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Sunpak Auto 36DX

Reviews Views Date of last review
1 76 Fri January 14, 2022
Recommended By Average Price Average User Rating
100% of reviewers $20.00 9.00
Sunpak Auto 36DX

Sunpak Auto 36DX
Sunpak Auto 36DX
Sunpak Auto 36DX
Sunpak Auto 36DX

Film era mid-power unit with Guide Number 36 (metres @ ISO 100)
Weight 450 gm with batteries (four AA) and module
Swivel and tilt head
Five head zoom settings
Built-in reflector card
Modes : Three Auto, five manual, and TTL
Uses plug-in module for camera brand dedication
Optional external power supply
Low trigger voltage (3.8v)

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Registered: September, 2017
Location: South Wales
Posts: 1,701
Review Date: January 14, 2022 I can recommend this item: Yes | Price: $20.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Tilt, Swivel & zoom head, well made, intuitive controls, dedication modules, low trigger voltage
Cons: ISO 1000 maximum on scale, scale in feet not metres, Modern P-TTL not supported

This was probably made around 1990, late film era, and is a larger version of the 30DX which is also reviewed in this section. I guess Sunpak were using the similarly powered and immensely popular Vivitar 283 (and its improvement the 285HV) as benchmarks to improve upon. At a glance you could mistake it for one. Compared with the 283, the 36DX adds head swivel, zoom, a built-in choice of manual power levels, camera brand dedication (including film-era TTL if the camera supports it), and assured low trigger voltage safe for modern cameras (the 285HV did have some of these improvements).

The Guide Number of 36 metres is reckoned in the traditional way - ie with zoom set for a standard lens and a sensitivity of ISO 100. This cannot be directly compared with modern units, the marketing of which quotes Guide Numbers at maximum zoom, to sound more favourable. The Guide Number of the 36X would also be significantly higher at its maximum zoom. It is ironic that although its name refers to its Guide Number in meters, the distance scale shows only feet.

It feels solid, and the indexed swivel/tilt/zoom movements work nicely. The zoom head can be set between 40mm and 135mm, and if it is detached you are supposed to get 35mm, but I've not managed to detach mine despite reading the manual. It is a pity it cannot go down to 28mm, as I might use for indoor group shots; the manual does mention an additional wide angle diffuser as part of an optional filter kit, but you might not find one today.

The controls are on the back. There is the OFF/HV/BATTERY switch and a slider to set film (or sensor) sensitivity between ISO 25 and 1000. That suits film but is low for a digital camera, although you could extrapolate because it is only a slide rule to recommend camera aperture and has no connection to the internals. Another switch selects between three Auto modes (red yellow and green), Manual, and TTL (film era TTL, not P-TTL) . A further slider sets the manual energy level with five values from full, down to 1/16, in one stop intervals.

At the bottom is a plug-in module which includes the foot. There is a range of these modules which provide dedication to the major camera brands of the time. That for Pentax is the PT-1D or PT-2D. These are evidently designed for fit-and-forget, not for frequent changing, because as they use a simple circuit card edge connection; I think that is reasonable. Many Ebay sellers of Sunpak DX units seem unaware that their unit is modular. I review a PT-2D module here :

There is a fold-out rectangular matt reflector above the head which is intended to give a catch-light when the head is tilted upwards. There is also a test button and indicator light to check adequate illumination in the Auto modes.

The battery compartment is similar to that of the Pentax AF280T but the door catch is much stronger (a weakness in many units, including Pentax's). There is a socket for a high voltage input from an external battery pack or a mains adaptor.

If you are looking for an older flash unit for a modern DSLR this has a lot to recommend it. It has a safe trigger voltage and it has the Auto modes. Unfortunately Auto modes were dropped from many designs from around 2000 in favour of TTL, but many users consider Auto gives better results than modern digital TTL systems (P-TTL etc). No flash exposure system is as good as the film era TTL (used on the Pentax LX, Nikon F3 etc) but for technical reasons that cannot be implemented with present day digital sensors. Auto flash exposure modes are also independent of camera brand. The dedication features other than TTL are not a big deal - they do things like set the camera shutter to sync speed, which is trivial to do yourself anyway.
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