Studio wall-mounted arms:
Manfrotto 098SHB arm
and Neewer arm  

Neewer wall arm (rear) and Manfrotto 098SHB wall arm (foreground). Note the pipe clamp (chrome plated)
used as an improvised solution to block the clamp near the center of the Neewer arm from sliding.

A studio wall-mounted arm (in short, wall arm) is a support for attaching a piece of studio photographic equipment (typically a light source, most often a studio strobe) to a wall. A wall arm is permanently attached to a wall via expander screws, and often can be swung sideways along an arc of about 180°. The length of the arm is typically also adjustable. The arm has no balancing or counterweight mechanism, and relies on the wall to carry the load of the equipment.

The inclination of the arm can also be adjusted (from roughly 45° up to almost 90° down) with a clamp supported by a short length of pipe that connects to the wall plate. Normally, this additional pipe is placed under the thick, fixed pipe section of the arm, but the opposite orientation is also possible if special reasons require this. Arms of this type usually work best when horizontal, and using them at a different inclination can be awkward or impossible because of the orientation of the stud at the end of the arm. The arm can be moved out of the way when not in use, by tilting it down or swinging it against the wall.

While a ceiling rail system with hanging pantographs remains the most versatile way to control the placement of studio strobes and other light sources over a large area, a wall arm can be a far simpler and cheaper alternative to control the placement of a single strobe over a more limited area. A wall arm also requires much less work to install, and is less conspicuous when not in use. One or two wall arms are often sufficient for a semi-permanent table-top macrophotography and product photography setup.

Another alternative to a wall arm is a telescopic boom with counterweight, mounted on a floor stand or a floor-to-ceiling pole. These solutions, however, take up floor space and can be a tripping hazard in a cramped studio, while a wall arm or ceiling rail leave the floor free.

Manfrotto 098SHB wall arm, Manfrotto FF3249 equivalent (branded IFF)
telescopic post (left: minimum extension, right: maximum extension), and strobe.

A wall arm is least obtrusive when mounted high on a wall. In fact, in a room with normal office or apartment ceiling height, it is often a good idea to mount the wall arm as close as possible to the ceiling. It is sometimes possible to mount the arm above a cabinet (above picture), where the arm can be swung against the wall and partly out of sight when not in use.

To adjust the height from the floor of a strobe hanging from the end of a wall arm, it is possible to use a lightweight pantograph (of the type used on ceiling rail systems), or a telescopic post with a built-in counterbalance spring like the Manfrotto FF3248 (or the shorter FF3249, above picture). A pantograph has the advantage of being shorter at minimum length, and longer fully extended, than a telescopic post. A telescopc post is also more expensive than the cheapest available pantographs. However, telescopic posts take far less space and are safer to use than a pantograph (which can easily squeeze the operator's fingers when used carelessly, because of its scissor-like design).

A safety steel cable of suitable length and strength should always be used to secure the strobe to the end of the arm. Unfortunately, there is no eyelet for a safety cable near the end of this arm.

Wall arms of adjustable length, swing angle and inclination are available from Manfrotto and an unknown Chinese maker. The latter arms are sold under a variety of brands, including Neewer. This page compares two models of wall arm, of comparable lengths (0.7 to 1.2 m for the Manfrotto 098SHB model, 0.75-1,27 m for the Neewer model). Flashpoint and a few other brands market simpler wall arms without a swing and tilt function, which can only be adjusted in length. These arms can be useful in "ID-picture corner studio" setups, because the allow a strobe to be constantly available without taking floor space, but only allow movement of the strobe along a (quite short) line rather than covering a floor area. In my opinion, this type of wall arm is too limited for a product photography or macrophotography studio, except when space is so restricted that the strobe can be placed only in one position.

The reason I own both models is that I first purchased the much cheaper Neewer arm. Skip to the conclusions if you are in a hurry to read whether this was a wise choice.

Manfrotto 098SHB

The 098 product family contains four Manfrotto wall arms of similar designs:

  • 098 - long (1.2-2.1 m), aluminum color with black clamps
  • 098B - long (1.2-2.1 m), all black
  • 098SH - short (0.7-1.2 m), aluminum color with black clamps
  • 098SHB - short (0.7-1.2 m), all black.

The 098SHB is almost entirely made of metal. Except for the four removable plastic cable clamps, only the handle of the clamp that locks the arm length is made of plastic. The clamp that adjusts the arm inclination has an internal lining of a leather-like material to avoid metal-against metal contact and prevent slipping. This clamp works very well, and the arm takes a high load without slipping and/or sagging. Manfrotto specifies over 5 kg of load, presumably with the arm fully extended, but I have seen no problem after attaching twice as much without extending the arm.

Of the two arm sections, the fixed, thicker one is located closest to the wall, and the extension slides within the fixed section. The internal profile of the fixed section has four ridges, which mate with a corresponding profile of the end of the extension section. This prevents the extension section from rotating inside the fixed section (albeit such a rotation would present little or no problem in practical use, as long as you avoid off-center loads).

End of Manfrotto 098SHB wall arm (topmost), showing the oblique socket for a 16 mm stud.
The articulated arm hanging from this socket (lowermost) is vertical, while the stud in the socket of the wall arm clearly is not.

Unfortunately, my specimen of the arm (purchased new from an Amazon shop) is defective. The clamp at the end of the extension section, which accepts a baby (16 mm) stud in either vertical or horizontal orientation, has been permanently mounted in this specimen at an inclination from the vertical of about 20°, which means that the stud, instead of pointing straight up or down, points obliquely to one side (above picture). The fixed and extension sections have anti-rotation features, so the stud cannot be made vertical. Correcting this defect would require me to remove a riveted pin, drill new holes in the extension section (a bit too close to the existing holes) and replace the pin with a bolt. Hopefully, only my specimen has been sloppily manufactured and others are better in this respect. Short of modifying the arm, I am forced to mount the stud horizontally from the end of the arm (which is not always feasible), or to add a right-angle stud adapter (an improvised angle adapter is visible in the picture that shows the Manfrotto FF3249 telescopic post).

There is no eyelet near the end of the arm for attaching a security steel cable.

The clamp that locks the exension section is made of metal, but not as strong as the one that locks the arm inclination. Also this clamp does its job, especially if the arm is horizontal. I am less certain that this clamp will prevent slipping with the arm at maximum inclination and under maximum load.

The extension section cannot accidentally slide completely out of its clamp. It is necessary to separate the extension clamp from the fixed section (by unscrewing a Torx bolt) to do so.

The short, oblique section of aluminium pipe that keeps the arm at a given inclination is made in the simplest possible way (a pipe section with just two holes to house two ordinary iron bolts), but it also does its job. It would have been nice, however, for Manfrotto to add thick washers between this pipe and the wall plate, and between this pipe and the inclination clamp, to avoid marring the black finish of the pipe if the arm inclination is repeatedly changed. It is easy for the arm owner to add this finishing touch, if desired.

Two bolts on the wall plate allow the arm to swing horizontally slightly less than 180° from side to side.

The iron plate that attaches to the wall has holes of different sizes and positions, so you can use one of the extra holes to attach the arm to the wall if you have the misfortune of hitting a steel rebar while drilling a hole in a reinforced concrete wall. I recommend that you use at least four expansion screws of a type suitable to the wall material. In drywall, at least two of the screws (either along the top or along one side) should be fastened to an underlying wall stud.

Manfrotto also sells kits of replacement parts for these arms, although replacing a major failed part like one of the clamps may not be economically viable.

Neewer arm

At least judging from catalog illustrations, the Neewer arm appears quite similar in construction to the Manfrotto equivalent. The diameter of the aluminium pipes is similar, and the wall plate of the Neewer arm is larger. The oblique pipe section that locks the arm inclination is thicker and apparently better built than the Manfrotto one.

Once you put your hands on the Neewer arm, more differences become apparent. To begin with, all clamps are made of plastic.

Inclination locking clamp of Neewer arm. Even overtightening the plastic clamp does not prevent the arm from sagging.

The clamp that adjusts the arm inclination (above picture) easily slips even with a small load attached at the end of the arm, making the arm sag uncontrollably. Overtightening the clamp does not increase the clamp's hold on the extension section. A 2 kg studio strobe largely exceeds the capabilities of this clamp, and the arm still sags. To prevent this, I blocked the extension section from sliding with a clamp for water pipes (visible in the picture near the top of this page). This works for now, but prevents the inclination of the arm from being adjusted.

The oblique pipe section connecting this clamp to the wall plate appears to be designed with strength in mind. Instead of a simple pipe section with two drilled holes at either end like in the Manfrotto arm, this part in the Neewer arm (partly visible in the above picture) is capped at the clamp end by a machined solid piece of aluminium riveted to the pipe, and by a black plastic cap at the opposite end. Metal washers separate the the end of this pipe from the clamp, while thicker nylon washers separate the pipe from the wall holder. This part is in fact so well made that it strikingly contrasts with the cheap plastic clamp to which it is attached.

The clamp between the fixed and extending sections appears to be attached to the fixed section by a single plastic rivet. With the arm horizontal, this clamp is not under heavy stress, and this solution may actually be acceptable.

The clamp that holds a 16 mm stud at the end of the extension pipe section carries a weight of a few Kg without visibly deforming. However, the plastic is quite thin, and I do not feel comfortable entrusting an expensive studio strobe to this clamp, especially considering that the strobe will be hanging there on a semi-permanent basis.

Like in the Manfrotto telescopic poles, there is no attachment for a safety steel cable at the end of the Neewer arm.

Conclusions

My new-bought specimen of the Manfrotto 098SHB arm is defective. If you buy one of these arms, check that yours is not similarly faulty. This arm is otherwise well-built, reliable and durable, even though it lacks attention to some details. I recommend this or a similar Manfrotto model in spite of its much higher price than the Neewer arm.

The Neewer arm has design faults that make its intended use with a studio strobe essentially impossible. You might be able to use the Neewer arm for loads up to 1 Kg (e.g., a small LED panel), but anything heavier will cause the arm to sag uncontrollably, unless you improvise a way to block the inclination adjustment. The durability of the plastic clamp that holds the stud is an additional concern.


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