L-Brackets, or L-Plates, is a tool most professional landscape photographers use. Yet, it’s rarely mentioned. You don’t see lots of advertisements for it and, quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen ambassadors promoting them either. However, this underrated tool comes with several huge advantages. One of them is allowing you to quickly change the camera’s orientation.
We all know that there’s an abundance of accessories for photographers but, quite honestly, most of them don’t have much of an impact on your images. L-Brackets don’t fall into that category; it’s one that should be mounted on your camera at all times.
So what are L-Brackets and what makes them so important for landscape photographers? Is it something that you should be using as well? Let’s find out:
What are L-Brackets for cameras?
Think of the L-Bracket as an advanced tripod mount that cradles the camera. It serves a similar purpose as regular tripod plates but the L-shape allows for more flexibility and precision.
What makes the L-Brackets a more flexible alternative is that you’re able to mount the camera to your tripod both horizontally and vertically without adjusting the ball head. This is made possible with the horizontal and vertical mounting/clamping area.
Some of you might be scratching your heads right now and saying that’s it? That’s what’s so special? Yes, that’s one benefit but there are a few more too. Let me explain further.
Why I always use an L-Bracket for landscape photography
Why haven’t I discovered these earlier? That’s what I asked myself after purchasing my first L-Bracket almost a decade ago. How did I manage so long without? Today, it’s one of my most important accessories. I simply can’t imagine landscape photography without it.
Here are the main reasons why:
#1 Quickly change the camera’s orientation
An L-Bracket’s main purpose is to easily change between landscape and portrait orientations without changing the camera’s position.
Using a standard plate and the ball head’s drop notch is less than ideal when changing to vertical shooting (portrait orientation) as the camera’s position is moved; it’s both lower and further to the side.
With an L-Bracket, you can quickly change the orientation without moving the ball head. This allows you to keep the same perspective and positioning, and essentially only change the orientation of the photo.
#2 Keeps the center of gravity
Moving the camera’s position is one of the disadvantages of using a standard plate and the drop notch. Changing the center of gravity is the second.
Using the drop notch means that the center of gravity is no longer at the middle of the tripod. It’s now to the side of the ball head. This comes with three big disadvantages:
- You’ll need to readjust the tripod to fix the composition
- It’s tricky to handle the ball head and knobs in that position
- It causes unbalance that could result in the tripod falling over
The L-Bracket makes it possible to keep the center of gravity at the top of your tripod, so you don’t need to worry about adjusting the composition or the tripod falling over and damaging your camera.
#3 Protects the camera body
The third reason why you need an L-Bracket for landscape photography is the fact that it protects your camera. Really Right Stuff adequately refers to it as a ‘roll cage’ for your camera.
Models made with durable and strong materials are the best. Not only will these last longer but they are also more likely to protect your camera if it’s dropped or knocked over. I’ve had a few instances where I’ve dropped my camera and I’m sure that the only reason it’s still working, is because of the L-Bracket.
Do you need a L-Bracket?
This might be one of my favorite accessories and one that’s loved by most professional landscape photographers, but does that mean you’ll feel the same way?
I’d go out on a limb and say yes. If you do landscape photography and spend time setting up the best compositions, it’s going to be a great addition to your toolset.
I’ve found that using an L-Bracket has made me more willing to explore different compositions. It’s so quick and easy to switch orientation that I find myself doing it countless times when setting up a shot.
What to consider when purchasing an L-Bracket
A quick search on Amazon or Google shows that there are several companies that sell L-Brackets or L-Plates. There are many different options and the price is anywhere from $20 to $200 or more.
The differences between brands and models can be huge and purchasing the ‘wrong one’ means you won’t be able to use it. Therefore, there are a few things you should consider before purchasing one:
#1 Universal vs. camera-specific L-Brackets
The first thing you need to be aware of is that there are two important differences: universal and camera-specific models.
Universal L-Brackets are designed to fit all cameras. This might sound great but it comes with some big limitations. Keep in mind that there are big differences between camera brands and models. Do they all have the same dimensions? Are the panels and battery door always at the same place? No.
It may fit and serve its purpose but most likely it’s going to be in the way of something important. This means you’ll have to dismount it every time you change the battery or connect the remote shutter release.
A camera-specific model prevents this from happening. They are designed for your specific camera and takes panels and the battery door into consideration, making it a smoother experience. Camera-specific models tend to be a little more expensive but, in my opinion, they’re worth the extra bucks.
The obvious downside of a camera-specific L-Bracket is that you’ll, most likely, need to invest in another when you purchase a new camera.
The material is another important consideration when purchasing an L-bracket. The cheapest alternatives might be tempting but a quick look reveals that they don’t use materials of the same quality as more expensive versions.
I was a poor student when I purchased my first L-bracket but I decided to invest a little extra into a well-trusted brand with good reviews. $200 was a considerable amount of money for me at the time but it lasted for more than 5 years. I’m sure that it would’ve still held up today if I hadn’t bought a new camera.
Sure, it had several scratches and dents after 5 years of hard use but that didn’t impact its usability. Had I not used it, those scratches would most likely have been on the camera instead, meaning I wouldn’t get nearly as much when selling it.
Disadvantages of using an L-Bracket
Yes, there are a few disadvantages of using an L-Bracket but, in my opinion, they’re barely worth mentioning. The advantages are so much bigger that the few downsides aren’t important.
Anyways, they might be worth mentioning:
#1 Blocking access to the battery door or left-side ports
The main disadvantage is that certain models might restrict your access to the battery door and left-side ports. Universal L-Brackets are the worst in this case and you might need to bring an Allen key to unmount it when you need to change the battery.
But even camera-specific models can restrict your access to the left side ports. They rarely block them but can make them harder to open.
For example, I need to loosen and slide the camera-specific L-bracket of my Nikon Z7 outwards in order to use a remote shutter release when shooting in portrait orientation. This is due to the port being positioned in the left-side panel of the camera (which I find quite frustrating).
#2 Added weight and bulk
There are scenarios where the extra weight and bulk is quite a disadvantage. For example, I don’t like how it adds a fair bit of extra weight when I’m going for multi-day hikes. I try cutting as much weight as possible and the extra few hundred grams aren’t always welcomed.
The extra bulk can also be tricky if you’re using a camera-specific backpack where the dimensions already are tight.
An L-Bracket, or L-Plate, is an underrated accessory for landscape photography that most professionals wouldn’t be without. It makes it quick and easy to change the camera’s orientation while maintaining the perspective but it also makes it possible to shoot vertically without using the drop notch and worrying about the tripod falling over due to the camera’s positioning.
I vividly remember a trip to Iceland a few years back when I forgot the clamp for my L-Bracket. It turned out it was in my backpack all along but I didn’t figure that out until I was back at the airport. Luckily, I had a standard mount available but I learned just how much more enjoyable it is to photograph using the L-Bracket.
Without it, I found myself exploring fewer compositions and spending more time setting up the shot as I struggled to get everything aligned.
Long story short, I consider the L-Bracket to be amongst my most important accessories. It’s something that I recommend to anyone who’s interested in landscape photography and I’m certain it will become a favorite for you too.
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