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Vivitar 550FD M/P/O

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4 12,507 Sat January 4, 2014
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Recommended By Average Price Average User Rating
50% of reviewers $5.67 6.25
Vivitar 550FD M/P/O
supersize


Description:
Guide number of 24m
Flips ME Super to flash mode and registers in viewfinder
TTL for the Super Program, A3000 and LX
Price History:



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Loyal Site Supporter

Registered: August, 2012
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 3,501

1 user found this helpful
Review Date: January 4, 2014 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $5.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Cheap, relatively compact, auto mode, bounce
Cons: Old-school, not P-TTL, only TTL on *IST-DS2 or older, no manual power settings

This review shares a lot of text with my review of the Vivitar 2800-D. I'm mostly writing this for those that have found an old flash in an attic, yard sale, or thrift shop and want to know what it is and how to use it.

The Vivitar Auto Thyristor 550FD M/P/O is a dedicated flash that supports TTL. It's closely related to the Vivitar 2800-D family of flashes - the body is almost identical, but it has an additional TTL mode. The Vivitar 28FD Auto-Dedicated is the same as the 550FD. Vivitar must have had someone whose job was to rename existing products. The Vivitar 530FD is similar, but with no bounce head and slightly less power. Considering that these seem to be the only Vivitar flashes with an F in the name, the F might be for the Four operating modes.

My manual says "Printed in 1984", which sounds about right. Vivitar sold them for quite awhile, but keep in mind that this is an early 1980s design. There is nothing digital about it. A thyristor is an electronic device to cut off the flash without wasting battery power. Previous automatic flashes would short out the capacitor, using a full charge for every flash regardless of how much light was emitted.

The "D" in the name and "M/P/O" on the back means that it is a dedicated flash for Minolta, Pentax, and Olympus cameras. By "dedicated", it means the flash tells the camera when it is charged, via a Ready pin on the hotshoe. That is all. The flash does not set the shutter speed or f-stop. The body may detect the "ready" signal and select the shutter speed, but this depends on the camera body, not the flash. There are also "C/R" and "N" versions of the 550FD, which are dedicated for Canon/Ricoh (as in 1980s Ricoh manual focus film SLRs) and Nikon, respectively. A Pentax body probably won't detect those flashes. Sellers don't always check, so be sure to look closely at the back for "M/P/O".

TTL mode: this is not P-TTL. This is the 1980s TTL, which required a sensor in the camera body. When the sensor got enough light, the camera told the flash to shut off. The only Pentax DLSRs with a TTL sensor are the *ist-D, *ist-DS, and *ist-DS2. With a Pentax A lens on a *ist-DS, I was able to get TTL to work fine - your results may vary. With any later DSLR, or earlier lenses, you should use Auto or Manual modes on the flash and manual mode on the body.

Auto mode (A1 or A2): the flash has a built in sensor that will shut off when it feels the scene has enough light. A1 is for "far" subjects, and A2 is for "near". There is a table on the back of the flash to determine the correct aperture for a given mode and ISO (assuming shutter is set to the camera's flash sync speed). The camera has to be manually set to match the table. Changing the ISO slider on the flash just adjusts the table display - it does NOT communicate anything to the camera. Again, this is 1980s technology!

Manual mode: Full power only. Use the table to figure out your shutter/aperture/ISO settings and set them manually on the camera using M-Manual mode. You can reduce the output by pointing the bounce head upwards, using a diffuser, etc.

I used one of these flashes for years on film bodies, and later on my K100D and later bodies (no TTL). Now I use them on radio triggers for off-camera flash. The flash head can take diffusers/soft boxes designed for the Canon 420EX, or you can glue on velcro, use speed straps, etc. Vivitar also made some snap-in color filters (clear/blue/yellow/red/orange) that fit the 550FD, 2600/2800, and 2600-D/2800-D families of flashes. I made a snap-in diffuser from the side of a plastic milk jug that cuts output by about 1 f-stop.

The guide number at ISO 100 is 24 meters or 80 feet (meaning at full power, ISO 100, and subject at 6m/20ft, set aperture to f/4). The trigger voltage on every unit I've checked was 4 volts, which is safe for DSLRs. You may want to check first, just to be safe.

There are many, many more powerful or sophisticated flashes out there, but if you want to shoot "old-school" with something cheap, reliable, and fairly compact, the 550FD is a pretty decent flash - look how many still work after all these years. Most of the ones that don't work just need to have the contacts on the battery door cleaned (these things ate alkaline batteries, which then usually leaked). You can easily find one for less than ten dollars, or even 99 cents if you shop carefully.

Update: I can confirm a previous reviewer's issues with the K-x. It appears that the flash puts voltage on or grounds the "Digital hotshoe pin" (the one closest to the lens, in the one o'clock position looking down at the camera), which confuses the K-x. Putting a slip of tape over that pin solves the problem.

Left-to-right: Vivitar 2800-D, 28FD, and 550FD rear panels, showing three modes


Left-to-right: Vivitar 2800-D, 28FD, and 550FD


Size Comparison with modern Speedlites:
Left-to-right: Pentax AF360FGZ II, Vivitar 550FD, and YongNuo YN-560 III
   
Veteran Member

Registered: January, 2010
Location: Durham, nc
Posts: 908
Review Date: January 4, 2013 I can recommend this lens: No | Price: $8.00 | Rating: 6 

 
Pros: Works well in auto-thyristor mode
Cons: Doesn't work with P-TTL

The flash works fine in auto-thyristor mode, but it doesn't have any TTL capability on a Pentax camera. I purchased one for pentax/sony/minolta off of eBay. Unlike the previous reviewer, mine does not automatically set anything on my K-x. It's a dummy flash. Smaller than some, bigger than others, has bounce but no swivel. Pass unless its so cheap it's almost free.
   
New Member

Registered: November, 2010
Posts: 5
Review Date: December 6, 2010 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: None indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Dedicated modes work with K-x!
Cons: No fractional manual power settings. Manual is full power only.

This flash came with some gear I purchased on Ebay, so it was basically free to me. When I mounted it on my K-x I was surprised to find that the dedicated functions worked! With the K-x set to program mode, I turned on the flash, and the K-x went to flash mode, showing the flash icon in the viewfinder. The shutter automatically set to 1/180, and the aperture changed to match the 5.6 aperture setting on the flash. The flash has two auto ranges, and when I switched the flash to the second range, f11, the aperture on the K-x automatically changed to f11 to match! Even better, you don't have to change the ISO setting on the flash at all. I just have to change the ISO setting on the camera, and the aperture on the camera changes to match the new ISO.

I have since discovered that when I have my Pentax 18-55 af zoom on the camera, only the f stop setting is controlled by the flash. I still have to set the shutter to 180 manually. When a manual focus lens is on the camera, the flash controls both the shutter speed and the f stop.

The Ttl mode does not appear to work, but so far the flash's sensor system has been spot on accurate so I am not missing the Ttl mode at all. It has a decent guide number of 80 and the longest auto range goes out to 40 feet. I am totally happy with this flash. I no longer have to go to manual mode and make all the changes necessary to use an auto flash. I just have to turn the unit on and I am ready to fire away.
   
Veteran Member

Registered: August, 2009
Posts: 381
Review Date: November 16, 2010 I can recommend this lens: No | Price: $4.00 | Rating: 2 

 
Pros: light weight, TTL
Cons: array of pins confuse the ist DS

Cheap and cheerful. Only recommended on film, otherwise opt for a modern flash which allows for TTL. I am updating an old review, as in hindsight, this is really not that amazing. I have subsequently used TTL flash on my Oly E420 and the Vivitar is very basic in comparison.

In use with a Gossen flash meter, its possible to use this flash to good effect, but you need to know what you are doing.
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