Arca-compatible brackets for Olympus E-M1 Mark II  

Whenever I buy a new camera, one of the first accessories I add is an Arca-compatible plate attached at the bottom of the camera. This lets me mount the camera on my tripod heads, copy stands and photomacrography stands, which are all equipped with Arca-compatible clamps. I previously purchased only third-party brackets from Chinese sellers on eBay, and have always been fully satisfied with their quality and fit.

As usual, once I got my Olympus E-M1 Mark II, I went on eBay and looked for a bracket, expecting to find at least two or three altyernatives. No such luck. There were plenty of brackets for all other Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras, but nothing for this one. Several months later, the situation has not changed. This time, I was forced to go to US-based brands, in spite of their prices usually being roughly five to ten times higher (and the quality being the same or only marginally better).

I am aware of only two brands marketing Arca-compatible brackets for the E-M1 Mark II: Really Right Stuff (RRS) and Kirk. Each of these well-known brands makes only one model. I first tried to order the RSS model. It is offered in two kits: one contains only the horizontal part that attaches at the bottom of the camera, the other contains this part as well as the vertical part placed at the left of the camera (details are discussed below). For reason discussed below, I only wanted the horizontal part. It was out of stock on B&H, and since I was preparing to travel to the US for a three-week vacation (where I needed the bracket) I ordered instead the Kirk model and had it shipped to my US address. During my stay in the US, the RSS model came back in stock, and since it appeared to fit my needs better I bit the bullet and ordered it too. I therefore had the chance to try both models side-by-side in daily use for an extended period.

Kirk BL-EM1II

This is a good, but rather ordinary, L bracket. It fits the camera well, and the top of the vertical arm of the L fits snugly against the camera body, completely preventing the vertical Arca attachment from vibrating or sagging. Two small screws at the bottom prevent the plate from sliding ouut sideways from an Arca clamp. They also make it impossible to lay down the camera in a stable position on its bottom on a table, so I removed them.

Kirk bracket.

An unusual characteristic of the horizontal base plate is that it ends where the battery door of the camera begins. The right one-third of the camera bottom is not covered by the plate, making the camera with plate look somewhat lopsided.

This design reduces the weight of the plate, makes its construction easier, and allows access to the battery door to remain completely unrestricted. However, one of the functions of the base plate of a bracket a camera like the E-M1 Mark II is to extend the right-hand camera grip, allowing medium-sized hands to grip the camera with all fingers instead of leaving the little finger dangling and unused. I can use my little finger on the Mark II even without bracket (this model is slightly better and the original E-M1 in this respect), but this requires an adjustment of my hand position after grabbing the camera, so this function of the bracket is sorely missing with the Kirk bracket.

The vertical part of the bracket is offset toward the rear, with respect to the base plate. This makes it flush with the front of the camera. A cutout allows the use of a camera strap attached to the left-side eyelet. A smaller cutout near the bottom is apparently meant to allow the use of the vertical Arca attachment even when a thin cable is attached to one of the sockets on the left side of the camera.

E-M1 Mark II with Kirk bracket.

The problem with L-brackets on the E-M1 Mark II is that they prevent the LCD screen from swinging out. With the Kirk bracket, it is still possible to swing out the screen less than 90° and turn it, then fold it back. It is impossible, however, to completely swing out the screen, let alone tilt it up or down. The vertical part of the kirk bracket is attached to the base plate with two (apparent) small screws. I have been unable to unscrew their heads, and wonder whether they have been overtightened, or fastened with thread sealant. This prevents me from using only the base plate.

Kirk bracket slid out (top), and screen swung out (bottom).

The 1/4-20 bolt is housed in a slit that allows the whole bracket to slide to the left less than 20 mm. This helps a little with opening the screen, but still not completely. The screen swings out only about 160° instead of 180°, and still cannot be tilted up or down. The contouring of the base plate prevents the vertical part from being swung forward and out of the way, probably by design. Together with the impossibility to remove the vertical part of the bracket, this makes the Kirk bracket more of a liability than an asset for me, and useful only when I must mount the camera on a tripod.

I cannot remember ever attaching a camera to a tripod by the vertical part of an L-bracket, even though I have, or have had, L-brackets on several of my cameras. I find it quicker to just tilt the tripod head sideways by 90° for the occasional shot in portrait orientation, then back. The electronic levels in the camera do a better job to keep the camera in the right orientation than a bubble level on the tripod head.

Really Right Stuff BOEM1MKII base plate

RRS base plate, top (topmost) and bottom surface (lowermost).

This bracket is both different and more sophisticated than the Kirk model. The complete bracket is also quite a bit more expensive than the Kirk offering, but the base plate is also offered as a separate item and is cheaper than the Kirk bracket. The main difference from the Kirk model is that is covers the whole bottom of the camera, with a cutout that still gives complete access to the door of the battery compartment. This design prevents the plate from sliging out of an Arca clamp in the left direction. It does provide a critical 10 mm increase in the height of the right-hand grip. My little finger rests in a natural position on this extension.

A second critical feature is the addition of a steel pin at the bottom right, providing an alternative fastening for a strap, instead of the lug at the top right of the camera. This keeps the strap out of the way of the right hand. In fact, with the base plate in place, this lug becomes useless and can also be removed, so that it is not in the way of the rear dial, Fn1 button and Rec button.

A strap attached at the bottom right of the camera also lets the camera hang naturally from the strap with the lens pointing downward instead of forward, which I much prefer. This protects the front element from accidental impacts in crowded spaces, and makes the front element less likely to become soiled in rain or spray. It also makes it possible to quickly place the camera inside a rain jacket without worrying about having to cap the lens to protect the front element from contact with clothing. It even protects the LCD screen from rubbing against my belly.

RRS base plate on E-M1 Mark II.

The contouring of the base plate makes twisting about the 1/4-20 bolt impossible. The vertical part of the bracket (called L-component by RSS) is fastened to the base plate with a separate bolt and can slide out a couple of cm, much like the whole Kirk plate can slide out. It is also in the way of swinging out and tilting the LCD screen, just like the Kirk plate, but at least it is easily removable. It has a cable cutout (see images on the RSS site) that allows the tilted screen to be awkwardly inserted partway in the cutout, which reminds me somehow of a prisoner tied to a torture instrument. A proper swinging and tilting of the screen with the vertical part in use remains impossible, so I did not buy this part.

The bottom of the base plate has a cutout for storing a hex key (also supplied) for the 1/4-20 bolt, kept in place by two small but strong magnets. It is unlikely that the key will fall out accidentally. You can keep the key in the bag if you are worried about losing it, or when every gram counts. There is no safety screw to prevent the base plate from sliding out of an Arca clamp in the right direction. A cutout at the bottom of the plate right under the little-finger grip accepts a quick-release buckle of a type I have never used. A second cutout for the same buckle type is available on the vertical part.

Conclusions

The Kirk and RSS brackets do their job, but in both brackets the vertical part prevents the LCD screen from swinging out and tilting. A swing-out LCD screen is just not designed to work with an L-bracket. This might be why we have not seen so far a third-party bracket for the E-M1 Mark II. For my use, the RSS base plate, available without the vertical part of the bracket, allows an alternative fastening for the camera strap and increases the height of the right-hand camera grip, and for these reasons wins hands down in usability over the Kirk offering. Since the RSS model also allows a quick removal of its vertical part (apparently not possible in the Kirk bracket), the RSS model can be preferable to other users as well.


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