Using an L-bracket will make life a lot easier!
In this article I will discuss the use of L-brackets, and why every photographer with a tripod should use one. Finally, I will give you insight on what my findings are after having used the Novoflex QPL for a few months. There are tons of different L-brackets on the market. Some really expensive and fancy, others rather cheap and basic. Hopefully this article will help you decide which one to buy (let me give you a spoiler, you don’t need an expensive one).
What is an L-bracket?
An L-bracket is an L-shaped piece of metal (they can also be made out of plastic, but those should be avoided at all cost) replacing the regular quick release plate. Cheap or expensive, they all have the same purpose, namely to attach the camera either sideways or horizontally to the ballhead, without actually changing the orientation of the ballhead itself. This makes switching from photographing horizontal (landscape) to vertical (portrait) much easier and faster. This also adds a lot of stability and adjustability when shooting vertical, which I will explain below.
Why would you use an L-bracket?
I can almost hear you think:
“It isn’t much work to adjust my ballhead from landscape to portrait orientation, so why would I want to have an extra piece of gear in my bag that is already heavy?”
Well, let me explain! It maybe isn’t much work, but that is not the reason why you would use an L-bracket in the first place. The main reason, or actually two reasons for using an L-bracket, are stability and adjustability.
You probably took some time to decide which tripod you wanted to buy. It needed to be sturdy, strong and durable, right? That, at least is the way I decided on mine. I often find myself in situations where the safety of my camera depends directly on the reliability of my tripod. I am often shooting in windy and icy conditions, on uneven terrain. After all, I already drowned one camera (yes it was in portrait orientation, and no I did not have an L-bracket when that happened). I don’t want to send another one off a 400 meter high cliff.
When your camera is on a tripod in landscape orientation, the center of gravity is in the center of the tripod, thus the balance is perfect. Now think about this, what would happen if you turn the camera into portrait orientation? You’re right! All the weight goes to one side of the tripod. And with it, its center of gravity. Making the tripod a lot less stable.
This instability might not be such a problem when the tripod is fully extended and your gear is not too heavy. But when you are shooting low to the ground, with a heavy lens, a filter set, and without unfolded legs, this becomes a real problem. Now the imbalance makes it super easy for the tripod to tip over. A little gust of wind, a movement of swampy ground, or even slightly touching the camera or tripod can make it fall.
This is how my camera went into a swamp. I was shooting close to the water, with my tripod low to the ground and the camera hanging on one side. I leaned towards my bag to grab a filter and because of that movement, my tripod fell. I was lucky enough that it only killed my camera and not the lens and filters too. But it thought me a lesson to say the least!
To attach the camera to the tripod, you’ve probably chosen a ballhead which offers maximum adjustability when it comes to moving the camera and composing your image. Now what happens when you set your camera to portrait orientation? Then your ballhead looses almost all of its adjustability (or it becomes a lot harder to make small adjustments). This in turn makes it a lot harder to fine-tune the composition, especially when it comes to leveling the horizon. To make sure the horizon is straight you have to hold your camera exactly level while making sure the ballhead is tightened. Trust me, this almost never works so you have to correct your horizon afterwards, which will make you lose pixels.
Apart from destabilizing your tripod and reducing adjustability, another problem I often experienced is sagging. Because of the lens and, in most cases, a filter system, most of the weight is aimed towards the front of the camera. This weight causes the camera to start moving downwards even with the quick release plate firmly attached (especially with the cheaper ones). As NiSi Filters ambassador, I often use the 150 mm filter system. These are glass filters so they add quite some weight. Regardless of how tight the quick release plate is screwed in place, it will start to sag. This of course is really annoying, but it can also ruin your image. If it happens slowly and you are on a long exposure, it is not hard to guess what happens to the resulting image.
Another way sagging occurs is with fine-tuning a composition. When doing so, I like the ballhead to be sturdy so that I have to use a bit of force to move the camera. This force loosens the nut by which the quick release plate is attached to the camera, which in turn causes the camera to start sagging.
With an L-bracket you will avoid these problems because you won’t have to move the ballhead in order to change the orientation; you rotate the camera instead. This way, the center of gravity stays exactly the same, meaning the stability remains unaffected. The adjustability remains unaffected and because the L-bracket is attached to two sides of the camera it won’t be able to start sagging either.
How does an L-bracket help me to make better photos you might wonder? Let me explain this by using an example. Let’s say you’re out shooting sunset. You’ve got plenty of time so there is no need to rush. You’re composing an image with your camera in portrait orientation. The lens you are using is 24-70 f/2.8 and you’re using a filter system. Even though your tripod is level, the horizon is a bit skewed. This can be fixed by adjusting one of the tripod legs. As a result your tripod is not level anymore, which would be a problem when shooting a panoramic.
Just as you think you’re ready, you notice that your composition starts to shift downwards because of the weight of the lens and filter combination. This means you have to get your camera off the tripod, tighten the quick release plate and start all over again, hoping that it won’t to sag again.
Think of the same situation but with less time or with a really incredible sky. Would you still be this calm and able solve those problems, or would you settle for a less preferable composition?
These are decisions you don’t want to make in the field where your goal is to return home with the best image possible.
Shooting panoramic images
Another big advantage when it comes to using an L-bracket is that it will be a lot easier to level the horizon when shooting panoramic images in portrait orientation. The reason for this is that once your tripod and ballhead are leveled, all you have to do is pan your camera sideways to get the amount of images you want. Without an L-bracket this is much more work. Most ballheads have a level which loses its functionality when in portrait orientation. This means you have to use the digital level in your camera, or if your camera doesn’t have that function, you need to guess or use one which goes on the hotshoe of the camera. Another problem is caused by the lack of adjustability and with it, the danger of a skewed horizon. Often you will end up cropping more of the image then you intended too. Therefore I would suggest buying an L-bracket if you like to shoot panoramic.
My findings with the Novoflex QPL
After having used the Novoflex QPL for 5 months in different locations, under variable conditions, I would like to share my findings, how I feel about using it, and what the pros and cons are. Let me start by telling you that I haven’t done a single photoshoot without it ever since I got it. It has been off the camera only when I was traveling by plane. My camera, laptop, lenses and filters go with me in the cabin. Everything else goes in my other bag with the rest of the luggage.
What I like
The Novaflex QPL is robust, easy to use, and cheap! It’ll cost you around € 79,- in the Netherlands. Because the L-bracket is made of aluminium, it is light, 112 grams (3.9 oz) to be precise. This means it doesn’t add much weight to your bag, and once you’ve used it, you will be hooked and willing to carry these extra grams anyway. It is a universal L-bracket, therefore it fits most camera’s. This comes with a price however, which I will come to later.
The L-bracket attaches to your camera using an Alan wrench, which is universal for attaching quick plates and L-brackets. The camera rests on a large surface with rubber lining meaning it won’t be able to move when it is attached. The connection is strong, fast and reliable. Once it is on your camera, you probably will leave it on so you don’t have to bother with reattaching it. When connecting to the ballhead, it uses the same safety pin as the quick plate, therefore it won’t accidentally slip out. Shifting from landscape to portrait is fast and convenient. I love how easy it is to make panoramic images in portrait orientation with this. Simply level the tripod, and start moving the camera from left to right while taking images. It is simple and fast. I also really like how safe and stable it feels. Like I said, I often shoot at places where I need all the stability possible and this bracket offers it all.
What I don’t like
As I mentioned before, this L-bracket is a universal bracket. It will fit almost all camera’s, but depending the model you won’t be able to reach certain electronic connections and/or the battery cover. In my case (Canon EOS 5D mk4), the electronic connections are blocked but that isn’t such a problem though. I’m using a remote trigger which attaches to the hotshoe so I don’t need to use any of those connections anyway.
The blocking of the battery lid is a bit more annoying in my opinion. I have to untighten the screw to slide the L-bracket sideways in order to change the battery. Before I go on a shoot I make sure I have a fully charged battery in my camera so it isn’t such a big deal, but it is something to keep in mind when purchasing this L-bracket.
That’s it for this week’s article! Thanks a lot for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and learned why an L-bracket will make your (photography) life easier! If you have any questions regarding the use of an L-bracket, feel free to contact me. If you enjoyed this article please share on social media! And, if you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema
I would again like to thank Cody Fjeldsted for proofreading my article! Your help is awesome, thanks so much.