Sunpak 444D

The Sunpak 444D appears to be, at least in terms of flash power and functions, identical to the Sunpak 383 and Sunpak 433D flashes. I don’t have and have never used the Sunpak 383, but I do have two 433Ds and they are, as far as I can tell, identical to the 444D except for one thing: the Sunpak 444D features an interchangable flash mount:

On ebay, most of these flashes come with one of these modules. Sometimes sells the flashes without the module. The flash will not mount or work with your camera without a module. The purpose of the module was to make it easier to use the flash on different cameras. If you want to use the flash on a Nikon or Canon or Pentax camera, you didn’t have to replace the whole flash; all you had to do is get a new module. If a company came out with a camera with added flash capability, Sunpak could introduce a new flash module to keep up with the new technology. Sunpak, for instance, made two modules for Pentax, the PT-1D and the PT-D2.

Is the brand of the module (i.e., the camera system it is designed for) important if you are using these flashes on current DSLRs? Well, that depends. On Pentax DSLRs I don’t believe it is a problem to use modules designed for other cameras. As long as they are designed to fit the standard flash shoe, it shouldn’t be a problem. My copy of the Sunpak 444D originally came with one of the the Nikon modules, the NE-2D. It worked fine on my Pentax K-5. However, out of curiosity, I purchased the PT-2D module. That flash added a couple of features when used with the K-5: (1) the camera defaults to sync speed when the flash is turned on; and (2) the flash indicator light, signaling that the flash is ready to fire, works in the viewfinder. Otherwise, there’s no advantage in using the Pentax module with the flash over non-Pentax modules on a Pentax camera.

The Sunpak 444D is a powerful, solidly built flash. The guide number is 120 feet, which may not seem much, until one reflects that this flash is fixed for coverage at 35mm (for full-frame, 24mm for APS-C). Most flashes achieve higher guide numbers by concentrating the light for longer focal ranges. The Sunpak 444D has comparable power to the Nikon SB 24 through 26 flashes, which also have a guide number of around 120 feet at 35mm. Sunpak produced an accessory, the TL-8, which, when mounted on the flash, concentrates the light from 40mm to 135mm. I don’t know what the guide numbers are for the particular focal ranges covered by this flash zoom; but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are equivalent to those Nikon flashes mentioned above.

The TL-8 comes with a little reflector which can be used as fill when the flash is bounced off the ceiling. This provides very nice light for portrait snaps:

The Sunpak 444D is an old flash from the eighties. I don’t know the exact dates of its release or termination. By the time the Nikon SB-24 first saw the light of day in the late eighties, the Sunpak flash would’ve been considered outmoded. The flash has no digital interface and lacks the bells-and-whistles features of the expensive, newer flashes. The analogue interface, however, strikes me as a feature, rather than a drawback, as it is much easier to set the flash. On DSLRs, you can only use it in autoflash or manual mode. It has three autoflash settings. At ISO 100, it will provide enough light for f2, f4, and f8. It has five manual output settings: full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16. The 444D has a trigger voltage of about 6 volts and is safe for use on both DSLRs and with wireless flash triggers. It has a head that both tilts and swivels. The flash usually sells somewhere around $40 per unit. You can’t get a better-made, more powerful flash, with more manual and autoflash settings for the money. With the TL-8 accessory (a used item normally sold separately) it makes for a very nice, inexpensive on-camera flash. Works well for strobist work using wireless flash triggers as well. I use it as part of my multi-flash hummingbird kit, for photographing the pesky little heli-birds: