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by Bart Arondson

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About a year ago I invested in a new setup, consisting of a Nikon D7000, kit lens, and a Sigma 150-500mm for my main interest: wildlife photography. Although I'm not a big fan of tripods, I also got the Manfrotto 055XDB along with a "standard" 3-way tripod head.

At times when I wanted to use the D7000 + 500mm on the tripod, I quickly came to the conclusion that it does not work, the lens is so heavy that it creeps down even if you lock it firmly. Luckily, I resolved that by investing in the Manfrotto M393 tripod head:

enter image description here

It's works beautifully. Now let's talk about the problem. The part in grey is what I have attached to my heavy lens permanently, even when its not on the tripod. This way, I don't have to screw it onto my lens each time. I can just slide my heavy lens with that part attached to it into the rails, lock it with the lever and be ready, a process of 5 seconds.

However, I would like to use this same tripod head for my non-heavy lenses. Here's my considerations:

  • Buy a second tripod, and use the classic 3-way head on the 2nd tripod. Not an option, I don't want to be carrying two tripods around.
  • Use one tripod, yet replace the head each time I need a different lens. Not an option, attaching/detaching the M393 takes minutes and requires tools. Plus I need to carry around two tripod heads
  • Don't attach the grey part to my heavy lens, and attach/detach it each time I change lenses. This also takes too long and also requires tools.

I don't like any of those options, and am looking for a solution that is more convenient. I was trying to see if the quick release plate of my classic 3-way head can slide into the M393's rails, and then lock it into place. It doesn't secure well enough and the other problem is that the camera blocks the black lever that one needs to use to screw it into place.

I'm not exactly sure what I need to resolve this or if its possible. I'm guessing I need a second plate that fits the M393 rails. Yet it would need to be less lengthy, and quite likely raised, so that it does not block the lever to secure it.

I am probably the only person in the world having this problem, but I'm hoping there's a magic part of solution that fits my needs?

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A keen metal worker could quite easily [tm] make you a "good enough" M393 compatible plate. This would be within the abilities of a top teenager still at school who has a bent for such things SO you may be able to get it done at a reasonable price. If the device being attached are no more than large-DSLR heavy then the plate needs to be good enough to not damage the rails and well enough shaped to lock rigidly in place. Given the mechanical travel available in the lever locking system this should not be too challenging. Mechanical strength is not a major issue using any sensible metal. –  Russell McMahon May 25 '12 at 9:23
    
@RussellMcMahon Thanks. I would prefer a non-custom solution so I've made a few calls in the meanwhile. My camera shop recommends me this plate: kamera-express.nl/product/manfrotto-501pl (site is in dutch but you get the point). I've ordered it and will update this question to let you know whether this is a solution. –  Ferdy May 25 '12 at 10:33
    
That rail looks suspiciously like a "Vixen" telescope mount. Those are readily available to amateur astronomers. Take the vixen mount and drill a hole through it and put a standard tripod thread bolt through it. Having one made up is easy like Russell says. I had one made to put my DSLR on my telescope mount, local machinist friend just made one up quick from stock and didn't even charge me. (was a friend) –  Paul Cezanne May 25 '12 at 11:55
    
Then again, that dutch site's prices are pretty decent if you can't find one locally... –  Paul Cezanne May 25 '12 at 11:56

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Manfrotto makes all sorts of quick release plates in different sizes and shapes. I bet they make one that would fit that head and would be shorter. I don't see a specific item to point you to, but contacting Manfrotto should get you a part number.

IMO, in a broader sense, I'm not sure this head was the right choice. The 150-500 really isn't a heavy lens -- not compared to the heavy lenses that this head is intended for. Additionally, this head is intended to be used on a monopod, not a tripod. I think the right solution is a good medium-duty ballhead (such as an RRS BH-40. If you really want the gimbal-style head, add a Wimberley Sidekick. Of course, the BH-40 would easily handle any lighter camera/lens combination, too, and is arguably a smaller and lighter package.

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Thanks, indeed it looks like I need the Manfrotto 501PL plate. –  Ferdy May 25 '12 at 14:43
1  
I don't agree that this tripod head is not a good choice btw. It's brilliant, also on a tripod. With the touch of a finger I can move a few kgs of equipment in all directions and it will stop and stay there once I let go. How is that not suitable? –  Ferdy May 25 '12 at 14:46
1  
I think Dan is saying it is suitable, but overkill :) –  dpollitt May 25 '12 at 15:21
    
Suitable but overkill for the 150-500, yes. Perhaps even less-suited to even smaller lenses. –  Dan Wolfgang May 25 '12 at 17:15
    
Just curious...why is it overkill? The 500mm weighs 1.9KG, combined with its length (weight isnt the real issue) it will not work on most tripod heads, except for special ones, of which this is one very affordable. –  Ferdy May 25 '12 at 17:45

The simplest is to buy a second quick release plate. Keep one on your long lens and one on the camera. It looks weird because the second release plate is attached but unused when you have a long lens in use but never got me in trouble.

If you do not find that then you would would have to buy a dual use lens like the ones from Acratech. They are pricier than the Manfrotto but some of their ballheads also work as gimbal heads too.

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1  
Fully agree and that's what I'll do. On the 500mm I always have to long plate attached and it doesn't bother me. In fact, sometimes it brings support when shooting from hand. –  Ferdy May 25 '12 at 17:42

I'd recommend the Manfrotto MH054M0-Q2 head - it's really sturdy and should hold the 150-500 no problem. (I think it's rated to 10Kg and has no problems at all with my 7D + Battery Grip + 100-400L).

Alternatively why not get a second rail there (Manfrotto do sell them as spares) and just attach it to the tripod mount on the underside of your DSLR... For lighter lenses this would be standard practice anyway, no?

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Thanks, that's what I'm going to do. I've ordered an extra plate, similar to this one but shorter. –  Ferdy May 25 '12 at 14:47

I have the Acratech GV2 head:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/599678-REG/Acratech_1152_GV2_Ballhead_Gimbal_Head.html

It's enough of a gimbal solution for heavier lenses. It can be used as a gimbal with lighter weight lenses, as well as a ball head. I've used it with both a 300/2.8 and 500/4.

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