eBay Bargain: Pentax AF280T Flash

I’ve never been much for eBay. Even in its early years, I never trusted the site — or more accurately, I never trusted the people selling stuff there — to accurately represent anything. Rollei repair guy Mark Hensen has a page on his site where he says he’s bought over 500 cameras on eBay over the years, and not a single one has been as promised. My main issue is I never trusted that I was even going to receive what I bought, never mind if it matched the promise. But I was willing to put less than $20 on the line recently for a Pentax flash, and I have to say, it exceeded my expectations.

I decided that if I was going to shoot with the recently-acquired Pentax 645, I wanted full flexibility, and that included a flash — even though, honestly, I don’t really know how best to use a flash. One of the models described in the 645’s manual was the AF280T, and it seemed like it was the best shoe-mounted one of the three. So, I poked around, and found one that appeared to be in good condition on eBay from a seller here in Colorado. Opening bid was $15, so I bid. And won. The $9 or so to ship it didn’t keep it from being a bargain.

Less than a week later, it arrived, yesterday in fact, and to my delight, I now have a near-new condition flash unit tailor-made for my 645, including a case in perfect condition, and featuring a full automatic TTL mode, and array of automatic and manual functions. A foursome of fresh AA batteries later, and I find it works perfectly. I like it when things go to plan. The AF280T tilts and swivels, allowing lots of flexibility for bouncing the flash.

I have to confess that with Lomo 800 film in the Pentax right now, I don’t have a great need for a flash, so I’ll be trying it more fully later on. Still, I did get a chance to use it…

I guess I never really paid attention to accessory shoes on cameras. I didn’t realize that they are semi-standardized, and while there are a lot of proprietary extensions and what-not, the basic capabilities do, in fact, have some standardization. After reading-up on that, on my Minolta XG 1, and the AF280T, I decided to give it a go on my Minolta — since, like the Pentax, I figured to get full use out of it, I’d want the flexibility of flash.

The AF280T’s semi-automatic mode was suggested for non-Pentax cameras. While I found the appearance of the settings to be intimidating, they’re actually quite simple:

Back panel of the Pentax AF280T, attached to my XG 1. Looks intimidating; really isn’t. (And yes, detail-oriented reader, the camera is set to the A position, which means it’s not set correct to actually use the flash!)

The Auto Green and Auto Red settings essentially let you coarsely select the power of the flash. Dial-in the ASA/ISO setting of the film, which moves the scale left and right. You set the XG 1 to 1/60 (marked in yellow on the speed dial for that reason), and simply read the f-stop by the matching color, in this case, f/5.6. The manual has a little more detail around the process, but regardless, I found it easy. After taking a couple of flash photos on the XG 1, I can’t wait to see how they turn-out.

One of my challenges will be getting to know how to use a flash properly. Coming from digital, all I’ve ever used is the fully-automatic mode on my EOS digital, with a matching Canon flash. The only exotic thing I ever do is try to bounce when it seems like that’ll give me the best effect. And with digital, you can just try multiple options and review the results; I’ve never actually bothered to try and get good at it. I dislike to burned-out, washed-out effect of a flash in the traditional position, although I recognize that can work to better effect on film than digital. Clearly it’s something I’ll need to read-up on; there’s a lot you can do with a flash if you know what you’re doing. (And I don’t.)

In any case, nice to chalk-up an eBay purchase success here, and it’s nice also to have a flash that’ll work on both of the film cameras I’m using. Although the down side is that the camera bag I got for the Pentax is now far too small…