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THE L BRACKET – “DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT”

Autumn Reflection

Most of my work is “Landscape” type photography, including true landscape, “macro” and closeup shots of flowers and other natural objects, and occasionally, architecture.  I like to capture both “portrait” (vertical) and “landscape” (horizontal) versions of any image that makes sense in both formats.  Sometimes, I do not discover that a particular image looks better in one format or the other until I look at it out of the field on the “light table.”  Another reason is that an image may crop more attractively from a different format than I originally envisioned.  I will even occasionally make a horizontal crop from a vertical original image.  It is also wise to have an image in both formats, in case you use it in an unanticipated way.

At some point it occurred to me that I was spending much time and effort “fighting” with my tripod positioning to achieve the same view when changing orientation.  Because of the design of most tripod heads (except with lenses that have their own rotating tripod collar), changing orientation invariably moves the lens-axis.  This makes it difficult to change orientation between landscape and portrait while maintaining the same composition.

Autumn Reflection

At a workshop I attended a few years back, one attendee had an “L” bracket.  This bracket mounts to the camera body and allows mounting and re-mounting to the center of the tripod mounting point from the vertical center axis and horizontal center axis of the camera.  This means that, using a quick release system, you can quickly and accurately change the orientation of the camera between landscape and portrait without moving the tripod and without re-composing the image!  Having used an “L” bracket now for a number of years, I would not have a camera setup without one.  I consider it an absolutely essential piece of gear, ranking only after the camera, lenses, and tripod.

Having used an “L” bracket now for a number of years, I would not have a camera setup without one.  I consider it an absolutely essential piece of gear, ranking only after the camera, lenses, and tripod.

To my knowledge there are only 3 companies that manufacture this bracket.  Two of them, Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff, make their brackets to the “Arca Swiss” dovetail clamp standard.  Unfortunately, if you are using some other type of “quick release” system, these brackets most likely will not work.  They do have adapters, and it is probably worthwhile to contact them with your information.  However, it seems to me that as you have more connection points between the camera and the tripod, you defeat the purpose of having a solid support.

I used the Bogen/Manfrotto hexagonal quick release plate system for many years.  Fortunately for me, Manfrotto manufactures “L” brackets for this system and for their square dovetail quick release systems.  They call their brackets “Elbow” brackets.  They are made from cast alloy and are very rigid.  Their advantage is that they are not camera body-specific.  Their disadvantage is that they are bulky and relatively heavy.  When mounted, they stick out from the camera body a significant amount, adding to the size and bulk of the body itself for handling purposes.  Though the Bogen system worked well for me for years, it does, in my opinion have weaknesses.  The cam plate mounting system has a minute amount of “play” which allows for some camera movement even under the best of conditions.  Also, there is a question of how secure the quick-release mounting system is.  There was always a nagging doubt about the plate accidentally releasing and dropping the camera and lens.  As an aside (as the link to their site demonstrates), I have grown less impressed with the way Manfrotto presents their products to the market.  Their website is klunky and it is difficult to find a particular item (compare the Kirk and RRS sites below, which directly link to the page illustrating the part and are easy to navigate).   However, like many other Manfrotto products, the manufacture quality is very good and they are considerably less expensive than the alternatives.

I recently switched to the Arca Swiss dovetail clamp style quick release system.  It is much more secure and because it is a clamp, it eliminates all play in the mount.  I acquired one of the Kirk Enterprise “L” plates.  It appears to me from my research that there are only minor differences between the Kirk and Really Right Stuff L brackets (the RRS site has a nice piece on how brackets work to enhance the utility of tripd-mounted cameras).  The downside to these systems is that the brackets are generally manufactured to fit the particular camera body (they do offer “generic” bracket, but it requires adapters to fit your system, which, in my view, defeats the purpose of a simple, rigid mounting system).  This means you will have to replace the bracket each time you change bodies.  It also means that if you carry a backup body different from your main body, you will need to purchase 2 different brackets.  These brackets are expensive (over $100 each).

In my view, the fact that these brackets are manufactured to fit the particular body is an advantage.  Unlike the solid, cast Bogen “Elbow” brackets, these brackets are extruded from aircraft grade aluminum and are frame constructed which makes them extremely light.  They fit very close to the camera body and mine is hardly noticeable and just barely changes the profile of the camera body.  It will stay on the body permanently, as its design does not interfere with the battery and CF doors.

Photography is an expensive endeavor.  A certain amount of “gear” is, unfortunately, necessary.  Some is a luxury.  The “L” bracket is an item I consider a necessity.

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7 Responses

  1. Andy, this is really amazing. I owned a Manfrotto tripod with the quick release system. I bought the L bracket, and used it for quite awhile but like you I found it to be heavy and cluncky. I bought a Kirk Swiss Arca style ball head and a Kirk L bracket. We followed virtually the same pattern. What’s more, I agree with everything you said. The Kirk L bracket matches my camera perfectly, it is light and I never take it off. (When my camera crashed in Florida a few months ago, I put the L bracket on my 10D. It didn’t work well but I wasn’t out of business.) I love the combination of the Swiss Arca clamp and L bracket. My Manfrotto L bracket was much better than flopping the camera to a different position using that feature on a standard tripod head but the Kirk L bracket and Swiss Arca ball head are a perfect match. The L bracket is essential.

    Another thing I keep mounted on my tripod is a leveling base. I’ve been making more panoramic photos and a level tripod is essential. Regardless of the terrain, I can always level my camera with it. I add a bubble level on the hotshoe and my panos turn out great.

  2. Great minds apparently think alike :-). I don’t have the leveling base yet, but will probably be doing that at some point. I did take your advice and added a hotshoe bubble level to my gear. Now if we could only get you to change that white hat for a black hat :-).

  3. My sports photographer mentor has an L plate on one of his D3’s and has used one for years. Have always meant to ask him how he uses it but our time has almost exclusively dealt with sports and it hasn’t come up there. In this realm we use monopods at most and are more interested in the extra shutter button, scroll wheel and AF-ON button in the grip during vertical shooting (basketball, volleyball, etc.). But you’ve given me something to think about when I’m adding balance to my life shooting landscapes and such.

    To be consistent, in jumping off topic (as I always do), you also got me thinking about odd cropping dimensions. My favorite black and white (old Point Loma lighthouse near San Diego) lent itself to an odd crop. I got it custom framed and like the result. It doesn’t work as an 8×10 or standard crop. But it makes me want for some more standard crop dimensions other than the usual 8×10, 11×14, etc. I’d like some standard formats like 4×10 that would be matched with frames and pre-cut mats. Maybe these exist. Maybe I just don’t know about them.

    I feel that some restriction to a format (rather than simple manual crop) would discipline me to standards and the benefits thereof. Having standards at the odd dimensions would give the frame and mat industry a reason to add choices.

    Maybe I just need to learn to create my own mats and frames or just suck up and pay for custom framing and matting.

    Well, I’ve gone off-topic again. My work here is done.

    Thanks for inspiring related thoughts…

  4. It is an interesting (albeit “off” 🙂 ) topic, Phil. I find myself often “stuck” in a format, because either that’s what the sensor or lens shoots, or because I am shooting to a print dimension (more often then not, 119). Fortunately, the sensors in both the APS and the 35mm are close to that same aspect ratio as the 13 x 19 print. But while you have a valid point about “disciplining” yourself, there can be missed opportunities when we restrict ourselves. I had a pro look at a shot I recently took and comment that I could have envisioned the end result I wanted and taken a series and “woven” them together in PS. This is the beauty of digital. I need to start thinking outside the box more, myself.

  5. […] also consider two other support gear items “essential.” I use an “L-bracket” and since I started, have no clue why I didn’t get one sooner (I have been using it for a […]

  6. […] makes an L-bracket for the G12 and I am likely, before all is said and done, to purchase that (see, “The L-Bracket, Don’t Leave Home without it”). As I have previously blogged, the L-bracket is one of the most useful tools in my own bag. Of […]

  7. […] the D7000, it is virtually impossible to have a corded remote and an L-bracket (in my view, an absolutely essential piece of gear) without resorting to a “rube-goldberg” extender.  I have purchased a wireless remote. […]

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