The Really Right Stuff PCL-1 is a panning base with an integrated Arca-compatible clamp, designed primarily for panoramic photography. As such, it can be used horizontally with a simple nodal rail for single row panoramas, or vertically to provide the vertical rotation for multi row panoramas.
The PCL-1 is substantial, weighing in at 10.4 oz (296g), it is 2.75" across (that doesn't include the size of the knobs), is 1.2" high and has a vertical load capacity of 15 lbs. Horizontal load capacity isn't listed, but it is substantial. At $235, it costs more than many popular ball heads.
Fit and FinishThe RRS PCL-1 comes with everything shown below, including a neoprene pouch, 3/8" x 16 to 1/4" x 20 reducer for maximum compatibility, two screws (a 1/4" x 20 and a M6) and hex keys for even more mounting options.
To mount the PCL-1, on the back there is a 3/8" x 16 socket, so the PCL-1 can be mounted directly to the top of a standard tripod or other support. The supplied reducer fits in the socket to allow attachment to smaller 1/4" x 20 studs (like the top of a ball head).
Alternately, to attach the PCL-1 to a rail or other device, either of the supplied screws can be inserted from the front of the PCL-1 and tightened. To prevent twisting (very important when used in the vertical orientation), two additional 1/4" x 20 sockets can be found on the back of the PCL-1.
Overall the fit and finish of the PCL-1 is superb, as you would expect from RRS.
PerformanceThe main interest we had in the PCL-1 is to control the vertical rotation for multi-row panoramas for our Pano Head made from components from various manufacturers (pictured below). Overall it performs very well, panning is very smooth, and the clamp works as well as any we've used.
The setup pictured above works very well indeed in most situations. The PCL-1 is rated for 15lbs in the vertical position (as shown above), and indeed it works very well with a heavy setup like a gripped D700 and 24-70mm f2.8 lens. It's still pretty stable with the same camera and a heavier 70-200mm f2.8 lens, although it is possible to rotate the panning base with this much weight even if it is fully locked.
Just for fun we also tried it with a 200-400mm lens, which while technically is within the 15lb load capacity, it is simply too heavy of a setup for the clamp. In the picture below even the lightest push on the camera will cause the fully locked PCL-1 to rotate, and it is impossible to slide the camera back any further to find the nodal point – the panning base just won't hold. Of course this is only an issue if you are planning to use a super-telephoto for multi-row panoramas.
Also note, in our multi row head pictured above, we opted to use a tripod head that can be leveled with a built in panning base on top (Acratech GP in the top picture, Photo Clam Multiflex in the bottom) instead of a second PCL-1. If you buy one of RRS's multi-row pano packages, they use a second PCL-1 as the horizontal panning base. Overall this should work out fairly well, with the following reservations:
- If you are interested in spherical (360° x 180°) panoramas, you have to edit the tripod/panning base out of the shot taken straight down. As such the PCL-1 is fairly large, and the silver knobs stick out a very long way (personally, I would find it easier to edit out black knob rather than a reflective silver one). The Multiflex we used above has the same size problem, but the Acratech GP shown above much less so. The Nodal Ninja 5 we reviewed recently is also much easier to edit out.
- The rotator on the Nodal Ninja is absolutely brilliant for panoramas. Simply set the angle of rotation, and you can very rapidly rotate, take a picture, rotate, and take the next picture, then repeat until done. With the PCL-1 in the horizontal position, you have to loosen, carefully rotate/align the next shot, and then tighten between each shot, which is very slow in comparison, especially if clouds are moving in the picture.
Overall, in the vertical orientation the PCL-1 is extremely good, the only weakness being the strength of the panning lock, which won't really affect you unless you are planning on using a very heavy setup.
In the horizontal orientation, it is very strong and overall the PCL-1 does the job it was designed to do well. It is certainly stronger and more stable than the Nodal Ninja 5 we tested, but as detailed above, the NN5 has some clear advantages if you want to work quickly or are doing spherical panoramas.
The Really Right Stuff PCL-1 Panning Clamp is available for $235 (at the time of writing) directly from RRS.
Update September 2010After using this product now for several months, our opinion remains largely unchanged. This is a very good and well made panning clamp, and performs flawlessly in the heat, cold, dry, wet, and even in a very minor sand-storm. The only thing we'd like to see improved, is a stronger panning lock: even with the lock fully tightened, a relatively small accidental 'bump' will move the panning base with a pro camera/lens being supported. This happening is less than ideal when you are half way through a big multi-row panorama.
The other thing we'd recommend, is purchasing and installing an Arca adapter. It makes the pano head setup easier to pack and transport, faster to set up, and a lot more versatile. We've recently started using the adapters from Hejnar PHOTO, and the long adapter in particular gives the extra height needed to allow us to use larger pro lenses, like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, for multi-row panoramas.