It is time for another product review here at Greg Kiser Photography. I do these from time to time to talk about some of the products that I use which make my images look the way that they do, or in this case, make my life a lot easier. This will appeal to those who shoot from a tripod more than anything else as I will be talking about the link between the camera and the head on the tripod. This sounds simple enough I’m sure. If you shoot with a tripod you already have a plate of some sort screwed onto the bottom of your camera. If it just a plate, you are cheating yourself out of a lot of benefits as well as possibly degrading your images with camera movement, especially when shooting vertical. After many years of shooting with a simple plate attached to the bottom of the camera, I moved into the realm of using an “L” Plate to mount my camera. More specifically, one from Really Right Stuff made for the Canon 5D Mk3 which I use.
Before I get started with this review, I want to say that I didn’t spend a dime on this piece of equipment. However, my wife did pay full price for it at B&H Photo for a present for me back in 2017. I am not associated with Really Right Stuff (RRS), but I am an affiliate with B&H Photo. I have received no payment or trade for this review, and I am under no agreements with anyone to do it. That being said, I will give this piece an accurate and full review which I hope will give you insight into the full line of these attachment plates for all of the different cameras out there.
Why do I need one?
So, if you already have a quick release plate on your camera and have been mounting it to your tripod with no issues, why in the world would you want to spend quite a bit of money for an “L” Plate? Quite a bit of money in this case is $140.00 for a piece of milled aluminum. Well, if you look at the picture above, you will see the hints for two of the problems with a standard plate. The biggest problem with these is that in order to shoot vertical, you have to rotate the camera by the pivot point on the tripod head. It might not sound like much, but this will affect your compositions greatly if you have spent time setting the image up as a horizontal image and then want to isolate from the same point of view as a vertical shot. The lens, and the sensor will shift significantly from the centerline which will change your perspective on the shot causing you to have to move the tripod over slightly. This is not a huge deal, but there is another problem related to this when it comes to panoramas.
When you are shooting a series of images for a panorama, you will usually have the camera in a vertical orientation, and sweep across the scene from side to side. It is a very simple process to blend the images in post processing. If you will refer to the picture of the camera on its axis above, you can start to see the issues this is going to cause. The lens is not being rotated on the nodal point, or the centerline of the sensor. This will allow the camera to change distance from your subject as you rotate it through the length of the panorama. It is a minor thing, but one that will negatively affect your composition and potentially cause you to have to crop in closer than you thought after merging the images together. With an “L” Plate attached, you will be able to keep the camera centered on the tripod through the sweep as seen below. Also note the etched design on the two surfaces of the plate that look like a null symbol This notates the point where the sensor centerline is. If you center that on your tripod head, you will be able to rotate on the axis of the sensor giving you a very accurate panorama as you sweep from side to side.
In addition to the centerline aspect of the camera, there is another really great benefit that I just learned about recently. It was not an issue with my quick release plate made by Kirk, but I have seen this issue show up on my workshops with other photographers. The problem is the camera rotating while in vertical orientation. You see, the plate is held on with a single screw and will have some type of anti-skid surface on the plate. However, especially with heavy glass, when the camera is flipped vertical, the weight of the glass will cause the camera to rotate down while still attached to the plate. With my Kirk quick release plate, however, it was molded to the camera body so there was no way for it to rotate. One size fits all plates are not like this though. Think about the problems that the rotation could cause with an image. You are taking the time to put your camera on a tripod for a tack sharp image, but you are allowing the camera to slowly shift down. On a short exposure, you might not see any issues, but on longer exposures, you will actually get a smear effect that could potentially ruin your image.
By using an “L” Plate on your camera, you are insured that extra layer of protection from movement. The RRS Plate is actually held on by the screw at the bottom as well as one that mounts to the neck strap ring on the left side of the body. It is milled to tight tolerances, so even without the screws tightened, this thing is held on pretty tight. Once you tighten the screws, this thing is locked onto the camera like it was made as part of the body. Speaking of security, something that I have always been very conscious of when flipping the camera horizontal is how tight the set screw is on the tripod head. The last thing that I want to do is put all of the weight of the camera in a position where it will cause the plate to slide out of the clamp which is a possibility with may of the quick release heads out there. By moving the camera to the left side mounting position as seen directly above, you are avoiding that issue all together because the camera is still sitting directly on the head and not being held over to the side of it. It is just an added layer of security when your camera is mounted on a tripod.
Let’s talk about design
This is a fairly simple design, but it has a lot of really thoughtful features. The base of this plate is pretty much your standard Arca Swiss compatible design. The clamping surface runs the length of the plate at the bottom and has a centerline mark as we discussed earlier. There are no failsafe screws on either end of the travel to keep the plate from sliding out of the clamp, but this is probably not an issue at all since you will not be using this plate as a side mount on the tripod as in the opening picture here. The chance of it sliding out is very minimal, and if it does, it is because you didn’t clamp it correctly to the head. What sets this type of plate aside is the part that curves up along the side of the body though, which makes this the shape of an “L”, hence the name.
This is where the different designers differ a little bit on execution. This is where you get what you pay for. For models like my Canon 5D Mk3, there are accessory plugs on the side where the plate mounts which you need to have access to, even when on the tripod. You can see in the picture above that I have my remote shutter release plugged in, and how it passes through the plate. I love this feature of the RRS design. If you look closely, you will see that the plate has been notched, but there is a “U” channel that maintains the rigidity of the plate. I have seen a competitor design recently that was reviewed that showed this same notch, but no channel. The reviewer gigged this design because it actually allowed the plate to flex reducing the grip and security of mount. That would scare me to death, and over time, it is realistic to see that aluminum section breaking off from the constant flexing. I have never seen any type of flex out of the RRS “L” Plate and it has been rock solid for me for well over a year’s use. With this pass through design, the remote release plug doesn’t even get in the way of the tracks, so you can still center the plate on the head. There is plenty of room in the opening of the plate to access the two covers for the plugs, even with my big fingers.
You can see the silver square above the RRS logo on the top of the plate. This is the clamp that secures the plate to the neck strap loop mounted to the side of the camera body. For that that like to use neck straps, don’t worry, you still can. RRS has added a new loop on the edge of that silver clamp. It is a little hard to access while tightened down, but it is there and usable if you need a strap. The set screw here and the one on the bottom are both allen head screws and the plate comes with the wrench to secure them. It only takes a minute to install it right out of the box. Once it is on, you can pretty much forget about it since there are no moving parts to worry about.
The entire piece is milled aluminum with a black coating that works well with most cameras. It isn’t flashy, but it gets the job done. It feels substantial in your hand, and adds a bit of weight to the camera. It is not so much that it is a problem and the camera still feels very balanced in your hands. Speaking of which, you can still hand hold this camera just as easily as before. In fact, I like having a bit of material on the left side since my hands are rather large. It gives me a bit more to hold onto when I am changing out lenses and moving the camera around.
So, do I need one?
I am pretty sure that if you have a tripod, you are already using some type of quick release plate. Is this something that you need? Well, that depends on how you are using your tripod more than anything else. For me, I made the choice because I got tired of the limited movements that I had when rotating the tripod head for a vertical composition. By moving the head into the side groove, as with any ballhead, I lost some fine tuning ability. By switching to the RRS “L” Plate, I keep the movements the same regardless of how the camera is oriented. Since making the switch, I have determined that I will NEVER go back to a basic quick release plate. This thing is absolutely the bomb when it comes to tripod shooting. I have total control of the camera when the head is straight up. Flipping between horizontal and vertical compositions is just too easy since I can keep the sensor on the same plane between the two. Panoramas are so much easier and I can get closer to the final composition in the field so I have to crop less than before. I love the security that it adds since I use heavy f/2.8 glass. Not that I worried about the camera creeping down, but it was always a concern that flipping the camera off to the side of the tripod head would put the tripod off center and make it easier to tip over. This is a huge worry of mine since I damaged a lens years ago after a tipping accident while the camera was on a tripod.
I have been exceedingly happy with the quality of the RRS “L” Plate since adding it to my collection. It has proven to be worth the money that it costs even though it did sting a little to see that $140.00 price tag. With the use that I have put it through, the cost is minimal and I will be able to use this plate until the camera gets replaced. I have no question that it will outlast the body. They did an excellent job designing this piece, and I have nothing negative to say about it at all.
I can say without hesitation that if you shoot from a tripod, this is a great addition to your kit and you will really wonder how you got along without it. If you don’t shoot on a tripod much, then it might not be worth the cost if you have a molded quick release plate that prevents any accidental rotation. If you are using a cheap one size fits all plate, you need to replace it with something better, that I can assure you. Be sure to check out B&H Photo for all of your options specific to your camera. Thank you for joining me for another product review. If you ever have any questions about equipment that I use, don’t hesitate to ask me.