Workshop Preparation – Camera Support Systems

What ballhead is in that photo? (or is that for tomorrow’s post?)

If you’ve read my previous post, then you understand that high quality tripods are sold “bare”, without anyhting to attach them to your camera. This is where the ballhead and clamp come in. Good quality ballheads are designed to support heavy loads, move smoothly but lock solidly. Ballheads are easier to use and much more stable than the old fashioned “pan & tilt” tripod heads. Aiming and leveling can be accomplished as one motion, and solid lockup is accomplished with a tightening of only one control. The best designed ballheads also offer variable tension that makes them easy to control. Tripods with ballheads are much easier to pack and carry than pan & tilt heads since they have no long handles to get in the way.


But the ballhead is only half the story. The other half is the clamp system which is used to attach your camera to the ballhead. Mounting your camera using the standard ¼”‑20 screw is far too slow and insecure. Instead, many manufacturers adopted the “Arca-Swiss” standard which uses an open-ended dovetail channel with compressing side jaws that grip the mounting plate or bracket attached to the camera. This unique setup provides a quick and easy clamping system that is very solid and secure.

When used in conjunction with an L-Plate designed for your specific camera the quick-release clamp system allows the landscape photographer to quickly switch between shooting horizontally and vertically as shown in the images below.

Quick Release Clamp & Camera L-Plate

Quick Release Clamp with L-Plate

Really Right Stuff
In my opinion the best design and highest quality ballheads, clamps and camera plates are made by Really Right Stuff, a great little company in California owned and operated by Joe Johnson. The folks at RRS are incredible to work with and their attention to detail in the design and manufacturing of camera support systems is second to none. That’s why you’ll see nine out of ten professionals using RRS gear including guys like Joe McNally, Moose Peterson and Scott Kelby.

The advice I give to any serious amateur is to buy the best tripod and ballhead you can possibly afford and buy them only once.  Really Right Stuff (gotta love that name) gear is expensive folks but worth every single penny. The workmanship is something I’ve only seen in medical devices before and the various parts fit together perfectly, time after time.

I’ve put an RRS L-Plate on every camera I currently shoot with from my 5D mark II to my G10 and can lock them into my BH-40 LR / Gitzo Traveller in just seconds to capture that perfect light at the end of the day. I honestly can’t imagine using any other brand than Really Right Stuff.

9 thoughts on “Workshop Preparation – Camera Support Systems

  1. I find it interesting that you went with the BH40 on the 1541T. I have the same tripod but am using the smaller BH25. Do you feel that the legs on the tripod close up enough with the 40 when you carry the tripod?

    • Matt,

      I wanted a ball-head that included a separate panning control and if I had to do it over again I’d buy the new BH-30 instead of the BH-40 since it’s smaller.


  2. Count me as a fan of the products and the company, I have had several. I don’t have one of their ball heads yet, but one of these days….. yum!

  3. Jeff, this post has nothing to do with the ballhead but I noticed that you use a Giottos LCD screen protector…I’ve been thinking about getting one for my 40D, how well do you find them to work in cutting glare when outdoors?


    • Heath,

      Thanks for reading. I did use a Giottos LCD protector on my 40D but really don’t recommend it anymore. The first time I sent my 40D to Canon service for an annual cleaning, they were unable to remove the protector and actually broke the LCD underneath. The technician called me and warned me off these types of protectors. All Canon LCD’s have a scratch and smudge resistance outer glass cover and the Giottos LCD protector is really not needed.


  4. Jeff,

    Ordered my BH-40 LR and L-Plate for my 5D Mark II. Can’t wait to start using it. The ability to use the portrait orientation without flipping the ballhead to the side just rocks. It’s a problem with my old ballhead and my 24-105L which will tends to sag when placed in portrait orientation on the side of the ballhead.

    You are right. Not cheap but worth every penny. I am using a Manfrotto 190CXPro4 carbon fiber tripod which I love and will probably hold on to for now. It may not be a Gitzo which tends to be the “gold standard” but it is a fine tripod.



    • Andy,

      Good for you. I’m sure you’ll enjoy using the RRS ballhead. Before buying my Gitzo Traveller I used the Manfrotto 190CXpro myself. It’s a very nice medium weight tripod.


  5. Just curious Jeff- How do you manage to connect a wired remote to your 5D MkII in portrait orientation with the RRS L-Plate in the covering the camera plug in receptacle (do you even use a wired remote?)? The L Plate appears to have openings in it, but how would you run the remote wire past the mounting plate?

    • Chuck,

      The RRS L-Plates are designed with a cut-out section to accommodate the wired connector. You can see it in the first of two L-Plate images in the post.


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