In days far past, when a photographer wanted to move a tripod mounted camera from landscape to portrait orientation, he or she would flip the camera to one side or another using capabilities present in most tripod heads.
But flipping a camera using a tripod-mounted head can sometimes take precious time. It also means that the camera is no longer perfectly balanced on the top of the tripod causing the head to take more of the camera weight than is necessary. Also, depending on the size of the camera and the tripod being used, some photographers may find it difficult to achieve perfect 90-degree positioning.
Finally, the photographer will likely need to recompose the scene after flipping the camera. Although you may think this particular problem is a trivial matter, reorienting a camera makes a big difference when taking photographs in the field under rapidly changing lighting conditions; every second counts.
With an L-bracket, photographers can change a camera’s orientation by removing camera from the tripod and remounting it on its opposite axis; no adjustments are required on the tripod head itself. This is accomplished using an L shaped Arca-Swiss style quick release plate, commonly referred to as an L-bracket.
There are many different brands of L-brackets available on the market today including products by Manfrotto and several generic import brands. However, most professional photographers agree that two of the best L-brackets are manufactured by Really Right Stuff (RRS) and Kirk Enterprises. With my recent purchase of a second Nikon D2x camera body, I felt it was a good time to compare the L-brackets provided by these two major superpowers of mounting technology.
For my last two camera bodies, the Nikon D70 and Nikon D2x, I had selected L-brackets from Kirk Enterprises. However, the Internet grapevine reported that Really Right Stuff (RRS) also manufactured excellent L-brackets. So, when I purchased a second Nikon D2x, I thought I would check the veracity of that claim. Taking this “chance” was also influenced by the fact that I had also recently purchased the Really Right Stuff B91-B flash arm. I found this product to be of very high quality and therefore assumed that I would not be disappointed with a RRS L-bracket.
This article is intended to provide you with my observations, as they relate to the Really Right Stuff BD2-L plate and the Kirk Enterprises BL-D2H L-bracket (hereafter referred to as L-brackets). These L-brackets are designed for the Nikon D2x. Both manufacturers also provide similar L-brackets designed for other camera bodies.
The Nikon D2x has data ports located on the left vertical edge of the camera. Both L-brackets provide an opening which allows access to these ports. However, the opening in vertical mount area on the RRS L-bracket is shallower than the opening on the Kirk L-bracket. Since some photographers find it difficult to open those rubber doors when an L-bracket is utilized, I believe that many photographers would find it easer to open those doors when using the RRS L-bracket. Really Right Stuff wins this category.
The RRS L-bracket features lens axis marks engraved on the horizontal and vertical mounting areas, while the Kirk L-bracket does not have similar markings. Although some photographers might find this small detail trivial, I really like this feature. I find it particularly helpful when using other RRS components. My other RRS components also feature these axis marks. These marks can allow me to quickly and accurately align the RRS L-bracket to RRS tripod heads or flash arm mounts.
Both plates offer a 1/4″ hole on the L-bracket’s horizontal mounting area. For the RRS L-bracket, this hole is positioned directly over the lens axis. On the Kirk L-bracket, this hole is offset and not directly under the lens axis. This deficiency in the Kirk product could prove problematic if you sometimes mount your camera on plates that don’t feature an Arca-Swiss mount. This potential problem is most relevant for panoramic photographers where having an accurate axis point is particularly critical. Really Right Stuff wins this category.
The horizontal Arca-Swiss mount area is approximately 55mm on the Kirk L-bracket while the RRS L-bracket boasts about 70mm of horizontal area. The vertical Arca-Swiss mount area is approximately 65mm on the Kirk L-bracket while the RRS L-bracket boasts about 70mm of horizontal area. Although I’m not certain that the extra surface area provided by the RRS L-bracket will prove more useful, I personally like the idea of a longer surface contact area for my 3 inch quick release plates. Really Right Stuff has the slight edge in this category.
I purchase almost everything online. And although I do sometimes frequent my local store for last-minute purchases, I prefer to order online if I have the time to plan my purchases. For both the Kirk and RRS sites, the ordering process isn’t very pleasant. Kirk’s site features more intuitive, utilitarian navigation while the RRS site provides visitors with a more aesthetically pleasing presentation. But in both cases, neither site evokes a strong sense of trust. And both are sadly lacking in that they don’t accept American Express, my business credit card of choice. I believe that companies shouldn’t insert barriers to purchase; and the lack of support for any major credit card is a problem in my book. UPDATE (8/10/09): RRS now takes American Express.
Other General Observations
The RRS L-bracket is balanced so that the majority of the weight is centered on the horizontal plate. The Kirk L-bracket’s balance point is somewhere on the curve between the horizontal and vertical plate areas. In other words, when the RRS L-bracket is not mounted, its stands on its own while the Kirk plate falls onto its curved edge. Additionally, the RRS plate horizontal surface area is solid where it mounts to the camera. The Kirk plate is bored out and provides visibility to some areas of the camera bottom.
When measured on non-digital kitchen scale, both L-brackets appear to have the same weight. When working with a professional camera body like the Nikon D2x, I haven’t found the weight or additional bulk of either L-bracket noticeable.
The build quality on the L-brackets from both manufacturers is excellent. However, I feel that the RRS L-bracket seems to be more visually elegant than the Kirk L-bracket. Please note that this assessment is purely subjective and shouldn’t be weighted very heavily. I do maintain that I find both equally comfortable when taking photographs with my camera off-tripod.
Although the differences between the Really Right Stuff BD2-L plate and the Kirk Enterprises BL-D2H L-bracket are minor, I’d have to give the slight edge to the Really Right Stuff BD2-L plate. If you’re already the happy owner of a Kirk Enterprises BL-D2H L-bracket, don’t despair. You have a great product. I plan to continue using my Kirk L-bracket on my backup D2x and mount the RRS L-bracket on my primary D2x. But if you don’t yet own an L-bracket, I’d have to point you to the folks at Really Right Stuff for an overall superior product.
As of this writing, the Really Right Stuff BD2-L plate is $183.00 with $9.15 for UPS ground shipping and the Kirk Enterprises BL-D2H L-bracket is priced at $179.95 with $7.60 for UPS ground shipping. These are steep prices for such a simple accessory, but for my style of photography, I can’t imagine taking tripod-mounted photographs using any other similarly performing product.