Cheap Pentax flashguns - a guide

Studio Photography, Flash, Daylight and Studio Lights, Flash equipment and use
14 Nov '11 Mon Nov 14, 2011 14:50    
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Post Cheap Pentax flashguns - a guide

I regularly see newbies asking about an external flashgun but put off by the prices of the current Pentax range. However, you can have a powerful, reliable flashgun with a safe trigger voltage for under £20 with a bit of searching.

Pentax have been through several flash communication protocols over the years, have a look on the Dimitrov K-mount site for a full description. All we really need to know here is that barring some of the *ist D series the DSLRs no longer support TTL flash.

As a result, most of the flashes sold for the later film SLRs are not terribly useful to us. However, there is something of an easter egg in Pentax DSLR design: They still support Program Flash.

Program Flash dates from the 1980s and was the first fully automated Pentax flash. When charged, the flashgun would tell the camera to select the X speed and the correct aperture for the film speed while also illuminating an icon in the viewfinder. All of this will work as it did on your old P30.

It is a little crude with no manual control other than changing ISO to force a change of aperture, but if you just want indoor snaps of your cat being funny it's perfect.

However, pick your flash carefully and you can have full manual control as well. Here are a few possibilities:

The AF200T must be the best bargain at the moment, offering two auto flash modes (which work as program flash on a camera able to use that) but also four manual power settings. I've seen these for as little as £12 before now and they're probably the best first off-camera flash. Add a simple optical slave trigger or a long sync cord with adapters (if needed) and you can carry on using it as a slave flash should you buy something more recent. Its big brothers the AF280T or even AF400T are even better but can be quite expensive for this reason. The AF200T is cheap, simple and plentiful. All of the modes apart from TTL will work on these flashes. Avoid the other T-suffixed flashguns however as they cannot be switched out of TTL mode.

The AF240Z is an under-rated oddball. Despite having program, auto and manual modes and a nifty bounce/zoom head I've seen them for under £20 before now. It's big, but will take a cheap ebay softbox thanks to the design of the flash head. Not as flexible as the AF200T but still worth your money if found cheaply

The AF201SA seems quite rare. It only offers full program or manual, but it's a relatively tiny powerful flashgun. I paid £5 for mine mint and boxed. Personally I would not advocate the other "SA"-suffixed flashguns as they are even more limited - the AF200SA for example will only work in full program. Fine if you see one cheap, but there are better things for the money.

The original AF160 can be had for under £5 including postage, and while very basic the auto modes work pretty well. Just set the camera to manual, set shutter speed/aperture/iso to what the flash expects, and shoot. The flash will illuminate the "ready" icon in the viewfinder, measure the light levels and control its output accordingly. Same goes for the larger AF200S.

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