Manfrotto 410 geared head: Arca clamp conversion

19th August 2012
In: Gear
One of the most popular tripod heads for serious landscape use, and in particular large-format cameras, is the Manfrotto 410. This gives an excellent level of fine control and compared to other geared heads, like the Arca Cube or Arca D4, is relatively affordable. The 410s are heavy and do wear out faster than the expensive heads will, but we forgive it those sins as its plus points far outweigh those negatives. You could buy half a dozen 410s second hand for the cost of an Arca D4.

A geared tripod head allows effortless fine-tuning of composition

However an oft discussed point about the Manfrotto 410 geared head seems to be the fact you're stuck with the big clunky manfrotto QR system. I'm not convinced this is as solid as a simple Arca-style clamp, and in any case if you use your tripod with other smaller camera systems (as I do) then the big Manfrotto QR plate is ludicrously big when attached to a smaller camera. So what can you do about this? 

There are companies that will sell you a Manfrotto plate with an Arca-style clamp bolted to it to do this the lazy way, or you can achieve much the same effect yourself if you buy a clamp and screw it to the Manfrotto plate that came with your 410. The problem with this simple solution however is that you're adding a middle man into the equation, a camera bolted to a plate clipped into a QR clamp bolted to another plate clipped into the tripod. There's more chance for unwanted movement, flexing, or something unscrewing when you don't want it to.

If you're after a really solid interface between camera and tripod head (and why wouldn't you be?) and you'd like to shave a bit of extra weight off an already heavy piece of kit then you might want to do what I've done and replace the Manfrotto QR system on the 410 entirely. You can change it for an Arca-style clamp, a system which is the modern de-facto standard for quality tripod heads, and one that will suit any size of camera just by using different lengths of camera plate available from many manufacturers.

I've outlined how I went about this below. Please be aware that most of what I'm about to describe will invalidate your warranty if you bought a brand-new head!

You will need:
  • An Arca-style clamp of your choice (there are many available across the price spectrum, see footnote)
  • A bolt to attach it to the tripod - most likely a 3/8" UNC or BSW thread, of appropriate length. This largely depends on which clamp you've bought
  • An Allen key to tighten the bolt
  • A socket-set or adjustable wrench (see below)
  • A junior hacksaw
  • A metal file
  • A drill and bits
  • Some black paint if you want to be fancy

If you have access to a workshop, angle grinder etc then you're laughing and this is a two minute job. 

Firstly you need to remove the lever arm from the tripod QR clamp. This is easily done by unscrewing that big brass hexagonal bolt - you might need a wrench or socket-set to get this moving. Unscrew this, take it off and remove the springs and other small parts that come with it. This leaves you with a flat metal platform with three raised edges. Handily there is already a threaded 3/8" hole in the platform. Its designed as a holder for the spare 3/8" stud which comes with the head. But more importantly it gives us a ready made solution for attaching your clamp without having to resort to drilling through the platform.

The 3/8" hole is in about the right place too,  and depending on the size and shape of your clamp, and the orientation you want to attach it at, you may be ok now to bolt your clamp straight onto it. Everything up to this point is entirely reversible, so if you are worried about the warranty on your tripod head or its resale value then you will want to stop here.

In my case I found that the raised lip of the Manfrotto platform was interfering with the operation of my clamp, so I removed the lip from one edge of the platform crudely using a hacksaw then tidied it up with a file. It took about five minutes and a bit of elbow grease. Luckily the aluminium material is quite easy to cut through with hand tools.

Removing the platform lip to fit the clamp

Another thing to consider is bolting the clamp. There are generally two styles of clamp. One type has an unthreaded countersunk hole, designed to have the bolt go through from the top. If you have this type of clamp you can bolt straight through into the threaded 3/8" hole on the platform with a countersunk bolt.

The other style of clamp has a central threaded 3/8" hole which is designed to take a bolt through from underneath. This is the type I have, and means I needed to drill out the threads in the hole in the platform so I could screw the bolt into the clamp without being limited by the threads on the clamp and the head being in alignment. I've probably not described that very well, but suffice to say all you do is take a drill bit of about 3/8" diameter, say 10mm, and drill through the hole to slightly enlarge it and remove the threads.

After doing this you can bolt through from the bottom of the platform to attach the clamp. This method is dependent on the bolt you use not being too long, or it will interfere with the camera plates in the clamp. If you find your bolt is a shade too long and you don't fancy sawing it off you can always stick a washer or two underneath the head to absorb the excess length.

At this point you can stop if you want, or while you've got the saw out and are in the mood you can trim off any of the platform that you're not currently using to save a bit of weight and made the head slightly more compact. I did this and cut away the round end of the platform, as can be seen here. 

 After doing all this I used some black enamel paint to make the bright cut metal where I'd sawn a bit neater, and finished it off with some of clear nail varnish (my wife's, not mine...) just to protect the paint a bit. I'm sure there are better alternatives for paint for those who are more familiar with metalwork then I am.

What you should now be left with is a very solid simple universal clamp on your tripod head.  Or you may have ruined your brand new head, for which I bear no responsibility.

A note on obtaining affordable Arca-style clamps

There are various sources of clamps, but the ones I've personally used, as pictured above, were from a UK based ebay seller called CameraGearUK. I found them very helpful, and they seem to have a good range of quality far-east made tripod bits and bobs in stock. (I have no link to them other than as a satisfied customer).


Photo comment By MIKE HALLIWELL: Not bad! I'd be worried that there's nothing to stop the whole clamp rotating around the bolt. However, if you could pack atleast one side of the gap between the clamp-side and the raised edge of the platform with something. I suppose easier is to buy a longer clamp and cut it so it snuggly fits between the 2 raised edges and can't rotate. Just thinking! I've got the overly massive 405 at the mo' Cheers. Mike

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