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Q&A: Will My Old Flash Fry My New Remotes?

Reader Samora Chapman asks:

I'm new to all this and I dug up my dad's Vivitar 285HV. I just got some Phottix radio triggers. Is it okay to connect them to the old Vivitar? Im scared of frying them!

Ah, the trusty old Vivitar 285. The older ones are great flashes, but with one potentially fatal flaw. You don't want to go sticking that flash on just any camera or remote…

A Word About Trigger Voltages

No, don't glaze over on me. This is important stuff. If you do not understand flash trigger voltages—i.e., how an older flash can fry your digital camera—read this earlier post first.

It also points to this very helpful listing of various flash models and their trigger voltages. If you use older flashes, you should definitely read that page, too.

Long story short, as long as you do not connect a high trigger voltage flash to your camera directly (hot shoe, sync cord, OCF cord, etc.), your camera should be fine.

Much like a cordless phone being safe to use in a thunderstorm, a wireless remote will insulate your camera from danger. But you can potentially fry your remote, too. And no one wants that.

What Kind of Vivitar 285?

There are many different versions of the venerable Vivitar 285 that have been produced over the last 30-odd years. The good news is that the newer ones—including all units designated as "HV"—all have safe trigger voltages. So, Samora, you should be safe for using either remotes or direct connection.

The bad news is that there are some very early Vivitar models, before the "HV" designation, which had sync voltages as high as 350v. So those are definitely dangerous flashes.

The further bad news is the most recent Vivitar 285's are being produced in China by a company which just bought the old Vivitar name and they are UTTER CRAP. Avoid.

What About the Remotes?

So, Samora is safe. But what about other old flashes? Is it safe to hook them up to a Phottix remote?

More good news: Phottix builds their remotes to withstand all but the very highest trigger voltages. I checked with Steve Peer at Phottix and he said you are safe up to 300v.

Which is pretty cool of them, actually. But that still leaves you 50v of pucker factor in the small chance that your particular Vivitar 285 (i.e., had it not been an "HV") is one of the 350v versions.

Short answer: Your camera is safe if using an old high-voltage flash with a wireless remote. Your Phottix remote is probably safe. (But maybe not!)

If you want to be totally safe, (UPDATE: Not always—see the comments) you can always use an optical slave on the mystery flash and use it as a second (or third, etc.) light source.

One Other Danger

In talking to Steve he brought up something else that I would not of thought of. He said they have seen some problems with people putting older flashes (with high trigger voltages) directly on the "pass-through" hot shoe that is included on some of their transmitters.

Remember, "pass-through" usually equals a direct connection. And if you do that with an old, high-trigger-voltage flash to a sensitive new digital camera, you might cause your camera to release it's magic smoke.

Your camera needs that magic smoke to work. And once the smoke escapes, it is very difficult to get it back inside. So, read up and be careful.

In Summary

1. If you are using an old flash, you should know its sync voltage. If it is high, do not connect it directly to a newer digital camera via hot shoe or wire of any kind.

2. If using a remote with it, you should know your remote's safe trigger voltage. If the remote company does not publish this number, I would not hook the old flash up to your remote. And maybe consider choosing a different remote, because manufacturers owe you that info.

3. Magic smoke is very hard to get back into your camera.


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