Can someone explain Arca-Swiss plates to me?

exakta

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I understand the basic concept of using plates, to allow quick mounting to a tripod. Having done some tripod shooting recently where I had to mount and unmount the camera a few times I started thinking maybe I should look into a plate.

But I've read about camera-specific and lens-specific plates. When looking at online dealer listings I see a confusing array of plates. It's also not clear to me whether the quick release that mounts on the tripod works with all plates and whether it must be purchased on it's own or it comes bundled with plates in some cases. I also understand that Manfrotto sells it's own non-compatible system. Are there other plate systems as well?
 

wjiang

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The thing that makes a plate or tripod head Arca Swiss compatible is the cross section profile, such that the plate can slide in and be clamped by the head. The thing that makes a plate camera or lens specific is other side - how it attaches to the lens or body you want to mount. A dedicated plate often has better contact that makes it more stable. A particular type of body-mounted one is known as an L-plate - this is where two Arca Swiss rail sections are joined together to allow horizontal or vertical orientation without having to tip the tripod head over on its side.

Generally, you either buy a head separately or it comes with the tripod legs. The head will generally include a generic plate that is compatible with itself. Manfrotto and other proprietary heads are not compatible with Arca Swiss. If you get an Arca Swiss compatible head, all Arca Swiss compatible rails, sliders, plates, etc should fit.
 
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I was where are years ago. I don’t use tripods often. When I do it’s frequent on and off's.

I get by with <$10 arca plates sourced from Amazon or eBay. I rubber band a large allen wrench to each of my tripod legs. Store the plate on one of the tripod heads.

With respect to the tripod head, make sure you use one with some form of safety (mine is a pin) that prevents the arca plate from sliding off (with attached camera) without pressing the safety. If your current tripod head does not have a safety, I would seriously consider replacing it.
 
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Mack

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I've been using the Really Right stuff brand of L-plates and lens plates for years since I have a couple of their tripods with their clamping heads on them. The tripod tops have their flip-lever clamp which can be tight on some non-RRS Arca plates to fold down and latch. On their own it works well and is faster than the hand-screw types. On the tight Arca-Swiss ones (non RRS brand.), it is possible to twist the clamp lever out of position on clamping and causing it to strike the plate on the body. They've made the clamp lever pin a bit thicker and applied a taper to the clamp's lever in later designs so it is less likely to strike the bottom of the camera or the plate on clamping down.

With the screw-type of clamps with the hand-knob, most anything with the Arca-Swiss design will work. I did see where RRS put a patent on their Arca-Swiss design which seems odd as many are doing it. Only thing I can tell is maybe they rounded the bottom edge a bit so it isn't as sharp to hand-hold as others with a sharper bevel. Their newer plates have a hole for the quick-disconnect strap system too which no one else has on plates they've made after 2016. It is a carryover for some military-style rifle quick-disconnect slings now that they are getting into making military gear.
 
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ac12

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The camera specific plates generally have a function called anti-twist. The plate is designed for the specific body, and won't twist on it.
A non-specific plate requires a semi-soft/rubber layer between the plate and the body to provide the friction so that the plate won't twist.
This twist is more likely when the camera is held in the vertical orientation, when the lens heavy front will pull the camera down.
And this is where the L bracket comes in. In the vertical position, you simply clamp onto the vertical part of the L, and the clamp is kept BELOW the plate. The problem is, L brackets and swing out rear screens don't get along. The screen will hit the vertical part of the L and won't fully swing open.

While I like the lever clamps, I use the screw clamps.
This is because there is no strict standard for AS plates/rails, and while one plate may fit tight, another may fit loose. So with AS plates from different manufacturers on all my cameras and lenses that have tripod mounts, the screw clamp handles them all.

The safety mechanism is a screw on each end of the bottom of the plate, which prevents the plate from sliding out of a slightly loose clamp.

Tripod plates can be a landmine. The problem is replacement plates.
If you loose a Manfrotto plate, you can buy a replacement.
Not so with a Brand X tripod, with a proprietary plate. Loose the plate and you are outta luck, and might as well throw the tripod away.

When I use a Manfrotto tripod, I put an AS clamp onto a Manfrotto plate, then put the Manfrotto plate into the tripod head.
So I am using two QR systems at the same time.

The neat thing about the Manfrotto plate system is, you can use it with ONE hand.
Put the plate into the tripod head, and the mechanism snaps shut.
Depending on what you do, that can be a big help.
 

WaltP

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For me, the snap of the RC2 plate is a real convenience. With one hand i can put the camera on the tripod and know it is really secure. Manfrotto also provides a simple lever (never had one fail) that acts as a lock and prevents the (also possible one-handed, but normally two-handed) opening of the locking mechanism. A quick one-handed way to secure the camera, and a deliberate two-handed way to remove it from the tripod. Nothing for me to improve upon.
Even with IBIS, putting a camera on a tripod reminds me of an early teacher who said "You only need a tripod for the pictures you want sharp." IBIS is a miracle, but I still retain my child-like doubts. A tripod removes any doubt and slows the process down to meditation and prayer. I swear i see and compose better when I slow down.
 
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I have Arca Swiss plates on every long lens, every camera body and some in reserve. In the past I used Manfrotto and it was okay but if the lever was not wiggled occasionally, it would lock up and necessitate putting a lot of force on it to open it. I am like AC12 and use both but more limited than he does. I use the Manfrotto monopod for sports and it has the very nice Manfrotto monopod head which just goes up or down and I have a Manfrotto plate on the head and an Arca Swiss plate on top of the Manfrotto plate. Not the neatest way to do it but it works. My wife uses a more light monopod with a head that already takes the Arca Swiss Plates. I use a combination of plates, AS, RRS, and generic and have had absolutely no problems with the safety of my equipment. I agree with WaltP on the need for support. I use a tripod for those shots that I must have, a monopod for sports and hand held if I have to.
 

ac12

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If you do go with the Arca Swiss system, I suggest you do as Mel and I do.
Put an AS plate/bracket on EVERYTHING that can go on the tripod.
That way you are not in a position where you have to move a plate from camera A to camera B.
Or find out in the field, that you forgot to put a plate on the camera, and now have to remove the AS clamp from the tripod, to use the tripod.
 

exakta

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With respect to the tripod head, make sure you use one with some form of safety (mine is a pin) that prevents the arca plate from sliding off (with attached camera) without pressing the safety. If your current tripod head does not have a safety, I would seriously consider replacing it.
My 1970s tripod is so old school it doesn't even have an interchangeable head ;)

Am I correct that you are talking about a tripod head that has the Arca-Swiss quick release built in?
 

DanS

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If you do go with the Arca Swiss system, I suggest you do as Mel and I do.
Put an AS plate/bracket on EVERYTHING that can go on the tripod.
That way you are not in a position where you have to move a plate from camera A to camera B.
Or find out in the field, that you forgot to put a plate on the camera, and now have to remove the AS clamp from the tripod, to use the tripod.

+1 I recommend this as well.
 

The Grumpy Snapper

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I have A-S plates on every body and lens with a tripod mount. But depending on the kit it may be overkill for some people.

I started using the Arca-Swiss system in the mid 1990s when I needed it to support big telephotos and large format cameras.

Prior to that I used the large hexagonal Manfrotto plates as the small rectangular Manfrotto quick release simply wasn't up to the job. The small rectangular Manfrotto quick release may be fine for many m4/3 users.
 

Holoholo55

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For me, the snap of the RC2 plate is a real convenience. With one hand i can put the camera on the tripod and know it is really secure. Manfrotto also provides a simple lever (never had one fail) that acts as a lock and prevents the (also possible one-handed, but normally two-handed) opening of the locking mechanism. A quick one-handed way to secure the camera, and a deliberate two-handed way to remove it from the tripod. Nothing for me to improve upon.
Even with IBIS, putting a camera on a tripod reminds me of an early teacher who said "You only need a tripod for the pictures you want sharp." IBIS is a miracle, but I still retain my child-like doubts. A tripod removes any doubt and slows the process down to meditation and prayer. I swear i see and compose better when I slow down.
I like the Manfrotto RC2 plate and clamp too, but the Arca-Swiss is almost ubiquitous and built-in on many non-Manfrotto tripod heads. OTOH, if you're diligent, you can find Manfrotto RC2 style clamps and plates that you can use to replace the Arca-Swiss clamps on ballheads and have everything with RC2 plates. I have one tripod with a Manfrotto fluid head on it. I like the RC2 plate enough that I switch my usual Arca-Swiss plate for the RC2 when I'm using that tripod. But, I didn't make my other tripods RC2 compatible. Besides, switching to RC2 type clamps would make my existing L-brackets useless. They wouldn't fit. :)

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/554141-REG/Manfrotto_323_323_RC2_System_Quick.html
 
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Holoholo55

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If you do go with the Arca Swiss system, I suggest you do as Mel and I do.
Put an AS plate/bracket on EVERYTHING that can go on the tripod.
That way you are not in a position where you have to move a plate from camera A to camera B.
Or find out in the field, that you forgot to put a plate on the camera, and now have to remove the AS clamp from the tripod, to use the tripod.
Also note that the Peak Design plate is Arca-Swiss compatible. But, Arca-Swiss plates won't fit the Peak Design Capture Clip.
 

archaeopteryx

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Am I correct that you are talking about a tripod head that has the Arca-Swiss quick release built in?
Basically correct, though the clamp is nearly always screwed on to the head to reduce machining and material costs and therefore at least technically removable. Have a look through the catalog of most any supplier of Arca-Swiss gadgetry (Sunwayfoto, for example).

This twist is more likely when the camera is held in the vertical orientation, when the lens heavy front will pull the camera down. And this is where the L bracket comes in. In the vertical position, you simply clamp onto the vertical part of the L, and the clamp is kept BELOW the plate.
I'd like to encourage revisiting the free body diagram behind this analysis, specifically the bit around the torque at the body tripod socket-L bracket junction. ;) It may also be informative to compare torques on the tripod yoke for vertical orientation via the ballhead versus an L bracket versus rotation in a tripod collar.

The problem is, L brackets and swing out rear screens don't get along. The screen will hit the vertical part of the L and won't fully swing open.
With current designs isn't there typically a cutout in the bracket to allow the screen to fully open?
 

WaltP

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It's really not that hard. You need a Quick Release plate for your camera or lens, and a Quick release clamp on the tripod that accepts the plate you are using. There are 2 widely prevalent systems: Arca-Swiss and Manfrotto, with cheap 'knock-offs' widely available for both. There is starting to be some cross-compatibility between the systems as well. You can now find Arca-Swiss clamps that take RC2 plates and vica-versa.

Look at them both, try them, and pick the system you like. Put the clamp on your tripod and get as many plates as you need to quickly mount your gear on your tripod. The plates are cheap, the clamps are not expensive, but the head can cost as much as you want to spend.

Finally, a great tripod head and clamp will not save a crappy tripod. But you can put together a really good tripod setup for $100 or $1000. Mostly depends on the needs of your gear/ego/personality. With M43 we are lucky, much of our gear weighs relatively little which makes our tripod choices easier and cheaper (if you want). :)
 

zanydroid

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I've been using the Capture Clip plates as a generic Arca-Swiss plate that happens to have attachment points for sling carry. I use OpTech connectors for lower profile and savings vs PD connectors. I also have the clip itself, but I use that a lot less than just the attachment point.

Are there any other plates to consider with these capabilities? (Plate + attachment point). Maybe ones that are cheaper or mechanically more reliable for the same price.

You can get these plates direct from PD refurb department for a slight discount, if you're OK with no return policy / no fancy (wasteful) packaging.
 

Mack

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.....
With current designs isn't there typically a cutout in the bracket to allow the screen to fully open?
Yep, that cutout in the L-plate upright is still an issue. You can swing it out 90 degrees, and tilt it up or down. But that cutout will not allow you to fully swing it out 180 degrees and parallel to the body to tilt as it captures the LCD hinge. It stops the swing out maybe at 150 degrees and no tilt allowed. If you swing it out 90 degrees, you can tilt the LCD up or down and then swing it into the hinge cutout, but can't tilt it much in the cutout and the L-plate covers some of the screen.

Too bad RRS - or others - didn't move the L-plate upright ahead of where it is by maybe 1/2"-3/4" so the LCD could swing fully out 180 degrees and not strike it and stopping it at 150 degrees. Still might not be able to tilt it up or down doing so as it still would hit the upright when tilted.

At least the RRS one has a hex wrench stored in its base by magnets that allows you to remove the L-plate upright so you can use it normally. Newer L-plates since 2016 only though.
 
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