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Vivitar Auto 252 Flash
(c.1972 ~ c.1978)
© 2012 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations   More

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Vivitar 252

Vivitar 252 (covers a 35mm lens on full-frame, 7.2 oz./203g with two Sanyo AA Eneloop, about $5 used). This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

June 2012   Better Pictures   Vivitar   Nikon   Canon    Fuji    LEICA   All Reviews


Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations   More

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

The Vivitar 252 is a fully automatic flash for use with most cameras.

It has a hot shoe, as well as an integral PC cord for use with any camera or shutter with a standard PC sync terminal.

I measured its sync voltage at 205V DC, so I'd avoid using it with electronic cameras, many of which have sync electronics which could be zapped by this flash. Mechanical shutters and cameras are perfect for use with this flash.

Its illuminated calculator dial is a joy to use; just press the little clear top button, and the calculator dial lights evenly in green!

Both sides are perfect, with a sharply-cut waffle-pattern grip, prefect for getting a solid grasp on the flash when mounting and unmounting.

The worst part about this classic flash is that it uses first-generation automatic exposure circuitry, which means that the entire capacitor charge is blown for every shot, so used on AUTO, battery life is much shorter and recycle times are much longer than modern flashes (modern thyristor circuits save all the power that isn't used for each shot). With this Vivitar 252, every shot uses as much power as a full-power dump, so if your camera has a Guide Number function, use it to use all the light that you can.


Vivitar 252

Vivitar 252.


Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations   More


Power Sources

2 AA cells.

Alkaline, Ni-Cd, Ni-MH and Eneloop.

Included SB-1 AC power cord.

Optional dedicated NC-1 Ni-Cd pack and MV-1 multi-voltage AC charger.


Recycle Time

Rated 7 seconds with new cells or on AC power.

I measure only 4 seconds to ready-light on with Sanyo AA Eneloop.


Number of Flashes

160+ with alkaline cells.

80+ with NC-1 Ni-Cd pack.

Same number of flashes regardless of if used in AUTO or MANUAL modes.


Light Output

700 beam candle-power seconds (BCPS).

Rated Guide Number 64 (ASA 100 in feet) or 20 (ISO100/DIN 21 in meters).


Flash Duration

1/2,000 second (manual).

1/2,000 ~ 1/30,000 second (Auto).


Color Temperature

6,000º Kelvin.



55º x 55º (covers a 35mm lens on FX, or 24mm lens on DX.)


Auto Ranges

2 to 9 feet


2 to 17 feet


Automatic Sensor Measurement Angle




3-1/2 x 1-9/16 x 3-1/16 inches.

88.5 x 39 x 77 millimeters.



7.150 oz./202.7g, measured with with two Sanyo AA Eneloop.

Rated 5-1/4 oz. (150g), empty.



Included SB-1 AC cord to run from AC power (no batteries needed; runs on 120 and 220 V).

Included zipper pouch.

Optional NC-1 Ni-Cd pack.

Optional MV-1 multi-voltage AC Charger (charges battery while in the flash).

Optional Metric (DIN/Meters) calculator dial.



Made in Korea.


Performance         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations   More

The nicest thing about this flash is how well it stows its permanently connected sync cord, and its magnificent illuminated calculator dial.

Since the sync cord is captive, any you buy should still have their sync cords.

In 2012, I measure the actual light output of my Vivitar 252 as Guide Number 45 in feet at ISO 100, which is one stop less than its rated GN 64. This is typical for all flashes, and not bad for a 1970s flash tested in 2012.

While rated for a 7-second recycle time, I measure only 4 seconds to ready-light on with Sanyo AA Eneloop.

The worst thing about this flash is that in AUTO mode, it dumps all the power for every shot, just the same as if you shot it in MANUAL at full power.

I measured the sync terminal voltage as 203.8 VDC, so watch it with the newest cameras.

I measure about 100 mA idle current drain with the ready light on.


Usage         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations   More



WARNING: Avoid using this on newer electronic cameras, as its sync voltage of over 200 volts might damage newer cameras. Use it only with mechanical cameras, or with cameras rated for use with sync voltages of 250 volts or higher.

Slide it in your hot shoe like any other flash.

For older cameras, pull the sync cord out of the bottom and connect it to your shutter or camera.


Vivitar 252

Bottom, Vivitar 252, showing sync cord.



Vivitar 252

Rear Calculator Dial, Vivitar 252.

Set the calculator dial to your film speed. The graphics are a little confusing, since they are designed to make it easier to set ASA 160 for High-Speed Ektachrome, ASA 64 for Kodachrome X and ASA 125 for Plus-X.

The "160" is actually over the dot for ASA 200, with a line to the ASA 160 spot.

The "125" is actually over the dot for ASA 100, with a line to the ASA 125 spot.

The "64" is actually over the dot for ASA 50, with a line to the ASA 64 spot.

Turn on the flash, and the button above the power switch (below the calculator) will glow in neon orange when the flash is ready. If you want to test-fire the flash, just push the lit orange button.

To light the dial smartly in green, press the button on top.

For use up to 9 feet, select the RED AUTO mode on the front sliding switch, and set the f/stop shown on the calculator dial on your camera. As shown for ASA 125 film, set f/8.

For use up to 17 feet, select the BLUE AUTO mode on the front sliding switch, and set the f/stop shown on the calculator dial on your camera. As shown for ASA 125 film, set f/4.

For MANUAL exposure, focus the camera, look at the distance, and use the f/stop shown next to that distance.


Actual Power Output

Typical for all electronic flashes, actual maximum or manual power output is a stop less than rated.

If you're shooting prints (negatives), don't worry, but if you're shooting slide film, it really only reach to about 6 feet in RED AUTO mode or 11 feet in BLUE AUTO mode before it starts to underexpose; try yours and see.

Since the actual power output is a stop less than rated (like most flashes), I suggest setting the ASA to half the actual rating of your film. For example, for ASA (ISO) 100 film, set ASA 50.


Battery Power

There is no auto shutoff. If you leave it turned on, it will run-down full Alkaline, Ni-MH or Eneloop cells in about continuous 24 hours.


Capacitor Care

Vivitar suggests forming the capacitor monthly by letting the ready light glow 10 seconds and popping the flash. Repeat five times.

Leave the orange light glowing when you put away your flash; resist the temptation to pop the last charge.


Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations   More

For about $5 used over eBay, this flash is a great, lightweight choice for use with older cameras that lack a hot shoe.

For use with newer cameras with hot shoes, I'd prefer a flash with a thyristor so it didn't use as much battery power in AUTO, but if you're shooting in MANUAL, this then is a great, super-high quality classic flash.

This Vivitar 252 is much better made than much of the off-brand junk sold new today. It its day, Vivitar was the leading professional flash maker, and most pros shot a couple of Vivitar 283s. I know I did!

Just don't blow your electronic sync circuits by using this on an Autofocus camera. Check your manual and see if your camera can handle 250V and you'll be OK, but many newer cameras only work with sync voltage below 25V.

If you've found the time and energy I've expended in sharing this detailed review of a $5 flash helpful, this free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.


More Information         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations   More

Vivitar 252 Users Manual (scroll down).


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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