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Cold Facts about Cold Shoes, with a Couple of Friendly Tips

First, a subject alert, so that I don’t waste your time.  This is probably not of much interest or use to you if you don’t use portable flash units.  If you do, or if you think that you might want to use them, then this might save you some money, aggravation, and potential damage to your equipment.

As anyone who’s looked through my work will be able to tell, especially from the work in the “Fires in the Night” collection of portfolios on my website (and from the photograph featured in my last post here), flash lighting has been critical to my photography in recent years.  All of those works could not have been made without the use of my Canon Speedlites and my PocketWizard Mini/Flex ETT-L remote triggers (but what I have to say here will, in whole or in part, be relevant to anyone using any brand of portable flash units). 

This is a matter of what you use to hold in place your flash (and perhaps PocketWizard) units when you’re shooting.  As I soon discovered when I began using portable flashes, the most common type of cold shoe is badly designed for its task.  So many cold shoes, including those commonly supplied with light stand and light modifier mounting assemblies, look pretty much like this:


What’s wrong with these?  First, some of them are made of metal, not necessarily a good idea for something that may come into contact with equipment that generates an electrical charge.  So you may read the suggestion, which I followed in my early days with flash, that you place a piece of electrical tape between the pins of your portable flash and the metal bed or platform of these standard cold shoes.  And if there is contact, you may eventually wear through the tape, and then. . . .

Second, the portable flash is held in place by that type of cold shoe in two ways.  One is a pin that screws into the side of the cold shoe, which you turn to press against the foot of the flash to hold it in place against the other side of the shoe.  It’s not usual for continual vibrations, like the kind generated by a car in whose trunk you regularly carry such cold shoes, to loosen and dislodge those little pins, which then may roll into cracks or crevices where they may never be found again.

Third, the other method by which that common type of cold shoe holds a flash in place is by relying on the flash foot’s own wheel to tighten its purchase on the side walls of the cold shoe.  Unfortunately, the side walls of some of these cold shoes do not provide a good fit for various flash units’ feet; they’re either too wide or too narrow.  But here’s the more serious problem:  the walls are on either side of the flash unit, and not on the “front” side, toward which you’ll most likely tilt the flash.  Even if you tighten the darn shoe pretty well, it won’t take much of a bump to send a Speedlite flying out that unblocked front end, in which case you better hope that you’re not set up on pavement.

Here, by contrast, is the best cold shoe that I’ve found:


Why do I use these and recommend them highly to you?  First, you can see that it has (bravo!) not two, but three side walls, the third of which you should always put on the “front” side,  the one toward which your flash may be tipped.  Second, the size of the cold shoe’s bed is perfect; it has been a good fit for all of the flashes that I’ve used with it:  a Nissin unit, and, primarily, Canon Speedlites 430EX, 430EX II, 580EX, 580EX II, 430EX-RT III, and even the big flagship 600EX-RT.  Third, on the underside of the cold shoe is a sturdy, durable ¼” brass socket for placement on a light stand stud or attachment to a speed ring mounting assembly, or a triple-flash bracket, or a light bar.


If you need something to insert into that bottom socket through the arm of, say, certain speed-ring mounting assemblies, you can either use the bolt or pin that was supplied for the cold shoe that came with the assembly, or buy the right size of bolt (slotted for a flathead screwdriver, which would mean that you could use just about any coin in your pocket to screw it in or out) at a Home Depot or other hardware store.  And fourth, these Nisha units are about as inexpensive as you could want, at $5.99 apiece (from B&H).

WARNING!  I love B&H, and their salespeople invariably give you great advice over the phone, but ignore their Nisha cold shoe page where it tells you that the Vello Cold Shoe Mount is “A similar item at a lower price.”  I tried those Vello shoes and found them to be too tight for some Speedlites.  And I almost broke a flash unit’s foot trying to dislodge it from the tight rubber grip of the Vello shoe.  (At least that was the case several years ago when I tried the Vellos.)

I hope that this is helpful to you.  The Nisha shoes (and I’ve purchased and used a good number of them on various kinds of flash mounts) have never given me cause for disappointment or complaint.