By Ellis Vener
If you regularly use a tripod you know the value of a good quick-release system that speeds up connecting and disconnecting a camera or lens from the tripod head and very securely holds the mass of the camera and lens combination to the tripod head. There are two common QR designs used today, Arca-Swiss’ open ended design and the various fixed cavity shape Manfrotto designs. The Manfrotto design features clamps and plates of various shapes. Arca-Swiss’ mechanically simpler, more ergonomically hand friendly designhas been copied by a broad range of manufacturers.
The newest addition to the Arca-Swiss based QR system comes from the Switzerland-based Sinar Broncolor Foba coalition, the Bron Imaging Group. Designed for photographers and videographers who regularly work with a camera tethered to a computer, the Foba BALTE plate’s unique feature is a pair of channels in the body of the plate that can carry either a USB, Firewire 400 or 800 (and presumably soon an Intel “Thunderbolt”) cables. The body of the camera (or perhaps a lens with a tripod mount foot) is the channels’ ceiling.
The design works well whether the camera is tripod mounted or hand held. It removes the stress and tension of a cable’s weight from the port on the camera and keeps the cable gathered neatly directly under the main part of the camera’s body. The body of the plate is hard black anodized black aluminum. To tighten the plate to a camera body requires a simple flat blade screwdriver or in a pinch, a thin coin like a U.S. dime. The plate is no thicker than a current standard QR plate from Really Right Stuff, In fact it has a lower profile than the base of a Really Right Stuff "L" plate.
There are two channels in the top surface of the plate; one is slightly larger than the other. Conceivably you can use one channel for the camera-to-computer cable for shooting tethered and the other for a sync cord or cable release. Or you can set it up as I have with a single cable in a U shape, so it comes out on the same side as the tethering port on the camera. If you orient the plate according to Foba’s instructions, the length of the foot runs along the axis of the lens and the cable path is oriented along the length of a 35mm DSLR body. There were no troubles using the plate for USB 2.0 or Firewire 400 (IEEE 1394a) or Firewire 800 (IEEE 1394b) cables or with Canon’s electronic cable release.
The plate is a universal design and will work on any camera with a standard 1/4" 20 thread tripod socket. To make a universal plate there is no anti-rotation lip. However the camera body side does have three hard rubber “grabber” pads that are inset into the plate with top surfaces that very minutely protrude above the camera-side surface. One pad is on the outside of the two cable channels and a larger one is in between them.
In tests with a variety of Arca-Swiss based clamps from different manufacturers—Foba, Arca-Swiss (including the adjustable width A-S locking lever types), Acra-Tech, Graf, Induro, Kirk, Really Right Stuff and Sunway Photo—the BALTE plate worked well. The clamps locked securely on the plate and the channels kept the cable tucked nicely out of the way without interfering with the clamp. Based on these tests I would be surprised if it doesn't work just fine with every other Arca-Swiss based screw drive QR clamp. As I do not own an RRS or Kirk locking lever clamp, I cannot vouch for the fit in one of those proprietary dimensioned clamps.
There are two downsides. If you regularly switch from working tethered to free ranging you’ll get tired of having to remove the plate from the camera body to insert or remove the cables. The lack of an anti-rotation lip may be a problem in the future when your camera is in vertical portrait orientation and you have a heavy lens mounted to your camera, as there is the possibility that the camera might loosen against the plate and begin to tilt downward.
The BALTE is a solid piece of engineering by Foba and manufactured and finished to their usual superior mechanical standards. If you regularly shoot with your camera tethered to a computer or plan to do so in the future, and either already use or are planning on switching to the Arca-Swiss based Quick release system, it is a good basic plate.
Current price for the Foba BALTE at online retailers is $53.99 (B&H).