by Liao Yusheng
[POSTED MARCH 20, 2004]
November 2005 update: I've since gotten a RRS lever release clamp with a built-in bubble level and it is a far superior clamp than the Arca one. I recommend going with that one if you are looking for a lever release clamp. One caveat: you need to be using RRS plates to ensure that the clamp is gripping your plates tight enough. The clamp is designed to grip their own plates which are thicker than the standard Arca plates. So if your plate is not as thick, the clamp will not be able to provide the same grip.]
My camera support system consists of a Gitzo G1348 carbon fiber tripod and a Arca-Swiss Monoball B1 ballhead with Really Right Stuff plates for all my gear (including a L-plate for the camera body—at the moment a Canon EOS-1D).
Ever since Really Right Stuff introduced their B2 Lever Action Quick-Release Clamp, I've been tempted to purchase one for my B1. While I love the B1, the standard clamp is just not that easy to open and close in a hurry. And when it's cold out, it's pretty rough on the fingers if you mount and dismount the camera frequently.
After years of use I've gotten quite quick at mounting and dismounting my camera, but I still wished there was an easier way.
But I never did buy the RRS lever clamp. Why? I just wasn't sure if it'll hold as well as the standard clamp. Their web site says it'll adjust to any width of plates, but it doesn't go into further details. I just can't imagine how it could grab a slim plate as securely as a fatter plate (as RRS's plates are). If it uses some sort of tension/spring mechanism, then surely the slimmer plate would experience less compression than the fatter plate? Granted, since I use only RRS's plates, I'm sure compatibility wasn't going to be a problem. Long story short, I just never got around to getting it. RRS's lack of online ordering certainly didn't help me to buy it on impulse (they've since added online ordering).
Strolling through the PhotoPlus Expo last September, I walked by the Arca-Swiss booth and saw a woman demo'ing one of AS's view cameras. But what caught my attention was the top of the B1 that the view camera was mounted on.
It looked different. When I asked about it, it turned out Arca-Swiss has made their own quick-release lever clamp! And it's available as a retrofit on standard models for ~$150 (I can't seem to locate my receipt, but that's about ballpark how much it costs). Or if you don't already own a B1, you can buy one with the flip-lock instead of the regular quick-release.
I looked at it at the booth, played around with it a little and bought one on the spot. Nothing like buying something on impluse! Well, she couldn't sell it to me then (even though she had plenty on display), I had to wait for her to ship it to me (damn you interstate commerce laws!). I ordered the 60mm version (Part number 802019: Quick set device Flip-lock 60mm for conversion, includes tool and screw). A longer 84mm version is also available. This is what the replacement flip-lock's package looks like:
What the package includes:
The clamp, a screw and the tool to remove the old clamp from your B1. And a sheet of instructions (not pictured).
With the tool, it is very easy to remove the old clamp from the B1:
What sold me on it versus the Really Right Stuff one was:
The top (left picture) and bottom (right picture) of the clamp. The knob in the middle of the clamp is used to adjust the width of the clamp when closed. This way, the clamp can adapt to different widths of plates that you might use. You can adjust it so tight that it won't close on the plate. The instructions warn against doing this. As if you do manage to force it close it will be jammed forever.
Here you see the clamp in its two open positions. The picture on the left shows the clamp in the half-opened position. In this position, the clamp opens just enough for you to slide the plate around in the clamp. In the fully-opened position, you can mount and dismount your camera from the top without sliding into the clamp.
To open from fully closed to the first open position, you have to pull on the little circle at the end of the lever. Otherwise, it won't open.
To open it fully, you pull on the ribbed metal part inside the lever and push the lever open. Very secure. No chance of the clamp opening accidentally. None.
In operation, it works as advertised and is very secure. I don't worry about accidentally opening the lever because: one, the lever is so small and unobtrusive; and two, it has those two safeguards.
Having used it for a few months, here are my observations:
While it is adjustable, it's impossible to turn the adjustment knob when the clamp is mounted on the ballhead. So if you use two different sized plates in the field, you are screwed. You would have to take the clamp off the ballhead, tighten or loosen it and mount it back on the ballhead. It defeats the whole purpose of having the adjustability. In fact, it actually defeats the whole purpose of having a quick-release clamp! The self-adjusting RRS clamp (if it works as advertised) would win handily in this regard. I would say if you have different sized plates, this clamp will absolutely not work for you. But since I standardize on one type of plates (RRS), it's not an issue for me.
In my original review (striked out in the above paragraph), I had stated that the adjustment knob is next-to-impossible to turn while the clamp is installed on the ballhead. Sure, when it's removed from the ballhead, it's quite easy to turn, but when it's screwed on, it was almost impossible to turn. In practice, this meant that if you wanted to use different sized plates, you would have to unscrew the clamp off of the ballhead first, adjust it, and re-mount it. Not practical at all. Or "quick" for that matter.
Well, the knob has since loosened. It's now easy to adjust while the clamp is installed. HOWEVER, a more serious problem has developed as a consequence. Now the knob is so easy to turn that the clamp has a nasty tendency to drift loose by itself. During a day of frequent opening and closing of the clamp, the setting will drift looser. So I have to constantly pay attention to how tight the clamp is gripping the plate and re-adjust as necessary. On a busy day of shooting for me (mounting and dismounting somewhere around 20 to 30 times), I end up adjusting it 2 to 3 times. Now I wish I had the original non-adjustable problem back.
A second problem I have with it is that it seems fragile. It's all plastic and in the closed position, there's quite a bit of give when you tug on it (without pulling the safety to release it). The clamp won't open, but the lever itself would give if you tug on it. I'm not sure what would happen if you force it open without disengaging the safety, but I imagine the plastic lever would just snap off. Now I'm paranoid to keep people away from my ballhead because I'm afraid someone who doesn't know how to use the clamp would try to force it open and break it. This is a far cry from the tank-like behavior of the standard B1 where nothing short of literally a tank would break it.
Aside from the plasticky lever, what really made me question the part's toughness was that after just a few uses, the safety of my lever just stopped working for no apparent reason. I did not yank on it extra hard. I did not use it that many times. The safety just stopped working all of a sudden. I sent it in to Bob at Precision Camera Works for repairs. It was too new and he had no parts so I had to wait a few weeks before that was repaired. The clamp was only about 2 weeks old at that point and I had barely used it so it did not inspire much confidence in me.
Having said all that, would I recommend this? Well, let me answer it this way. I definitely recommend getting a lever release clamp. After using this for a few months, I can't imagine going back to the old way of using the clamp. I find myself mounting and dismounting my camera a little more frequently then I used to before the new clamp because it's so easy. And isn't that the whole idea of having a quick-release in the first place? This flip-lock helps to fully realize the Arca-Swiss QR system. The question is which one to get: the Arca-Swiss one, or the RRS one. I've never seen the RRS version in person so I can't really fairly compare them (if RRS would like to send me a sample to review and compare, I would be happy to do so). I am a little wary of the fact that the RRS one doesn't have any type of safety stop since I sometimes carry the tripod with the camera mounted on it (against my better judgment) and I would be worried about something catching the lever and springing the clamp open. But then again, the RRS one doesn't require (or have) any adjustments so it would theoretically eliminate the problems I have with this clamp's adjustment knobs (drifting loose and having to use it to fit differently-sized plate). Even with the serious shortcomings, I'm not putting the old clamp back on. The convenience far outweighs the problems. The RRS does look good on paper—and potentially better than the Arca-Swiss—but I can't personally recommend the RRS since I've never seen or used it.
Where to buy:
Well, I got mine direct from Arca-Swiss's distributor in the U.S. They don't have a website, and in fact they use an @aol email address for contact. Here's their phone number: +1 (773) 248-2513. However, I believe you can also get it from Precision Camera Works, they are an authorized Arca-Swiss dealer and repair center.
Article copyright © 2004 Liao Yusheng.