You wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a quality flash shoe that works everytime, is secure, and easy to use. Well, as a guy who relies on Speedlights and PockeWizards for his living, let me tell you, it’s TOUGH! I think I’ve tried them all, and I believe I’ve finally found the one that may be the last cold shoe I ever buy.
Basically, the sole purpose of the cold shoe is to provide a SECURE mounting attachment for hotshoe flash units (e.g., Nikon SB-800, SB-900, Canon 580 ex, Vivitar 285, etc.) for positioning them off the camera’s hotshoe. The “cold” part of cold shoe means that there’s no electrical connectivity to tell the flash when to fire (unlike a “hot” shoe on the camera or radio trigger). It simply provides a way to mount a hotshoe flash unit to a stand, a Justin clamp, whatever.
Ya’d think it would be a simple thing. But there are lots of cold shoes out there, of a few varying designs, and almost all of them have their shortcomings. (No electrical pun intended).
DISCLAIMER: I have no financial interest in nor do I receive any compensation from any of the manufacturers described in the following post…)
Generic Cold Shoe
One of the most common is this type, with a knurled screw that tightens a removable side clamp against the foot of the flash unit. And therein lies the problem – it’s removable. Turns out, if you fail to tighten the knurled screw when you put the thing back in your bag, it tends to work itself loose, and the tiny bits get lost floating around in the bottom of your camera bag. Inconvenient when you need it. Also, I’ve found that on some varieties, the set screw is just barely long enough to engage, so if you don’t have it on just right, you think your flash is secure, but a bump or knock can prove disastrous when your flash falls off the stand because the side clamp came undone (the voice of experience via a few near-misses).
Orbis (makers of the terrific Orbis Ring Flash adapter) make a very nicely-manufactured and easy-to-use cold shoe called the “Frio”. I LOVE this cold shoe! No moving parts, nothing to fall off or loosen. For that matter, there’s nothing to tighten when you attach the flash. It’s self-locking via that springy tab thing. Perfect…except…it’s difficult to use with my PocketWizard FlexTT5 units. The shape of the PocketWizard TT5s makes it tricky to release the locking tab to remove the PW, and heaven forfend you should put a PocketWizaard TT5 on a Frio backwards (as I have done when using with certain lighting modifiers) – it becomes nigh on impossible to release the locking mechanism sans screwdriver (or in a pinch a butter knife). So, while I prefer the Frio over other designs, I don’t like swapping shoes based on whether or not I’m using my PocketWizard TT5s for remote triggering.
RPS Studio Insulated Cold Shoe
That brings me to my new favorite: the plain old, RPS Studio brand insulated locking cold shoe. Now, you’re saying, “But Jon, isn’t it the same thing as the first generic type above that you despise?” The answer is, “yes and no.” It’s the same basic design with the side-tightening knurled screw. The difference (and it’s a VERY IMPORTANT difference, in my opinion), is that there is no separate side section to fall off if the knurled screw comes undone. This design has a captured thin metal tensioning strip (see arrow below) that simply flexes and tightens against the flash foot when you tighten the screw. Granted, the screw can still be turned all the way out and removed, but it appears to be a longer thread than most, and is less likely to fall out on its own. The best part (other than not being prone to parts falling off) is that they’re only $5 at my local camera retailer.
It’s the simple things that make a difference, and RPS Studio has done it right with this design. I love not having to worry about rummaging about my camera bag for lost parts. And you can bet I now have a few of these puppies in my kit!
Hope I’ve saved someone some frustration (and potential damage to your expensive camera gear). Thanks for dropping by!