Inexpensive Flash Flip Bracket
A rotating flash bracket offer the photographer two benefits. First, it lets the photographer switch freely between having the camera in horizontal or vertical position, while keeping the flash centred over the lens. Second, it increases the distance between the flash unit and the lens, reducing the risk of running into the “red eye” effect caused by direct flash.
There are many rotating flash brackets available. The least expensive type is the models where the flash is placed on a hinged arm and this arm is flipped over the camera for vertical shooting, as show on the diagram to the left. More expensive models place the camera on a platform that may be rotated 90° for vertical shooting. The rotating camera design has the advantage of letting you tilt the flash for bouncing in both horizontal or vertical position, but the rotating camera models also cost more than the flash flip design.
As a frugal photographer, I decided to try out the least expensive flash flip design I could get hold of. A very popular low-cost choice is the a line marketed by Tiffen known as Stroboframe Quick Flip brackets. The line consists of the Quick Flip 350 for small format cameras (compacts, SLRs for 135-format film, and DSLRs), and the larger Quick Flip 120 for medium format cameras using 120-format film. The Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 usually retails around USD 40.
However, a number of eBay vendors offer Chinese-manufactured clones of these. Rather than going for the respected Stroboframe brand, I bought a Chinese clone of the Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 from a Hong Kong-based eBay vendor for USD 24, including shipping. I am resident in Norway, and it took around ten days to receive the packet from Hong Kong.
There is no brand name or indication of manufacturer on the packet. To look at, the bracket is an almost exact clone of the Stroboframe Quick Flip 350, down to the eight holes with BSW 1/4"x20 threads drilled in the base, and a copy of the Stroboframe Cold Shoe 300-SHO shown on the left. The bottom of the cold-shoe is fitted with an anti-twist stud that matches a hole in the bracket's swing arm.
From the look of it, Stroboframe Flash Anti-Twist Plate 300-C17 or Stroboframe Flash Anti-Twist Plate 300-C29 may fit to provide anti-twist if you want to replace the cold-shoe with a Nikon SC-17 or SC-29 off-camera shoe. However, Stroboframe's website state that: “Camera Anti-Twist Plates are not compatible with Quick Flip models”. Since the Chinese bracket is almost exact clone of the Stroboframe model, I haven't yet ordered one to test if they actually may fit.
The bracket also comes with a BSW 1/4"x20 bolt with a large head designed to fastened using your fingers. This bolt is used for fitting the camera on the bracket by means of the camera's tripod socket You just pick the hole that positions the centre of the lens under the flash when using the bracket in the horizontal position. Any of the other holes can be used as base for attaching the bracket to a tripod.
The bracket and bolt is manufactured from sturdy anodised aluminium, and there is a non-slip rubber padding glued to the base, and a foam-rubber grip.
Quick Flip with the Vivitar 283
The picture below shows the bracket fitted with a Kodak DCS 14n DSLR camera and a Vivitar 283 flash. The photographer would normally hold the rig with your left hand gripping the foam rubber grip and using your right hand holding the other end of the camera with your index finger on the trigger. However, lacking a suitable model I have just placed the whole rig on a tripod to be photographed.
Since the Vivitar 283 is a generic flash, it is placed in the bracket's cold-shoe, and connected to the PC-socket of the Kodak by means of a Vivitar PC-1 Sync Cord.
The image above shows how you operate the Quick Flip. With the camera in horizontal position, the swing arm points to left, positioning the flash over the centre of the lens. When you turn the camera over to the vertical position, you swing the arm 180 degrees so that it points straight up, and the flash is still positioned over the centre of the lens. The weight of the flash holds the vertical arm in a stable position.
The image also shows the two main weaknesses of the flash flip type bracket. First, when the flash is flipped in a vertical postion, you need to swivel it to bounce the flash via the ceiling. The Vivitar 283 does not have swivel (only tilt), so you can no longer bounce it. Second, the Kodak DCS 14n has a vertical grip and with an extra release button for use in the vertical position as long as you twist the camera counterclockwise. But the flash flip design forces you to twist the camera clockwise for a vertical shot. This puts both release buttons below the body. This is not the most convenient place to have them, but it is actually not too awkward when you get used to it. More expensive flash brackets avoid both problems by having more movements, or by rotating the camera.
Quick Flip with a dedicated flash
To use the Quick Flip with a dedicated TTL flash, you need to remove the cold shoe and replace it with a SC-28 Off-camera Shoe Cord or equivalent. As it happens, the Chinese has not used a standard BSW 1/4"x20 thread screw to fasten the cold-shoe, but a screw with a slightly finer pitch. To mount Off-camera Shoe Cord I had to supply the correct screw myself. The image below shows both the original screw (black) and its replacement from my spare parts drawer (shiny). You need a screwdriver for this operation.
The image below shows the bracket with the cold-shoe removed and replaced with the Off-camera Shoe Cord discussed in the previous segment. The flash can now be used in TTL mode.
As you can see from the images above, the Quick Flip has room for my Kodak DCS 14n (131 mm) with a Off-camera Shoe Cord in its hot-shoe, with some room spare. If this is not enough, it is possible to raise the swing arm an additional 40 mm by adjusting the position of the pivot support. You may also want to adjust the position of the pivot support to make sure the flash is positioned over the centre of the lens in the vertical position. See the image below for an illustration of this assembly.
There are certainly better (but also more expensive) brackets on the market. However, with the exception of the pitch of a single screw, the Chinese design of the reviewed item faithfully nearly all the features the original Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 at a lower price.
I had to look in my spare parts to find the right screw to mount the Off-camera Shoe Cord on the bracket, but otherwise, the Chinese bracket seems to perform just as well as the Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 it is obviously based on.
It should be noted that the flash flip type of bracket has a number of slightly annoying characteristics that you will avoid by buying a more expensive type. These are:
- The swing arm pivots freely, and is only held in position during use by gravity. If you are careless when carrying the bracket rig with camera and flash attached, it may flip on its own during transport and possible break something.
- When used with a flash with no swivel, you cannot bounce the flash when it is used in the vertical (portrait) position.
- When used in the vertical position, the camera's release button is in a slightly awkward position.
- The bracket can not be folded compact to fit nicely into a camera bag for transport.
However, for a price of USD 24 including shipping, I can live with these limitations. Overall I think this Chinese clone of the Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 is very useful and good value.