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 flash bracket (affiliate), for review. 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 tutorial on flash brackets for examples. 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 distractingly hard side-ways shadow.
the Custom Brackets Pro-M rotating bracket
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. 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.
attaching your camera to the flash bracket
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 for bounce flash with the black foamie thing attached.
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 for the Digital Pro-M rotating bracket
- 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 tutorial page on flash brackets for examples of how a flash bracket could be used with bounce flash photography.
If you’d like to order the Custom Brackets Pro-M rotating bracket kit, you can do it via this affiliate link.
26 Comments, Add Your Own
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.
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!
3Neil vN says
let talk about that handle grip Neil, I seen units like these and the handle grips falls apart under pressure!
I’m with forkboy1965, the price tag way high for the quality of this unit. look around you’ll see better brackets for better prices.
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.
5Neil vN says
6joey libby says
I cannot hold the camera steady. does the bracket attach to a tripod?
7Neil vN says
8Jim Luhman says
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.
For me, it was satisfying only a smaller one. My hands are not so big, so I thing this is the reason.
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 …
11Karl Boettcher says
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.
12Rick Zotz says
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.
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!!
14Dave Block says
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.
15Neil vN says
great article, enjoyed reading it and learned a lot.
17Michael Kosse says
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?
18Neil vN says
19Arved Grass says
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.
20Jennifer Catron says
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.
21richard warren says
Neil – I would only use this on tripod, doing macro photography, and focusing in live view. It is imperative that there should be no increased vibration – but I’ve struck several reviews saying things like
“Very good concept, but lacks the stability that is needed when used on a tripod….the parts when put together allows quite a bit of flex, and makes my camera unstable…..I am not sure if I should use it in low light, because of the movements it allows”
“the biggest drawback is stability. The rotating part is slightly waggling. It is not a problem when you use it on a monopod but can be an imperfection on a very stable studio tripod – it simply degrades your very stable and expensive studio tripod and head a waste of money.”
If that’s true, it’s of no possible use to me.
22Joe Prete says
CB’s Customer Service is very slow at getting to their emails, and their Phone Messaging system seems to be full at all times. They make a decent product, but they are very inconsistent. Two products bearing the same Model Number, may not deliver the same performance. Their Rotation system has been improved on the latest units, and if buying a unit used, one should know the difference between the available models. One that I purchased as “Used” outperforms the very same model that I purchased as “New”. I don’t think they are bad people, but I do think that there is a lack of them, and their products, and so their crew has their hands full, in trying to Build new units, and support the ones that are already out there.
I would suggest buying from a Camera Shop that Guarantees your satisfaction for at least 2 weeks. Also, one should do their homework, and it wouldn’t hurt to handle the “Justrite” Brackets, as they come the closest in quality, but they lack “Roller Bearings” in the Rotator, so it would require regular lubrication. Gary Justice of Justrite recommends Vaseline as the lubricant, but using it on my Gear would bother me. Btw, he returns every call, usually within hours, but I don’t believe that he is a Machinist, and I doubt there is a Full Time Group of employees behind him, but he does try to get to know the shooters, and to get them the correct unit.(at a price!) I think anyone who has decided that they need this type of Rotational Bracket, should realize that they will be playing a major part in choosing and buying the correct unit. The Justice Brackets have been much the same for the past 10 years, while Custom Brackets often changes their design during assembly. Maybe they get a good idea, and they put it right to use. Hopefully, you’ll get one of those!
Of my two Custom Brackets (QRS-E2 units), one has a Bare Bulb Flash, with a 6″ Reflector, and the other has a 18″ Beauty Dish (With Reflector, Honey Comb and Sock) that is positioned Center of Dish, to Center of Lens a minimum of 18″. It doesn’t sound like a lot to get together, but it took a few months before I could say that I was satisfied with it’s results. Both units have Nikon D810 bodies mounted, usually with the AF DC Nikkor 105 F2 or AF DC Nikkor 135 F2.
The Justrite 470 Pro BM has a Nikon D7100 Mounted on it, but without the Grip. The extra space is taken up by a Stroboframe Quick Release Assy. and it balances well with an AF-S 24-120mm F4 VR Lens. I would have rather had the MB-D15 on it, but this was the only combination that fit, and balanced well. So, it’s Camera, Quick Release and Just Rite 470 Pro BM. It wouldn’t rotate with the MB-D15, but the height of the Stroboframe QRC-300 makes it a Perfect Fit!
Btw, without the Bracket, the D7100 balances and handles very well with the MB-D15, (as I imagine the D7200 would as well). … That is, if you don’t even need the Bracket, you can save yourself the whole headache!
If one can not find a camera shop that will help out, or a friend that is willing, it’s probably a good idea to rent one first.
I know, not many Photographers are even bothering to shoot Verticals these days, (or even make Prints, for that matter) but I blame that on the lack of useable and cost effective brackets, and too few Demos that are actually on display. (If anyone knows where those 2 Demo brackets are now, please let us know!) … Joe Prete
They might have nice products but their customer service sucks. Dealing with this company, as a B2B purchasing professional, is an EFFFING NIGHTMARE! They make up stories about how your orders are being finished, then when you don’t get the order they ignore your phone calls and e-mails. Never do business with this company unless you have to. I actually had the owner tell me he didn’t care about my company’s order because it was too small – after the order was accepted and sat open for 4 months.
ANY machine shop can do what they do if they have the design. The owner also told me he was “the only one who can do what they do”, effing delusional and stupid.
24Steve Mack says
I misplaced my compact Newton bracket. So, I dug this out of my other case and am delighted to be using it again. It’s so solid and completely adjustable for my needs as a Red Carpet Photographer. It’s built for speed and is storable. I’m established and so is this bracket.
With the Newton, I’m always tightening screws. This thing is solid and reliable. I’ve become accustomed to reaching and adjusting my zoom ring with practice.
I have used the Custom Bracket rotating units (wooden Handle) for 20 years now, and they are the best for the purpose of shooting vertical with no annoying shadows on the side of the subject, as well as no red eye. I tried nearly all the others but CB worked best for the job. You do need to customize it to your type of equipment as well as be ready to handle the extra load, I have used them with D3 nikons as well as Hasselblad CM ….they always did the job. I even carried two of them at a time mounted with cameras, not recommended for the weaker type, but it can be done. I have a camera QR plates as well as a tripod mount QR plates, best set up there is, once you get used to using them. My use was primarily with my weddings.