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02-24-2011, 06:31 PM   #1
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Options for using Old Flashes with Unsafe Voltages?

I wanted to try flash photography on the (very, very) cheap, and I was able to get a bundle of 3 old flash units for really cheap (at least I think it was cheap for those units).

I'm positive that at least two of them operate at too high a voltage for my K-x. I tried reading up on different flash setups that don't involve direct connection to the camera, but I'm still confused. When they're used as remote triggered flashes, the voltages won't matter, right? Do I need to get a trigger and receiver and wire? I don't know!

I've heard of the Wein adapter that allows direct connection of these old, high-voltage flashes, but that's too rich for my blood right now.

I'm really confused on using these "unsafe" flash units. I'm unclear on what options I have and what additional equipment is needed. Can you guys clarify what I can do and what is needed?

02-24-2011, 07:56 PM   #2
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Trigger them remotely, and you overcome the problem of high voltage discharge on the camera.
This can be done best (and most-reliably) with a radio trigger. Those optical sensor triggers that claim to 'ignore the pre-flash' (especially those cheap eBay ones) rarely do so in over 50% of shots.
02-24-2011, 08:13 PM   #3
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Have you tested the trigger voltages with a multimeter yet ?
02-24-2011, 08:58 PM   #4
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For a Pentax DSLR you'll want to keep the trigger voltage very low. From memory I think my flash is about 5 volts, used on a K7. I would think the K-x would be around the same requirement. If the flashes you have are 20 or 30 volts or more, you could fry your camera if you put any of them on the hotshoe. As Ash has said, remote triggering is the way to go. I have a little gadget - don't know what it's called, because it was given to me by someone who didn't know what it was. It's a small, cube-shaped gadget with a lens in one side and a hotshoe fitting on another side. It clips underneath a flash and you can either attach that to a remote arm which screws into the tripod thread of your camera or stick it on some kind of home-made stand, old tripod, whatever.
As you can tell, I don't know a lot about using flash, but I've found this gadget to be perfectly safe, triggered by either the on-camera flash or my other, (5 volt) flash mounted on the hotshoe. Someone will know what the gadget is called and you can probably pick one up for a few dollars on Ebay or from a camera shop.
If you decide to test the trigger voltages as knaff rightly suggested, make sure you use a digital multimeter. Analog meters can give some seriously wrong reading. There's directions on how to do it on the Forum somewhere. Just do a search and you'll find it.
PS. I've just re-read Ash's response and I think the gadget I have might be what he refers to as an optical sensor. Mine seems to work OK. I guess if you just want to play around to see if flash photography presses your buttons, it's a cheap option.


Last edited by Wombat; 02-24-2011 at 09:08 PM. Reason: Addition
02-25-2011, 03:31 AM   #5
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I wish someone would invent a Wein for a reasonable cost.

Oh wait--they did!

16 bucks:

Amazon.com: SMDV Hot Shoe Hotshoe Safe Sync Adapter SM-512 for Pentax K-5, K-r, K-7, K-m, x70, X90, K200d, K20d, K100D Super, K10D, K110D,K100D, *ist DL2, *ist DS2, *ist DL, *ist DS, K2000, K-X: Camera & Photo
02-25-2011, 05:23 AM   #6
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Pentax DSLRs will tolerate trigger voltages at least up to 25V. If your flashes have lower voltages than that, you should be good. I second the idea to get radio triggers as they will allow you to take the flash(es) off-camera.

The Cactus V5 double as a trigger and Wein-safe.

Last edited by Class A; 02-27-2011 at 04:26 PM.
02-25-2011, 05:45 AM   #7
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Not all radio triggers can tolerate high voltage. Check with the seller before buying. I found many triggers on ebay that will take only up to 24v. Some old flash units will have more than 200v.
02-25-2011, 08:43 AM   #8
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Thanks for the info everyone!

They haven't been shipped yet, so I haven't done any tests. Two of them are unlisted in that site with all those flash voltages that's been linked around here and don't really have much info on them out there. Here's what I've figured out so far.
  • Pentax AF160--Safe (from Flash Voltages guide site)
  • Vivitar 292--Assumed unsafe--unlisted, but someone on another forum described it as a "flamethrower". I'm assuming he used a hotshoe adapter.
  • Achiever 821--Assumed unsafe--couldn't find ANY info on this one. Other old Achiever units seem to have used 250+ volts! I'm playing it safe with this one. And this is the only flash unit of the bunch with a tilting head

That reasonably costing hot shoe adapter is VERY appealing. Anyone have feedback on this one? Is there any risk of blowing out the adapter if the flash is excessively powerful?

These radio triggers--is it possible to operate the three flashes at the same time if I get three of them? I'm still unclear on multiple flash setups, but I'd really like to try it since I've got three of them to play with. I'm thinking of using the one with the tilting head with the adapter as my "main"(?) flash and the other two as "secondary" flashes (is this where the term "slave" is used?).

Optical sensors--I attach these to the two secondary flashes, then I use one main flash to trigger them?

Also, I only have manual lenses. I'm assuming that'll make it much harder to learn?

Again, thanks for educating my stupid butt that can't make heads or tails of this stuff.

02-25-2011, 08:49 AM   #9
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most if not all triggers can operate as many flashes as you buy the receiver for. 3 is the most common number. they trigger by radio signal so as long as the flash is attached to a receiver within range it will go off
they really are the best option, but I'd check what voltage they are rated for (some may not handle that achiever)
the Cactus is certainly one of the most popular low cost options, maybe not as well built as a pocket wizard but no where near the cost
02-25-2011, 09:31 AM - 1 Like   #10
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Here is the link to the Cactus v5 review by Class A. I found it very helpful, not only as a review of this model but as a general explanation of radio triggers.

I'm not happy that I've been exposed to yet another piece of cool gear I want to spend money on though. When will it stop?
02-26-2011, 11:15 AM   #11
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With old flashes I wouldn't trust anyone to say it's ok. Get a volt meter and check the voltage at the shoe contact. If it's under 10V your golden!

Trouble is that many models changed during production so newer ones are OK but earlier ones were hot.

"Flame thrower" refers to the amount of light the flash makes.
02-26-2011, 05:53 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by MobiusOne Quote
Optical sensors--I attach these to the two secondary flashes, then I use one main flash to trigger them?
Again, thanks for educating my stupid butt that can't make heads or tails of this stuff.
Yes. So long as your main flash is absolutely safe, you can mount that on the hotshoe and trigger the other flashes from it. Bear in mind if the'yre old manual flashes they may not have a huge range, so don't spread them around too far. Read the tables on the back as a guide. I'll let others advise you on using manual lenses. I don't use flash much and don't know what I'm doing in terms of settings so I just bung them on, read the tables and hope for the best! Results, as you would expect, are, shall we say, variable...

As for educating your stupid butt, we all start somewhere and there's nothing stupid about asking questions. Keep doing it. We're all friends on this forum (well, mostly...) and everyone has something to contribute. I've learned plenty from your post and reading the responses of others who know a lot more about flash than me.
02-27-2011, 09:11 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by MobiusOne Quote

That reasonably costing hot shoe adapter is VERY appealing. Anyone have feedback on this one? Is there any risk of blowing out the adapter if the flash is excessively powerful?
No chance.

SOldbear, a member here, makes these himself--and it costs him about a buck. The $50 plus cost for the Wein is simply obscene.
02-27-2011, 10:14 AM   #14
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I bought a set of 3 Vivitar 283s with all kinds of accessories, including AC adapters, for under $100, and another for about $30 with a varipower module. You can't use these on the hot shoe of a DSLR, but this was one of the best buys I've made.

I set them up with inexpensive Chinese wireless triggers, and I use one of my DSLRs and the histogram on the back screen to get the exposure. Once I set it up, I can go from camera body to body (even from digital to 135 film to medium format film) and as long as I use the same manual settings, I've nailed my exposure. When other photographers are shooting with me, I've even loaned them a transmitter so that they can use my flashes as well.
02-27-2011, 09:38 PM   #15
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QuoteQuote:
As for educating your stupid butt, we all start somewhere and there's nothing stupid about asking questions. Keep doing it. We're all friends on this forum (well, mostly...) and everyone has something to contribute. I've learned plenty from your post and reading the responses of others who know a lot more about flash than me.
Very well said, Wombat.
When I was a department manager in a bank/computer setting I had
a saying hanging up that I got out of as newspaper editorial cartoon:

Don't be afraid to ask "dumb questions".
They are easier to handle than "dumb mistakes" !
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