One Guy’s Review: ProMediaGear 3 Inch Universal L-Bracket

Panasonic GH3 with ProMediaGear 3" Universal L-bracket

Introduction

One of the nice things about using an established, long-running system like Nikon’s is not just the breadth and depth of the system, but also the various accessories that complement it. Take for example, quick release plates. These are little pieces of metal that allow for quick mounting and dismounting the camera on a tripod. For stills cameras, there is actually a more-or-less de-facto standard for quick release system, and that is the Arca-Swiss dovetail and clamp design. In fact, the system is now so popular that there are a multitude of companies making custom plates to fit cameras and lenses, with Really Right Stuff and Kirk Photo being two of the older ones around.

However, switching to the Panasonic GH3 since last year meant that getting a custom plate was an epic quest in itself. Since I normally use L-brackets, which are L-shaped plates that allow for easy switching between landscape and portrait orientation, as well as vertical battery grips, that meant finding a custom bracket for the GH3 practically impossible. I went to the usual suspects, and also trawled the Chinese sites, but there were none. There were some interesting universal L-brackets that looked like a good fit, with one by Fittest Photo looking really good.

Except that there was one problem.

For some reason, Panasonic decided to shift the tripod mount on the DMW-BGGH3 off to the right side, away from the usual point that lies parellel to the axis of the optical path. It is not a slight shift either, as it is about 20mm off, which is enough to put off all the universal L-brackets I had seen so far.

Offset position of tripod mount on DMW-BGGH3

So, with universal L-brackets a no-go, I just put a generic Arca-Swiss plate on the GH3. However the off-centre position was a bit off-putting, and I realised how much I hate putting a ballhead into notch for vertical orientation. I did another extensive search, and eventually found the ProMediaGear 3” Universal L-bracket. ProMediaGear also have taller, 4” version, but the compactness of the GH3 meant I went with the 3” version instead.

Design and Hardware

The ProMediaGear 3” Universal L-bracket is different from most in that it is a two-piece design. Most L-brackets are made out of a single piece of metal, which is usually some form of aluminium alloy, but here the are two Arca-Swiss dovetail plates held together by two l-shaped rods instead. The advantage here is that if you only need to base plate, you can remove the L-bracket piece by loosening two hex key screws at the base plate. The other advantage here of course, is access to the battery in the battery grip without having to remove the whole plate. That does mean you still need to remove the camera from the tripod before you can change that battery.

The final advantage is that since the rods can move, it accommodates the vertical grip’s offset tripod socket. Yes!

L portion split from the base plate

While this means a hex key wrench is needed more often than the usual L-bracket ProMediaGear have come up with a clever solution: The L-bracket portion itself has a slot that houses the hex key, which sits next to a heavy-duty magnet that prevents the key from falling out. It is quite a clever idea, and it also means I always have a hex key on hand. It is certainly something I have grown to appreciate, since having a spare hex key is always useful. I may forget the multi-tool on a shoot, but I certainly will remember to bring my camera!

Integrated slot for hex key

As a universal plate, the 3” Universal L-bracket does not have the usual curves custom-shaped to a particular camera, and it also does not have any flanges to keep the camera from twisting. What it does have are two lines of rubber protruding out from the base as its anti-twist feature. It might not seem much, but it works. Unlike cork or rubber bases, these keep the plate firmly in position when screwing the L-bracket on.

ProMediaGear 3" Universal L-bracket

ProMediaGear also ship a bunch of tiny screws to act as stoppers to prevent the bracket from sliding off an improperly tightened quick-release clamp. Personally I find these things a nuisance and I am glad ProMediaGear made them optional, but those of you who are more careless or paranoid will appreciate the included screws.

Also in the box is a strap lug attachment. This is also optional. While this is normally for hand-straps, I have been using this as one of the attachment points for my Optech strap system. In fact with another Uniloop at the right strap lug, I can have a psuedo hand-strap!

Psuedo hand strap with Optech Uniloops and base-plate strap lug attachment

Finally for those of you who are curious: The anodized finish on the plates are more of a satin gloss finish, certainly more shiny than those on the RRS and Kirk plates I am used to.

In Use

Quick release plates are fairly straightforward affairs, with the main criteria is that they do their job. The L-bracket fit into the clamps of my Markins M10 with no issues in either orientation, and being able to slide the camera off the clamps is a great bonus, thanks to the abovementioned screw stops bbeing optional. I encountered no stability issues, and the issue of the L-brackets being less stable in vertical orientation is mitigated by the light weight of the GH3’s setup.

Since this is a universal L-bracket, one downside is that the vertical plate gets in the way of the vertical grip’s battery door, making it difficult or impossible to change that battery when the camera is mounted on the tripod. The removable L-plate requires two screws in the base plate to be loosened, so it is impossible to remove it without taking the camera off the tripod when in landscape orientation. Doing so while in portrait orientation is just as good as taking the camera off the tripod anyway.

There are a couple of issues unique to my situation. First is the fact that once I add the plate, using the rear direction pad to control the AF points is a bit of a stretch. Not a real complaint, but some might want to take not. Second, and a bigger issue, is that with the L-portion in place, the articulating LCD faces some restrictions. When flipped out parallel to the back of the camera, the best I can achieve is about 45 degrees upwards, and about 10 degrees downwards. Low angle shots are still doable, but high angle shots are a greater challenge. Of course, I can always remove the L-plate.

Image showing restricted tilt on articulating LCD with L-bracket Image showing restricted tilt on articulating LCD with L-bracket

Conclusion

ProMediaGear have taken I thought I would never buy, have bought out of sheer necessity, and given it that little bit of extra features to make a product that is quite unique in the world of expensive metal pieces. I mean, Arca-Swiss quick release plates. The cost is not high either: I paid just US$90 for mine, before shipping costs. Shipping to Singapore was another US$25. Compared to the whopping US$180 I paid for my custom plate sans shipping for the Nikon D300, it is a bargain. If you have medium to large camera that you want to have an L-bracket, and a custom one is not available, the ProMediaGear universal L-brackets are hard to beat. Recommended.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather