Pentax AF280T

The Pentax AF280T flash was first released in 1980. At that time, it was a top-of-the-line flash, with a swivel and rotating head, two manual output settings, and two auto settings. The flash enjoyed a long run, remaining in production well into the nineties, even though by then it had grown very long in the tooth. It stayed around so long because Pentaxians really took to the flash. And although no longer in production, it still proves a fine flash even on DSLR cameras, despite the lack of advanced features.

The flash was primarily designed to work with Pentax’s advanced bodies, such as the Pentax LX, in TTL mode. However, to attain backward compatibility with non-TTL cameras, it had two autoflash settings in which the camera provided just enough light to get proper exposure at a specific aperture/ISO setting. It also had a 1/12 manual setting for close-up work, which was specially designed to go hand-in-hand with the flash’s special downward tilt feature. Press a button on the side, and the flash can tilt down 15º.

Although Pentax’s very first digital cameras worked with TTL flashes, none of their more recent cameras enjoy this capability. They all require the newer p-TTL. So on most Pentax digital cameras, this flash can only work in manual or in one of the two autoflash settings. This latter option is somewhat limiting, at least in terms of what apertures one can shoot at. The autoflash settings, at ISO 100, are confined to f4 and f8. Since no Pentax digital camera can reach below ISO 80, this means you can’t shoot at any aperture wider than f3.5 (unless one uses an ND filter). Despite this limitation, the flash works remarkably well on Pentax DSLRs. Simply set the flash in either of its two autoflash modes, set the camera in P mode and the camera will automatically set the correct shutter speed, aperture and ISO to get the right shot. The flash features full and complete automation, not very different from what you would get using a p-TTL flash. This automation works as well in most of the other modes as well, including SV, TV, X, and P modes. The autoflash, which depends on a light meter on the flash itself, is surprisingly accurate and produces well exposed pictures. It has at least one advantage over p-TTL: no pre-flashes, so you don’t run into as many blinking or red eye type situations as you do with p-TTL, which emits a brief, nearly undetectable pre-flash from which the camera judges exposure.

The quality of the light from the flash is very good — actually surprisingly so. Of course, it’s always better to bounce the flash or diffuse it, and to get the flash off the camera. But it still produces decent results even without these measures, as seen below:





Even better results can be gotten if you diffuse or bounce the flash, as in the following photos, taken with the Rogue Flashbender:









The close-up function also works tolerably well, or at least better than one would expect:



Still, it’s much preferably to get the flash of the camera. The results then can be very good:



A year ago the AF280T was selling, in the used market, for around $40. That was the price I paid for it from keh.com. But since then word has spread concerning how good the flash is (considering it’s age and limitations), and the price has gone up by about 50% to around $60. Either way, it’s a quite a bit less expensive than Pentax’s current flashes, which cost considerably more. The Pentax AF360fgz, which does tilts but does not swivel and has less sheer power than the AF280T, costs over $200. The newer flashes have more features: their flash heads can concentrate and therefore brighten light for use with telephoto lenses, for instance. The AF280T is fixed for illuminating the FOV of a 28mm lens (on full frame). So if you’re shooting with a normal or short telephoto lens, much of the light is wasted. The AF280T also lacks HSS (i.e., high speed sync) feature, as well as most of the other advanced bells-and-whistles features of current high-end flashes. These features hardly matter if one merely desires to get some more light for one’s photography. For indoor snaps, the AF280T is a great bargain solution for Pentax shooters.

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