Custom SLR M-Plate --
Attach the World
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: March 2012
Now that Industrial Designer Ben Wong at Custom SLR has launched the M-Plate, he probably thinks he can take a day off.
Not long ago, when Wong designed the Split Strap, he probably thought he could take a week off. And before that, when he developed the C-Loop, he probably thought he could he'd never have to work again.
The more he comes up with, though, the more photographers want. At this rate, his coffee breaks are in danger.
The $39.95 C-Loop started it all. Its two small arms swivel around a tripod screw so you can run your attached camera up and down a strap slung over your shoulder.
"We designed the C-Loop in response to how the traditional top mounted camera strap always gets in the way," Chief Operating Officer Ivan Wong explained. "By relocating the mounting position to the bottom of the camera and integrating a swivel, we discovered numerous benefits that improved the shooting experience when using a camera strap."
It's a clever idea that does make it easy to go from zero to 60 with your camera. But the strap itself kept Ben Wong up at night.
A flat strap doesn't really lay across the shoulder well, making it at least uncomfortable and, with heavy gear, even painful. So Wong split the strap so it could conform to the shoulder, increasing comfort. The $35.95 Glide Strap or Split Strap also vents heat away, he said.
And the lightweight setup handles up to 180 lbs. that hang on your hip ready for anything. Just grab the camera and it slides right up the strap. The shoulder pad doesn't move, the strap slackens and you feel like someone just handed you the camera.
People liked it so much they begged Wong for one more feature. They wanted to be able to use the C-Loop with their tripods. But since the tripod socket was occupied by the C-Loop, that was a problem.
For Wong's free time, anyway.
It took a while but he devised the M-Plate system to attach a C-Loop and strap while mounting the camera to any tripod or holster attachment. The $74.95 M-Plate actually mounts directly to Arca-Swiss or Manfrotto RC2 quick release but you can screw any other quick release into it.
But he didn't stop there, expanding the concept to include hand grips, flash brackets and video rigs. Not all of which have left the drawing board yet. A hand grip strap connection, the first of these add-ons, is available for an additional $10.
We have come to think of the M-Plate as more of an accessory system than a combo tripod/strap mount.
The tripod/strap conflict never existed before the tripod socket became a strap eyelet.
Camera eyelets were used for straps. Tripod sockets for quick release plates. No conflict.
But camera straps are a nuisance. And a sling is a great idea. Your camera slides on the sling when you need it but hangs comfortably at your side while you're on the move.
Does it have to be attached to the tripod socket though?
No. As the BosStrap shows, you can attach your sling strap to an eyelet, which is made for that kind of action in the first place. And that leaves your tripod socket free for your quick release plate.
What the M-Plate offers, though, is a docking station for a number of accessories. Do you use handheld flash? Do you shoot video? The M-Plate has a small accessory port machined into the side to screw in mounts for just such options.
They don't exist yet so don't get too excited but it's the kind of thing that makes the M-Plate worth investing in.
We tested a production M-Plate with a C-Loop and the Split Strap. We also used it with a Velbon quick release plate and a Spider holster pin.
The design and hence the assembly of the strap is complicated enough that a video is helpful. There's one on the Custom SLR site's instructions page. There are six or seven parts to the puzzle (where two do on some sling systems):
- The C-Loop itself is a nicely machined tripod screw with a swivel that rotates around it. The head of the screw has a small handle that folds up to make screwing it in or out a breeze.
- The C-Loop is attached with a rather elaborate harness of two fabric cords that attach to a plastic quick-release buckle. The buckle makes it possible to detach your camera from the strap.
- The other half of that buckle slides along the strap. This sort of buckle has two slots and is designed to fit at the end of a fabric strap rather than slide along one, so you have a small protrusion on the inside of the strap where the empty second slot of the buckle is.
- The strap itself is a one-inch black fabric web.
- One or two plastic stops can be inserted onto the strap to prevent the camera from sliding back (if you're climbing) or forward (if you bend over). Custom SLR recommends installing the back stop at least.
- The strap itself is attached with a plastic snap to each end of the split shoulder strap. The inside of the padded shoulder strap has some printed silicone logos that help resist slipping. This is a lighter design than the non-slip UPstrap but also more comfortable.
Wearing the assembly across our body was very comfortable, in fact. and the cameras were attached to it with the M-Plate hung at our side, ready for action.
The M-Plate itself is meant to be left on your camera. It is screwed into the tripod socket with an Allen wrench. The one provided by Custom SLR has a ring on the long end so you can attach it to your key ring. We preferred to insert the long end into the screw, rather than the short end (forcing the use of the long end as a handle) so we used our own wrench. That way we could just twirl the Allen wrench to screw or unscrew the nut, tightening it with the small end.
The surface of the M-Plate in contact with your camera is cork. Cork is not a petroleum product and does, unlike money, grow on trees. It will protect the bottom of your camera.
With the plate attached, you can easily slide the camera into an Arca-Swiss tripod mount or click it into a Manfrotto RC2 quick tripod mount, as the company's Kickstarter video shows. If you use another system, you can attach it to one of the plate's five holes, as we did with the smaller Velbon quick release.
A small arm protrudes under your lens from M-Plate. This is where you attach the C-Loop or the pin from . It's off the plate so it won't interfere with your tripod when you mount the camera on it. And therefore it's a good place for a Spider holster pin, too.
There are five five mounting holes to attach other tripod plates or accessories on the M-Plate, all of which are standard camera tripod 1/4"-20 threads.
The M-Link port sits on one side of the plate. You can order it with the optional $10 strap eyelet attached with another Allen screw. So you can, for example, run a wrist strap or hand grip from the eyelet to your camera eyelet. But this is also where Custom SLR plans to dock a flash bracket and video stabilizer.
We used the M-Plate on a couple of cameras for several days, primarily with the C-Loop but also with the Spider holster.
The good news is that it works as advertised. We could use the tripod mount on the cameras for both a strap and a tripod quick release. It is almost weightless.
On an Olympus E-PL1, a mirrorless Compact System Camera, we had to adjust our technique a little to zoom the compact lens. The M-Plate arm didn't leave enough room between the lens barrel and itself to get a finger through. Not a big deal.
On a Canon Rebel, there was plenty of room -- and that's a pretty small dSLR.
But on both cameras, we had trouble getting into the battery compartment with the M-Plate attached. If you remove the optional strap attachment and slide the plate all the way over, you can just clear enough room to open the battery compartment on the Rebel XTi. No such luck on the E-PL1, though. You need 1.25 inches from the center of your tripod socket to the edge of your battery compartment to clear the plate.
We didn't have any trouble attaching other tripod screws to the M-Plate, include the Cotton Carrier mounts and the Velbon quick release but the Spider pin didn't screw completely in, although it was firmly attached.
You might be concerned whether your camera's tripod socket was designed to handle the weight of your camera and lens. We can't answer that but Custom SLR has a YouTube channel of their testing videos.
We found the M-Plate, like the other Custom SLR products we've tried, thoughtfully designed and carefully manufactured. And we're actually looking forward to that flash bracket and video rig.
The one drawback is battery compartment access. The M-Plate does not release from the camera quickly, making it a bit of a chore to change batteries. So if your shooting requires regular battery swaps, this may not be the way to go.
Otherwise it uniquely -- and elegantly -- solves the tripod/strap connection problem.