Manfrotto RC2 to Arca-Swiss Tripod Head Conversion

It’s been six months since I started photographing Dallas back in February of this year, and as I continue to photograph the city, my interest in photographing architecture continues to develop. Recently I’ve been researching the equipment used and considerations given by architectural photographers, reading interviews, watching tutorials, and – of course – looking at photos.

One of the most difficult challenges I have as a photographer who knows very little about architectural photography is with lines and compression. Specifically, making sure that vertical and horizontal lines are straight in the image. Of course, there’s a lot of post production tools available to help with this issue, but there’s something to be said about the difference between professional work, and amateur work. Yes, I can make some corrections for lines, warp and distort the image, rotate it horizontally, vertically, etc., and I’m sure that – at least on some level – architectural photographers use similar (if not the same tools) to achieve what they’re doing. That having been said, if it’s so simple as to move a few sliders around in post production, then why isn’t everyone an instantly great architectural photographer; and, even for those who are architectural photographs, there’s obviously (through a simple Google search) a massive difference in quality and professionalism amongst them. My point: even if everyone has access to the same post-production tools, there’s still a difference between someone who’s skilled in what they do, and someone who isn’t. (No kidding!?)

So, I’ve been looking into how to solve for this problem in-camera, rather than relying on post. When I studied photojournalism as an undergrad at The University of North Texas, they taught us the same thing: To shoot pictures as accurately as possible inside the camera, the idea being to reduce post production time fiddling around with a lot of sliders. I’m a fan of this philosophy, not only because it saves time in post, but also for the authenticity of the image. I’m sure there are some people – in fact, probably a large number of them – who don’t need tilt shift lenses, could photograph the inside of an office, or home, spend some time on correcting it in photoshop, and have it looking presentable by the end. But as far I’m concerned, personally, I’d much rather go the extra effort to make things right in the camera while I’m on location.

My first purchase was a Canon 45mm tilt-shift lens, which I originally bought to take portraits with. The next lens I have my eyes on is a Canon 24mm tilt-shift, which seems to be fairly popular among architectural photographers shooting on full-frame sensors. I’m presently shooting on a Canon 5D Mark II, but I will soon be upgrading to the Canon 5D Mark III.

So what this post is all about – although you might not know it from how I’ve been going on and on about architecture – is shooting vertical images on my tripod. The tripod I use is a Manfrotto with a Manfrotto 488RC2 ball-head attached. For anyone who’s ever used a ball head before, you know that when you want to take vertical images you run into a few problems. Notably, changing the camera from a landscape to portrait orientation alters both the stability and performance (in most cases requiring you to raise the camera and move the tripod). In the worst case scenario, the difference caused by the instability can cause the tripod to tip, which in all likelihood means a broken camera for the photographer.

The L Bracket at Work

The L Bracket at Work

Rather than trying to change all of those things, they make a nifty tool called an L-Bracket which attaches to the threading underneath the camera, as the plate that connects to the clamp of a tripod head would. This L-Backet plate, once attached, allows the photographer to rapidly rotate the camera horizontally or vertically, saving time and waisted energy.

“For those who don’t know what an L-plate is, it’s basically a metal plate that threads onto the tripod thread of the SLR camera body, but has two mount points. One mount point on the bottom of the camera body (traditional), but another along the side of the camera body allowing it to be placed onto the tripod QR plate in a portrait orientation. ~ OCABJ.NET”

Now, what’s important to know about the L-Bracket is that – depending on which you buy – most of them (more specifically, the plates that they use) can only fit into certain clamps. And lucky me, I found an excellent, full length article that explains exactly how to convert my tripod head clamp into the (better) Arca-Swiss Head style clamp.

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