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Keeping a long lens on the tripod in the field: specialized Acra-Swiss plates

[photography]. A general frustration I’ve had out hiking with my 200-500mm lens is keeping the thing attached to the tripod or monopod. For some specs, this is a 5.07 lb lens and I have a 1.67 lb camera, so I’ve got 6.74 lb.s of stuff on the end of a tripod. This type of lens has a tripod collar, so you attach the tripod to the collar.

For a while, I used a monopod, but realized I was not able to hold things still well enough yet with a lens of that weight, even with a monopod, unless I am bracing a lot. I saw a picture of someone using a gimbal and … ahhh that would work really well for me for the types of things I do.

While I was reading about gimbals, I kept on encountering ‘Acra-Swiss plate’, some gimbals included them, some did not, and that’s what this post is about.

First, a general link: Nasim Mansurov at Photography Life’s article is a really great explanation of the Acra-Swiss system and its advantages; I learned a lot from that.

An acra plate on a super telephoto lens

I ordered a gimbal that came with an Acra-Swiss plate, the ProMediaGear PX6, 6 Inch Arca-Swiss Type Double Dovetail Plate w/ SS2 Quick Release Adapter Port. Here’s what the ProMediaGear PX6 plate looks like on my lens’s tripod collar, the image abovee. There are two rotation screws that you can place on the top so that the plate does not slide around. There’s one bolt on the bottom that attaches the plate to the tripod collar.

An generic acra plate on a super telephoto lens that is misaligned

Then, this is a generic acra-style plate from a tripod head. It does not have rotation screws, and the plate is not long enough so eventually with the weight of the lens, and carrying the tripod in the field, eventually the plate will slide from its original position. Many, many times have I tightened up the plate in the field and cursed this thing. But I didn’t know that it could be better.

A tripod collar that is misaligned on the lens

While the Acra-Swiss plates that are specialized for long lenses solve a lot of problems, while moving a heavy lens things are going to slide. Case in point is the tripod collar. In the image above, the white dot indicators for alignment do not match up on the lens and the tripod collar. I frequently have to tighten the screw for this as I am walking. The last time I was out with my camera, I thought there must be something wrong with the tripod, because it was always low on one side. I put the camera away, and … the tripod collar had slipped and I was adjusting the tripod the whole time for that.

Other plate systems

The Acra-Swiss type is not the only plate system. There is also the 200PL-14 system, and I have a ball head with that type of plate. Before you buy, make sure the plate type will work with the equipment you plan to use with it.

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