Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Perfect Umbrella Bracket?

There is no such thing as a perfect umbrella bracket. I should know. I think I've bought them all.

I did find one that has come closer to any I've yet encountered. I purchased it from a vendor based in Las Vegas who is a regular on the camera show circuit. I don't think that her company has exclusive distribution rights, so surely it must be available from somewhere. Needless to say, it's made in China. (Update: I found a Chinese vendor who has what appears to be the same unit. I found several sources that have only one slotted screw for the cold shoe, so check carefully. Check it out here. If the link dead ends, we're all out of luck. I found a similar unit available in the U.S. here.)
Some of the high points are:
  • Metal Construction: This makes it much more compact than the plastic Photo Flex brackets.
  • Mounting Options: The unit comes with a reversible spigot that can be used with lightstands equipped with either a 1/4 X 20 or 3/8 X 16 male thread. The spigot can be removed and the unit clamped onto a standard 5/8  lightstand "top".
  • Ratchet "Teeth": The swiveling holder has teeth to eliminate umbrella sag, so long as you remember to tighten it. 
  • Strong Umbrella Retaining Screw: The screw that holds the umbrella in place is all metal and nearly 1/4" in diameter. The gripping portion is grooved for easy tightening and has a coin slot for those times when you need to apply a little extra torque, which is not visible in the photo.
  • Clamp-Type Cold Shoe: The shoe actually clamps onto the speedlight's foot for full contact. The cold shoe clamping screw also has a coin slot. Look for the black up arrow and you can just make out the coin slot.
  • 1/4 X 20 Attaching Screw: This is the BIG one. The cold shoe can be unscrewed from the bracket and replaced with anything with a 1/4 x 20 female thread, including the Frio Cold Shoe, a Nikon AS-10 Flash Adapteror even a Nikon SC-28 TTL Coiled Remote Cord. Tighten the provided thumb wheel against the cold shoe or cable once you've gotten it properly aligned.

You can see the stud after the cold shoe and the thumb wheel have been removed.  This screw makes the unit is much shorter than the Impact Umbrella Bracket.

Front Or Back? The is only one "correct" orientation. The umbrella is inserted so that it inclines upwards to intersect the beam of the speedlight. If you look closely, you can see that I've painted a small "U" (for "up") on the side where the umbrella shaft goes in. See the right pointing white arrow.

Speaking Of Umbrella Shafts: Inserting a regular pencil into the umbrella shaft will help to prevent its collapse when you tighten the thumbscrew. A good thing to do with all of those pencil stubs you have in a cup on your desk, assuming that you still know how to use a pencil. Here's a photo of a Pro Photo umbrella bracket, added on March 25, proving that a pencil will indeed fit snugly into the shaft. Another option might be to glue a 1/4" diameter piece of aluminum rod, if you use epoxy to fill the .025" gap where the rod falls short. I may have to take this route on my next umbrella since I've started to "choke up" on the shaft when I needed to produce a more direction light source, or to minimize light from the flash spilling over the edge of the umbrella.

Let's Pick Nits. There is one moderate annoyance. The base is drilled for a shorter spigot that is noticeably shorter than those I'm used to seeing. Consequently, one can't seat a normal spigot to its full depth. This leaves a small, unsupported area that bothers me, but not enough for me to photography it, or for you to examine it. Anyway, I could easily replace the standard spigot on my monopod for the shorter one that comes with the clamp.

I have to say that this umbrella bracket has addressed nearly all of my concerns. As of this writing, I haven't taken the unit into the field, but I'll update this posting after the completion of its sea trials.