January 30, 2011

review: Custom Brackets Digital Pro-M rotating bracket kit

The makers of the Custom Brackets flash brackets, recently sent me a copy of their latest and best rotating flash bracket, the Pro-M rotating bracket (Amazon), for review. They had noticed my page on flash brackets, and even though I don’t much use my flash bracket any more, they still thought I should check their latest model out. Of the various makes of flash brackets I had tried out when I first started doing wedding photography full-time, the Custom Brackets was the one I settled on out of all of them. As far as I was concerned theirs was the flagship of the flash brackets. So I was curious to see what the updated model could offer …

the reason why we’d use a flash-bracket:

We would use a flash bracket when we want to avoid that side-ways shadow when direct on-camera flash is used and the camera is held vertically. It really does look ugly. (See the page on flash brackets for an example.) Now, if you only use your camera in a horizontal position, then the flash shadow falls behind your subject, and is less of an intrusive element in the photograph.

When working indoors where there are bounce-able surfaces, I find a flash bracket less of a necessity, thanks to high-ISO capable cameras and the use of faster lenses. Bouncing the flash off other surfaces, and purposely shielding my on-camera flash from directly falling on my subject, I can achieve results which are quite remarkable for on-camera flash.

But photographers who shoot red carpet events or news events, don’t have the luxury always of working indoors with walls and ceilings off which they can bounce flash. Then a flash bracket can really improve the look of the photographs by avoiding that side-ways shadow.

 

the Custom Brackets Pro-M rotating bracket (Amazon)

So how does this flash bracket stack up against the one I’ve originally been using?

Immediately noticeable for me, is that this unit is more compact and lighter than the older design I have been using. The literature says it is made of light-weight aircraft quality aluminum.

The more compact size of this unit is made possible with a clever series of knobs and adjustments, with which the height of the upright stem can be lowered.

Back-tracking a bit to the original bracket I used, you can see where I took and angle-grinder to the upright stem to shorten it. Less of a protrusion to catch on something.

I also use the angle-grinder to remove part of the foot. (Not shown here.) I also removed the obnoxiously large handle to the left that the medium-format shooters would need to get a proper grip on the boxy cameras they used.

So the entire out-of-the-box set-up was quite bulky .. and I felt compelled to make it more compact.

Well, the new Custom Brackets Digital Pro-M bracket is more compact.

Part of it is due to the way the stem now slides up and down inside the handle. The handle is not a big fat handle-grip to the side anymore, but is part of that stem with a cushion-y padding to the handle. Great. That’s taken care of.

The adjustment to tilt the flash connection forward or backwards, is also more compact now with a smaller adjustment knob. It also seems less likely to slip over time.

In this image, you can also see the hole for a radio slave to be attached right next to the speedlight. Neat.

With the previous designs, you had to buy an attachment plate for each specific camera body. It was a pain, and costly, to attach a different camera plate whenever you upgraded your camera.

The Custom Brackets people have come up with a really elegant way to adjust the camera plate to match your specific camera to the bracket. In the next two photos you can see the adjustment screws which slide the connector screw forward or backward. Nice bit of innovation there. You can flip the camera plate upside down for a larger camera where the camera grip makes the camera taller. I really liked this over the older design which forced you to buy a different camera plate for a new model of camera.

Here is the entire set-up again, with the Nikon D3 and Nikon SB-900 speedlight. (I turned the flash head as I would use it with the black foamie thing attached to it.)

One thing I neglected to show in these photos of the flash bracket, is the fold-out legs which keep the entire set-up more stable. As it was, the contraption balanced well enough even without the legs folded out. However, the fold-out legs would offer much more protection against it being knocked over when setting it down somewhere.

The specs and features sheet for the Digital Pro-M rotating bracket mentions:

  • The camera rotates on a roller bearing system to achieve the best and smoothest rotation from horizontal to vertical possible.
  • Maintenance-free and requires no lubrication.
  • A flash lock allows the flash to be tilted and locked in any position. An additional hole next to the flash allows for adding a radio slave or additional flash to your setup.
  • Ergonomically designed, the bracket features a foam handle and foam palm grip which allows you to hold your setup in many different ways to suit your shooting style and the balance you desire.
  • The legs on the bracket allow your setup to stand without leaning or laying it down, saving possible damage to your equipment.
  • Easily stores in a camera bag with a retractable upright and fold-in legs.

There’s nothing there that I would argue with. It is quite obvious they have done their homework on this unit, and produced a flash bracket that is as elegant as you can make a flash bracket be.

As a final note, check the updated Flash Photography Techniques page on flash brackets, for examples of how a flash bracket could still be useful with bounce flash photography.

If you’d like to order the Custom Brackets Pro-M rotating bracket kit, you can do it via this Amazon affiliate link.

 

 

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{ 20 comments. } Add a Comment

1 George January 31, 2011 at 6:31 am

Had one of these and sold it after a month or so. Doesn’t look like the new design fixes the issues I had with a 5D Mk2 and battery grip:

1) Difficult to reach the focus and zoom dials when your hand is on the Bracket palm grip.

2) Difficult to chage lenses as bracket is in the way.

3) In portrait rotation the battery grip is too close to the bracket to use comfortably, plus the bracket camera mount covers up the grip on the camera where your hand would go.

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2 forkboy1965 January 31, 2011 at 10:40 am

I’ve seen some photographer using these in the field when shooting portraits and such. I always thought it looked pretty cool and useful if one was just using the flash to lift shadows and add a bit of catch light to the eyes.

And while I’m not saying it isn’t worth the money I had a bit of a seizure when I looked at the price tag! No wonder I only see those making money with their camera using it!

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3 Neil vN January 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm

One thing you can’t really see in a review, is the feel of the product, and the quality. This bracket, like their other units, is a quality product – well made and machined.

Neil vN

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4 cristphoto January 31, 2011 at 5:49 pm

That appears to be an excellent bracket. Does it have the ability to keep the flash and lens in “sync” when you switch the camera from landscape to portrait mode? From the photos it appears the flash stays upright and in landscape mode irrespective of the body orientation. I’ve had Stroboframes that both did and didn’t have this ability. It’s obviously only a problem when shooting direct flash.

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5 Neil vN January 31, 2011 at 6:00 pm

The bracket clicks solidly into indent positions for both the vertical and horizontal positions.

Neil vN

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6 joey libby January 31, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I cannot hold the camera steady. does the bracket attach to a tripod?

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7 Neil vN January 31, 2011 at 6:23 pm

The bracket does indeed have a quick release for a tripod.

Neil vN

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8 Jim Luhman January 31, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I have Stroboframe Pro-T. It’s probably 20 years old, but it works great. The bracket handle is on the right side of the camera, so you grip the camera normally. This also allows you to work the zoom with your left hand as usual. And, it flips from landscape to portrait in an instant. I don’t know if they still make it, but it’s worth a close look if they do.

Neil, Thanks for sharing all your knowledge. I’ve recommended your site to all my photography friends.

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9 Aniversari February 1, 2011 at 5:12 am

For me, it was satisfying only a smaller one. My hands are not so big, so I thing this is the reason.

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10 ButchM February 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I have worked with brackets with both medium format and 35mm film bodies and DSLR’s since as far back as 1979 … including models from Stroboframe, RRS and Custom Brackets and others … I really hate them all … each and every time I try one to see if they will add enough to the workflow to ease the burden, I am disappointed at the end of the effort and they become dust collectors until I find a home for them … they do work, but all that extra weight, bulk and annoyance of cables dangling, flipping this and tightening that … I so much prefer to bounce and swivel with a hot shoe mounted flash or add a second off-camera light to get the job done …

I’m sure the bracket is well made, the design looks great and they seem to pay attention to user input and it appears to be finely machined … but I’ll pass …

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11 Karl Boettcher February 1, 2011 at 9:33 pm

I have this bracket and enjoy using it at weddings. I’ve used a couple different Stroboframes, but they are not as well built. The Pro-T requires you to flip the camera and the flash to switch from vertical to horizontal. Which is the primary reason I got this bracket–I can quickly rotate my camera and keep shooting. I find I can go from vertical to horizontal and back much quicker than when I was using my Stroboframe.

Yes, it costs a lot. But it is very well built. After several years of heavy duty use, it still rotates smoothly.

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12 Rick Zotz February 2, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Custom Brackets products ARE exceptional, but I rarely use mine today. I bought a QRS-H2 with universal camera plate and Arca foot nearly four years ago, and used it frequently until I began regularly carrying two cameras on a harness. The bracket is now used only only where its bulk is not an issue – on the tripod for portraits and wedding formals, and for single-camera events.

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13 Greg February 5, 2011 at 10:07 am

It may seem pricey, but if you are going to WPPI in Las Vegas, all of Custom Brackets’ dealers (B&H, Adorama, Arlington, Midwest, Showcase, to name a few) will be offering the full PRO-M Kit for only $260.00 compared to the usual $390.00 that it is right now.

That is a steal!!

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14 Dave Block February 8, 2011 at 10:25 am

The design of the camera plate is ingenious!

Neil, have you also tested/used the RRS bracket? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the two as a head-to-head comparison.

Dave

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15 Neil vN February 10, 2011 at 12:17 am

Dave … nope, I haven’t used the RSS bracket, aside from checking them out way back when first investigating flash brackets.

Neil vN

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16 susan November 7, 2011 at 11:05 pm

great article, enjoyed reading it and learned a lot.

thanks!

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17 Michael Kosse August 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I’ve seen that besides the tripod quick release (QR) is also a quick release (QR-C Kit) for the camera to quickly attach and detach it from the mounting bracket (QR-C Kit).

For this I have an important question. When I use the QR-C Kit between the camera and bracket does it not automatically shifts the lens axis to the axis of the flash in portrait mode to the right side?

Michael

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18 Neil vN August 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Michael .. I’m not quite following you there? Why would the axis of the flash need to shift to the right?

Neil vN

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19 Arved Grass April 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I have the Custom Brackets Digital PRO-E Camera Rotation Bracket, which is similar, but with a much simpler arm for the flash. Problem I’m having is switching lenses, especially going to/from a lens that uses a foot, like the 70-200/2.8 Nikkor. First, you unmount the camera from the bracket, swap lenses, then mount the foot of the lens to the bracket. Takes a long time, and you’re juggling the camera, the lenses, and the bracket. Very frustrating.

The “Quick Connect” is anything but. A lever release would be quick, but the screw type locking of the quick connect just moves the screw from the bottom to the back. The mounting plate for the Bogen/Monfrotto RC2 compatible foot (on the bracket, to mount to a tripod or monopod) prevents those handy legs from properly folding back out of the way.

All that said, it’s “best of class,” but IMHO, that’s more a reflection of how poorly designed everything is, including this bracket.

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20 Jennifer Catron December 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

I bought a custom bracket at the New York Expo this year, and it barely held up for an hour of heavy shooting at a wedding. It was a pain to work with, and to be honest made life much harder, as well as increased the weight of the camera by a ton. When you’re carrying two cameras, every ounce counts. When I reached the company, they said they had a fifteen day return policy and refused to take the bracket back. Horrible customer service, horrible product.

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