Choosing the Right L-Bracket | Kirk vs Really Right Stuff

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.

Port Accessibility

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.

Mounting Options

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.

Mounting Area

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.

Online Shopping

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.

Conclusions

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.

12 thoughts on “Choosing the Right L-Bracket | Kirk vs Really Right Stuff”

  1. @Frank – Either bracket with fit either set of clamps. However, both manufacturers recommend that only their own brackets be used in their own clamps. Personally, I’ve used Kirk in RRS and RRS in Kirk many times without a problem. But please note that the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily recommend doing that sort of thing.

  2. I had RRS recommended by two outstanding professionals at a landscape WS, after looking at the prices I thought they were being a littl elitiest but.. Iupgraded my ballhead and bought a RRS bracket and wouldn’t think of using anything else. The L bracket is worth its weight in gold when working macros. -BJ

  3. I am a bit concerned about the resulting stability when mounting the L bracket vertically. The entire rig is then based on the connection at the other end of the bracket and it seems that any vibration/mirror slap, etc would quickly translate into loss of sharpness.

    Have you done any testing of stability and resulting resolution when mounting vertically? Probably most noticable on longer non-collared lenses.

  4. RJLabella – I’ve been shooting with my l-brackets for at least four years now and would guess that easily 75% of my shots are vertical, the bracket is not an issue. Recomposing betweeen vertical and horizontal is more of a mental effort than camera alignment issue.
    VR
    BJ

  5. I ended up purchasing both brackets and ended up keeping the Kirk. The deciding point was the fact that the kirk clamped to the left strap anchor point substantially increasing stability when shooting vertical. However, after some period of time I noticed that the camera strap was abraiding on the left attachment point as the Kirk slot was not rounded onthe inside edge, but a sharp edge. Contacted Kirk about this recommending they change the milling of this part, but they apparently never did anything about it. I ended up filing the edge smooth to stop the abraision.

  6. I own several brackets, clamps and heads from both companies. Kirk’s customer service leaves a lot to be desired. Since my first RRS purchase I won’t go back to Kirk for anything. RRS parts are far superior in quality and workmanship and well worth the few extra bucks.

  7. Anybody thinking of 3rd party “L” plates with any lever release clamp should probably stick with the same manufacturer as the clamp. I have 3 Arca Swiss Flip-Lock clamps and just bought 2 Kirk “L” Plates & 2 Kirk foot Plates with mixed sizes. I had to shim the bottom of the 70-200 foot plate slide smoothly when half locked & tight when fully locked without adjusting the clamp in between changes. My 1Ds MK III Kirk “L” plates is fine as is my 4.25″ Henjar plate but my 7D Kirk “L” Plate is loose when in portrait but tight when in landscape & portrait side binds half way then becomes loose again. Kirks answer to my email was:”There is some tolerance with the machine. Not much, but when using the lever type it is more noticeable. You can return your order for a complete refund if you are not happy with the fit.” I went with the Kirk because they are lighter than the RRS (1DS MK III Kirk “L” Plates is nearly half the weight of the RRS “L” Plate) & looked like a nicer design but their machining tolerances are allover the place. I don’t own any RRS gear at the moment, but will be dumping the 7D Kirk “L” Plate on ebay (Don’t want to waste more money on postage, Australia to USA) & purchase a RRS 7D “L” Plate & hope it is the same size as the Kirk & Henjar plates that I already have. Point is if you mix manufacturers with lever QR clamps it is pot luck & you could loose the advantage of the lever QR clamp. Sorry for the long one, just don’t want anybody else getting caught & throwing money down the drain on poorly made plates.

  8. Correction to my last post, the weight I was thinking for the RRS was the shipping weight not the “L” Plate net weight.
    11th & 12th lines down should read:
    I went with the Kirk because they appeared lighter than the RRS (only by 0.2oz/6g) & they
    looked like a nicer design but their machining tolerances are all over the place.

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