Return of the Vivitar 285: The Cactus KF36

They don’t make’em like they used to.”—old photography cliché

Cactus KF36Well, maybe they do. Photographers who have been around a while may fondly remember the Vivitar 283 and 285 speedlights. They were simple, full adjustable manual speedlights and I made many photographs with them back in the day. Now as photographers embrace speedlights for on-location lighting I keep wishing that I had one of my old 285’s. Sure you can buy used Vivitar 285s on eBay but wouldn’t it be nice to have a new one.

The Cactus KF36 has the same functions as 285HV. The Vari-Power Module that was optional on the 283 was standard on the 285 lets you to adjust the light intensity at full, 1/2, 1/4 and 1/16 power without diving into LED menus. Just turn a dial and you’re set just as I do in the studio with my monolights. The Guide Number is 120 (feet) and it has four auto f-stop settings and an automatic exposure range up to 70 feet. You don’t have to change the f-stop on your camera lens when you move closer to a subject or father away as long as your subject is within the automatic operating range of the flash for that f-stop. OK, I know all the new speedlights do that too but that was a big deal back then.

It has the familiar Calculator Dial for determining flash exposures. Former 285 shooters know that the color mode settings translate into apertures and make for speedy setting when working under fast changing situations. The Sufficient Light Indicator lets you know whether the light output is sufficient for a proper exposure. That’s especially useful for bounce lighting because you can tilt the head at 0°, 45°, 60°, 75° or 90°. One of the big differences between the 283 and 285, besides the built-in Vari-Power Module, was a Zoom/Bounce Flash Head that lets you to match the flash coverage with the coverage of your lens. The Cactus KF36  has a thyristor circuit that saves excess energy for proper exposure and enables fast recycling times. Here’s a YouTube video about the KF36 that was made by Denis Rule, a commercial photographer located in Ottawa, Canada.

Cameron Large Beauty DishThe kit includes a nylon carrying case, 28mm (full frame) Wide Angle Diffuser, detachable synch cord. You can read the full specs here where there is also pop-up menu to find dealers in Canada. When I find out where you can purchase a Cactus KF36 in the USA, I’ll post an update. In the meantime, the Cactus KF36 is either a product you’re excited about (I am) or you’re not. But for now, I can’t wait to put one to work with one of Booth Photo’s Cameron Large Beauty Dish. Look for a test soon.


Author: Joe Farace

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