Very Important – Using Vintage Flashes with Modern Cameras

Hey Folks:

Happy New Year!

Summary – don’t use an old flash unless you are 100% sure it won’t damage your digital camera. Read on to find out why!

For this blog post, I was originally planning to cover some basic camera functions that really improve your shots, but instead I’m going to review some informational about flashes that could potentially save you a pile of money, and keep you from “bricking” (frying) your digital camera.

Many of us old timers have some vintage equipment in the closet, garage or basement. When I was digging through my old Minolta equipment, I came across my trusty old Vivitar 235 flash.

It’s a dinosaur from the 1970’s, but in the days when cameras didn’t even have a built-in flash, it was all I could afford and it worked pretty well (especially held off-camera hooked to a PC sync cord).

Since I hadn’t gotten a new flash yet for my new Canon t2i (550D), I thought I’d just put the Vivitar on my new Canon. I don’t know why, but I decided to look up some info on using this old flash on my Canon, and discovered that using it would probably fry my new camera… Making it an expensive “brick” or doorstop! What?

It turns out that older flash gear typically used a higher voltage to trigger the flash than is used in modern systems… often 100-250 volts. This was before modern CMOS technology, when most electronics was still discrete transistors that handled high voltage and current. Modern camera equipment uses much lower voltages, typically 5 volts. So using an old flash has the potential to fry the new electronics.

Here’s some sites that list flash trigger voltages, here, here and here.

If you do want to use your old flash, I’d personally recommend only using it for off camera fills and special effects. In that case, I also recommend not triggering it with a PC cord connected to your camera… Just be safe. Instead, either rely on the flash’s slave features, or as I just did, buy a cheap optical slave adaptor. I found this helpful guide to optical triggers here. A brief overview of how to use that old flash for a range of applications can be found here.

Since my old Vivitar flash only has three power settings, I decided to get a Wein Peanut trigger bought from B&H, but is also available for Adorama. The system works great for my purposes; adding background bounce light, or special effects. The Peanut works great for my applications. If you need to trigger wirelessly, then you probably want to go with newer flashes anyway.

In closing, if you have an old flash, beware. You should definitely be very careful using it on your DSLR unless you are sure that it will not damage your gear. On the other hand, having some extra flashes around can be very useful.

Until next time.


Remember that the best camera is the one you have with you!

2 thoughts on “Very Important – Using Vintage Flashes with Modern Cameras

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