August 29, 2013

Create a Versatile O-Shape Macro Flash Bracket

SCV Macro Flash Bracket on camera overview
My idea for an economical but versatile Macro Flash Bracket in circular O-shape, dates back in 2011 when I acquired my first Baling C-Shape Flash Bracket.

Since then, I had formed, reformed, tested and retested its functionality and stability, in various setups, but there was always something missing, setting me back from publishing about it.

However, the acquisition of the Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage lit up the spark once again.

The inclusion of a Macro Flash Bracket solution in a Transportable Super Macro Stage setup, I have been developing for some time, was very significant.

Although the original idea had gone into various stages, I felt this was the right time to present it.
So here we go, after a long delay...

Selection of Components

The Structural Components
As mentioned in the beginning the idea is based on the Baling C-Shape Flash Bracket  the structure and functions of which, are described in detail in the relevant review.

Boling C-Shape Flash Bracket w/ box
The Boling C-Shape bracket is a very low cost item, although it comes in a retail box inside a zip-lock nylon bag. 
Boling C-Shape Flash Bracket pair
For this small project, we need two units in order to form a circular flash bracket. 

The Attachment Components
Fast mounting and dismounting of the Macro Flash Bracket is enabled by the use of an Arca-Swiss® compatible quick release clamp, while for the Speedlite suspension and control we need an articulated mechanism like a small ball head or a light stand flash adapter/bracket.

Hejnar Photo F60 1" QR clamp w/ screw + hex key
In regard of fast mounting, I have chosen the Hejnar PHOTO F60 1" Quick Release clamp for its compact size and low weight. The flat-head hex-socket 1/4"-20 screw and the 4mm Allen hex key that come with the clamp are ideal for the task. Nothing more is needed.
Swivel Flash - Light stand bracket C - pair
For the flash / speedlite suspension, I have chosen the inexpensive solution of two Swivel Light-Stand Bracket-C mini ball heads. Actually these heads are meant for the attachment of flashes on Light Stands with a 3/8"-16 mounting hole at the bottom. They provide a plastic hot shoe with counter lock thumb screw below and an umbrella holder (which of course is not needed here). Their design is simplistic as one screw tightens both ball and swivel, however they are small and lightweight. They usually come with an Aluminum hot shoe adapter which acts also as an 1/4"-20 > 3/8"-16 reducer bushing. Somehow, I find this adapter cumbersome, so I preferred a couple of smaller bushings as the one pictured above which hide inside the 3/8"-16 hole.

Preparing the O-Shape Bracket

O-shape bracket preparation removing not needed components sequence
First thing in the to do list, is to dismantle the two Boling C-Shaped brackets and discriminate which parts will be used for the assembly of the O-Shape bracket next. As shown in the lower two photos, the S-Shaped parts and the flash hot shoes are not needed. We need to keep only the two C-Shape parts and three (3) of the 1/4"-20 captive knob-screws for the O-Shape Bracket.
Keep aside also the two rubber gaskets that exist between the S-shaped and C-Shaped parts for later use.
O-shape bracket components overview
All the parts required for the formation of our O-Shaped Macro Flash Bracket are gathered together.
O-shape bracket components assembly sequence
Next task is to put together the two C-Shape parts. Both top and bottom sides are threaded 1/4"-20 so it is up to you to decide the direction of the slots. You can have both facing up, down or one up and one down. My choice was to have both slots face upwards. Using one of the captive knob-screws bring together and tighten the C-Shape parts as in the bottom-left photo. An extra thick rubber gasket was used here to insulate the protruding part of the screw thread, (bottom right photo) in case it accidentally comes in contact with a lens barrel, thus avoid any scratches.
The extra rubber gasket shown in the photo above can be very easily found in the plumbing section of any hardware store usually sold in lots.

Adding the F60 QR clamp

Addition of Hejnar F60 clamp to O-shape bracket sequence
Obviously next comes the attachment of the F60 QR clamp which matches exactly the width of the bracket. Using the included flat head 1/4"-20 screw and the Allen hex key the clamp is screwed and tightened in place.
To avoid the interior C-Shape bracket loosening later, the C-Shaped parts should be kept tightly in contact when screwing-in the clamp screw.

Adding the Swivel Flash Brackets

Addition of Swivel Flash bracket C to O-shaped bracket
Then choose the appropriate position for the Light Stand Brackets-C and relocate the two knob-screws within the slots.
O-shaped bracket complete w/ 2 x Swivel Flash bracket C
For best results, the Flash-Stand Bracket-C ball should be tightened before tightening the base with the knob-screw. Using the rubber gaskets taken from the Boling S-shaped base, between the small ball heads and the C-shape brackets will act as anti-twist mechanisms, depriving the heads from loosening when loaded with the speedlites later.
Alternatively, if you don't mind using Allen hex keys (some people do) when you need to regulate the speedlite position later, then I would recommend replacement of the the thumb screws with standard hex-socket 1/4"-20 screws which tighten stronger. Total weight of the finished O-Shape bracket is 415 gr (0.91 lb).

Mounting the Macro Flash Bracket on a Camera

SCV macro flash bracket on nodal slide
The orientation of the base quick release clamp will not permit the bracket to attach on a camera base plate directly. Therefore, a small double dovetail nodal slide will be needed for this purpose. In the picture above the circular flash bracket is attached on the top dovetail of the 10cm long, double dovetail Benro MPB10 Multi Purpose Nodal Rail.
Full feature macro flash bracket w/ 2 speedlites on Canon camera
The Macro Flash Bracket is pictured here fully equipped with one Canon 580EX II Speedlite (in master mode) remotely connected to the camera hot shoe via a Meike OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord for Canon and a second Canon 580EX Speedlite (in slave mode). Both speedlites are equipped with flash diffusers. The Flash Bracket / Nodal slide combo is attached on the ball head QR clamp and then the camera on the Nodal Slide QR clamp.

It's a quite heavy setup, so hand holding this Macro Flash Bracket is troublesome. Also re-orienting the speedlites for portrait (vertical) use would require extra effort, resulting in frustration. Working with a tripod things get simpler as the speedlites+flash-bracket+nodal slide complex would remain attached on the tripod and you would only have to re-orient the camera, which is more convenient.
In turn this requires that your camera is equipped with an L Bracket. Then the camera may be clamped on the nodal slide either by the base plate or the vertical plate of the L bracket, as above.

Mounting the Macro Flash Bracket on a Macro Bellows

Mounting macro flash bracket on macro bellows sequence
The OEM Canon EF mount macro bellows is equipped with a Hejnar Photo A03-70 7" rail, which was designed to protrude about 1" in front of the macro bellows base, for this purpose. Therefore the O-Shape Macro Flash bracket with the Henjar F60 1" clamp fits and mounts perfectly, letting the bellows/lens combination pass through.
SCV macro flash bracket on macro bellows w/ camera
My setup requires the reverse mounting of the lens on a macro bellows which will result at approximately 7.5 X magnification, but this means a very-very shallow depth of field and a very-very narrow actual aperture. In this case this versatile macro flash bracket fills in very nicely, providing well directed illumination.
For the record, the macro bellows is clamped via its Arca-Swiss® compatible rail on a lead-screw driven Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage, which permits very precise fore-aft movement for multiple exposures and photo stacking. Then the rig is clamped on a Benro HD-38 3-way head mounted on a Benro A-298 EX Versatile Transformer Tripod. (More on these in the upcoming Create a Transportable Super Macro Rig article).
SCV Transportable Macro Rig w/ macro flash bracket fully equipped w/ 2 x speedlites + diffusers
Here is a glimpse of my complete Transportable super Macro Rig which incorporates the Sunwayfoto DRH-77 Focusing Handle as a means of focus ring extension and mostly accessibility and my custom Macro Flash Bracket, pictured here fully equipped with one Canon 580EX II Speedlite (in master mode) remotely connected to the camera hot shoe via a Meike OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord for Canon and a second Canon 580EX Speedlite (in slave mode). Both speedlites are equipped with diffusers.

I hope you found the article and ideas useful, thank you for viewing.
All Photos & Photosynths: © 2013 S.C.Vlachos

Price & Availability of Components:
The price of the Boling C-Shape Flash Bracket is greatly reduced since I bought mine and varies between US$ 7.00-20.00 from Amazon or from eBay,

The price of the C Type Swivel Light Stand Bracket varies between US$ 7.00-15.00 sold by various sellers at Amazon or eBay internationally.

Current price of the Hejnar F60 or newer 1" QR Clamp is US$ 45.00 from the Hejnar Photo online store

If you are interested in the Hejnar product, do check the Recommended Sellers page for a valid Hejnar Photo discount coupon before ordering.

Referenced Articles

Hejnar PHOTO F60 1" Quick Release clamp Review

Baling C-Shape Flash Bracket Review

Benro MPB10 Multi Purpose Nodal Rail Review

Meike OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord for Canon

Sunwayfoto DRH-77 Adjustable Focusing Handle Review

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage Review

Benro A-298 EX Versatile Transformer Tripod Review

Create a Transportable Super Macro Rig

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