If you own multiple tripod heads and regularly switch between them, it can be a pain to constantly screw them on and off the 3/8″-16 thread. Not to mention the fact that you run the risk of cross-threading it and ruining your expensive head.
Common scenarios for owning multiple heads include people who swap between a ball head and a gimbal for wildlife photography, swapping a gimbal for a monopod head, or using a lighter ball head when hiking or travelling long distances.
You might also find yourself wanting to remove your tripod head to protect it. When hiking through the bush with a tripod strapped to the outside of your bag, you can easily scratch a ball head. Likewise when putting your bag down on the ground. Finally, you might want to remove it to make your tripod setup shorter when packing it into a duffle bag or suitcase for travel.
The best way to create a quick-release ball head is to use the tried and tested Acra-Swiss standard. Thankfully the patent ran out on Arca’s standard and now you can buy quick-release clamps and plates from many different manufacturers. In fact, it has become the de facto standard for the photo industry in the last decade.
First You Need a Clamp
The first thing you will need to do is put an Arca compatible clamp onto the top of your tripod. You can choose between a lever-release clamp or a screw-knob clamp. These clamps are available at all price points, but my favourite is the 60mm clamp from Really Right Stuff. The brass bushings make it smooth as butter, and the built-in level is handy too.
In most cases you will be looking to simply screw the clamp onto the 3/8″-16 stud on the top of your tripod, so make sure you buy a clamp that has a threaded 3/8″-16 hole in the middle. In some cases, you will find that tripods have a removable 3/8′ stud, in which case you can either choose the screw the clamp onto the stud or remove the stud and use a 3/8″ screw from above, down through the clamp and into the tripod. For Really Right Stuff tripod users with the TFC model tripods, this is the preferred method. (see next photo of my own TFC-24L II). I also recommend that you apply a small amount of blue Loctite to make sure it doesn’t come off.
Kirk Photo Ball Head Arca Plates
The second piece of the puzzle is provided by Kirk Photo. The make a pair of circular Arca-Swiss dovetail plates designed for ball heads.
- Small: Diameter of 1.980″ , recommended for heads with a base diameter under 2.225″
- Large: Diameter of 2.480″ , recommended for heads with a base diameter over 2.225″
These plates are incredibly light at 43g and 53g respectively. They are beautifully machined and come with a good 3/8″-16 screw and a hex tool. Pricing is $24 for the small and $29 for the large. They also come with a small set screw that can be used to ensure the plate does not come loose from the head.
Personally, I think these things are incredibly useful, and I have a whole bunch of them because I’m constantly switching tripod heads while I work on reviews for this site. Even if you only have a couple of heads, I think this is a worthwhile update to your tripod setup and if you use a quality clamp it won’t affect the stability of your tripod in any way.