I was playing with all this stuff today.

Now I have this new dedicated flash and I think I’ve figured out how to turn off most of the fancy crap on it so I can control what’s happening without being a computer programmer. Of course I had to pay an extra $100 just for a stinking cable to hook it up to my 30-year-old Quantum Battery 1. I think that’s more than I paid for the battery. Another old piece of gear that has never missed a beat. But the adapter doesn’t fit well into the SB-600 battery compartment and the velcro that came with it wasn’t doing the job of holding the contacts in place…so now it has a couple heavy rubber bands wrapped around it to hold all that together. It doesn’t look like there’s any acceptable way to carve a notch in the battery compartment door to let the door close and the power cable come out, like I was able to do with the good old Vivitar 283s.

After all that, I think I’m still going to use a 283 for the wedding and just keep the fancy new flash as a backup in case it finally breaks. I’ve been looking around and it seems that some places are still selling the Vivitar 285, which was also a good strobe, though not legendary like the 283. But I’ve been reading that the new units that are still around seem to be poorly made and there is no support from Vivitar which has stopped making flashes. I see a few other odd little non-dedicated flashes are available, but even if I could get a Quantum cable for them, it seems silly to buy a $100 cable to power a $40 flash unit. So I guess eventually I’m going to have to try to read that SB-600 manual…or more likely hunt up a third-party manual, since Nikon can’t seem to write anything about their cameras and flashes that isn’t totally incomprehensible.

OK…done ranting for now. That photo is the entire kit and kaboodle (shot with the built-in flash on my D200)…I’ll probably drag it all to the wedding so I have options when things break. (Yes, when, not if.)

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About this Blog

Photos and comments by Dave Levingston. This is the place to see my most recent work which may include nudes, dance, landscape, nature and whatever other kinds of photos I feel like taking.

Since it does contain nude photos, this blog is not intended for viewing by anyone under the age of 18.

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