You may have encountered the term ‘Arca-Swiss’ when learning about optical equipment, if you’ve been researching a spotting scope or a tripod. Manufacturers commonly refer to Arca-Swiss plates in the world of birding optics and accessories.
When planning to buy a spotting scope or binoculars to mount on a tripod, it might help to know about Arca-Swiss plates. The objective of this article is to explain in more detail:
- what an Arca-Swiss plate is
- what exactly an Arca-Swiss plate is used for in birding
- how the Arca-Swiss system compares to Manfrotto’s RC2 quick release system.
What is an Arca-Swiss plate (the short version)?
In summary, an Arca-Swiss quick release (QR) is a universal system that allows optical instruments to be easily mounted to tripods, no matter what the brand is.
The standard fitting on optical devices is a single standard screw sized ¼-20. But having to line up and fit a screw takes time and care.
Instead of having to screw and unscrew the spotting scope or binoculars each time you want to mount them on to the tripod, you can attach the Arca-Swiss system. This consists of a plate and a mount. These connect together securely in a quicker and simpler way than using the standard screw fitting.
Feel free to read on for more details about how the system works and how to get the best from it.
What does ‘Arca-Swiss’ compatible mean?
Arca Swiss is the name of a company that has been producing products, mainly for photography, since the 1960s.
As part of their modular system of products, Arca Swiss developed a new type of plate. This plate allows different pieces of equipment to be attached to each other but remain easily interchangeable.
The plate is referred to by different names, including:
- Arca-Swiss quick release system
- Arca type
- Arca style
It is an ‘open channel’ or ‘open cavity’ quick release system. The plates can be different sizes. They all have a milled dovetail on them that is an integral part of the design.
What is the Arca-Swiss quick release system?
It’s a two-piece system that comprises:
- A plate
- A mounting base or clamp
1. The plate
The plate attaches to the optical device (in the case of birding, a spotting scope or binoculars, though it could be a camera).
The Arca-Swiss plates can be different lengths but are usually 35 mm wide. You attach this plate securely to the foot of the spotting scope or the binocular adapter.
2. The base, also known as the clamp
The clamp screws onto the tripod head, then the scope fits on top. It is a simple attachment that doesn’t have to be screwed in or unscrewed.
There’s a latch or button that opens the clamp. Once this is opened sufficiently the plate slides in and locks into place.
How does an Arca-Swiss plate work?
The Arca-Swiss head has two pins that hold the optical device on the plate and prevent it from accidentally sliding off the mount.
Once it’s attached to the tripod head, the loose plate (and whatever optics you’ve attached to it) can slide back and forward without falling off it. This allows you to balance the weight of your spotting scope and then lock the plate into the perfect position.
It’s especially helpful to use with a tripod head that features a counterbalance that hold your spotting scope in the same position when you let go of it.
One thing to be totally sure about is that the safety locking system is fully functional with the type of tripod and scope that you have, so you can be sure that the scope is secure on the tripod head.
What is the advantage of using an Arca-Swiss compatible plate?
While some of the ‘feet’ of spotting scopes fit many brands of tripod, some feet are non-standard and are not necessarily compatible with equipment made by an alternative manufacturer.
The advantage of using the Arca-Swiss plate is that it is now standard across lots of different types of optics. These include spotting scopes, binocular adapters and cameras. This makes the Arca-Swiss plate a very versatile choice because it allows you to switch easily from one type of optical device to another.
For example, the Arca-Swiss quick release system benefits birders who like to use binoculars mounted on a tripod to with their wide field of view to scan the landscape.
Then, once they have sighted something to zoom in on, using the quick release system, they can just switch over to their spotting scope. As long as both optics have an Arca Swiss QR plate on their base or foot, then they are interchangeable.
Is Arca-Swiss universal?
Over the years this plate has been adopted by many other brands so it is now a universal standard for photographic and optical gear, such as tripods and spotting scopes.
Though the plates can vary a little bit in shape, they are intended to be universal. Therefore they normally fit with other Arca-Swiss type plates made by lots of different manufacturers.
Read on further to understand how and why the Arca-Swiss type plates can differ.
Are all Arca-Swiss type plates the same?
The bottom part of the Arca-Swiss system, the quick-release clamp, always stays the same.
The plate – the part that attaches to your device – is the part of the system that might look different.
You can buy all sorts of Arca type plates in different sizes and dimensions. Probably their locking buttons, latches or levers will look different or operate with different mechanisms. Some are metals while others are machined from metal.
This is because manufacturers design each plate to be attached to a particular device. For this reason it can be worth buying an Arca-Swiss plate produced by the brand that made your optics or tripod head.
Let’s look at the two different options for choosing an Arca Swiss system.
Do I need to match the brand of Arca Swiss plate to the brand of my scope or tripod?
There are so many Arca type plates available from sellers, but will any of these be compatible with the spotting scope that you are buying, or the tripod that you already have?
Option 1 – buy a generic Arca Swiss plate
There are now many of these Arca style plates available from different manufacturers. So one solution is to buy one of these generic plates and attach it to your equipment.
Option 2 – match the brand of your Arca Swiss plate to the brand of optics or tripod
Another solution is to look for an Arca type plate made specifically for the brand of spotting scope and/or tripod that you have. While those generic ones should fit in theory, it might be better to get one that is tailored exactly for your device.
Sometimes matching the brand of plate to the brand of your optics and tripod just means they fit better. The drawback of this can be that the branded Arca Swiss plates can cost a bit more.
What is an RC2 plate?
RC stands for Rapid Connect. Manfrotto is the original manufacturer of the RC2 unit.
The RC2 plate is another version of attachment that is becoming less popular and therefore less available, since so many manufacturers are taking the decision to switch to the Arca-Swiss style.
What is a Manfrotto RC2 plate?
These are the attachment plates made by the popular and long-standing Italian manufacturer of optical and photographic equipment Manfrotto. They are solidly made and tend to be a bit chunkier or wider than the Arca Swiss plate.
These sorts of plates work by fitting directly and statically into the mount. Unlike the Arca Swiss plates their mechanism does allow the plate to slide back and forth. Once attached, it sits in one place.
To make things more complicated, some of Manfrotto’s plates are unique to them, incompatible with other systems. On the other hand, some of their tripod heads do fit with Arca-Swiss compatible plates.
Arca Swiss vs Manfrotto RC2 system: which is better?
One advantage that the Manfrotto plates have, in comparison with the Arca-Swiss plates, is that without this facility to slide, they do not have the locking screws that protrude from the Arca Swiss.
So the Manfrotto plate sits flatter than the Arca Swiss plate, which can better suit the design of some optics or accessories.
Some users find the RC2 system easier to use. The main reason for this is the way the plate connects into the base. It just clicks in and locks, rather than having to be slid in. This makes it simpler to set up with just one hand, in the event that you want to hold the tripod with the other hand, for example.
Wider choice of Arca-Swiss plates
However, it’s possible to get Arca Swiss plates of longer lengths, to match the front-heavy design of spotting scopes (in comparison to some cameras, for instance). This means that some people prefer to use the Arca Swiss system across all their optics and tripods.
The advantage of the Arca Swiss system is that it is the more common choice and therefore there’s a wider selection of different plates. So you have more opportunity to find a plate that is very well matched to your scope or binocular adapter.
Summary: why it’s important to know about Arca-Swiss plates
To keep your optical equipment safe, it’s important to have a strong and fully functioning point of attachment. When anyone mounts a spotting scope or binoculars to a tripod, they want to be confident that that method of attaching is secure.
Of course it helps if the attaching process is quick and easy to use as well. This is the key benefit of the Arca-Swiss system.
As a universal system of attaching optics to tripods, Arca-Swiss simplifies setting up and detaching scopes and binoculars. Firstly, put the Arca-compatible mount properly secured on the tripod head. Then it’s ready to receive the Arca compatible plate screwed onto the foot of your optics.
With this system in place, swapping from one type of optics to another is simple. It also saves time and trouble.
With this increased knowledge about your options for quick release systems, we hope you feel more able to consider which will work best with the birding equipment that you already have. For more information about using optics with tripods, we have this article: How to attach a spotting scope to a tripod.
- 1 What is an Arca-Swiss plate (the short version)?
- 2 What does ‘Arca-Swiss’ compatible mean?
- 3 What is the Arca-Swiss quick release system?
- 4 How does an Arca-Swiss plate work?
- 5 What is the advantage of using an Arca-Swiss compatible plate?
- 6 Is Arca-Swiss universal?
- 7 Are all Arca-Swiss type plates the same?
- 8 Do I need to match the brand of Arca Swiss plate to the brand of my scope or tripod?
- 9 What is an RC2 plate?
- 10 Arca Swiss vs Manfrotto RC2 system: which is better?
- 11 Summary: why it’s important to know about Arca-Swiss plates