5 Reasons Every Photographer Needs An L-Bracket

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon3 Comments

What Is An L-Bracket?

Unlike other pieces of equipment, like say the intervalometer where it seems like the name of the thing is overly complicated, an “L” bracket is a pretty simple thing.  A piece of metal in the shape of an “L”.  The long side of the L goes under your camera and screws into the tripod mount, the small side going up the left side usually.

SmallRig L-Bracket for Canon 80D

We will get into why a photographer would want this piece of metal wrapped around their camera in a moment.  First let me say that there are two basic kinds of L-brackets.  There are “universal” L-brackets and then there are L-brackets made custom to your camera model. 

My advice is to avoid the “universal” brackets.  Universal L-brackets tend to be lower quality and cause usability issues where some portion of your camera isn’t actually accessible as long as the L-bracket is on your camera.  We’ll talk about costs and some brands we can recommend in a moment.

Why Every Photographer Needs an L-Bracket

I contend that EVERY photographer should invest in an L-bracket. Let’s go through the five biggest reasons.

Stable Portrait Orientation

Most tripods are designed to hold your camera in the horizontal or landscape oriented position.  Many tripods do allow you to rotate the ball head so that you can get your camera into a portrait orientation, but it comes at the expense of functionality.  The tripod doesn’t function as well in that compromised position.

Weight from the camera and lens is placed in the ball head in an entirely different way and many ball heads will not hold the camera as solidly as it can when you use it in landscape orientation.  Even with a good ball head that holds very firmly when in landscape orientation, put that ball head in portrait orientation and it tends to drift.  It drifts immediately when you are trying to lock the camera into place and over time.

This effect is even worse for the release plates you can screw onto the bottom of your camera in the tripod mount.  They are just fine when the camera is positioned in landscape orientation on the tripod, but rotate it over to the side and that release plate just doesn’t hold the camera firmly no matter how hard you tighten that screw.

Transition Speed

Moving from landscape to portrait with an L-bracket means loosening the ball head clamp and then rotating the camera around and re-clamping the L-bracket down.  If we were to race transitioning the camera between loosening the ball head and loosening the clamp, if the only objective is to get the camera rotated in portrait mode the photographer loosening the ball head is going to win every time.  

If however, the objective is getting the camera setup exactly where you want it and keeping it there, I am very confident the photographer who has an L-bracket and loosens the clamp of the ball head to rotate it is going to win.

Panorama Accuracy

If you are doing panorama shooting, there is no contest between L-bracket and a release plate.  Most of the time panoramas are taken with the camera in a portrait orientation on the tripod and if you have rotated the camera to the side of the ball head to put it there it is really difficult to position the camera so that it is level while you pan from shot to shot to shot in the panorama.

Without an L-bracket, you almost always end up with the camera taking an upward or a downward path as you pan in the panorama, which makes you have to cut off (or content-aware fill) a portion of it when you stitch things together in order to get horizons straight.

Helpful For Portraits

As we are going through the reasons to have and use an L-bracket, you may be thinking this really only applies to landscape photography.  Landscape photographers probably benefit the most from an L-bracket, but photographers who do a lot of portrait work and also benefit.  Any photographer who regularly uses a tripod will benefit.

The majority of my photography is portrait photography these days.  I look forward to a time in my life where I do more landscape photography, but right now it is mostly portraits and I am having a ton of fun with it.  I mostly shoot my portraits without a tripod, which means an L-bracket is not a lot of benefit.  In fact, the added weight and bulk make it a bit of a negative when hand-holding the camera.

It isn’t such a negative when hand-holding the camera to make me take the L-bracket off.  In fact, I keep the L-bracket on my camera 100% of the time.  I actually find the L-bracket to be less of an issue for shooting hand-held than having the release plate on the bottom of the camera.

When I didn’t have an L-bracket, I would often start shooting hand-held and find the quick release plate to create an uneven surface on the bottom of the camera.  Awkward enough I would take that release plate off when hand-holding and that led to me losing release plates a couple of times.

I do shoot portraits using a tripod.  It is pretty critical for the volume team and individual shooting I do to make sure there is consistency from shot and shot for the athletes.  Having that L-bracket so much nicer for getting that camera stable for those shots in portrait orientation.

Protection

Being a bit of medal wrapped around half of your camera, there is some minor protection provided to help keep your camera from taking the brunt of a drip or a hit.

It isn’t the same as a full cage for your camera of course, but a good L-bracket can definitely provide some minor protection from bumps and bruises.

Downsides Of An L-Bracket For Photography

It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There are some downsides to using an L-bracket in photography. Let’s go through them.

Weight and Bulk

Adds weight to your camera.  Not a huge amount of weight, but every little bit counts and it adds up.  Can also become a little harder to hand-hold the camera with this piece of metal wrapped around it.

Cost

There is the cost of the L-bracket.  Like everything in photography gear, you can spend a lot of money on these things.  The good news is there are some relatively inexpensive options.  The bad news is you may also have to replace your ball head to use an L-bracket.

A popular brand for L-brackets is Really Right Stuff, which makes very high quality photographer equipment for sure, but you are definitely going to pay for it.  A Really Right Stuff L-bracket for my Canon 80D is $150.  However, there are two less expensive brands I can fully recommend.  Sunwayfoto and SmallRig.  I have personally bought two Sunwayfoto L-brackets.  One for my Canon 7DM2 ($50)  and another for my Canon R6 ($50).  The SmallRig was for my Canon 80D ($45 – Sunwayfoto didn’t have one for the 80D).

I had heard other photographers talk about how much the L-bracket helped their photography, so I decided to get one only to discover I now had to replace the ball head I had been using.  Inexpensive ball heads tend to have a custom or proprietary mount and release plate.  They are designed for you to screw that custom release plate to the bottom of your camera and mount that to the ball head.  L-brackets are made to fit into an arca-swiss ball head mount.  If your ball head isn’t arca-swiss, you have to buy a new ball head to use an L-bracket.

Doodads

Jeff: Gaffer Power Premium Grade Gaffer Tape ($18 for 2”x30 yards).  Used this to solve my problem of the USB-C hub dangling from my laptop while on a tripod stand.

Brent: Godox TT600 flash with radio trigger

Reminders:

Comments

  1. I’m a fan of both th master photography podcast and photo taco, but not of Facebook
    This (L Bracket) is the first item that you’ve talked about that I’m not interested in. I’ve looked at these and the cost, for a camera specific, L Bracket is around $150 then I’d need to get a new ball head, which are quite expensive also. Plus the Arco Swiss ball heads do not seam as easy to use, or as flexible as the release plates I’m already using. Like I said this is your first miss for me. Keep up the great shows.

    1. Author

      @John,

      What camera do you have? A specific model for your camera shouldn’t be $150. I don’t pay that much for these either.

      I really struggled with the need to spend money on the ball head too. It was disheartening when I realized I couldn’t use an L-bracket with the quick release I had. More money I had to spend :(. I saved up and got a new ball head and it was amazing how much better it was. Held my camera in position significantly better than the ball head that came with my tripod. It ended up being worth the money for a better ball head which doesn’t mean you have to spend hundreds there either.

      It is an investment. That’s always hard for me as a hobbyist recommending something that costs more when you have something that is working. If what you have is working, that’s all that matters.

      The less expensive ball head that just came with my first tripod would not hold my camera exactly where I positioned it and absolutely did not work for portrait orientation. If neither of those things are an issue for you, that is great. That was not my experience nor the experience of most photographers I have interacted with.

      As I teach in person (someday that will happen again) and a photographer tried out the relatively inexpensive ball head and L-bracket I have they are surprised at the difference it makes.

      Thanks so much for listening and taking the time to send me your note. At least I don’t miss too often it sounds like! Best of luck with all your future shooting!!!!

  2. I have been super lucky finding used Really Right Stuff L Brackets for my cameras. Check out KEH.com . They are super reliable .

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