If you ever buy a big telephoto lens, or even macro lens with a lens collar and foot, chances are you will at some point use a tripod. After struggling with top-heavy setups on a ball head for a while, invariably you'll eventually end up with a Gimbal style setup (either the excellent Wimberley Sidekick or a dedicated Gimbal head).
Your next problem is that the stock feet on the big lenses from Canon and Nikon are not compatible with the Arca-type clamps used on your Gimbal head. At this point, you have two choices: You either buy a Lens Plate that screws into your existing foot (costs typically around the $40-$60 mark), or for slightly less than double the money, buy a replacement foot.
The advantages of the plate, aside from the lower cost, are the simplicity of installation (they screw into the 1/4"x20 tripod sockets in the bottom of your existing lens foot), and are easy to remove at a later date.
However the replacement feet are often stronger/more rigid than the original. They can be bigger (and heavier), which makes it easier to balance with a heavier or lighter body. And equally important, the distance between the foot and the lens can be different from the stock foot, which can make an important difference for use with Gimbal heads.
For our needs, we wanted to be able to use our Nikon 200-400mm f4 AF-S VR with the Wimberley Sidekick. To keep the center or gravity over the tripod head, Wimberley recommends using their replacement foot, which sits much closer to the lens body than the stock foot does. Indeed, if using a plate on the stock Nikon foot, they also sell a line of spacers to move the Sidekick out, to keep the center of gravity over the ball head.
However, in the 16,000+ shots we've taken with the mighty 200-400mm to date, only a couple of hundred of those have been on a tripod. A couple of thousand more were taken on a monopod, but the vast majority of shots have been handheld (primarily aviation photography – even with a Gimbal setup it's virtually impossible to keep up with a jet screaming over your head at 600 knots. Plus a lot of events, some Airshows included, don't allow tripods). Because of this, the 200-400mm with camera attached sometimes has to live over my left shoulder for hours at a time (supported by an OpTech strap), and having the foot at the 12 O'Clock position to use as a handle to control the camera is very important.
So, after much research, we eliminated the Wimberley Foot because it was too close to the lens barrel to allow us to use it as a handle. Instead we opted for the Kirk LP-47 replacement Foot.
Kirk makes Lens Plates and Feet for just about every big lens from all the major manufacturers (see full list at B&H Photo or Kirk Enterprises). In the interests of full disclosure, Kirk provided the specific replacement foot used in this review to us at a discounted price for long term testing. As such we will periodically be updating this review detailing how this foot holds up over time under heavy use, and in some cases extreme conditions.
InstallationThe Kirk LP-47 comes packaged as shown below:
Included are the foot, a Hex Key, 4 bolts and a dual Safety Stop kit. Installation takes about 5-10 minutes, and we recommend using Blue Thread-locker (you really don't want the foot falling off your $6,000 lens now do you?).
Installation is straightforward:
- Remove the 4 screws holding the existing foot on using the hex key provided:
- Lift off the old Foot:
- Align the new foot, apply Blue threadlock (optional, but highly recommended) to each of the 4 screws, and tighten with the hex key provided:
You'll note from the picture below, that the Nikon screws removed from the lens (top) clearly used a thread-lock compound (the white stuff on the thread), and the replacement Kirk screws are longer, because the Kirk foot has a thicker/more substantial base.
Fit and FinishThe fit and finish of the Kirk LP-47 replacement foot are up to Kirks typically very high standards. As you can see by the picture below, the Kirk foot (right) is a lot longer than the Nikon foot (left), has a thicker/more substantial base, and has three 1/4"x20 tripod sockets compared to the Nikon's two, giving more flexibility with traditional tripod heads.
Safety StopsThe Kirk LP-47 Foot also comes with Safety Stops (two screws and a hex key), shown installed at either end of the foot in the image below. If you forget to tighten the clamp, or the clamp comes loose for some reason, the safety stops are there to stop the lens sliding out of the end of the quick release clamp. With both stops installed as shown below, you have to back out the clamp far enough to drop the foot into it from the top (about a whole turn, instead of the quarter turn typically needed to release and slide out a plate). With just one safety stop installed, you can slide the plate into the clamp from one direction only. Until we've used the foot more, we've left ours off – my initial reaction is they would get in the way making it harder to use the clamp, we'll see. If you do install them, again use a thread locker.
In Use/Performance (Jan 2010)There's not a whole lot to say here – with no moving parts, the replacement foot does its job very well. It's comfortable to use as a handle (more-so than the shorter Nikon foot). It feels as solid, possibly even more solid, than the Nikon foot when mounted in a QR clamp. It basically does exactly what it is supposed to do.
The picture below shows the foot in use in sub-zero temperatures, used with both a Wimberley Sidekick and Wimberley Flash Bracket.
We'll update this review periodically moving forward, this lens will get a lot of use over the coming months/years, we'll report back how it holds up and performs in different environments.
To get an Lens Plate/Foot for your specific lens, please check out B&H Photo or Kirk Enterprises.