Using a Vintage Disposable Bulb Flash Unit with a New Digital Camera


After recently purchasing a Nikon 1 V1, Swedish photographer Sven Hedin decided to work on making the camera work with an external flash. Not just any external flash, mind you, but a vintage flash unit — the kind that uses disposable bulbs.

Here’s the technical explanation of his solution:

[…] I happened to have a tube of VO2223A, an opto coupler triac that can handle 600V and several amps pulsed. Since it’s an opto coupler it will be triggered by light, and since it’s often used for dimming it has to have rather fast response. I simply cut it in half between the primary and secondary side, soldered wires from it to an external flash shoe adapter, attached my old flash unit to the shoe and the sensor to my camera […]

The only real downsides are that it needs a lot of light so it needs to be mounted very near to the master flash, also it only works as a slave for flash units that emit a single flash so no TTL or modern compact cameras that use metering flash or red eye reduction.

The advantage to using his disposable bulbs is that the color is that they offer better and more light than his built-in flash. Here are two comparison photos. The first shows a photo snapped using the V1’s built-in electronic flash, and the second was captured using his vintage flash:



If you’re curious about the technical details of the build, check out this video Hedin made:

You can also find much more of the technical elements over on Hedin’s website.

New Camera – Old Flash [Sven Hedin via Hack A Day]

  • Ren Bostelaar

    The same “advantages” could be said about using nearly any off-camera flash. This is interesting, sure, but don’t try to pass a fun stunt off as a practical solution.

  • Hmmm

    Why? Using a flash to flash a flash? If you want a warming image, change your white balace.

  • Bob Prangnell

    What a hack – the hacker did not know enough electronics to make the simple circuit needed to attach the opto-coupler to the hot shoe, so he cuts it in half and uses flashlight to trigger. Even funnier, the V1 he uses does not have a built in flash, so he had to put a speedlight on the hot shoe to trigger the opto-coupler he hacked. Would have been so much simpler to connect the intact coupler, with a small cell, to the camera.

  • hfc

    White balance isn’t equivalent to a different light source. If it were, full spectrum studio lighting wouldn’t cost so much. With that said, like Ren mentioned, there are a bunch of tricks you can play with any off camera flash (or on camera too provided it’s not too weak) flash to get the same effect.

    I do agree that it seems a bit of gimmick to get a disposable flash onto a new camera.

  • JJ Black

    “Clever Man Designs Interesting Flash, Takes Horrendous Pictures Of A Filthy Livingroom”

  • Martula

    why should i do this? it´s stupid….

  • gumi

    stupid and bad for the enviorment

  • Nate Matos

    Bad for the environment? It’s not like sylvania is cranking out thousands of these each day still. They’re all old stock. So they either get used or get tossed. If they are tossed then its actually worse for the environment to NOT use them because the materials inside haven’t been burnt up.

  • Technician

    Solution nobody asked for.

  • Jay Javier

    Why the ‘violent’ reactions? :) It’s just a harmless way of putting new and old together :) flashbulbs, because of their shape and the shape of the luminaire of the flashguns they are fired from give a different sort of beam of light. Softer and more spread out- the sort of effect one would get only with the bigger strobes and bowl reflectors. Nothing quite similar to whatever the common xenon tubes enclosed in those tiny reflectors found in the typical electronic flash today. However, the rigging can be made simple. Flash bulbs can fire with as little as 3 volts. Putting tiny button cells in the flashgun to replace the original battery and capacitor-condenser is good enough. Then a PC to hot shoe adapter (if the camera is equipped with one) is placed on the camera shoe to connect the flash gun to it- flashguns were almost always connected with cables only. The camera must be set to manual exposure, shutter set to 1/30s (flash bulbs need some time to peak)- because cameras now only have an X sync. The f stop is then determined by a bit of math, using the bulb’s given guide number in relation to the ISO the camera is set to, and the shutter speed it is using. This is the way I did it. :)

  • Sven Hedin

    Well, i asked for it, i built it, i’m not forcing you to make it.

    As for connecting to the camera’s hot shoe, the whole point of this is that i can’t, the V1 has a proprietary shoe that only fits a couple of speedlights made for that camera. There is no adapter available (yet) for a standard hotshoe.

  • Mario Liedtke

    Smartass: “The first shows a photo snapped using the V1′s built-in electronic flash, and the second was captured using his vintage flash:”
    The V1 doesn’t have a BUILT-IN Flash. The pics show that a Nikon SB-N5 Speedlight is attached. ;-D