Robert OToole Photography

Jan31

Quick Release Clamp Design Shootout

What is the best QR clamp design for the nature / wildlife photographer?

Over the last six months I have received so many questions about various Quick Release clamp designs I decided closely examine the two most common designs, standard knob style and lever style. Some nature photographers have blogged that one style being better than another so its time to look at the facts so you can decide for yourself.

Since my current head of choice is the Jobu Design JR 3 gimbal head I thought I would start by asking Jobu for more details on their clamp designs and the pros and cons of the knob vs lever clamp types.

Why does Jobu choose a knob type QR clamp design over a lever QR style clamp?

From Jobu Design:

1.       We do not use quick release lever style clamps on our gimbal heads. From  empirical testing and physical samples, I can 100% assure you that there is not enough consistency in the Arca-Swiss style of plates to

guarantee a secure fit with every brand on the market. For customers holding thousands of dollars of camera equipment on our heads we cannot guarantee fit against other manufacturer’s tolerances in order to secure an adequate clamping force. We have tested samples from Arca-Swiss, Wimberley, Kirk, Markins, Kiwi, Foto-Pro, and dozens of no-name manufacturers, and they are all different. Arca-Swiss is a STYLE, not a STANDARD.

2.       Our quick releases open/close much further than our competitor’s clamps to take up the slack of other manufacturers tolerances. We have twice as much clamping tolerance as most other quick releases on the market.

3.       Quick release levers are prone to snag on branches, bags and clothing and possibly release, making them a liability in the field.

4.       Our standard knobs such as the one on the JR 3 are very fast to open/close (faster than the lobed design on the our Pro head) and the size is appropriate for clamping pressure on small to medium telephoto lenses. Increasing the size may cause binding due to the ability to use excessive torque. We use a larger knob on the Pro head to allow stronger pressure for appropriate clamping strength, but it is a slower mechanism.

5.       Our knobs are made from high-grade aluminum by a US manufacturer in a controlled environment. They can take a bashing, beating and continue to function day in and out.

6.       We sell something like 5000+ of these knobs on various products per year. We have NEVER had a complaint about clamp design, not ONE. This is quite a testimonial.

Example

Jobu Design BWG-J3K Jobu Jr.3 Gimbal head clamp close up. For more information on this head see my JR 3 post: http://www.robertotoole.com/2011/07/07/jobu_jr3_gimbal_head/

One of Jobu’s points about the varying Arca-Swiss style plate sizes on the market is interesting, lets look at the the sizes of some common QR plates that you might even be using. All measurements are thickness (or height) x width.

Wimberley A = 9 x 38mm
Wimberley B = 9 x 38mm
4th generation A = 7.5 x 37mm
4th generation B = 9 x 38mm
Jobu A = 9 x 38mm
Jobu B = 9 x 38mm
Kirk = 8 x 37mm

Looking at the above it looks like 9 x 38 mm is the most common size but some of the differences in plate dimensions are surprising, especially on two plates from 4th Generation. This is especially strange since 4th Generation uses non adjusting lever type QR clamps.

Example

4th Generation designs M3.5a quick release lever type clamp. This is an older example but I believe the 3.6 clamp design is unchanged.

Advantages and disadvantages

Knob clamp +
Zero chance of accidental opening
Lower cost due to fact that it is common
Many different designs are available from many different manufacturers
Never needs any adjustment for different QR plates

Knob clamp -
Slower to open and close vs lever style clamp but no adjustment is ever necessary

Lever clamp +
Quicker to open and close vs knob designs but needs careful set up and adjustment for different QR plates

Lever clamp -
Possible accidental release is always possible
Higher expense due to the fact that there are less brands of lever QR clamps
Adjustments are necessary for different QR plates to guarantee a secure fit

My thoughts

In my personal experience the lever QR clamps can be quicker to close and open but the down side to this speed is the adjustment necessary to get a real safe and secure fit with your lens plate. In the last 5 years of using lever QR clamps out in the field I have adjusted dozens and dozens of clamps for photographers to fit the different QR plate brands. Many time I have had to adjust a brand new head right out of the box. I have also had to adjustment a few famous photographer’s lever QR clamp heads so they clamped properly. Its a shame that the lever QR clamp head dealers and manufacturers are not honest with buyers about this. In fact one Mongoose dealer has stooped so low as to spread false rumors about the Jobu Jr 3 clamps not to mention failing to inform customers about the drawbacks to the QR lever clamps they sell.

My personal preference

Over the years I have used different Arca Swiss style quick release clamps and plates since the 1990s. I have used both knob type and lever clamps over the last 10 years including Wimberley I, Wimberley II, and Mongoose side mount lever QR heads. Currently I use Jobu gimbal heads with standard screw knob clamps and don’t see any reason to ever go back to a lever QR clamp even thought they can be faster to open and close. I prefer the lower cost, extra security and lack of adjustment needed with the standard screw knob clamp designs.

I hope this information helps you understand the differences in the various head designs so you can make the best decision next time you are in the market for a new head.

All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2011 Robert OToole. All rights reserved.

6 Comments

  • Comment by Myer Bornstein — January 31, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

    Robert
    UI have the Mongoose with the quick release clamp and I also bought on your recommendation the Jobu

    My preference is the Jobu the clamp holds . a couple of times I have caught the quick release clamo and almost drop the lens and camera. Also the othe knobs on the Jobu make it easy to loosen and tughten the Gimbal allowing easier following of a BIF
    Regards
    Myer

  • Comment by admin — January 31, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

    Hi Myer,

    Good to hear you are doing well with the Jobu.

    Thanks for taking time to comment.

    Robert

  • Comment by Art — February 14, 2012 @ 10:35 am

    Morning,

    I have been using the Kirk ball head, (screw knob), for around 8 years with no problems.

    Art

  • Comment by Henry Liu — April 7, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

    Thanks for the review. I have been using Kirk BH3 for 6 years and now I’m considering buying an Acratech lever clamp. With knob clamp, there were quite a few times I forgot to lock it tight, especially when I was in a rush to catch good lights. I think it is impossible to forget to lock a lever clamp as it’s so obvious and you can’t even look through viewfinder with the clamp protruding into your face. Am I missing something?

    Henry

  • Comment by admin — April 7, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

    Over the years I have spent a lot of time with lever clamps and now I am back to knob type and I know what you mean, they do take some extra time but I appreciate the extra security more now.

    If you adjust the lever clamp for the each plate you should be okay.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Comment by Ryan Weishalla — April 16, 2012 @ 11:20 am

    Slightly off-topic, but have you seen any gimbal heads which do not use a quick release plate system, but rather use a normal 1/4″ bolt system? I’ve been doing a few searches, but I have not run across one.

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