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An Inexpensive Tripod Makeover Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

10 March 2014

You can never have enough tripods. So when a friend cleaning out an attic asked if we could use the nameless but intact decades-old model they'd found, we said, "Sure." That's when the fun began.

We cleaned it up a little and then took a long hard look at the mount. Bare metal. We were frankly a little squeamish about screwing our cameras onto that aluminum surface even though they all have a rubberized bottom.

So we looked up and down the aisles at the hardware stores we frequent for some simple little solution like a square of adhesive cork we could trim to fit. We couldn't find anything like that, surprisingly. Neither could the clerks. "We don't carry anything like that," they shrugged.

So we thought of just using a rubber gasket or washer but that seemed more like half a solution that would disappear in the back country just when you need it most.

The Problem. Bare metal.

The Solution. A quick release plate.

What to do, what to do. We were stymied.

WRONG PROBLEM | Back to Contents

But we were trying to solve the wrong problem.

The problem wasn't how to protect the camera bottom from the metal tripod mount. The problem was how to update the tripod with a quick release that would make it more convenient to use.

We had used an inexpensive quick release in our wedding video project. That was borrowed but you can still find it at Adorama for $12.95 (and for about five bucks more at Samy's).

But we had to make a run to Calumet for some printer ink so we took a look at what they had.

A SOLUTION | Back to Contents

We liked what we saw.

The $22.99 Calumet Quick-release Head Adapter is a good bit better built than what we had used for the wedding. We like the clutch release design, too, which is similar to what we use on our lightweight Velbon tripod.

Top. You can see the bushing in the tripod socket.

Bottom. Screw handle in plate, brass locking pin on base.

Calumet lists the features:

  • Included 1/4"-20 reducer bushing and camera screw
  • Built-in level
  • Removable camera alignment pin

We particularly liked the built-in level. We're always having trouble aligning the camera squarely to the shot.

And we wouldn't have to worry about the size of the tripod's screw because a reducer was included.

Level. No tripod should be without one.

A small brass pin can be rotated to prevent the clutch from accidentally unlocking, securing the plate to the base.

The alignment pin, which was oddly not included (although the plate has three holes for a pin), should fit a hole in the bottom of the camera to prevent the camera from rotating when you move it into a portrait position. It's removable because not all cameras have that feature. And in fact none of ours has such a hole.

The one issue with this quick release is that the plate itself is not compatible with other quick release systems.

That didn't bother us because we were looking for "inexpensive" and the compatible systems are not cheap.

You can, of course, buy just the plate for $11.99 if you have more than one camera.

INSTALLATION | Back to Contents

Installation was a breeze. We pulled the clutch and the plate popped out. We screwed the plate into the bottom of a Rebel XTi, using the small handle built into the screw (no coin needed) while observing the arrows to orient the plate correctly to the lens.

Base. On the tripod.

Plate. On the camera.

Then we simply screwed the base onto the tripod and we were done.

To mount the camera, you just slip it into the plate until it clicks. It's a loud, firm, strong click that also locks the camera in. You can also rotate the brass pin to lock the release lever in the closed position.

To remove the camera, you pull the clutch out 90 degrees to free the plate after unlocking the release lever, if you locked it.

CONCLUSION | Back to Contents

Once we asked the right question, we liked our solution. Adding an inexpensive quick release with a built-in level to an old tripod instantly made it a lot more useful and protected our gear, too.

And the Calumet Quick-release Head Adapter addressed all the little gotchas that can turn a simple makeover like this into a headache. Screw insert, level, locking pin, extra plates and a heavy duty design all contribute to the solution.

So we're awarding this little gadget all four photo corners.

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