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Custom camera brackets are simple devices that most never consider as part of their photographic gear. These custom-made metal brackets give a photographer speed in setting up when seconds matter, and the security of knowing that your expensive gear is locked down tight.
A bracket for every camera
This is a good goal for every photographer. Use a tripod with a quick release, Arca-Swiss type mount and with a bracket on your camera it is on and off in a jiffy. Especially if you are an outdoor photographer shooting wildlife, seconds can count. Need to switch from landscape to portrait (or vice-versa)? Twist. Flip. Twist. Done.
I have L-brackets for each of my SLR bodies, so I’m conveying this idea from experience. It’s a good idea for a variety of reasons:
- landscape/portrait changeover
- swap SLR bodies efficiently
- secure attachment to a tripod head
- adds a protective frame around the camera body
- maintains composition integrity compared to rotating the ball head into the drop notch position
SLRs do not come with brackets, but nearly all modern cameras have a 1/4-20 thread mount (1/4 inch diameter, 20 threads per inch) on the base of the camera body. Cheap tripods have a thumbscrew that can be attached to the 1/4-20 thread mount but imagine doing that 5 or ten times in the scope of an evening “magic hour” photo shoot. That would be a major pain in the neck – and fingers!
In addition, these screw mounts tend to be less than secure. For example, shooting in portrait orientation with a screw mount on a either a ball head or a 3-axis tilt/pan head, the screw attachment can twist itself loose under the weight of a camera body. We are mounting our cameras on tripods to have the benefits of using slower shutter speeds and also getting sharp images. If slippage is occurring, any camera movement poses a risk of a blurred image.
Explanation of benefits
- Mounting a camera with a bracket on a tripod head fitted with an Arca-Swiss clamping system is a cinch. The Arca-Swiss dovetail clamping system provides a sound and secure grip on the mating surface of the bracket while allowing you to slide it into position or even slightly modify the position while moderately clamped.
- Clamping is simple using either a lever clamping arm or a screw-in knob. The lever design has a slight edge in quickness of mounting/dismounting equipment. But there is a downside: any variation in bracket or plate dimensions may require adjustment of the lever arm mechanism. Screw-in knobs handle the bracket/plate variation by just a little more or less twist to get the desired compression for a secure hold.
- This is a huge time saver: unclamp, rotate, clamp. Done.
- In contrast, with a camera directly screwed into a ball head the ball compression is relaxed, then the camera is rotated on the ball head to fall into a notched area of the head that allows for a 90 degree rotation from horizontal to vertical. This might seem just as easy, but try it.
- Often you will want to rotate back to horizontal. That really takes time – especially when getting it back to a truly level position on the ball head. With a bracket system, the head level position is never touched.
- Unclamp, rotate, clamp. Done.
Maintain composition integrity compared to rotating the ball head into the drop notch position
- There is a direct relationship between this point and the previous one. The different changeover techniques produce different results. This is best demonstrated by showing an example:
In the case of the head-rotated vertical mount, you can see that the entire camera is shifted downward and off-center to the left. Thus composition is completely different. With bracket-mounted changeover, the camera stays at the same level and only the orientation is rotated. Some minor adjustment of composition may be necessary, but there is not nearly as drastic a perpective change.
Swap camera bodies efficiently
- Have two bodies that you shoot with? A quick change is no problem.
- Unclamp, change bodies, clamp. Done.
Secure attachment to a tripod head
- A major benefit of bottom plates and L-brackets is that there is much greater surface area of contact holding the camera to the point of attachment.
- Great rigidity, firm grip to camera body and clamp to head leads to less chance of motion and vibration.
Adds a protective frame around the camera body
- A simple 1/4-20 thread screw holding a surface area about the size of a silver dollar or (usually) smaller has an inferior hold on the camera body than one that covers a greater percentage of the bottom plate with contoured edges fitting the camera body.
- L-brackets go a step farther by actually wrapping around one corner of the camera body and in doing so provide an added degree of physical protection of the camera.
The brackets I have shown in these photos are custom brackets made for particular camera models, and are manufactured by Kirk Enterprises. I’ve used these for about 13 years and they work well. But there are many other brands:
- Arca Swiss
- Hejnar Photo
- Jobu Design
- Kirk Enterprises
- Really Right Stuff
The brand names that stand out to me on that list are the Arca-Swiss, Kirk, Markins, ReallyRightStuf, and Wimberly. A newer company (to me) is ProMediaGear. They are based in Chicago and are a family-owned business started by three brothers (who are all engineers). They have put together an interesting system of brackets that was all born from a desire to have a better flash bracket. I recommend taking a look at their website even if you are seriously considering any of the other brands above.
If you have any questions or feedback about what I’ve written today please do so in the comments section below.