The Cheapest and Most Convenient Tripod System for Photo and Video

Here at Fstoppers we use exclusively Manfrotto tripod heads and in the past we used two different types of plates. For still photography we used the 200PL plate on ball heads and for our videos we used 500 plates on pan heads. I have always hated the longer 500 plates and today we are finally getting rid of them.

If you're using larger video cameras, the longer 500 plates and 500 series pan heads may be necessary to balance the cameras properly. The problem is that the plates are giant and must be removed from the cameras before we put them in our bags. These plates have a screw on the bottom that requires a key or a coin to tighten it and I can't tell you how many keys I've bent trying to put these things on. To make matters worse, they constantly come loose no matter how hard I tighten them. As we transition over to the much smaller GH5 system, we no longer need such hefty gear and I am thrilled to never have to use the long "video plates" again. 

We now have only one type of tripod plate in this entire office and that is the 200PL. The 200PL has a pop out bar that allows you to mount and remove the plate from any camera without any tool. The plate is small enough to be permanently left on every single camera in our office and it doesn't need to be removed to fit into our bags. 

For still photography I like using a ball head and I think the most convenient one is the 322RC2. This ball head has a spring loaded handle that allows you to grip, move freely, and then release to lock into place. It can also be rotated 90 degrees for vertical shots.

For videography we now use exclusively MHXPRO-2W heads. They are dirt cheap, at just $115, and they are extremely small and easy to travel with. They obviously aren't as luxurious to use as the larger more expensive models but for us, this type of head is perfect. 

If you want to add a 200PL plate mount to anything, all you need is the 323RC mount. We put one on our gimbal so that we could have a quick release and wouldn't ever have to worry about balancing it again. 

Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of

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The 200PL has been my tripod plate of choice for at least the last 12 years. Love it, and has never failed me once!

I try to keep it simple and the 200PL fits the bill.

I can think of a better system, it's called Arca Swiss.. :-)

I understand why people say this but my issue with that is that 1. it's not flat with the safety tabs 2. Many receivers don't have a safety latch, 3. Many of them still require a tool to tighten, and 4. They allow you to mount the camera in different positions which makes balancing cameras on things like a gimbal much harder.

1-2. true, if you have a habit of being clumsy this might be an issue. Then again there are arca swiss plates and clamps that has both if you need it. 3. Yes they do, rightly so, but once done you never remove it. Unlike crude manfrotto plates arca swiss plates are in genreal much thinner, and most bodies there are custom plates which does not compromise the ergonomics of the camera. 4. Well i'd say arca swiss is even better, at least compared to the 200pl which has no real adjustment, unlike a arca where you can slide the plate within the clamp.

Do you know of similar video heads with arca swiss plate?

Not hard to adapt any video head to arca swiss, kessler makes the kwik release but you can of course just buy a high quality clamp from RRS/Arca and mount it to your camera plate of choice

My 2 cents to help on tooling.

If you have problems of screws unscrewing themselves, use these washers. You won't have the issue again. Ever.

Moreover, use D-rings for a tool-less use.

Arca Swiss

What legs are you pairing the tripod head with?

I literally bought an L-Bracket for my 1D because of the first issue with the tripod plate. Extremely always left me in a swimming pool of bloody tears.

I'm fine.

The 323RC is not flat on its base though! I need a small and lightweight quick release that has a perfectly flat base for my gimbals.

Doesn't manfrotto make some of the cheapest tripods and heads (that are still well made) on the market?

Depends, manfrotto makes great stuff, their alu tripods are good. But their CF tripods lacks in comparison to the competition. Sirui, benro and others offers better products for the money. Manfrotto ballheads are not on par with rest, they are crude and in precise, this even compared to budget stuff like Sirui.

Been using a borrowed 804RC2 head on my Man 290 tripod for two years because I couldn't decide which was the best way to go, It's good when digiscoping or making small adjustments but it's a little slow at times. thanks to this article I just ordered a 322RC for it.

I've finally been totally happy with my still tripod setup after some various options that failed over the years. When I was in Seoul last time I went to the amazing camera district they have there and found a number of used Markins heads. I got one for right around a hundred bucks (great price for Markins) and it was totally worth it. So much better quality than anything else you can get for that price. I've paired that with my Hakuba carbon fiber legs and I'm totally satisfied.

I like the Manfrotto RC2 plate. My Manfrotto tripod/head came with two plates; I need to buy a third plate.

My 2c. I changed up from RC2 to RC4 when I purchased my Manfrotto 410 geared head some years back. Works for me, as I find the RC4 grips the camera a little better, while they're still small enough to leave permanently attached to the bodies, but will handle a bigger weight.

I've also acquired some pairs of 410PL plates/RC4 adapters to make changes really easy. For instance, on my macro ramp I have an RC4 attachment underneath, while on top I have a permanently attached 410PL plate i.e. if I want to switch to a macro setup I unclick the camera body from the 410 geared head, click the macro ramp to it instead, then click camera to the macro ramp - about 3 seconds. I have a similar arrangement on my pano head. I know everyone raves about Arca Swiss, but honestly I don't see the need to completely change my setup.

Manfrotto original plates are good, while third party manufacturer's plates are worth trying too. Lower priced, more durable material & improved workmanship, check this out