Tripods and Heads and Plates oh My!

I recently got around to purchasing a Kirk L Bracket for my second Canon EOS 7D and an Kirk Arca-Swiss plate for my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens. I thought that a post on these items would be a good idea.

We’ll start with tripods:
Like most photographers I tried the cheaper variety with the video head and they are (arguably) better than nothing provided that the camera/lens combination weighs as much as a lemon. As soon as anything approaching a decent body/lens is added you begin a futile exercise of making sure that the head doesn’t slip or the awful quick release plate doesn’t start to twist. Forget trying to hoist the extended tripod against your shoulder with the camera/lens attached if you are lucky it might stay attached.

Skip this exercise if you haven’t bought a tripod – save yourself the time and money.

I started researching what tripod I should be looking for and I remember this being discussed in a Luminous Landscape Video Journal Issue 8. This issue (amongst other things) has an entire feature on Camera Mounts; there are preview videos for each episode, click here for the link to LLVJ8 and then click on the “Camera Mounts and Critical Accessories” video to have a preview. You can buy the entire issues from the LL store for $9.95.

The video discusses tripods, ball-heads, the Arca-Swiss mounting system, lens plates and L-brackets. After this I purchased a Gitzo 1348 tripod from Warehouse Express and a Really Right Stuff BH-55-LR Full size Ball Head. I wanted the quick release mechanism that this version of the head had:

I had to import this from the US as there are no Really right Stuff UK stockists that I know of. The quality of the head was totally worth the import taxes, extra delivery costs and the wait. This is a beautiful and well engineered tripod head.

I have changed my camera models and lenses over the years since the tripod was purchased; however I now have two EOS 7D cameras with grips so I currently purchase the Kirk BL-7D L-Bracket from Warehouse Express (the only UK Kirk stockist):

The bracket makes the camera-grip combo more ridged (which is a bonus) but makes changing easy aspect ratio changes when the camera is mounted directly to the tripod. It enables the lens to stay in the same approximate position when you change from landscape to portrait and vice-versa. The older method was to use the slot(s) in the ball head; when going from landscape to portrait the lens axis would have moved right (or left) by a few inches and lower down by a few inches; this meant that would have to adjust the tripod to take the same picture. The LLVJ8 illustrates this very well.

Every lens that has a lens collar (I have three, the 70-200, 100-400 and the new 100L Macro lens) should be mounted to the tripod and not the camera. These lenses have a lot of metal and glass in them and can weigh more than the camera so you should purcahse plates for each of them.

Both the 70-200 and 100-400 use the same plate, the Kirk LP-41:

You might think “why didn’t he purchase just one and shared it between the models, is he too lazy?” The simple answer is that I don’t want to be changing plates while i’s in the field, I might miss important shots. This is why I have two cameras, I have missed shots before because I had to change lenses.

You can probably see from both brackets (camera L bracket and lens plate) that they are shaped for the particular item they are designed to attached to. Each item has a lip or curve so that they mate with their counterpart perfectly, this coupled with a Allen-keyed screw allows them to connect and stay connected. No more swivelling brackets!

The Arca-Swiss system itself allows each plate or bracket to mount and stay mounted yo the tripod and head until you decide to detach them either using the srew them or in the case of the BH-55, the quick-release mechanism.

Before I mentioned 3 lenses that I have that I can mount to my tripod with kirk plates. The final one is the 100mm Macro lens, I purchased the new Canon Tripod Mount Ring D ffor the lens:

Kirk do make a lens plate for the device:

But the only UK stockists for Kirk products have no plans to stock this particular bracket; I guess that there isn’t much demand. I will have to import one myself.

So all that remains to say is that since forcing my-self to use the tripod, my images have improved and the camera shake that I saw in a lot of my images has virtually gone. When the 100-400 was at 400, I had an effective focal length (field of view to be more precise) of 640mm; I do not have very steady hands so this is a vast improvement for me.

Secondly when I am photographing in low light with no flash you need as much stabilisation as possible. You NEED a tripod in these circumstances.

There are a number of articles that can be found on the web about tripods, I have put a few links below:

1) Michael Reichmann’s What’s the fuss
2) Thom Hogan’s Tripod 101
3) Richard Brown’s Tripods – buy once not several times

Here is my current setup; the Canon EOS7D with Grip (and Kirk Bracket) and 100-400mm EF Lens with the Kirk LP-41 lens plate attached to the Really Right Stuff BH-55LR Ball head which in turn is mounted to the Gitzo 1348 Tripod.

Picture taken with a iPhone 4 at Hartsholme Park last year.

5 thoughts on “Tripods and Heads and Plates oh My!

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  5. Matt McKean

    Very good review, i have same camera / lens set up and in the past month have spent far to long reviewing gear after gear after gear.. Gitzo is a top product, unfortunately i left my RRS head purchase to late so bought the Kirk BH1 which im very pleased with, just need to get the plate and convince myself that spending the last £50 on a plate is worth it.. It sure is a headache when purchasing this gear but there is a clear message i found to be very true, you get what you pay for, buy cheaper and it wont perform.. Regards Matt

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