Anyone appreciating the benefits of using a flash bracket most likely misses that capability when using the large 35mm type digital bodies such as the Kodak DCS-520/560, 620/660, 720x/760, and 315/330 cameras. Finding brackets that work well with these cameras is not easy due to their larger than normal size.
Having used a flash bracket with my 35mm film systems for years, I missed the speed and convenience of keeping the flash centered over the lens in both horizontal and vertical shooting positions when using my Kodak DCS-520/560 cameras.
Robert Newton of Newton Camera Brackets in Jacksonville, FL set out to design and manufacture a set of custom flash brackets for these and other digital cameras. Newtons design involves rotating the camera rather than the flash mount.
The build to order bracket took about 2 weeks to receive. When ordering, you must specify your camera and flash unit so that the correct, custom designed components are shipped. As with other flash brackets, an off camera flash shoe is needed (such as the Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2).
The bracket is built with black anodized aluminum and weighs-in at a hefty 1.4 lbs. One of the primary objectives in designing a bracket for these cameras is to keep it lightweight since the complete rig (camera, lens, flash, etc.) can get quite heavy. In the case of the Kodak DCS-520, 550EX Speedlite, 28-70 f/2.8L lens and accessories (memory cards, camera battery, flash cord), the complete rig weighs-in at a whopping 9 lbs. For comparison, the Bachrach Bracket shown above weighs a mere 9-3/4 oz. making the Newton Bracket almost 2.5 times heavier.
Another objective was to keep the bracket small. Having a rig this heavy can be quite awkward if the bracket is big and clumsy. Robert Newton has come up with one of the most compact and well balanced brackets I have ever seen as a result.
The bracket is manufactured with 6061T (very tough) aluminum. It is cut from angle stock and/or milled, there are no bent corners that would potentially weaken the design.
Out of the Box and In Use
My first impression was confusion! The Newton bracket is unique in the way it looks and in the way that the camera mounts to it. There were very helpful and comprehensive instructions in the box along with illustrations that made assembly a snap. The only assembly required is to mount the flash adapter on the bracket (since it is a separately sold component), raise the flash arm up (it is adjustable up or down for shipping/storage convenience), mount the camera plate to the camera, and finally, mount the camera to the bracket.
When handling the precision machined components, I quickly observed what I consider to be unacceptable sharp edges. Some of the cut/machined edges were heavily radiused/rounded, however, there are still many edges with very sharp corners/edges. Once the camera is assembled on the bracket, the weight of the rig makes getting injured/cut a seemingly likely occurrence, especially if holding the rig by the vertical riser for the flash head when carrying.
Next, I found that mounting the camera to the bracket requires the use of loose screws and hex wrenches. Once you mount the camera plate to the camera, placing or removing the camera on/from the bracket does not require the use of wrenches. However, since the machined edges of the plate are so sharp, I would not want to keep it on the camera when not used with the bracket. If you normally only use your camera on the bracket, this is not a big deal. For me, it is an unnecessary hassle to have to carry a tiny hex wrench and keep track of a loose screw floating around in my case when not screwed into the tripod mount of the camera. This really should be accomplished by using a self-retaining thumbscrew (no wrenches required).
Now that the camera is mounted to the bracket, my first observation is that the L-shaped indexing mechanism blocks the zoom ring of my 28-80/2.8L lens. This is especially true with the camera in the horizontal orientation. I will now have to break the habit of reaching for the ring with my left thumb and forefinger and learn to rub the top of the ring with my fingers only. A minor inconvenience, but I am sure I will get accustomed to it in due time. The same observation was found with my 17-35/2.8L lens.
What about non-zoom lenses? Well, my 50/2.5 Macro works fine as did my Sigma 14mm and 15mm lenses. However, my 80/1.2L hits the bracket just under the lens which causes the camera to deflect back. This creates stress on the lens mount that I consider to be unacceptable. My 200/1.8L lens would not even begin to mount, but I probably wouldnt be using that lens on this bracket too often anyway.
I have never seen a flash bracket move the flash so far forward of the cameras hot shoe mount as the Newton bracket. The Bachrach bracket keeps the flash within an inch of the cameras hot shoe position. The Newton brings the flash over 4-1/2 forward from the hot shoe position! The reason for this is to keep the flash clear of the users hand when flipping the camera from the horizontal to vertical orientation. The instructions recommend mounting the flash plate so that it extends forward, thus keeping the flash clear of busting knuckles when rotating the camera. My main concern with this design was that lens flare would result on shorter bodied/wider angle lenses. This concern proved to be unfounded even with the ultra wide Sigma 14mm lens shot in both vertical and horizontal orientations and with the flip-down diffusion screen on the 550EX flash. This test was performed on both the 520 and 560 cameras since the 560 has a wider field of view vs. the 520.
The flash is raised about 3-5/8 above the cameras shoe height making the flash to lens center height about 11 inches. Flipping the camera from horizontal to vertical keeps the lens center in approximately the same position so this height is consistent in both positions. Kudos all the way here!
Full access to both sides of the camera is maintained. This means that the battery/card bay door is not hindered, nor is the Firewire/power ports on the opposite side. The vertical grip/release is hindered (rendered nearly useless), but not a big concern in the grand scheme of things. Overall, the design of the camera mounting was very well thought out for the above reasons.
And now for the brackets best feature, flipping! Indexing this bracket is a pure joy. There are no locks to mess with yet it stops solidly in each position. Flipping from horizontal to vertical or back takes less than 1 second! This bracket is fast and natural feeling. Without a bracket, we rotate the camera by twisting our right wrist while holding the camera in the same hand. The exact same motion is used to flip the camera with the Newton bracket. The left hand holds a comfortable cushion grip directly below the lens (an unusual placement), thus keeping the bracket in the same position throughout the rotation process.
Much of my photography involves bouncing flash off nearby walls and/or ceilings. Since the Newton bracket keeps the flash in the same position throughout the indexing, there is no need to reposition the swivel head of the flash unit upon rotating the camera from the horizontal to vertical shooting position. This makes this setup much faster than having the flash on the hot shoe, as well as faster than many other camera brackets that are designed to flip the flash arm rather than the camera itself (thus pointing the flash in a different position relative to the camera).
When setting the camera/flash/bracket combination on a flat surface, the whole rig balances perfectly on the brackets bottom plate. This plate also features a threaded hole for tripod mounting. This balance assures optimum stability on the tripod.
Excellent flipping, very fast and positive
Loose screws and wrenches required to assemble
camera onto bracket
Overall, this bracket is a well thought out, excellent design. I do find some of the Cons to be major (yet correctable), therefore my recommendation is to carefully consider your application before purchasing. The prohibiting nature of the design (hindering the use of the zoom rings and completely prohibiting the use of some lenses) may prove to be unacceptable for your application/needs. Be forewarned, it is an expensive solution (Cost of unit as shown: $303.40, including $6.00 UPS Ground shipping from Florida to Michigan).