Jonathankauphotography inspired this mod. I was really craving more creative options, including wanting to use my strobes with less recycle time, a reduced need for diffusion material, and also large aperture work (like this one…
…where large aperture was necessary for a cool background. I decided to mod my flashes with the addition of 1) a new rocker switch, 2) a ready light on the front—so I can be cool like people who use expensive flashes with lots of wizbangs (actually I just wanted one for practical use), and 3) a sweet, sweet dial with full manual power in 12 full stops from 1/1 to ?, with ? being discussed in greater detail later. For the final results, scroll down to the bottom.
This is intended as a somewhat in-depth photo tutorial, so my directions will largely depend on the photographs, however poorly done. I didn’t really feel like burning a hole in my umbrella, softbox, or macro studio, so the lighting isn’t worthy of Strobist, but hopefully it will serve well. Also, I wasn’t using a macro lens, so overall the photo quality is subpar. Sorry. Feel free to ask questions, and this will be constantly updated, but let’s dive right in!
Disclaimer: This stuff can be dangerous. Do yourself a favor and get help if you don’t know what you’re doing, because otherwise you can end up burning, poisoning, or electrocuting yourself in any number of fun ways. I can’t be held responsible for anything you manage to break, including yourself, whilst following these insipid instructions…
Pimp My Vivitar
This is my second time through the mod, the first time was a lot of experimentation, the second was super, super easy, done in less than half the time. The loading time for all the photos may be long, please be patient.
You’re going to need:
Soldering equipment: a low wattage iron, fine guage (.032”) solder, and flux (if you’re not using cored solder, which is the cat’s pajamas).
Heat shrink tubing is quite nice and cheap, or electrical tape
Round rocker switch, I used one by Cherry Electrical.
A rotary switch, with desired number of positions (I used a 12).
Resistors, the values for which are discussed later in this post (the section with the cheesy title).
A knob for the switch.
Wire (stranded, not solid, and small guage: 20-22 is best).
An LED. I used one with a threaded mount from Radioshack.
Tools like wire strippers/cutters/crimper, a knife, something to make holes with, screwdrivers, and other things. This is not an exhaustive list.
I purchased some items online from Allied Electronics, (www.alliedelec.com) and from my local Radioshack. I’ll bet you could find most of this stuff there, without having to even order online. Who knows?
First, open the thing up. It is a good idea to dump as much power from the flash as possible, to minimize the shock should you get careless before you have the chance to drain it manually. A full dump from the flash, then quickly turning off the unit works decently.
There are several screws that hold the lower case together, which is the first part we will work on. From the front, there are two on the left pivot, one on the right, and two on the hot shoe (the shoe must be removed before the pieces will separate. Also, the right side has a shiny metal piece just asking to be bent. Do this at once: there is glue and a metal clip that will frustrate you for a long time if you don’t figure this out. Don’t lose the opaque white plastic oval from behind the metal, it is the detent that clicks the flash through the bounce head positions.
Also, the upper portion of the flash is conveniently connected with a removable connector—not just soldered in. Take advantage of this and disconnect the flash head from the body, it will make your work simpler and lessen your chances of melting or breaking something.
As you can see in the above photo, I have severed all the wires leading to the vari power module. The Phantom is singing “past the point of no return” in your ear, but cut them anyway. A rocker switch is cooler anyway. Completely remove the module with the two screws, then install the rocker switch, which needs only a slight widening with an x-acto knife to fit perfectly. Make sure that the switch doesn’t scrape off any circuit board components when the case is reclosed.
Next, use the hole drilling device to install the LED wherever you want, but make sure it will fit when the case is re-closed. The spot that I chose has worked fine. This is what it looks like:
Next, the Back Panel, Guts, and a PCB
Next, you have to deactivate the internal switch on the PCB. In my first attempt to remove the power switch, I simply ripped it off the board with brute force. My second try was more satisfying, I simply removed the metal contacts from inside the switch’s metal cover and replaced everything. The switch is still there and moves like it should, but has no effect. Great fun!
Next, I soldered in the new switch, but to do that, I had to make room for the wires…
Hot Shoe Hotwire:
As you can see above, I clearly have violated the hot shoe. There used to be a green and a white wire running to the vari power module, and now there is none! What? The fact of the matter is, the wires simply enter the module and are soldered together. That’s it. I took the liberty of doing that with less than an inch of wire, instead of eight or nine. It’s not a pretty job, but it works fine.
Now we can complete the new power switch installation. The hole where the green and white wires formerly resided is now the place to rout the new power switch. I soldered in a new lead from the bottom of the PCB, as seen in the bottom photo, and routed it up through the hole provided. This goes to one terminal of the rocker switch, doesn’t matter which one.
Just below the “285HV” written on the board is where the blue wire to the battery is soldered. I desoldered and removed this wire, instead deciding to save some wiring space by going straight from the battery to the switch and bypassing the PCB and the built in switch for that first stage of the circuit
The next picture shows this well:
Where the Juice Comes From:
You can see here, the current path goes from the battery, directly to the new switch, and then into the place on the PCB where the old switch delivered current to. The pink wire to the battery compartment is left alone.
Here’s how to install that sweet, sweet LED ready light. I decided to solder in two separate wires, then splice them together with the LED leads once the flash was completely finished. This is a tight job, so be sure to have a clean, low wattage iron with a small tip. Also, make sure to tin the wires properly—they solder much quicker (stranded wire tins beautifully). If you don’t know how, there are tutorials out there on the ‘net.
The LED housing is black plastic, and sits in the PCB by friction. There is a blue wire that is the positive lead, which connects to both LED’s the red and the green. The green LED is the one we want to solder to, as that is the one that signifies the unit is charged and ready. The first wire, which I left red to remind me what lead of the LED it would be later spliced to, was soldered to the junction on the blue wire. The other wire, which I temporarily marked with electrical tape (I only had one color of wire), was soldered to the green wire, where it spliced to the negative terminal. Slide the insulating tubes back over to prevent shorting, and reinstall the plastic housing. LED is pretty much ready to go!
We Interrupt this Program to bring you a Short Message From *Our Benefactors*!
*(sorry, half life episode 2 comes out tomorrow, and I can’t wait…)
This is the complete lower PCB assembly. The quick connect terminal routes down to the former switch, and the two short LED leads are prepped and ready for splicing.
The other PCB is largely untouched, but I chose to make one modification before I put everything back together. There is a switch I chose to deactivate. The switch is the slightly opaque, plastic circular one on the back panel that activates the backlight. The backlight will be toast in an hour or less, so I simply placed some electrical tape over the contacts. This lets me leave the plastic button in for a more professional look, yet at the same time eliminating the chance of my flash staying lit up or shorting out when it’s in my bag. Like I said, the backlight is going to be removed for good, so the switch is useless.
Bust a Cap…
Next, the top portion. This comes apart with several short and long screws. Inside, there sits a Capacitorus Maximus Deadlious. Do not, repeat NOT, touch the thing until you have drained it, several times. I chose to short the contacts with a screwdriver after a full power flash shutdown, as I described before. Over the course of building my matched pair of Vivitars, I have also tried shorting a fully-charged cap, also with my mini screwdriver. The result was the sound of a .22 handgun going off, coupled with an electrical spark as big as a testicle. Needless to say, I had a natural afro for several minuetes afterwards. (I also accidentally got shocked from the thing at lower power once, but it still didn’t feel nice.)
I did three things, now that the cap is safely muzzled for the time being:
1) Label the terminals on the cap (I did R for Red and B for Black. Duh).
2) remove the transformer (that copper coil-thingy with black plastic, label those terminals as well, and splice an extended wire onto both PCB locations. You need to move this flyback transformer in order to fit the extra bulk of the switch. As you can see, I labeled the transformer with one wire silver, which connects to the side of the winding with the silver dot by it. Don’t know if the direction matters, but why not play it safe?
3) once all the stuff is taken care of, get rid of the stupid exposure calculator. Cut, unscrew, and remove all of it, including the thick plastic ring that sticks out on the outside of the body—it will get in the way of the nut on the switch. Also, get rid of the light, I cut off the white wires close to the circuit board. Also, trim the track arms on the zoom head to get rid of excess, and to ensure that the zoom head won’t hit the new switch.
Do Not Resistor You Will Be Destroyed!
Now the fun part: the resistors. I chose to do a similar setup to Jonathankauphotography, with resistors in full stops from 1/1 to 1/1024th power, but I decided to use the last space on the switch for a ? position, which is a flash so low in power and so brief that I thought it might have creative applications (the less power, the shorter duration, so freezing bullets might be fun to try…) The resistors seem to follow a somewhat exponential pattern, but my choices were still somewhat fudged. The current setup works great.
I wanted to see what Vivitar used for resistor values, so upon taking apart a Vari-Power module I found what I was looking for:
Vari power OEM resistors
No resistor, open circuit: 1/1
I decided to defer to Vivitar’s resistors because, let’s face it, they designed the thing. It seemed that every stop down, the resistance was roughly halved. Here’s the final table:
Ben’s Resistor Values
No resistor, open circuit: 1/1
Approx 46k: 1/8
Approx 4.1k: 1/128
Closed circuit, very low resistance: ? power…
The picture above shows the start of my soldering the resistors. Notice that I started with the small resistors, which will create lower powered flashes. There is one terminal (the first one) which is insulated and bent over. This is the full power setting on the dial. The next one, which has yet to be soldered, will be 1/2 power, and so on.
Be sure to arrange them in a way that they efficiently use the cramped space. The center terminal is the positive connection, and the resistors all are soldered together at ends opposite the switch to one master wire, to feed back to the black wire on the vertical PCB in the body. The third picture in the tutorial series, the one of the two PCB’s, clearly shows the blue and black wires that feed into and out of the resistor switch. The blue wire will end up connecting to the center terminal, as it is the positive, and the collected output of whatever resistor is selected by the switch is returned to the black wire’s spot on the PCB.
I used metal film resistors, but I got many different sizes. It made no difference, but it might be handy and easier to buy the resistors for physical size when possible.
I like to call this finished resistor assembly the Warp Drive. With a name like that, it not only looks BA, but sounds awesome too.
Installation of The Warp Drive
Make sure the switch fits in the hole where you stripped out the guts of the exposure calculator. Once the is done, carefully work in the Warp Drive, making sure the solder joints stay good, and yet the capacitor still fits. I had to bend all of the contacts to ensure the cap fit, but fit it did. Next, put it all together…
Make Like a College Student and Cram!
In this next photo, everything is crammed in there—the cap, the switch, and the transformer. The capacator’s contacts are safely insulated with electrical tape, after the correct wires were reattached of course. Notice that the original wire harness is routed where it is intended, and along side it runs the two wires that run two and from our new warp drive/resistor pot assembly. I wrapped the two wires in a tiny bit of electrical tape to keep the wires in order, and to protect them from the beating they take from clicking the head through all angles.
Also make sure to install all the plastic insulating sheets where they belong—there are two that go in the head—between the cap and also between the circuit board and the flash tube.
Next, the transformer plastic has been modified (to avoid interfering with the zoom head operation) and jammed in next to the cap, on the far side from the switch, and held in place with some 3M double sided tape. Test test test the operation of the zoom head now, because once it goes together, you won’t want to risk getting shocked again. Trust me. The extender wires are then soldered to the transformer, and presto, you have the finished flash head!
With the multi piece cover securely screwed back on, the only extra things appearing are the new switch, and two extra wires protruding from where the harness comes out. I used my trusty x-acto to cut a larger hole.
No Grease in My Flash!
Masking tape is more slippery than electrical, so I used it to lower the friction caused by the binding of the flash head’s pivot, so I shaved the circuit board and then used two thin surfaces of masking tape to effectively “grease” the wires. You will also notice that the two wires to and from the warp drive are soldered into their places, replacing the black and blue wires.
The LED Connection
Next, the LED leads are soldered to the wires coming from the original green ready light on the back. Also, the metal shoe backing plate and plastic shield are also in place in this photo.
And Then the Switch…
…is plugged in. Again, it doesn’t matter which wire goes to which terminal. I recommend bending the terminals up, and perhaps trimming excess plastic from the switch in order to make sure nothing is damaged by the intrusion of space.
Now comes the tricky part. Making sure all the battery contacts are seated, the wire harness is plugged and routed, the warp drive send and return is routed safely, the battery compartment is installed correctly, all the switches are in, and all the wires and bits are safely stuffed inside is tricky. Be gentle, solder joints are strong, but why risk breaking something? Also, the wire in your vivitar may be older, or the solder joints brittle. My older HV needed quite a bit of resoldering or replacing of wires.
The second time I did this, it went together perfectly. Also, remember to replace the white plastic detent oval under the metal plate, otherwise there will be no fun clicks to hold your flash head in position.
After everything is together fine and held with the screws, it is a good time to test the flash. Run the switch through all the positions, seeing if the output is consistent. Remember, now is the time to fix it, because once you close it up and glue down the metal side piece, it will be much more pain to undo.
Below is the Warp Dial, which is similar to the one that is installed on the Starship Enterprise. However, mine is better because, as any trekkie will tell you, the Enterprise can only do warp 10.
**On a serious note, I have a PDF of the label I made in Indesign if anyone wants it.
Finally, a good use for those new-fangled CD’s!
Before installing the knob, I made a clear cover for the dial markings from the inside of a CD-R.
This probably wasn’t the best way, maybe eventually I will mount an actual decal on top of the CD case, but for now, it works fine.
If the flash constantly discharges from full, the selected dial position isn’t a complete circuit. If all of the dial positions are full, there is a problem with a broken connection in either the blue or black PCB wire.
If the LED doesn’t work, check polarity. ‘Member, LED’s only work one way, i.e., the red wire MUST go to the positive.
Also, if the switch is in between positions, the circuit is open and the flash will fire at full power.
Most problems can be prevented by taking your time, liberal use of heat shrink, not electrocuting yourself, and double checking the solder joints.
**Again, this tutorial will undoubtedly be revised as holes and parts I have overlooked become apparent.**
Comparison Test: Stock 285HV versus 285BDP
Original is on the left, the fully modified version is on the right. I did this to check light output, to see how my resistor values fared. Judge for yourself.
1/1, Full, Max, or whatever y’all call it.
Thanks everyone! Strobist rules!
For my newest mod, the $3 VP-1 for the Vivitar 283 flash unit, check out this link! www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157603735912632/
Originally posted at 11:22PM, 8 October 2007 PST
Benjamin David Plattes edited this topic 48 months ago.