Ending Our Love-Hate Relationship With L-Brackets: A Double Review of New Options From SmallRig

Ending Our Love-Hate Relationship With L-Brackets: A Double Review of New Options From SmallRig

L-brackets are very helpful tools that are loved by many photographers of different genres, but for as long as we have been using them, imperfections in how they fit or work with certain cameras have been hard to ignore. These two new mounting tools from SmallRig just might change that.

Accessories for photography often fulfill both or either of two functions. Either they should help protect precious camera gear, improve how we use them, or both. In recent years, L-brackets, cages, rigs, and other camera mounting accessories have exponentially gained popularity and as more camera manufacturers update their lineup of imaging gear, manufacturers of support accessories have also been keeping up.

The Problem That L-Brackets Solve

L-brackets are simply made to mount the camera onto a tripod just like how the typical tripod plate would. The only difference is that when using a normal tripod plate one would have to tilt the camera on the tripod head 90 degrees to the side to be able to shoot vertically. For the simplest applications, this is not even an actual problem when shooting quick stills, as long as the tripod and the head can securely hold the camera.

For other photographers, the mere thought of tilting the head onto the side feels risky because of the uneven weight, especially if the camera and lens are quite heavy. On top of that, if the shooting process would involve panning and stitching images later on, the fact that the camera is inches away from the axis of rotation would result in distortion of the image.

L-Brackets as Solutions

Simply put, an L-bracket make it easier and safer to mount your camera onto a tripod vertically. It eliminates the imbalance in weight and helps keep the camera in a more comfortable angle of view. In a way, the L-bracket also provides added protection on two out of the six sides of the camera body. This means that if in case the camera falls hitting the bottom part or the left side, the bracket would take some of the impact. There are L-brackets that were made to fit a wide selection of cameras with adjustable or sliding mounting screws, and there are also L-brackets that were designed specifically to fit specific camera models. The benefit of using the latter is that the photographer can just keep the L-bracket on the camera even when not in use and rarely have to remove them since the holes for the battery door and side ports are properly aligned.

Ergonomic Challenges

For decades, L-brackets have proven very convenient to use for a multitude of shooting scenarios. Whether you are using a universal version that you would take out and install from time to time or one that is fitted to your camera, it always offered undeniable convenience.

The side play prevents the full range of motion of the screen and covers some of the side ports

In recent years, as vari-angle flip screens have gotten more and more popular, especially for cameras that are used for video and vlogging, the presence of the side plate of the L-bracket became an ergonomic obstacle. Most, if not all flip screens flip outward to the left side of the body, the rotation of tilt of the screen would also rotate on the same side, and the side plate of the bracket is obviously a hindrance for those kinds of movement. At the same time, the side plate would cover the ports for accessories on the side and would have to be unlocked from under to be able to have a bit of space by sliding the side plate further away from the side of the body. This would then mean that the camera now takes up more space and if the screen is directed towards the person in front of the camera, the side plate would become an obstruction. Most manufacturers of mounting solutions have played around with different ways to get past this challenge.

The Foldable L-Bracket

This new variant of the L-bracket from SmallRig definitely solves the problem, but with the added step of folding and unfolding the side plate. When folded, the side plate of the SmallRig folding L-bracket acts as the surface on which the quick-release clamp of the Arca Swiss type mount would latch. This plate has two buttons at the back. The one on the right would unlock the side plate from the folded configuration allowing the joint to rotate counterclockwise to have the side plate in place, and the button on the left unlocks that position to fold the side plate back onto the bottom part of the camera. The same mounting screw can also be loosened (even just partially) to slide the side plate outwards to add some space on the side for access to the ports similar to how older versions of the bracket do.

L-bracket configuration

Considering that this new version works exactly the same way and only solves problems about using flip screens and side ports, it automatically can be considered a huge improvement of product design. In my opinion, it can be improved simply by having a separate lock and slide mechanism for extending the side plate instead of having to unlock the mounting screw to create space on the side.

Bracket folded with all ports and sides unobstructed

The Rotating Camera Mount

Another option that has recently been made available is this rotating camera mount plate kit that makes use of a lens collar with a foot that acts as the tripod plate. This collar is then connected to a bottom plate that was specifically made for the camera. At the moment this is only available for the Sony a7R V, a7R IV, a7 IV, and a7S III, but the brand did say that options for more camera models from most camera brands will be made available soon.

The tripod plate connected to the collar is both Arca Swiss type mount and Manfrotto RC2 compatible. The collar is made up of two layers that rotate internally, which means that no moving parts are in contact with the barrel of the lens. In fact, the collar is not at all in contact with the lens but simply acts as a path for the rotating internal part.

The rotation of the collar is limited to 90 degrees, which only allows shifting from horizontal to vertical one way but also conveniently assures getting the right angle if the initial position was in proper level. On the bottom left of the collar is an extension of the lens release button for assured access, and on the other side is a knob to control the friction or simply lock the rotation collar in place. At the bottom of both the tripod plate and the camera plate are additional screw threads with varying sizes in case one would have to use it on a different quick release mount type or if the user would like to mount additional accessories onto the camera.

The rotating mount allows for all the side ports to be accessible in any shooting configuration and ensures no obstruction to the range of motion of the flip screen. Overall, this seems to be the most practical solution to the challenges that were originally being addressed by L-brackets and also seems to be the most effective.

What I Liked

  • Folding L-bracket offers a quick and portable solution
  • Rotating mount is easiest to use and adjust
  • Both options are Arca Swiss mount compatible

What Can Be Improved

  • Folding L-bracket can be given a separate lock mechanism for the side expansion
  • More compatibility options for other camera models and brands
  • More color and finish options
Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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There is also an option for the rotating mount from silence corner called Atoll (https://silencecorner.net/collections/atoll-series) and Sunwayphoto (https://sunwayfoto-store.com/products/ls-75-ls-63-ring-lens-support-with...) that fits almost any camera with different spacers. I am not sure who started this idea but it seems as if loads of manufacturers are bringing these out now

Ive just had the Sunway photo dropping in in the mail and Ive just mounted it but I will leave it a few days to see what I think, So far is my only issue is that I cant get it completely centered on the vertical so its slightly middle point is just below centre of the ring. I can mount the 24-70 RF but it's very snug and I have not much space for pushing the lens release button and the aperture stop down button. I cant use the cable release connection since there no space. But otherwise I am curious how it will work.

Atoll's product was a Kickstarter that I jumped on and came out way ahead of the other ones. Given China's penchant for copycats, I would assume Sunwayphoto, Smallrig, Ulanzi, and all the others just saw the potential and decided to jump on the bandwagon.

QD socket really is the best way to strap a camera esp for hybrid shooters and for Smallrig's first implementation of it, with the rotating collar.... yea that's a buy for me.

Interesting ‘review’ advertisement of a couple of interesting brackets. The Smallrig products I have used have been good, so I’m likely to try the rotating bracket. Both brackets here could compromise rigidity, so I look forward to a thorough review.

Is this one Peak Design compatible?

Atoll collar is a much superior option. Its refined build and attention to detail is better. It clicks into place at the 90/180/270, etc degrees. It integrates into Peak Design Capture flawlessly. It allows all the motion of a collar on non collar lenses. It eliminates the l bracket sin of blocking side ports and flip screens. It allows for a second spot for a black rapid attachment (I use a fusion plate). It eliminates the need to constantly reattach itself to the tripod to go from landscape to portrait while keeping the camera framed. It removes the need for a nodal plate. Yes, some of these are things provided by the solution presented by the author, but Atoll simply does it all better.

But that system mounts on your lens, or did I get it wrong.

You got it wrong. These collars mount to the camera. I have one for my Canon RP but, with a few modifications (purchased along with the collar), can also be used on my Olympus EM-1 mark 2. They do recommend that you only use these mounts when using short lenses. If you're using longer lenses that come with their own collars, you mount the lens collars on the tripod instead.

All three makers of a rotating bracket, Sunway, Smallrig and Atoll, have the knob for tightening the collar wedged in too close to the camera body and too small. This knob has to be slackened and then tightened again every time you switch between portrait and landscape format, which could be dozens of times a day. I think it needs to project beyond the camera body and be at least 2cm in diameter as well as grippy for cold and wet conditions.

I've never had any issue with access to the knob for tightening or loosening the ring but, then again, I've never had to use it in cold weather where thick gloves are needed so I can't relate. But if it was adjusted to address your needs, then it would be bulky and obtrusive for my needs so, horses for courses I guess.

I found shooting 6x6 was a great solution to this problem.

I’ve just fitted the SmallRig foldable onto my Sony A7R5. It fits well and appears to be well constructed. It does the job, what’s not to like?

I’ve bought a few similar rotation mounts, this one is far and away the best. Fit (Alpha 1) is perfect. Quality build, tight fit and rotation adjustment knob is perfection. The anti-slip mount to the camera makes it feel like it is a part of the camera. I’ve used it for months and it hasn’t needed any tightening. I’m buying a second one for my A7SIII. Wish it rotated more than 90º but other than that this is the one! Gotta say SmallHD are winning me over. Their stuff seems Sony quality, good selection and price,