For years I've been recommending that every photographer should get an L-plate for their camera. Yet, when I go on meetups with readers of Improve Photography from around the world, only about 1 out of every 30 readers of this site actually has an L-plate–probably because it's a little confusing until you see one in action.
So in this post I want to show you what L-plates are, how inexpensive they are, and how useful they can be.
What's an L plate for a camera? An L plate is a piece of metal that replaces the quick release plate for your ballhead. The piece of metal turns 90 degrees up the side of the camera so you can attach the side or bottom of the camera to the ballhead. It makes switching from shooting horizontal to vertical much easier. Every pro photographer I know, who frequently uses a tripod, has an L-plate on their camera.
Why I (Highly) Recommend Getting an L-Plate
First of all, I should clarify my recommendation. If you shoot portraits and don't work on a tripod very often, then I'd skip the L-plate. An L-plate is only useful when shooting on a tripod. However, if you shoot architecture, landscape, product, commercial, night, nature, macro, or any other type of photography that is done on a tripod, then it's an awesome accessory to have.
The benefit of an L-plate is that you can attach either the bottom of the camera to your ballhead, or you can flip the camera on its side (for taking a vertical orientation photo) and attach the side of the camera to the ballhead. This way, you don't have the camera flopping off the side of the ballhead, unable to get your composition right when shooting a vertical.
Also, an L-plate allows the photographer to center the lens on the ballhead. Traditional quick release plates for ballheads (the little thing that attaches to the bottom of your camera and came with the ballhead) put the lens too far to the right. This means the tripod is off center (and more likely to tip if bumped or very windy). It also means that when you shoot a panorama, the camera is not pivoting on the right spot, so it can lead to problems in stitching the shots together.
Cost of an L-Plate
This is one of my favorite photography accessories partly because an L plate is very inexpensive, generally. Usually, you can find an L-plate for under $50.
There are much more expensive L Plates. I once bought one from Really Right Stuff for over $100 and it really was no better than the $40 l plate I had purchased on Amazon. So I'll tell you some things to look for when buying, but don't feel like you have to get the premium L-plate.
Where To Find An L Plate for Your Camera
Step 2: Look on that page for one that works with your camera model. You may want to type in your camera model in the search box with the term “l plate” to find one. Just be sure you DON'T buy one that says it's “universal”!!! It needs to be formed specifically for your camera model.
You'll probably find one for $50 or less that gets decent reviews. I really wouldn't worry unless it has fewer than 3 stars. Since these are very simple pieces, most people don't really bother to write positive reviews for an L plate because they are mostly all the same. It's normal to see some negative reviews from the few people who were picky about something.
What to Look For When Buying an L-Plate
L plates are pretty simple, so you really won't find any with crazy features or tech. However, here are some handy features to have. Don't feel like any of them are deal-breakers.
- NEVER buy a “universal L plate.” You'll see many of them advertised on B&H and on Amazon. They claim to fit any camera. These are NEVER a good idea. They'll almost always block the little doors and ports on the side of the camera, or require you to take off the L plate to replace the battery. Only buy an L-plate specifically fitted to your camera. I have links below to help with that.
- Make sure it's made of metal. I wouldn't trust a plastic L Plate. They are essentially cramped down in a vice (your ballhead) every time you use one, so it's probably best to get a sturdy metal plate.
- It's handy if you can find one that attaches to the bottom of your camera with something other than an allen wrench. If it has the little flippy hand crank on it, it makes it easier to tighten by hand if it works loose.
- It's nice if they come with a rubberized bottom so it couldn't scratch the bottom of your camera, but this shouldn't be an issue as long as you tighten it very well to the camera so it doesn't move around.
- Be sure the plate doesn't cover up your ports.