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Hejnar PHOTO Arca style quick release system – Manfrotto 405 / 410 head adaptor.
by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays, www.lakelandphotohols.com
The ProblemI am totally confused as to why the photographic industry, who managed to adopt a common flash mounting bracket (except Sony), have never adopted a common quick-release plate. Manfrotto currently have at least three and Gitzo, who's products come out of the same factory have a wide range of different plates. In all honestly, none of them are really good, and countless photographers complain to me every year about their QR plates coming loose – especially in portrait format.
If there ever was to be an industry-wide standard, surely the Arca-Swiss / Really Right stuff / Wimberley / etc dovetail plate system would be in pole position. I have, for some years, lusted after the Arca-type quick release plates for my cameras and lenses, particularly the L-brackets, which enable the camera to be set up over the centre column, whether it is in landscape or portrait format. A major benefit not only for stability, but also when working on macro subjects, when a change in format would make little difference to the lens position, meaning less adjustments to the tripod.
However, I am also a huge fan of geared heads, and favour the Manfrotto 405 / 410 heads for both landscape and macro work – I love the precision, and the total lack of droop that you tend to get with ball heads when you lock them. The Arca Swiss Cube geared head is a masterpiece of engineering, but at over £1000, not many of us are likely to choose one of them. So it looked like I was destined to soldier on with the good, but bulky Manfrotto 400-series mounting plates.
The SolutionThen I happened across Chris Hejnar, a US-based engineer, who designs and manufactures his own Arca-Swiss conversion kits, which he sells direct over the internet. Amongst his rapidly expanding range of products, he offers a 405/410 adaptor plate and associated Arca-style clamp. I had to try it out.
Chris makes two versions of the adaptor plate: Rev 0 for the 410 head, and Rev 1 for 405 heads. I chose the Rev 1 for my 405 head, where the mounting holes under the head are in a straight line.
It was supplied ready-assembled with the clamp set to take the camera mounted across the plate, with the locking knob set to the front of the assembly (below the lens) This would be necessary to avoid fouling the gear knobs on the 410 head, but the larger 405 head allowed me to turn the plate round, as I preferred the locking knob to be facing me.
My initial reaction to the kit was of remarkable quality – very high grade aluminium, and a standard of finish equal to the plates it was designed for.
Modified Head / Fitted Plate:
Rather than a simple plate that locks into the existing QR-assembly of the 405 head, the Hejnar unit requires the quick-release assembly to be removed from the head. By unscrewing a set screw (allen key) underneath the head's top plate, I was able to remove the entire quick-release mechanism (no going back now!). The adaptor plate is a great fit and is secured by two set screws from below. The clamp can be fitted in four different orientations, across the head – with the locking clamp to the front or rear, or along the head (if you were using exclusively lenses with tripod collars) with the locking clamp to the left or right. The fit is secure and precise, with absolutely no play whatsoever. The locking knob is captive, so however far you try to undo it, it won't fall to bits in the field. The whole assembly adds about 1cm to the height of the head, and the weight gain is pretty irrelevant – the 405 is hardly a lightweight head anyway.
In use, the locking mechanism secures well and is easy to use, although I might have preferred a slightly shorter locking knob, but this is a really minor criticism of a piece of kit that makes using my favourite head even better. Note: Hejnar can now supply the clamp with a shorter locking knob.
L Plate, and Lens Mount:
The L-plate supplied for the Nikon D300 / D700 is (as with all Arca-swiss type products) secured with an allen-type fixing, and is well designed for the job, although access to the flap for the side sockets (HDMI etc) would require mounting the plate with the upright half an inch from the camera – I chose not to as I hardly ever open that flap. I also got a plate for the Nikon 70 – 200mm VR lens, which is supplied with two screws for securing to the lens, providing a rotation-free assembly, and far less bulky than my previous Manfrotto 400-series plate. Because the plates for long lenses run along the length of the lens, and the plates for the cameras run across the camera – with a geared head it does mean in one orientation, the camera will be set at 90 degrees to what you are used to. I was surprised how easy it was to adjust, but this is probably why Arca-plates are more commonly associated with ball and socket heads, where the action of using the head is the same whichever way the plate is set.
Lens and Camera Mounted:
The only other piece of kit I tried was a small camera mounting plate, which is secured just by one ¼ inch allen screw, and the plate is entirely aluminium. Very small and light, I was convinced with no rubber covering, it would come loose and rotate on the camera base, but even on an SLR, it bit into the rubber on the base of the camera sufficiently well to give a firm plate free of rotation.
- The Plate / clamp combo (Rev 0 or Rev 1) for the Manfrotto geared head costs around £74 direct from Hejnar Photo.
- The L-bracket for the D300 / D700 is priced at £60.53
- The 70 – 200mm VR plate is £26.90
- The small (2.375 inch) camera plate (with strap loop) is priced at £25.56
- All prices are plus $30 carriage, import duty and VAT.
All available from the Hejnar Photo Store