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Adding or Replacing a Tripod Quick Release Clamp, Part 2

Last week, we looked at how to remove the quick release clamp from a ball head to allow you to customize your tripod to best meet your needs. I'm assuming you have either already removed the clamp from yours or have bought a head without the clamp attached. If your ball head still has a clamp, stop now and read part one of this article, published last week. If you do now have a ball head without a clamp, it's time to find out how to add a new one.

There are an ever growing number of clamp alternatives available in the marketplace. Really Right Stuff has long sold a variety of replacement clamps. Quick release clamps from Kirk, Really Right Stuff and MarkinsTheir lever release designs are quite popular as they are quick and easy to use. Since the tension in the closed clamp can not be adjusted, there has been some discussion on the internet as to how compatible plates from other companies are with RRS lever clamps, but in my experience this is mostly a non-issue. Really Right Stuff now also offers a panning clamp that might be worth considering. Kirk Enterprises also has long offered a number of different clamps. While not as radically innovative as are clamps from Really Right Stuff, they are quite well made and an excellent choice if you prefer a more "traditional" design. Other options include clamps from Wimberley, Markins and Acratech.

I was long a user of the original version of the Really Right Stuff lever clamp, but the impetus behind writing this series of articles was my desire to return to a knob clamp. I shoot virtually everything on a tripod with a cable release. While the lever worked great for most situations, I found that when using a lens with a tripod collar, the motion of the lever can sometimes be blocked by the cable release. It doesn't have to — it depends on which direction the clamp is oriented — but it happened to me enough that I wanted to go back to a clamp that didn't take so much free space to work the mechanism. The new Kirk clamps use a knob, but one with steeper pitched threads than previous versions, making it almost as quick to open and close as the lever design. This sort of consideration is a minor point of course, but I guess you could call me somewhat of a perfectionist. I need a tripod that works well for me since I use it a lot.

Once you've decided which clamp best fits your needs and have it in hand, it's time to mount it on an eagerly awaiting ball head.

New Markins M20-NQS head with threaded clamp mounting studIf you are starting with a brand new head, you should have the ball head itself and the clamp, each with an open 3/8"-16 threaded socket, and a threaded stud that will join the two together. Start by test fitting the pieces together to become familiar with what you have to work with. Often you will find you can screw the stud into to ball socket until it stops and that the other end of the stud will line up properly just below the top of the clamp once you attach it. Some ball heads though apparently won't stop the stud as it goes in and if you were to keep on turning it, it would actually go all the way flush with the top of the ball stem. If you find you have problems lining up the stud, start instead by screwing it into the clamp from underneath until it is just below the top surface level. Then screw the combination down into the ball. Remember, at this point, you are just test fitting things so there's no harm in experimenting to figure out how you want to actually fasten them together. In particular, you need to decide whether you will be first screwing the stud into the ball or the clamp.

If you performed brain surgery on your existing ball head to remove its clamp, the threaded stud will already be attached to the ball with only the end where the clamp once was exposed. As such, the decision on which order to attach things has already been made. Test fit your new clamp anyway though to verify that things will go together correctly.

When you are ready to actually assemble everything, you will need some Loctite which is available at most auto parts stores, but very few hardware stores. If you are sure that the clamp you have is the one you want to stick with (pardon the pun), then use red Loctite. Red Loctite cures to create a high strength bond of the kind we spent last week undoing. If you want a less permanent bond, use blue Loctite. This creates a bond that won't come lose too casually, but may indeed come off in the field if the ball is tightened and you try to turn your camera. Some people end up afraid of red but for affixing a tripod head clamp, my opinion is that blue is only useful for very temporary applications such as testing out several clamps to determine which you prefer. Use blue and go out shooting for a weekend or even an entire week, but if you want it to hold much longer, go with red. In the end, it's your tripod head though, so you need to be comfortable with whichever Loctite you choose.

Work in a clean environment with adequate space. Loctite isn't glue, but you will still regret getting it all over things, so work methodically. You won't need more than two or three drops per connection, but have a paper towel handy in case you do need to do any wiping. Also make sure the parts you will be joining are clean and ready to go.

To make a connection, put a couple of drops of Loctite on the thread of the stud end you are working on. Rotate the stud so that gravity can help flow the Loctite all the way around, then screw it into its destination. If you have all three pieces to fasten together, do only one connection at a time, allowing it to cure overnight before making the final connection. If your threaded stud is already attached at one end, you'll get to enjoy your new tripod head a day sooner since you only have one connection left to make. Consider this a reward for your skills with a blowtorch.

After the whole thing has been assembled and allowed to cure, you are ready to go out and enjoy the results. You'll be the envy of all your photographer friends.

Date posted: April 23, 2006


Copyright © 2006 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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