How Do Tripod Quick Release Plates Work

When you want to mount your camera to a tripod, it would be a massive time-suck to have to thread and unthread your camera every time. Instead, quick release plates were developed to create an easy way to secure your camera in seconds. For years quick release systems have been a staple of any tripod head, but how exactly does a tripod quick release plate work?

A quick release plate works by utilizing tapered edges that can be securely positioned and locked down with a lever. With the lever locked, the plate cannot move in any horizontal direction, while the tapered edges prevent it from lifting out of the system entirely. With these two locking systems in place, the quick release plate can safely mount your camera to the tripod head.

You will come across a couple of different quick release systems in photography that operate slightly differently. Let’s dive into the different types and how these quick release plates work to keep your camera secure.

Are All Quick Release Plates The Same?

Although certain brands can have their own quick release systems, it all boils down into two separate types. Some quick release systems use a lever lock to secure a base plate into place while others operate like a clamp and pinch the plate securely. One isn’t any more secure than the other, but they do have a different style of mounting. When you’re in the market for a new tripod or tripod head, looking at which system it offers can be important.

Different Types Of Quick Release Plates

– Standard Quick Release

The standard quick release works by using a lever lock to secure the base plate into the catch system. This type of quick release system is most commonly seen with Manfrotto photography tripods. However, there are compatible third party knock offs that work very similarly as well.

The advantage of a standard quick release is that the process is faster. All you need to do is put the front of the base plate into place and then press down. The locking lever will automatically snap into place, and your camera is secured in seconds.

– Arca-Swiss Quick Release

Arca-Swiss quick release plates work using a slightly different method and essentially operate by clamping a base plate into place. The base plate is the small metal piece that attaches to the bottom of your camera. With Arca-Swiss style base plates, they will have a 45º outward tapered rail along each plate’s side. These rails slide into the “clamp” or “catch” of the tripod head, which can be tightened around the tapered edges.

The advantage of using an Arca-Swiss plate is that it’s more versatile than a standard quick release. Since you can purchase different length base plates that are still compatible with a single tripod head, you can mount nearly any size lens. Rather than worrying about a front-heavy lens, you can use a longer base plate and secure your camera further back on the head. This wouldn’t be possible with a standard quick release system.

How A Tripod Quick Release Plate Works To Keep Your Camera Secure

Depending on the quick release system you’re using, they keep your camera secure in different ways. Regardless of which system you use, both will hold your camera safely.

A standard quick release plate has two tapered edges on the base plate called the “toe” and “heel”. The toe is the “front” end of the base plate that should first be placed into the catch system. For standard quick release systems, there is an outward tapered edge that will match up to the toe of the base plate. Once the toe is placed into position, the heel will push down a small button to release the locking lever. This lever will snap to the base plate and press the toe edge securely into place. Combining the tapered edges with the lever lock makes it impossible for the base plate to move.

An Arca-Swiss quick release place works a bit differently by utilizing the tapered 45º rail system on the sides of the base plate. These rails align with the inward taper of the base plate and help to guide it into place. Once the base plate is in the position you want, you can tighten down the clamp to pinch it into place. With the clamp’s inward pressure and the tapered edges on the base plate, your camera is securely locked into place!

Is There A Universal Quick Release System?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal quick release system that is compatible with all tripod heads. Even if two systems use a similar catch method, the required base plate for each could vary in size and shape. In most cases, you’ll struggle to get it to fit properly, so it ends up not working.

With that said, certain Arca-Swiss quick release systems do offer universal base plates. If you are using a couple of different tripod heads with an Arca-Swiss system, you could likely use the same base plate for each one. This is great news if you only have this type of system, but not ideal if you’re also using a standard quick release plate.

How To Attach A Quick Release Plate

Now let’s go over how you can actually attach a quick release plate with both types of quick release systems.

Attaching A Standard Quick Release:

Step 1: Mount The Base Plate To Your Camera

Before you do anything, attaching the base plate to your camera is the most important part. After all, without a secure base plate, the rest of the process won’t matter. Your base plate will come with a 1/4-20 screw that can be attached to the tripod mount under your camera. Most standard quick release systems will have a small handle to help you screw in the thread. If yours doesn’t, you may need to use a screwdriver to help tighten it down. Before the base plate is tightened all the way, take note of the lens arrows on the bottom of the base plate. These arrows tell you which way to mount the lens. For this example, I will mount it forwards.

Step 2: Press In The Toe Of The Quick Release Into The Catch

With your base plate securely tightened down, press the toe of your base plate into the catch system. Make sure the tapered edges align properly.

Step 3: Press Down And Secure The Lock

Press down the heel of your base plate to snap the locking lever into place. Once the lever is snapped shut, try to press it in further to ensure it’s latched down all the way.

Step 4: Test How Secure The Camera Is Mounted

Before you let go of the camera, give it a firm wiggle in different directions to ensure it’s not going anywhere. If it’s not budging, then you’ve attached the quick release plate properly!

If the camera does move around or come out of the system, try the steps again, and ensure the base plate is properly mounted.

(Optional) Step 5: Lock The Plate Into Place

On most standard quick release systems, there is a small switch underneath the main locking lever. By rotating this switch, you can lock everything into place, making it impossible to take out the camera. If you plan to keep your camera mounted for a long time or plan to move your tripod around, this extra lock is a great fail-safe. Just remember to unlock it when you’re ready to undo the quick release!

Attaching An Arca-Swiss Type Quick Release:

Step 1: Mount The Base Plate Onto Your Camera

Using the 1/4-20 screw that comes with the base plate, attach it to the bottom of your camera. Some base plated will have a little handle you can use to tighten down the screw while others require a screwdriver or allen key. Before you tighten down the base plate completely, make sure the rails are running along the length of the camera body. This will make it easier to take on and off the tripod head.

Step 2: Slide The Base Plate Into The Clamp

With the base plate attached to your camera, slide it into the clamp system on the tripod head. The clamp will align with the rails on your base plate and easily slide into place. If they don’t fit, try loosening the clamp first and try again.

Step 3: Tighten The Clamp Onto The Base Plate

Once the base plate is in position, rotate the clamp knob to secure the base plate into place. Continue to tighten until you cannot rotate the knob any further.

Step 4: Test How Secure It Is

Before you take your hand off the camera, give it a firm tug in every direction to make sure it’s not moving. If you can still move it side to side, you need to tighten the clamp even further. If the base plate comes out completely, try again and make sure that both sides of your base plate are in position with the clamp.

Once you know how a tripod quick release plate works to keep your camera secure, it’s easy to trust it. These systems have multiple points of contact to ensure that nothing can accidentally release. By attaching your quick release plate correctly, you can rest assured knowing your camera won’t go anywhere, no matter how you decide to position it!

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– Brendan 🙂