Some things in life just stand the test of time. An old Rolex. Men’s white dress shirts. Coke. etc. Designs that just don’t really need to be improved upon.
Today, people look more and more for automation. They want a flash to think for them. Over time, I have learned that is good to keep things simple with less moving parts. I love ttl, or “Through the lens” flash, but those $550 flash units are complex. For example, I was shooting a wedding last week. Lighting was poor indoors so I was forced to use my Nikon SB-900 speed light. Well, it was great until this expensive marvel of design decided to just shut down on me. It beeped in the middle of an important shot and then said “I’m done.” Too hot. It needed a rest. Lovely.
Enter the Vivitar 285-HV. This beast was released in the mid-1970s. The re-release is 99% the same, but uses < 6 volts to avoid frying the hotshoe. I love this damn flash and I have a couple of them. Unlike the $550 SB-900 prima donna, this tank does nothing but throw light…and does it well. There is absolutely no automation. No motor. No ttl. Nothing. No internal thermostat to shut down in the middle of a shoot. It gets hot, it fires. It will fire until the batteries are drained, and then fire some more. It is big. It is ugly. If Charlton Heston carried a flash, he would have carried a 285-HV.
I typically use this flash off camera triggered wirelessly, but it will do the job mounted as well. I usually put this unit on a stand with a pocket wizard, maybe 1/4 power, and it fires all night. I can get some wonderful dance floor shots without spending more than $89.00. If it breaks, just buy another. Buy 5 for the price of 1 fancy speed light. It is a workhorse though and I have not had any problems with it so far. It is also pretty powerful and recycle times are pretty impressive with Powerex 2700 mAh batteries.
I will still use my SB-900 mounted on camera, only because it saves me time. During a wedding I rely on speed and it is more important to not miss a "moment." If speed is not a factor, this $89.00 flash will light a scene just fine. Some people are fearful of manual flash. But, it is critical to learn. If I did not understand lighting then I would have had a really tough time when my other unit shut down. Yes, you can buy more back-ups, but my answer to that is "Really?" Learn essentials of lighting and you will be a much better 'Tog. (and save a lot of money)