- Should be able to handle the weight of both devices if necessary.
- Must provide sufficient friction at every face to reduce play.
- Must be compatible with all the common screw thread standards.
- Must have the least number of moving parts
- Must be as light and small as possible
A base plate is what comes at the base of any device, which usually is the camera. Most cameras have tripod screws at the bottom, so why do we need plates?
A base plate makes it easier to insert and remove a camera rig from the tripod. This is usually true of the smaller cameras in this guide, like the DSLRs, BMCC, etc. Whatever tripod head is used will also have a standard base plate that can be screwed on to the bottom of the camera.
As we’ve seen in the last chapter, a base plate also acts like an anchor to rods.
Sometimes, though, a little bit of complexity is necessary.
A bridge plate tends to be bigger than a base plate, but it serves the same basic function. A bridge plate has a larger base, and is designed to hold more weight than a simple base plate.
Think of it in this way: If you had to place the camera on the ground for some reason, you’d rather it sit on a bridge plate than a base plate.
Note: Many manufacturers interchange the terms ‘base plate’ and ‘bridge plate’. You don’t have to follow my definition too closely. Just understand the basic difference.
Quick release plate
A quick release plate is a base plate designed to be slid off and on a mount. Once the plate slides in, it is locked. To remove it, you just need to pull a lever (or turn a knob) – just like how a door knob works.
Right angle plate
This is usually found in photography, when one wants to quickly change the orientation of a camera from landscape to portrait, and vice versa, without moving the tripod head. A well-designed right-angle plate will keep the optical axis centered over the tripod head.
However, it can have some surprise uses on the field, like when you’re on a barebones DSLR rig and need to attach an external sound recorder somehow.
A cheese plate is, well, a plate with holes (which is why it looks like cheese). This plate is a ‘one plate for anything’ kind of deal, with enough options to fit all kinds of gear.
Most rig manufacturers make custom base plates for each camera, as we saw in the Red Epic example in the last chapter. Anton Bauer makes cheese plates for its systems, like this one:
Rod Connector or Support
Some connectors allow the rods to move in relation to the base plate (mainly the height and the spacing between the rods). A good connector must be as robust as the plate, and must be strong enough to securely hold the rods in place without any play whatsoever. Thousands of dollars worth of gear depend on its strength.
One important type of rod connector is the Rod Raiser, which changes the height of rods in a more secure way than just through screws:
Another important type of connector to the rod is the lens and/or matte box support:
Another version of the lens support:
Having a lens support is crucial with heavier lens. You don’t want to put too much strain on a lens mount.
The last rod connector I’m going to single out is the single connector:
A single connector is a quick way to latch a small piece of gear (like a remote, GPS device, etc.) on to one rod.
Rods or Rails
Rods are rods! But almost never solid for cost and weight reasons. The three materials used to make rods are carbon fiber, steel and aluminum. Like I’ve shown in the last chapter, you could combine two kinds of rods on a rig if you felt like it.
To keep people sane, rods come in standard diameter sizes, marked in millimeters. The most common sizes are 15mm and 19mm. The lengths of the rod can be from 4 inches and upwards, sometimes up to 24 inches.
The insides of the ends of each rod are usually screw threads to take in extensions. If you want to make the rods stretch further, that’s the way to go.
Rod extensions or couplers come in different lengths. Keep the male/female thing in mind, and get all possible combinations when you’re buying gear. You never know when you’ll need the help of the opposite sex.
Rule of thumb: If you need more than one rod extender per rod, there’s something wrong in your design.
The two screw sizes found universally on camera and rig systems are:
- 1/4″-20 UNC
- 3/8″-16 UNC
If you look carefully at most of the connectors and plates in this chapter, you’ll notice quite a few of them having support for both of these sizes. Don’t buy plates or connectors that don’t have support for both.
Rule of thumb: Use the bigger screw size for bigger gear. When in doubt, take a look at what the manufacturer of the device provides on the body – that’s a good indicator of what it needs!
Never skimp on any of these systems, be it plates, connectors, rods or screws. The best of these will last you a lifetime.
As you can see, this chapter has been about interfaces. These are most of the common ones. In the next chapter, we’ll take a look at a few odd-ball but useful interfaces that combine many of these simple features.