The value of L-Brackets in Landscape Photography is massively underestimated. Says the man who never used one until July 2022. To my shame, I’m a relatively recent convert, but I wouldn’t go out without one now. I sometimes wonder why I’m so reluctant to take advantage of new technology and I suspect the answer is two fold. A part of my studio is taken up with unsellable technology that I can only describe as a complete waste of money.
Take for example my original Manfrotto Panoramic head – it must weigh 25 kg at least. I’m too old to carry that kind of weight and Nodal Ninja made it totally redundant. I literally can’t give it away!
- Fads come and go and technology is expensive
- I’m just bloody minded by nature!
Anyway, be that as it may, here is what we’re going to cover in this post.
What is an L-Bracket Anyway?
An L-Bracket is a right angled frame that fits around two sides of the camera, usually the bottom and left hand side. Each side is fashioned like a base plate so that you can switch the cameras orientation from portrait to landscape in a matter of seconds, without having to readjust the tripod.
Sounds pretty trivial, but in landscape photography a few extra seconds can mean the differece between getting and missing the shot. Consider a flight of geese heading across your composition, a walker heading across your field of view.
What Tripod Heads are Supported?
Pretty much all of the current variations, Manfrotto, Arca-Swiss, are supported by various companies. But not all.
When I bought my first pair of professional level tripods back in 2010, I chose Giottos. Two tripods, still in regular use in 2022. But there was a drawback. Giottos (and a number of other companies) manufactured their own baseplates that fitted only the Giottos head. Damn!
I was perfectly happy with the Giottos ecosystem for at least ten years, the tripods are excellent, the three way head very good, the ball head not so much, these days it slips a little. I thought I could live with it.
Secondly, even with the drooping ball head, all was fine until I mislaid one of the camera baseplates. Disaster. No other baseplate fitted and Giottos seem to have wound down the tripod side of the business, so buying a replacement baseplate was nigh impossible. I ended up buying a cheap imitation on E Bay that I thought had saved my bacon. Until it broke a few weeks later. Inferior steel.
This incident led me to investigate the possibility of a better ball head and in so doing, I quickly realised that if I standardised around Arca-Swiss fittings then I would be able to switch and swap my cameras and tripods into any combination the occasion demanded.
Thankfully nowadays tripod manufacturers (except Manfrotto and Joby) have seen or at least glimpsed the light and many now make heads that are Arca-Swiss compatible. I opted in the end for an Acratech GXP Ball head. Expensive, but very highly rated and I’m delighted with it so far.
This means that you can have a base plate permanently fitted to each of your cameras in the knowledge that they will fit almost any other head. If you buy a new tripod, you don’t have to worry about compatibility so much,
This is exceptionally good news because the last thing you want to do is buy a different tripod head, simply to suit any new lens/camera combination.
But Surely My Ballhead Can Tilt 90°?
Every ballhead I’ve used features a slot to enable the camera to be moved into portrait orientation. If the ballhead is not exactly level then this would be emphasised by using the slot to get a portrait view. For a long time, certainly while I was doing mainly studio work, I thought this was fine. I could crop and realign the photo in post, losing only a few pixels. No problem.
However it became increasingly irksome outdoors. Two things happened.
Firstly certain lens/camera combinations were heavy enough to cause the lens to droop in either orientation. Disastrous for panoramas and equally bad for precise composition.
Secondly, and this is where the practical value of L-Brackets in landscape photography becomes clear, tilting the camera away from the position immediately above the centre of the tripod also shifts the centre of gravity. Not really an issue in the studio, but in a stiff breeze halfway up a mountain, definitely a problem.
What Should I Look for in an L-Bracket?
Avoid plastic like the plague. It will break, especially if subjected to extreme temperatures.
A one piece L-Bracket is stronger than two pieces bolted together.
Keep it simple! L-Brackets in landscape photography need to do one thing only, keep your camera stable.
Are L-Brackets available for my camera?
Look at this from the manufacturer’s perspective. I use an L-Bracket designed for my Canon 5D Mk IV by an American company called Kirk Enterprises. It’s one piece of metal, built like a tank and it will do the job in rain, sleet, snow or sunshine. A custom made L-Bracket designed to fit like a glove is a definite advantage and not just for aesthetic reasons. The combo of camera and bracket will fit in your bag much better.
The problem faced by the manufacturers is that camera companies are in the throes of the big change to mirrorless. So Kirk didn’t bother to make an L-Bracket for the Canon 5D S because it was pretty widely known that DSLRs were on the way out. Fortunately they also make a Universal Small L-Bracket for DSLRs. It’s two pieces, so doesn’t fit quite as perfectly as the one piece model for the 5D Mk IV but it does the job it is designed for.
The upshot is that customsed L-Brackets are available for many cameras and “Universal” L-Brackets will do for the rest.
L-Brackets in Panoramic Photography
Panoramic photography requires the camera to be in portrait orientation and absolutely level. I wouldn’t think of shooting a panorama without an L-Bracket these days. The benefit is that once you’ve levelled the head, the camera will be perpendicular in both orientations, landscape and portrait, which is what you need to avoid unwanted cropping in post.
Will an L-Bracket Fit the Peak Design Capture?
You’ve probably picked up by now that I’m an enthusiastic advocate of the Arca-Swiss style baseplates. They give me the greatest freedom in switching cameras and tripods around, they are future proof and very secure.
If you’re a landscape photographer and you’re not familiar with the Peak Design Capture, then you’re definitely missing a trick. The Peak Design Capture is an Arca-Swiss compatible clip that can be fixed to a camera bag strap. The camera slots into the Capture and locks in place. The advantage of this is simply that you don’t have to take the camera bag off to access the camera, making it so much easier to take photos when an opportunity comes along.
Like all the best ideas, it’s simple and highly effective. Having acquired one recently, I can confidently say that I take more photographs, more spontaneously. In the mountains, it’s a gift.
Now, the problem I have is that the baseplate provided by Peak Design to fit the Capture locking system is Arca-Swiss compatible, but it is not an L-Bracket. This vexed me, a lot. So I decided to research it and I discovered that 3 Legged Thing make an L-Bracket specifically designed to accommodate the Peak Design Capture. It’s a thing of beauty and completely resolves the issue. I think Peak Design are looking for other partners to work with and given the increasing popularity of the Capture, this should be straightforward for them.
How Much Should I Pay?
Like so many things, you get what you pay for.
The Acratech L Bracket comes in at around €240, The Kirk at €137. A plastic one from China might cost €5. but avoid those at all cost. Buy cheap buy many more times. In between, the reliable companies including 3 Legged Thing (€72) , Sirui, Smallrig and FLM all come in at under €120.
This might be the zeal of the newly converted, but six months down the line I really consider L-Brackets in Landscape Photography to be indispensable. They don’t immediately present as such, but going without one will cost you time and for a landscape photographer in quickly changing light, often you’ll lose the shot while fiddling with your tripod! So five reasons…
Advantages of L-Brackets in Landscape Photography
- Flexibility – shoot portrait or landscape with minimal fuss
- Arca-Swiss compatible
- Peak Design Capture Compatible (3 Legged Thing L-Bracket)
- Available for all DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras
- Speed of Access – one handed release plate fixed to strap or belt
There may be more than 5 reasons, but I do recommend L-Brackets. Simple to use, can be permanantly attached to your camera body, make your life easier and you’ll take more photographs, more often. I wish I’d discovered the damn thing earlier!