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Accessories we like: three products to better manage your lighting - Continued
Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket

There are two reasons to position a shoe mount flash horizontally on top of a light stand:
  • If it's being aimed into an umbrella, the light will more evenly and fully fill out the umbrella's interior; if the umbrella is smaller and a reflective type, the flash's lowered profile will mean less of the returning light is blocked. This translates into slightly softer light, slightly brighter light, or both, just by tilting the flash on its side. If the umbrella is a Paul C. Buff Silver PLM then the gains aren't slight, they're substantial.

  • If there's a PocketWizard FlexTT5 attached to the shoe, the flash's horizontal orientation keeps the flash clear of the incoming wireless signal. This increases wireless range by as much as 20% in our testing.
These seem like pretty good reasons to go horizontal. And yet, the vast majority of the products and methods for mounting a Canon Speedlite, Nikon Speedlight or similar keep the flash vertical on the light stand.

Enter the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket from Michael Bass. This sweet new accessory is comprised of a shaped plastic bracket (fitted with non-slip foam pad) and velcro strap. Lay the flash down on the bracket, snug the strap around the joint between the body and head and voila: you have a horizontally-oriented flash, ready to be deployed in the lighting setup of your choice. When the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket's velcro strap is properly tightened the flash holds firmly in place at any angle and doesn't come free even when shaken and jostled.

The pictures below show the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket propping up a Nikon Speedlight SB-900. This particular version has the bracket permanently attached to the small, sturdy LumoPro LP633 light stand adapter - the LP633's cold shoe is removed and the bracket screwed on in its place - but there are other bracket configurations as well.

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Sideways: Views of the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket, with a Nikon Speedlight SB-900 attached. Click any photo to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket advantages The first advantage the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket provides is an improvement in light cast. The rollovers below illustrate this.

At left, a Canon Speedlite 430EX II with its zoom head at 24mm is positioned horizontally and pointed at the centre of a Westcott 43" collapsible shoot-through umbrella. If you hold the cursor over the photo you'll see how the same flash illuminates just the top portion of the umbrella when positioned vertically. Additionally, brightness increases by 0.1 to 0.2 stops when the flash is oriented on its side.

At right, the same 430EX II is aimed into the same umbrella in the same horizontal position, but this time the flash's drop-down diffuser is dropped down. The result is even coverage of the umbrella interior. If you hold the cursor over the photo you'll see that, with the flash positioned vertically, coverage is not as even. There's about a 25% difference in density from the top to the bottom of the umbrella now. There's also a brightness difference. Umbrella output is 0.2 stops brighter when the 430EX II is laying on the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket.

These are small but welcome improvements.

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Rollover: A Canon Speedlite 430EX II with its zoom head at 24mm is positioned horizontally and pointed at the centre of the umbrella. Hold the cursor over the photo to see how the same flash illuminates just the top portion of the umbrella when positioned vertically (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Rollover: A horizontal 430EX II is again aimed into the umbrella, but this time the flash's drop-down diffuser is dropped down. The result is even coverage of the umbrella interior. Hold the cursor over the photo to see that, with the flash positioned vertically, coverage is not as even. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Overachiever: A Canon Speedlite 430EX II on a Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket, lighting up a Paul C. Buff 64" Silver PLM umbrella. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

With the Paul C. Buff PLM 64" Silver umbrella, however, the differences aren't small. Brightness jumps by 0.6 stops, while the light reflecting back onto the subject is noticeably softer, when the flash is mounted on the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket. Horizontal positioning is a must to even attempt to use this umbrella with a small flash. The payoff is a combination of brightness and softness you've likely not thought possible from a Speedlight-type flash unit. It's a minimum of 1.3 stops brighter than the already impressively bright Westcott 43" collapsible shoot-through umbrella, while still providing smooth wraparound light.

This is with the original version of the PLM (which we wrote about in a previous article). Paul C. Buff will ship revised 51", 64" and 86" PLM series umbrellas later this quarter that promise to be brighter still. They will also be even more demanding about flash head positioning.

The Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket should be a good companion to any umbrella, allowing you to extract the maximum brightness and softness possible from it when the light source is a shoe mount style flash. With the super efficient PLM umbrellas, the flash aiming enabled by the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket is critical.

The second advantage of the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket is specific to users of the PocketWizard FlexTT5, both the Canon and upcoming Nikon variants of this wireless radio remote receiver. With the flash on its side, the FlexTT5 attached and its antenna tilted upwards as shown in the pictures in this section, reception of incoming wireless signals is optimized.

This is not related to the RF noise problem of certain Canon Speedlites, nor is it something peculiar in the design of the PocketWizards. It's just the nature of wireless and how signal reception is impacted when the antenna is next to a signal absorbing/reflecting object, like the upright body of a flash.

With the flash on the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket and the FlexTT5 riding at the back with its antenna pointed skyward, we saw range gains of between about 5% and 20% relative to a vertical setup (see this article for an explanation of how we test range).

The degree of improvement was dependent on the flash unit. The maximum reliable triggering distance to the 430EX II and Nissin Di866 increased by between 5-10%. The Vivitar 285HV, more than 10%. With the SB-800 and SB-900 we measured a full 20% improvement over what was already a long working distance (this is with early beta units of the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 for Nikon so any range improvement figures shouldn't be taken as gospel quite yet).

It's safe to say that with most flashes you might attach to a FlexTT5, positioning them on their side in the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket will lead to a meaningful increase in working range. Curiously, the only flash we tested that didn't register an improvement was a 580EX II that had been modified to reduce RF noise. The maximum working distance didn't really change at all, though in theory it probably should have. (We didn't test an unmodified 580EX II.)

The third advantage of the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket has less to do with its horizontalness and more to do with the smartness of its design. That advantage is speed of deployment. When we're in small flash mode it's almost always because the assignment requires quick setup, and there is no faster-to-deploy setup than this one, at least not that we've used. This has been an unexpected bonus.

Configuration options The version of the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket we favour is one where its permanently affixed to the LumoPro LP633 light stand adapter. This puts the flash head as close as practical to the umbrella's centre, plus the bracket and light stand adapter together take up the least amount of room possible in a gear bag, relative to other Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket versions. (As an aside, the LumoPro LP633 was already our favourite light stand adapter for shoe mount flashes, even before the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket came along. That's because it offers a combination of cast metal strength, compact size, well-designed cold shoe and overall ease of use that's missing from other such adapters we've owned over time. If you're looking for a light stand adapter on which to rest a hot shoe flash, the LumoPro LP633 is a fine choice.)

The four Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket versions are shown below. The Direct Attached Spigot, Low Profile Mounting Foot, Standard Locking Mounting Foot and Direct Attached LumoPro LP633 are shown together in the first photo.

The remaining photos show the four variations in use with different flash units. Note that only the Direct Attached LumoPro LP633 pictured is representative of the width and shape of shipping brackets. The other three are earlier protoypes that are narrower and have a sidewall that's higher on one side than shipping versions.

Bracketing: Clockwise from top left: Direct Attached Spigot, Low Profile Mounting Foot, Standard Locking Mounting Foot and Direct Attached LumoPro LP633. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
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Nikon SB-800: Direct Attached Spigot version, mounted on a spigot receptacle. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Nissin Di866: Low Profile Mounting Foot version, mounted in the cold shoe of a LumoPro LP633 light stand adapter. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
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Canon 580EX II: Direct Attached LumoPro LP633 version. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Canon 430EX II: Standard Locking Mounting Foot version, mounted in the cold shoe of a LumoPro LP633 light stand adapter. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Any of the versions can be ordered with optional Flash Angle Adjustment Screws. These screws, which thread through from the base of the bracket, allow for the angle of the flash to be tweaked slightly, to ensure that it's aimed as directly at the centre of the umbrella as possible. We've experimented with making changes to flash angle with these screws, then measuring the brightness of the umbrella's output, both with the Westcott shoot-through and Paul C. Buff PLM reflecting umbrellas mentioned earlier in this section. The light meter registered no difference.

Getting the flash onto its side in the Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket is a good thing, but it doesn't appear to be necessary to then fuss with microadjusting the flash's aim using these screws, so you can probably avoid purchasing this option.

The Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket from Michael Bass is the newest addition to our kit of location lighting gear, but it has rapidly become indispensable. To get the most out of an umbrella with your small flash it's definitely worth checking out. Especially for those who also use a PocketWizard FlexTT5 to trigger the flash.

Note that Bass has also developed a version of the bracket meant to accommodate two flashes, called the Double Wide Horizontal Flash Bracket. We've not used it. Also note the upcoming PocketWizard AC7 RF Hard Shield will combine horizontal flash positioning with significant RF noise suppression in one product. It may be a superior alternative for users of certain RF noisy Canon Speedlites that are struggling with short PocketWizard wireless triggering range. More about that is in an earlier story.

Hoodman HoodLoupe 3.0

The Manfrotto 1004BAC and Horizontal Flash Mounting Bracket are tools for managing the light you bring with you. The Hoodman HoodLoupe 3.0 is for managing the light that's already there - namely, the sun in the sky. The ambient conditions don't have to be very bright for it to become difficult to properly see the rear LCD of your digital SLR. That's where the HoodLoupe comes in. It's an optical glass loupe, complete with 3 dioptic adjustment, sized for the typical 3 inch LCD on the back of Canon, Nikon and other makers' digital cameras. It's worn around your neck, using the included lanyard, until it's time to check an exposure.

I've personally used the HoodLoupe 3.0 since it came out, almost every time I shoot pictures outside. Before that I owned its predecessor, the original HoodLoupe, and before that a cardboard tube with a rubber eyepiece pulled from a pair of old binoculars (this was my own creation, not a Hoodman product!).

The HoodLoupe 3.0 is optically sharp and well made. Its only real shortcoming is an eyepiece that will rotate out of focus by itself. This was solved with a liberal application of gaffer tape, as you can see in the picture below.

A camera's rear LCD is so useful for checking exposure, and yet becomes so useless outdoors when the light is even moderately bright. The HoodLoupe 3.0 provides a short, dark tunnel in which to view your LCD, thereby making it usable - and useful - outdoors. This is an absolute must-have accessory for photographers who work outdoors with a digital camera.

Lights Out: The Hoodman HoodLoupe 3.0. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Hoodman makes several accessories for the HoodLoupe 3.0. For example, it can double as a video camera viewfinder when tethered to a video-capable SLR with the Cinema Strap, as shown below. Other accessories include the HoodCrane mount, the HoodEye 3.0 eyecup and HoodLoupe Mag 3.0 magnifying eyecup.

Showtime: A Cinema Strap tethers the HoodLoupe 3.0 to a Nikon D3S. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The Hoodman-produced video below demonstrates the HoodLoupe 3.0.


Infomercial: A demonstration of the HoodLoupe 3.0 (Video courtesy Hoodman)


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