Over the years I've bought, destroyed and lost a number of different speedlight & umbrella holders. Some were great, some were
crap adequate, what I have left I put together and did a quick comparison review.
There are A LOT of holders out there, with different speedlight mounts, different light stand mounts, type and number of joints, materials, weight capacity, etc, as well as different prices. Basic ebay holders start at around 4€, the big gun from Manfrotto costs 35€ or more. But the most expensive might not be the best one, it all depends on your needs.
One of the most basic and cheapest ouf there is a ballhead holder. Made partly from metal, partly plastic, this thing weights only 98 grams. Ballhead is a plus, there's a 360 degrees of rotation, so you can point it anywhere you want. Minus is the plastic shue mount, where you put the speedlight in. It holds it by friction, no locking mechanism here, so it's not the best solution. Another problem is the position of the speedlight mount. Since it's only screwed on the ballhead, you can't really position it the way you want it, you can either fully screw it on (and be stuck at the position that is it) or you can unscrew it a bit, to position the speedlight the way you want in relation to the umbrella. It's better to fully screw it on, then rotate the head of the speedlight. Umbrella hole is on the neck of the ballhead, so no individual position of the umbrella. Another problem is the hole for mounting onto a light stands - it's too short. You can't firmly fix the holder to the stand if it has a shaped head, it slips off and locks at an angle. But it is small and light, if you're on location it might be ok for background lights, where you set it and leave it alone.
German double joint
These holders were one of my first and probably the best. I found them years ago on german ebay, made by a guy in his garage. Totally metal, with standard hotshue mount with locking hole as well as pc sync, they weigh only 150 grams. Huge plus for me is the dual joint. Umbrella shaft is on it's own section so you can align your speedlight with the umbrella shaft. This minimizes the blocked light and centers the light with the umbrella center for maximum efficiency. Hole for light stand is long enough for secure fix, so there's no chance it'll slip off. Sadly, these aren't on the market anymore. I bought 4 with hot shue mounts and 2 with 1/4 screw mount and I still love them! Sadly, 3 got
stolen lost over the years.
Very popular are these black steppable holders that you can find all over the place. They're small and light at 140 grams. The head is made from metal, body from strong plastic. But not strong enough. I broke 2 of these by over-tighting the light stand screw. Sure, if you're carefully that won't happen, but when you're in a rush you forget and the plastic side cracks. But that doesn't mean it's useless, I still use them since the plastic is strong enough to hold even with a cracked side.
Same as the ballhead one, this one has umbrella hole on the same section as the speedlight head, so no individual positioning. Big plus for this holder is steppable angle lock that actually works. There are plastic teeth that interlock at different position (there are about 60 teeth, so it does a wide degree of angles) to secure the head and eliminate slippage. I personally don't like this screw-type fixing heads, but they do offer a big area to fix the speedlight. Another thing with this head is, if you have an L shaped speedlight shue, it will block the head from locking securely. That's why I made a modification with a chinese seller to include three grooves on the head. Those now allow the L shape shue to slide in the groove and you can securely lock it. So look for version nr.2 if you're buying this type of holder or click here.
Selens double joint
Another dual joint holder that I got a while back is the Selens brand. At around $25 it isn't the cheapest one, but it looked the best and strongest. Made from all metal parts, with locking teeth on all joints and metal wing nuts screws, I was hoping I found my favorite holder. Sadly, that didn't happen.
Those locking teeth are the first problem, they do lock at the position of the first teeth, but there's still some movement left, which I don't like. Wing nut screws are the second and bigger problem. I don't know if I got a bad copy (or two, since I bought two of these) or is it just cheap materials and metal, but on three screws the wings just broke off. They didn't fall off, the top section just broke away from the screw and now turns with no friction and no effect. Since one did that on a shoot I was stuck with a screwed screw and no way of unscrewing it. Luckily I had pliers with me, so that did the trick. But since I couldn't rely on those screws anymore, a trip to the metal store was necessary, buying and replacing all screws and nuts. Which still annoys me. Due to the screws I now don't really have faith in these holders, I'm always a bit worried when I put something heavier on them that something will break or bend.
Manfrotto is a well known Italian brand and it's products are always high quality. Same goes for this holder. Made 100% from metal, with 416g weight, there's no chance anything will break anytime soon. Umbrella hole is on the same section as the speedlight mount, so sadly no independent tilting, but for bigger umbrellas and/or speedlights/flashes Manfrotto is capable of handling almost everything. For studio work or when I need something secure and reliable - this are my "go-to" holders.
One specialty holder that I got is Selens 3in1. As the name says, I can put 3 flashes onto one holder. The reason I got this was my 188cm umbrella (which I'll do a review of sometimes soon). With that size you need quite a bit of light. Since I don't like carrying big Elinchrom lights and power packs out into the field, this 3in1 holder + 3 flashes seemed like a good and compact idea. But again, chinese have failed me.
The holder does what its supposed to, it holds 3 flashes, has correct angles so it covers the whole surface of the umbrella, even has a single 3.5mm sync hole so you can trigger all the flashes at once, but quality of materials just isn't there. It feels flimsy, it doesn't hold secure, it feels it'll broke in the first wind. It doesn't have the standard hole to mount it on a light stand, instead it uses a 1/4 thread which is way to small and insecure in my opinion. With 188cm sail and 3 (expensive) nikon flashes I'm just not taking my chances. I've used it 2 or 3 times indoors and even then I was worried. But, it's out there if you need it or have a smaller umbrella. I have recently switched to AD360 (360Ws flash with real bulb, almost the size of a regular flash with it's own (and small) power pack; I'll do a review sometimes soon) flash for most of my outdoor shoots, so I don't need this thing anymore.
There are many different type of holders out there. Do you need something small for the background lights, something light for field work or something strong for studio, the choice is yours. There isn't a universal holder that would do everything, so you have to plan in advance and get/use what you need.
My personal relationship with flash holders isn't over yet as it seems.. I have found (and ordered) a new holder, a mix of manfrotto holder with double joint. Will add it to this review once I get it, so stay tuned.
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