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I see a number of ball heads for sale that have a long quarter-inch screw and plastic knob threaded on it. To attach it to the camera, you have to spin the camera or the tri (mono) pod a few revolutions before snugging up the nut. That might be OK for tiny compact cameras where a release plate is not much smaller than the whole camera, but these are rated for example for 6 pounds or 30 pounds or other heavy loads.

Given a merely 3-pound DSLR and carbon fiber tripod, I would worry about breaking something before the screw was grabbing enough threads to take some torque. That is beside then worry of dropping something.

Is there a point other than to pick a quick-release plate separately? For semi-permanent attachment like we see between heads and legs, I think it would be designed differently and not have a permanent extra length of screw between the components, and a weaker screw at that?

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I think it's simply because then you can attach a quick-release plate which matches the system you're using — you can buy those separately too.

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There are a lot of uses for those handy little ball-heads. I use one on my monopod. A lot of time you can see them being used to for lighting support or to hold a cheese plate at a certain angle so it doesn't interfere with your other cables or hold an accessory bar at a certain angle... and some of them are pretty cheap.

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A long 1/4" screw with a nut allows for more thread engagement and a more secure attachment. A plain screw is meant to be tightened with a tool versus just with the fingers as is how many release plates are designed.

A plain screw with snugging nut allows for adjustable thread engagement (more threads for a heavier load) and the ease of a snugging nut. It also lets you apply the tightening torque to the plastic nut and camera, and not apply torque to the tripod, which could increase the risk of damage to the tripod itself.

For the most secure fit, when using a plain screw with snugging nut, screw the screw all the way in until it just touches the bottom of the hole, then back it out one quarter of a turn and snug the nut.

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Even the best quick releases do not hold so tight to whatever is attached to them as a good old screw (also on the tripods I have/had I never had to turn the camera to fix anything). This might be especially true for non-level angles.

So there might be some equipment that you want to attach there, where it makes more sense to have the tight grip of a screw. This might be

  • A (n automatic) pano head
  • a much bigger lense (I personally do not trust quick releases to hold big lenses, and I don't need to get them of quickly anyways)
  • Unusual mounting of the lense (e.g. hanging support, double support, vibration dampening)

Together with the point mentioned by mattdm it makes more sense to sell one tripod that people can customize to fit their "system" than to try selling multiple ones compatible to whatever "system" you use.

  • I have to disagree that the best quick releases don't hold as tight as a screw. The difference is that the QR plate still attaches by a screw, so you get an EXTRA point of failure rather than one that is less secure. You still have all the possible failings of a screw mount, but also get the more limited but still present potential failings of a quick release plate. – AJ Henderson Dec 1 '14 at 17:03
  • @AJHenderson: Maybe you have a better one or better luck with manufacturing tolerances, but whenever I tried any with heavier equipment, there is significant wiggle space that I do not have with just a screw. – PlasmaHH Dec 1 '14 at 22:05
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Quick release plates are great, but if you don't need the quick release ability, they add weight, they add size and they add a potential point of failure.

Overall, a good QR plate should be every bit as secure as a screw mount, and potentially even more secure as they can incorporate locking mechanisms that a screw mount lacks, however, the camera still has to attach to one side of the QR system, and it does so by... a screw mount. You are using a screw mount regardless of a QR system or not. The QR system is just an additional device to allow quick removal.

Since it has weight, size, and its own potential to fail (even if less than the screw), it can make sense to avoid using it if you don't need the quick removal option.

That said, in most cases, it will be worth using the QR option since there are a variety of pretty light QR options and the QR plate can be attached very tightly once and then left in place rather than having to frequently attach and remove a screw mount by hand (which adds wear and tear on the screw mount in addition to being hand tightened rather than tooled on.

  • I did this at one point - stuck the QR plate on my camera more or less permanently. It was a BAD idea. Due to microscopic differences in the tripods I use, some of the plates wobble on some of the tripods. – Jasmine Dec 1 '14 at 18:44
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    @Jasmine - that's a problem with your QR plate system then. A good QR plate design should lock in place securely with exceedingly large amounts of force and friction (thanks lever action). Cheap QR systems are more likely to have issues. – AJ Henderson Dec 1 '14 at 18:47
  • No it's a mismatch between the plates and the two tripods. They fit tightly when they are on the right one. – Jasmine Dec 1 '14 at 19:14
  • @Jasmine - yes, a good QR system has standardized plates and tightens in such a way that minor variations wouldn't matter anyway. – AJ Henderson Dec 1 '14 at 19:27

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