The bottom of your camera has a threaded hole for attaching it to a tripod. Trying to attach a camera by threading it on and off can be inconvenient and tiresome. It’s also not a very stable connection for heavier cameras or lenses.
The quick release system was developed as a more stable and convenient alternative.
How does it Work?
A simple quick release system consists of a clamp and a plate. The clamp is mounted onto the top of a tripod. The plate gets attached to your camera or lens. The plate can then be locked into place inside the clamp for a secure connection.
Quick release plates have grooves that run down the sides. The center of the plate has a screw which gets threaded into the bottom of your camera. With several plates, you can have a separate one for each camera so you don’t have to take them off.
Some heavier telephoto lenses have a tripod foot that work just like the threaded mount on the bottom of your camera. A quick release plate can be attached to the thread allowing the lens to be used with the quick release system just like a camera.
There are a lot of different types of quick release clamps. Most use a lever or knob to open and close the clamp.
A lot of budget tripods are sold as a kit with a tripod that already has an attached head and quick release clamp. Usually these kits also contain at least 1 or 2 compatible plates.
Types of Systems
Budget tripods that are sold as a kit usually contain the manufacturer’s own proprietary quick release system. These are usually only compatible with other plates and clamps made by the same manufacturer. Plates made by a single company are not always compatible, so don’t assume that they will be. Always check first.
Arca Swiss QR System
The Arca Swiss quick release system is the most popular and widely used quick release system. It works just like any other quick release system in that it uses a clamp that attaches to the plates. It was made to be compatible across all brands and types of photography.
The Arca Swiss system is not company specific. There are multiple companies that all make Arca compatible plates and clamps. Any clamp or plate that is “Arca Swiss compatible” will work with all other compatible parts.
Of the companies that produce Arca Swiss compatible products, there are several that are very highly regarded and popular. Here are a few that come to mind:
Standard quick release plates work for a lot of situations, but sometimes you might need something a little more specific.
Plates for Cameras
Quick plates attach to the camera with a single screw. This leaves the plate free to rotate if it’s not tightened down enough. Several companies make custom quick plates for specific cameras. They usually feature a lip or a second screw to keep the plate locked firmly in place.
One of my favorites is the Acratech line of plates for DSLRs and lenses. They have a lip on the front of the plate that ensures correct placement and no rotation problems. They are lightweight, strong, and reasonably priced. The one pictured below for the Nikon D7100 runs around $40.
Another type of specialty plate for cameras is the L bracket. The plate attaches to the camera just like any other, but it wraps around the side of the camera body to provide the ability to shoot in portrait or landscape mode with the camera mounted to a tripod.
Plates for Lenses
Standard quick plates that work great for a camera aren’t always ideal for mounting lenses. Telephoto lenses that feature a tripod foot usually require a longer specialty plate.
Lens plates are usually specific to the individual lens. Kirk Enterprises makes quality feet for most popular telephoto lenses, but the specific model will vary depending on which lens you’re shopping for.
There are literally hundreds of different options when it comes to quick release systems. There are simple clamps and ones that are much more complex.
Investing in the Arca Swiss system is an easy decision. Its wide compatibility makes it a great value. No matter how many times you buy and sell gear, the components will always be compatible with future upgrades. I’ve been using the same two clamps for years even though I’ve changed cameras and lenses several times.