Arca-Swiss Camera Mount: Everything You Need to Know
Since the 90’s, the premium way to attach a camera or a lens to tripods, monopods, and gimbals is with an Arca-Swiss mount. There are many reasons why this kind of mount has become an informal standard today.
The Swiss camera equipment maker Arca-Swiss Phototechnik AG developed a quick-release mechanism for their tripod heads. To say that it caught on is an understatement. There are almost zero professionals that don’t use Arca-Swiss mounts for their cameras and large lenses.
A typical Arca-Swiss mount on a tripod
The shot above shows a typical Arca-Swiss mount on a tripod ball-head. The little knob on the right is used to tighten the mating plate to firmly hold a camera or lens in position. Most Arca-Swiss hardware is made from stainless steel, anodized aluminum, or magnesium alloys. Plastic would be a bad idea.
A large lens attached with an Arca-Swiss tripod foot
The illustration above shows you a 500mm lens mounted via its tripod foot onto an Arca-Swiss attachment. The lens/camera combination is connected to the tripod exactly over its balance position, which provides maximum stability. For most zoom lenses, the balance point shifts with focal length, and the foot needs to shift to compensate for this.
Your shots will be sharper when you are photographing while using a properly balanced system, at least at slower shutter speeds. There’s also much less stress on the tripod connection when it’s supporting a balanced load.
The Arca-Swiss “standard” involves a 38mm wide mounting plate that has a 45-degree dovetail rail on two sides. This plate is held in place via friction by a “grabber plate” that is tightened typically by a screw with a knurled knob. Sometimes, manufacturers will make grabber plates that use a lever instead of a tightening screw, to allow for even faster attachment to the mounting plate.
Arca-Swiss mounting plate attached to a lens tripod foot
Many manufacturers continue to remain ignorant of the Arca-Swiss system, including Nikon. For this situation, there are separate mounting plates you can purchase and attach to their screw-mount tripod feet.
The shot above shows a little “lip” on the right-hand top of the plate that keeps the plate from twisting during use. It also shows a little silver screw on the bottom-left, which will limit how far the plate can slide along the Arca-Swiss grabber plate.
Some people prefer to keep a little screw on both ends of the mounting plate bottom, so that the plate can’t accidentally slide off of the grabber plate in either direction. The downside to this is that your grabber plate has to be opened really wide to let you lift the mounting plate vertically off of the grabber.
Arca-Swiss mounting plate bottom view
In the view above, you can see the stainless steel screw that is used to attach the mounting plate onto the lens tripod foot. The screw is in a groove that lets you slide the screw to align with the foot’s tripod screw hole.
Sliding the mounting plate until its lip (on the upper-right side) is held against the lens tripod foot keeps it from rotating during use. Once aligned, the screw is of course tightened.
The balance point will change if your camera has a battery grip attached or not, so you usually want to purchase a mounting plate that is long enough to accommodate both conditions. You might also have a heavy and a light camera, so you need the range in the mounting plate to handle both scenarios.
I prefer a longer mounting plate, compared to the lens tripod foot, to create a “T” mount instead of an “L” mount. I get more balancing and carrying options this way.
Use the tripod foot/Arca-Swiss mounting plate as a handle
The “T” shape of the mounting plate on the lens tripod foot makes for a very convenient and secure carrying handle. This is a much safer way to carry the lens/camera combination than just holding onto the foot of an “L” shape alone, which could slip from your fingers.
Look for Arca-Swiss mounting plates that don’t have sharp edges or corners on them, if you intend to use them for carrying purposes.
Hold your camera/lens upside-down to find the exact balance point. You can try sliding your finger along the tripod foot until the lens/camera combination is level. Be sure to have your other hand underneath everything while doing this, so that you don’t accidentally drop anything.
Gimbal with an Arca-Swiss attachment
Gimbals use Arca-Swiss attachments, because the lenses attached to them need to be carefully balanced by sliding them along the grabber plate. Nikon lenses cannot be used on a gimbal unless separate mounting plates are attached to their tripod feet.
Grabber plate with a tripod-mount screw hole.
If you happen to own a tripod head that only has a screw to attach to cameras or lenses, you can buy an Arca-Swiss grabber plate that can be attached to your tripod head via the tripod’s screw.
The grabber plate shown includes some built-in bubble levels (on the back side edges and the tightening knob).
Arca-Swiss mounting plate for camera
If you want to mount the camera itself onto an Arca-Swiss grabber plate, then you’ll need a separate screw-on plate that goes onto the bottom of your camera. The one shown above is quite minimal, but gets the job done.
Camera “L” bracket
There are also more elaborate “L” shaped mounting brackets for cameras with the dovetail grooves on both the bottom surface and one side of the camera (for portrait orientation). These are more sturdy, but it can get tricky to find one that doesn’t get in the way of something (such as the camera battery door).
Once you start using the Arca-Swiss system for your cameras and lenses, you won’t want to return to using tripod screws. The system is more solid, adjustable, and faster than using tedious tripod screws. Most of the items shown can be found for very reasonable prices, too (except that lens).