Quick-Release Tripod Plates: Manfrotto, Arca-Swiss, and Others

Quick-Release Tripod Plates Manfrotto, Arca-Swiss, and Others

Photography equipment is made up of not only camera bodies and lenses, but also other accessories like tripods and tripod plates. When selecting a tripod, height is an important factor. Also, how it attaches to the camera. There are several systems for attaching cameras to tripods, but the most commonly used are Manfrotto RC2 and Arca-Swiss. Read on to find out how they differ and which one you should choose.

When I bought my first and second tripod, I didn’t think about how my camera would attach to them. However, experience has taught me that this is a very important factor when selecting a tripod. I used many different systems, and in this article, you’ll learn why I narrowed my choice down to the Manfrotto RC2 and Arca-Swiss systems.

Use of tripod plates

Tripod plates are sometimes called quick-release plates, which is exactly what they are used for—to attach and detach the camera to the tripod quickly.

Without a plate and the corresponding locking mechanism, there would only be a screw. It can be screwed into the camera body, but it is a lengthy and somewhat risky process—you have to rotate the camera or the tripod.

Why choosing the right plate is important

Basic tripods come with a plate and a quick-release latch on the tripod side. However, both the plate and latch seem to be randomly designed based on how the manufacturer felt that day.

For basic use, the plate that comes with the tripod is enough. However, if you have multiple cameras or a telephoto lens with a tripod mount, you need additional compatible plates. Moreover, if you occasionally want to attach your camera to a backpack, belt, or another tripod, you’re left searching for another mounting piece. Both are hard to find for basic tripods because they usually don’t adhere to any standards.

This is why tripods at a certain price point use quick-release plates, for which you can purchase various compatible accessories separately. However, to make things even more complicated, manufacturers often adhere to their own standards, which are not compatible with other manufacturers.

It’s important to carefully select both the plate and locking mechanism. Then, you can commit to an entire system of compatible accessories.

Even once you’ve made your choice, it might not be forever. Many tripods have screw-on holders. You can sometimes dismount it and replace it. However, this is not always the case, so check your situation first.

The Manfrotto RC2

Manfrotto tripods are very popular both in Europe and worldwide, so it’s no surprise that their system is one of the most widely used. Manfrotto offers several types of plates. For our purposes, I’m discussing the most common—the Manfrotto RC2.

Manfrotto RC2 –plate and attachment.
Manfrotto RC2 –plate and attachment.

Like all other systems, the plate screws into the bottom of the camera. You then snap the plate into the holder from above. When you press the camera down, the yellow piston in the middle automatically closes the lever on the side, and everything holds. A small lock underneath serves to lock the lever, making it impossible to open without unlocking.

Manfrotto RC2 in a closed and secure state.
Manfrotto RC2 in a closed and secure state.

The advantage is that the plate with the camera locks quickly and holds securely. The disadvantage is that this system is mainly proprietary to Manfrotto tripods and is not very widespread. However, holders and plates are easy to obtain, so you can freely combine them.


Arca-Swiss is a Swiss company that came up with its own mounting system. It gradually became very popular, so if you see Arca-Swiss (or Arca-Swiss compatible) on a product from another manufacturer, it means that the product supports this type of attachment.

Arca-Swiss compatible plate and compatible holder.
Arca-Swiss compatible plate and compatible holder.

I have products from three different companies that didn’t initially need an Arca-Swiss type attachment, but they automatically had it.

Arca-Swiss compatible accessories: Peak Design plate, Tamron tripod collar, and SmallRig camera extension.
Arca-Swiss compatible accessories: Peak Design plate, Tamron tripod collar, and SmallRig camera extension.

The attachment is different than the Manfrotto RC2. The plate is put in place and the side part of the holder is manually tightened. This can sometimes be done with a lever, but I chose a screw for greater compatibility.

Arca-Swiss compatible system in the closed state.
Arca-Swiss compatible system in the closed state.

An unusual thing is that this system supports plates of any length, which the photographer can move in the holder and secure at any point. However, this also means that the holder has open sides, and if the plate is not tightened enough, it can fall out with the camera. This was what I was most afraid of. But, after some time using it, I had nothing to worry about. I still check to make sure it’s secure, but everything holds very firmly. However, some plates have the option to attach small screws that prevent sliding out from the side.

Sliding out from the side is half an advantage because it means you don’t have to turn the main tightening screw as much, and with a slight loosening, the camera can be pulled out from the side instead of from above.

Leg of a lens with optional screws.
Leg of a lens with optional screws.

The advantage of the Arca-Swiss is tremendous compatibility, so you may not even need additional plates for certain accessories. Longer plates can also be useful for macro panoramas or videos. On the other hand, it has a slightly slower attachment system that doesn’t feel as robust as the Manfrotto.

Other options

The tripod has always been the most natural place for attaching a camera. In 2011, Peak Design was just starting out and thought cameras could also be attached to backpacks or belts. And so began the production of Peak Design Capture equipment.

Peak Design Capture with a plate attached to a belt.
Peak Design Capture with a plate attached to a belt.

Gradually, other companies, like Ulanzi and Pgytech, started producing similar products, but as expected, they were not mutually compatible. Both these companies currently have an attachment system so extensive that you can mount it on both a backpack and any tripod. Ulanzi has more systems, but I recommend looking at the Falcam F38 with holder version 2 (current as of 05/2024). Peak Design has a tripod mount, but only for its own brand, so it cannot be considered universal.

All three systems also have automatic locking and covered sides, making them a bit quicker and safer than the original Arca-Swiss and similar to the solution from Manfrotto.

However, the shape of all the plates is directly compatible with the Arca-Swiss system, and a special type of Peak Design plate is also compatible with Manfrotto RC2.

Which system is best?

Every photographer needs to consider their needs and budget. To summarize, I would say the following: 

If you attach your camera to anything other than on a tripod, consider a system from Peak Design, Ulanzi, Pgytech, or similar. This probably means purchasing various holders in addition to the tripod itself.

If you want the most universal solution, which you might already have integrated plates in some of your equipment, or need long plates for special purposes, go with Arca-Swiss.

And if you want a relatively expandable system that may not be as compatible but is safe and found on the most common tripods, use the Manfrotto RC2.

The situation is constantly evolving, and new solutions are expected to emerge. But even older systems are still very usable and do not stop you from taking great photos.

Receive our weekly newsletter to stay on top of the latest photography trends

Subscribe to receive the best learn.zoner.com has to offer

Invalid email

By confirming the subscription, you consent to the processing of your personal data for receiving newsletter. Learn more in our privacy policy.

AuthorVit Kovalcik

I’ve been a freelancer since early 2012; photography is my living. I acquired my photography experience, both inside and outside the studio, during the previous years—when I was working all day and taking pictures every evening and weekend. I don’t have just one clearly defined topic; I like photographing people, but also cityscapes and landscapes.

Comments (0)

There are no comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *