This is the first in a series of reviews and tutorials that I will be doing about off camera lighting gear. Right now, the plan is to do two posts a week on some of the gear that I use on a regular basis. I know that there is a lot of info on diy photo gear and OCL already on the interwebs but I will add my two cents to the fountain and hopefully someone will get some thing out of it. Keep in mind that several of these ideas are not my own, but are something that I found useful or added to. And a final word of caution, one that I will repeat over and over, some of the diy posts will contain projects that are difficult or dangerous to complete without the right tools and skills. Even if you follow my directions very carefully, accidents do happen and it is very easy to injure yourself or ruin what you are working on! Be responsible and approach any of this at your own risk. There! I said it! Now lets get on to the fun stuff.
One of the advantages to using small speedlights, compared to studio lights, is that the overall cost of entry is far less. In addition to the smaller cost of the flashes themselves, the necessary support equipment can be far less heavy duty and less expensive. Even though it is less expensive, it may still be hard to justify spending several hundred dollars on lighting equipment after you just plunked down big time for a fancy new DSLR and some equally expensive lenses. In many cases it may be tempting to turn to ebay in search of a budget option. Sometimes this strategy can work very well, other times you just end up wasting your money on junk. While I am not going to tell you how to spend your money, I will share with you my experience with some popular ebay items and let you decide what is best for you.
Enter "Flash Bracket Type D"
This little guy can be had for less than $15! On paper (or in pixels) it looks like a steal, but there are several reasons why this is likely to be the only one that is ever put into by bag. First, let me say that there are MANY worse options when buying an umbrella swivel, and if you are a hobbyist this may be the ticket for you. The lower portion of the swivel is made of cast aluminum or pot metal and is very sturdy, on par with the most expensive swivels on the market. The socket accepts a standard 5/8" stud (in fact, the unit comes with one, a nice touch) and features both a thumb screw and a push button type safety catch. This means that your speadlight is in no danger of falling, even if the thumb screw becomes loose. The knob to adjust the angle of the flash is made of "structural foam" type plastic. This is a good thing, the knob is both very strong and less likely to crack then harder plastics. The swivel mechanism features a ratchet action that is nice, but the clamping mechanism would work just about as well without it. The top portion is made of stamped steel that is bent to shape. This is plenty strong enough to hold a shoe mount flash. The real issue that I have with this swivel is the plastic used for both the umbrella hole and the hot shoe mount. It could be argued that the plastic hot shoe mount is a plus, because there is no chance of shorting out a flash by the foot contacts. While this is true, a little electrical tape fixes the shorting issue on metal adapters and the fact that the tension screw on this unit threads into plastic means that it will likely strip out very quickly with any regular use. I guess that you could replace the plastic unit with a metal one, but the least expensive metal mount that I have seen is around $10. If you do that, the total cost is $25 per unit and there are plenty of better options in that price range. I have the same issue with the set screw for the umbrella, threads into plastic, not very durable. Lastly, there is the issue of shipping time. Because these ship directly from The Orient, you can expect to wait at least two weeks for them to arrive (mine arrived in 22 days!). On the other hand MPEX sells an excellent swivel for $17 + Shipping. One that is all metal and will arrive in less then half of the time, for me the MPEX swivel is a better choice. I will certainly use this adapter, but I do not think that a savings of $2 justifies it's shortcomings (at least for me) I would spend the extra $2 on the nicer swivel and make up for it with some of the diy gear coming next week.