Posted by: kerryl29 | March 22, 2021

The Moral of the Story

This post is going to read, at first glance, as an arcane discussion of photographic gear.  At one level, it is that.  But there’s a moral to the story with far more significant implications, I believe, and that’s why I’m sharing it here.

As background, I recently gained possession of a Nikon Z7ii camera, Z-mount lens, and an FTZ adapter that allows Nikon F-mount lenses to used with the Z7ii.  I will have a great deal more to say about this equipment, from an array of different perspectives, on this blog at some point down the road.

Ganoga Falls, Ganoga Glen, Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

But for the moment I’m going to limit myself to one small aspect of the camera that, from a substantive point, may seem entirely irrelevant to most readers.  Why am I doing this?  Because, as alluded to above, there’s a larger lesson to be learned.  Please bear with me.  (I’m tossing in some photographs which have nothing substantial to do with this post that will hopefully assuage those of you who find the subject too boring for words.)

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The aspect of the camera I want to discuss–I can already hear the groans and envision the eye-rolling–has to do with accessing the port on the camera that accepts devices that allow the camera shutter to be tripped without touching the camera body itself.  As most of you probably know, there are ways of tripping the camera shutter without depressing the shutter button at the time the shutter is opened.  A self-timer feature is one such way; a remote release of some sort is another.  Whenever I photograph from a tripod–which is almost all the time, as I have mentioned countless times on this blog over the years–I use a remote release, because it allows me to avoid introducing vibration to the camera which will cause some degree of softness in the final image.  If you think vibration from manually pressing the shutter button isn’t a problem, spend some time with intermediate shutter speeds (the effect is particularly pronounced in the range between about 1 second and 1/60 of a second) and examine the difference between a contact-free shutter release method and pressing the shutter release directly.  Even on a tripod-mounted camera, I assure you, the effects are easily detected.

Sunrise, Papawai Point, Maui, Hawaii

Given that I like to control exactly when the shutter is tripped (I frequently photograph subjects that are prone to move in the wind, so there’s a major benefit to knowing exactly when the image is made), I need some kind of a remote release, and the least expensive, least troublesome means to that end is a wired or wireless remote.  Either way, some kind of a device has to plug into a port on the camera that is designed for this purpose.  On the Z7ii (and many other, but not all, Nikon cameras, be they mirrorless or DSLR), that port is designated as DC-2.  On the Z7ii that port is behind a small “door” along with USB and HDMI ports.  This door is on the left-hand side of the camera’s body.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Why does this matter?  To answer that question, I (briefly) need to raise another esoteric subject:  quick release of cameras from tripod heads generally and L-brackets specifically.  There is only one palatable way to attach and remove a camera from a tripod and that is by use of a tripod head with some kind of quick release capability.  You can screw a camera directly into a tripod, but for a variety of reasons (and here I’ll spare those of you who are undoubtedly already nodding off while reading the grimy details) that’s not a viable option for outdoor photography.  And, really, the only way to be able to use a camera on a tripod in both landscape (horizontal) and portrait (vertical) orientations is to use an L-bracket on your camera.  An L-bracket is a metal device that wraps around the camera body on two sides (the left-hand side and the bottom), with a quick release configuration that makes it very easy to orient the camera horizontally or vertically on the tripod head.  Once you’ve used one for awhile, changing the camera’s orientation is something you don’t even have to think about, and it takes just a few seconds to execute.

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

So what’s the problem?  What did I say an L-bracket was?  “…a metal device that wraps around the camera body on two sides (the left-hand side and the bottom)…”  And where did I say the port for the remote release was on the Z7ii?  “…behind a small ‘door’ along with USB and HDMI ports.  This door is on the left-hand side of the camera’s body.”  So part of the bracket is wrapped around the area where the door is located.  Now, all of the L-brackets made for this camera deal with this issue by creating a “hole” in that part of the bracket, allowing you to access the port.  No problem, right?  As long as the camera is oriented horizontally, that’s correct.  You can access the port with little difficulty.  But what happens when the camera is oriented vertically?  The side of the camera with that port is inserted into the tripod head.  It’s impossible to access that port.  Not difficult, impossible.  That makes it impossible to use a remote release of this type with the camera mounted vertically on a tripod.  And that’s a big problem.

Honeymoon Covered Bridge, Carroll County, New Hampshire

There is one L-bracket that provides a solution of sorts to this problem:  the L-bracket from Really Right Stuff.  I checked this out very carefully before I decided to make a purchase.  The RRS bracket is actually two separate modular pieces:  a horizontal piece that attaches to the tripod socket on the bottom of the camera (i.e. a regular quick release bracket, custom made for the camera) and a vertical piece that runs up the left side.  The latter slides into the former, which allows you to pull the vertical piece several inches away from the side of the camera.  Take a look at the image below.  Note the sizable space between the extended vertical part of the L-bracket and the camera body; there’s room to get to that port on the left side of the camera.

Nikon Z7ii Really Right Stuff L-bracket in horizontal orientation

Now take a look at what this apparatus looks like when the camera is mounted on a tripod in vertical orientation, with cords plugged into multiple ports on the left-hand side of the camera.

Nikon Z7ii Really Right Stuff L-bracket in vertical orientation

When tightened down the configuration is rock solid.  It’s really an ingenious design and execution.

But while this is functional, it’s still pretty clunky to work with.  It’s hard to get an exact sense of scale from these L-bracket images, but the space between the extended bracket edge and the camera body is only about 1 3/8 inches.  (Yes, I measured it.)  I have small hands and there’s not a lot of room to work.  It’s a far cry from having direct, unimpeded access to a port, which is what I’m used to with my longstanding camera (the Nikon D800E) and, quite frankly, every camera I’ve used previously as well.

Middle Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

I’m generally pretty patient with this sort of thing, but when I first started fiddling with the process of trying to attach the cord into the DC-2 socket with the L-bracket extended, even with the camera in horizontal orientation, I got fairly frustrated.  This was inside, where it was warm and dry and I immediately started thinking:  if I can’t do this easily under these conditions, what’s it going to be like if it’s damp and/or cold outside, in the field, with the wind blowing, etc.?  I was having a hard time seeing how to make this work at all.  Maybe, I thought, I should just chuck the entire idea of working with this camera at all.

Rio Grande Valley, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

But I caught myself.  I realized that my instinct was to throw up my hands because:  a) this was a different process than the one I was used to; and b) the new process wasn’t just new, it was objectively worse/more difficult.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it couldn’t be overcome with just a little bit of effort.  Examining the entire apparatus a bit more closely, I discovered that it was relatively easy to thread the cord through the gap in the extended vertical bar which made it much easier to slip the end into the DC-2 port.  It was even fairly easy to do this with the camera mounted in vertical orientation.  Horizontally, it was a piece of cake.

Secret Beach Morning, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

And while it takes some getting used to get the cords in and out of the port, I’ve found that a little bit of practice goes a long way.  The image above displaying the vertical orientation shows all three of the major ports on that side of the camera engaged at the same time. I’ll never use more than one at a time, and only the release port when in the field, so it’s not as crowded an arrangement as the image might imply.  But I’m keeping the camera mounted on the tripod–in portrait mode, where working with the port and cable is the most difficult–and 5-10 times a day, I detach and reattach the cord from scratch, as I would in the field.  In the span of little more than a day, I’ve now reached the point where I’m about as quick with it as I was with the release on my old camera, which had nothing like this kind of encumbrance to deal with.  The more I work with this arrangement, the more routine it feels.

And that, at long last, is the moral of the story.  Resist the urge to reject something in whole because a small–albeit important–aspect is new and more difficult.  Examine things more closely.  Give yourself a chance to adapt.  Don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois


Responses

  1. Don’t even get me started on L-Brackets :-). I have used them consistently for many years now. There is a learning curve. Unless they are built to fit your specific camera body, they can turn on the base, rendering them essentially useless. This means each time a substantive change is made to a camera lineup – or you change cameras, you need a new L-Bracket. And if you are shooting multiple bodies, you need a bracket for each camera (which makes sense, anyway, as you don’t want to be removing them when you change them). Why does this matter? The are not an inexpensive piece. Usually, Really Right Stuff, or Kirk start and other copiers follow. The RRS and Kirk Brackets can range from around $100 to nearly $200 each. Having some background in machining, I know they can be manufactured much more cheaply. And of course, they are, but companies like Sunway, for example. I have been successful at finding these and they are good quality and work well, at a fraction of the price.

    BUT ……..When I switched to Sony MILS camera bodies, I ran into the identical issue you write about here. It seems kind of foolish to go to the expense of a high end tripod, head and bracket and then use your hand to trigger the shutter – so I, too, mostly use a remote trigger. At the time I started doing this, I don’t even think RRS had the L-bracket you describe here for my Sony A7 body. I tinkered with modifying one of the fixed L-brackets I already had – but just couldn’t make it work. Then I found a “universal” bracket that had an adjustable sliding vertical bracket like above. I am unable to imbed an image here, and if I could you would see it is not near as elegant as the RRS. But it works just as well as any L-Bracket I have ever used.

    I think I paid less than $40 for it. My “Rube Goldberg” modification, putting a front catch on the bottom plate to keep it from turning on the body, means it is not “pretty,” but it is utilitarian.

    I only wish the gear folks would get together and come up with designs that didn’t require us to do this stuff. If you are “handy” with tools, this is possible. If not??

    • Hi Andy. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      There is no practical, safe way to mount a camera on a tripod in vertical orientation without an L-bracket. (You could let the camera, mounted in horizontal orientation, “drop off the side” using the notch that exists in most tripod heads, but I don’t recommend this for a variety of reasons.) L-brackets always run alongside the bottom (obviously) and the left side of the camera. As a result, ports that are likely to be accessed when the camera is mounted on a tripod (including, but probably not limited to, the accessory socket and the battery door) shouldn’t be on the camera’s left side. Period.

      In the case of the Z7ii (and, from what I can gather, the entire Sony A7 series) by designing the body ever so slightly differently, and leaving a hair more room between the lens mount and the left-hand edge of the camera, room for the accessory port would exist on the front of the camera and this entire problem wouldn’t exist, without significantly compromising anything about size, weight or handling. I see this as a camera design failure, pure and simple.

      And as for the companies that make L-brackets that don’t allow the camera to be mounted on a tripod vertically while providing access to the accessory port…I have no idea what they’re doing. If you’re going to go to the trouble and expense of using a tripod and and L-bracket in the first place, why on earth these folks would believe you wouldn’t want to be able to use a remote release is entirely beyond me. These are (supposedly) brackets that are custom made to fit these cameras (and mostly priced accordingly), yet they don’t allow for full function of these cameras with the after market product attached. Absolutely ridiculous.

      • Yep. Its why I mentioned that it would be nice if all the accessory manufactures and camera manufacturers got together and built to some design standards. The “Arca-Swiss” style dovetail has become the de facto “standard” for QR plates (even Manfrotto/Bogen has finally begun manufacturing to that spec). Since tripods and camera attachments are such an important part of the craft, you would think they could get that together. I agree that putting the ports on the left side of the camera is generally problematic (though I could live with a bracket whose vertical member was on the right side – I see there is at least one which has the ability to release and swing that member down, for battery changes/memory card swaps where it might interfere with that).

        Another useful thing might be for the accessory manufacturers to offer right-angle plugs that would have a smaller footprint out the camera side.

        Not much hope that either your blog, nor mine, nor these comments will reach and persuade them – LOL

        • It’s a small part of what you wrote, but the problem I see with the bracket on the right side of the camera is that’s where the hand grip is invariably located. So, if you handle the camera, you’re pressing on the L-bracket, which is neither comfortable nor a great idea from a durability standpoint.

          As a corollary to your suggestion about a right angle-finder…how about a small console that sits in the port, serving as a receiver for a wireless trigger (I mean something a lot smaller than the current receivers that to this) or as a secondary port–with the access on the side of the port facing the back of the camera? You’d still need a sliding L-bracket, but access to the connector would be uninhibited.

          The next time that the camera makers collaborate with a third party accessory maker will be the first time. 🙂

  2. I enjoyed the photos as a distraction but must give you credit for giving a description that I could visualize which was verified by the accompanied photo. I still don’t have a camera hood but have used sleeves from Starbucks that do the trick in a pinch. It is an expensive hobby. I am glad you had the patience and curious how you judge the camera’s capabilities for taking a good photo with regards to easy access to the features on the camera body.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      You’re right–this is one expensive hobby. And I’ve had my share of homemade remedies. (A modified, oversized plastic trash bag makes a heckuva rain cover.) As long the cheap solution isn’t compromising something important, I’m all for it.

      I’ll have a thing or to to say about the experience of adapting to a new camera down the road.

  3. […] something about this particular camera to make a broader point–well, it should, because I employed this approach just two weeks ago.  But in that instance, I was utilizing a metaphor about individual […]

  4. Interesting. I never even thought about this problem with the newer cameras that have all ports on the side. I’m still a D800 user and even on that camera, occasionally curse the L-bracket and the cable release (going I to the 10-pin port at the front of the camera). In vertical orientation, I successfully managed to shear off that cable with the lever of the quick release, in the dark, not only once, but twice! 😛

    • That’s interesting…I’ve never had a problem of that sort with any of the 10-pin connector bodies I’ve had (and I’ve been using one or another of them for roughly 20 years now).

      Two questions for you: which style of QR are you using (i.e. is it Arca-Swiss, or some proprietary format)? And, if A-S, when you place the camera on the tripod head in vertical orientation, do you slide it in from left to right, or right to left?

      • Plate and BH are both RRS. I don’t slide the thing in from the side, it goes straight in from the top when slightly angled. But, I’ve learned to rotate the entire thing 180 degrees by now, so that the lever is at the back. 🙂


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