Manfrotto Long Lens Bracket (393)
The 393 is marketed by Manfrotto as a Long Lens Support for Monopods. Whilst it will perform admirably on a monopod, it is in fact very adept at being used on a sturdy tripod; as an alternative to a gimbal head from the likes of Wimberley or Kirk.
Anyone who regularly uses large telephoto lenses will tell you of the need for a stable support for the lens. Not only will the support aid you in achieving sharp images but various muscles & joints in your body will be thankful too. If you are a nature or sports photographer, then most likely you not only need a stable support but also one that allows you to pan smoothly and track your subject wherever it moves. This is where the 393 comes in.
The picture (left) shows a Canon 500mm f4L & camera mounted on the 393 head. The tripod is a Manfrotto 055XPROB and I have used the short centre column accessory to mate the two together. This has been my favoured rig for some time now, especially useful for birding & moving mammals.
The head is made from two strong U-shaped pieces of aluminium, which can be mounted together at several different pre-defined heights. The tension knobs seen at top-left & top-right provide an easy way to adjust the freedom with which the head can swing the lens up & down. Friction can be adjusted such that the motion is fully locked, right through to extremely free moving.
At the base of the larger U-shaped plate there is a rubber covered bearing system, this runs very smoothly and allows for easy panning with your subject. Should you feel the need to customise the resistance; this can be achieved with tensioning screws hidden under the rubber cover.
The Lens attaches to the head by means of the same type 375 plate heads used for Manfrotto’s video system. Indeed this is the same system that I have used to build a mounting system for astrophotography and I can vouch for both its security & rigidness.
The plate comes with both 1/4 and a 3/8 of inch thumb-bolts. In the case of the 500mm lens, I use 1 of each size to securely fit the plate to the lens. Spare bolts can be store on the side of the plate mount as seen in the picture to the right. The brass ‘button’ seen in the picture is the release for a spring loaded safety catch that stops the lens from accidentally slipping to the ground; this is an essential & effective measure. On the left side of the plate mount there is a thumbscrew to tighten the plate in to place and lock it there.
As you will have noticed in the pictures above, I use the head in the ‘down’ configuration; that is with the lens weight resting on the plate. I find this a natural & easy way to use the bracket. It is however also possible to use the bracket inverted with the lens suspended from it, as per the picture below right. Some people may prefer this configuration.
Whichever configuration you use, you will want to balance the camera lens combination. When first sliding the plate in to the mount, move it forwards & backwards to find the point where the lens comfortably comes to balance in the desired position. Now tighten up the thumbscrew on the left of the plate mount to lock things safely in position.
Once setup the 393 Bracket is a pleasure to use, the camera system can be easily tilted or panned to follow your subject. I have used the system both in hides & out in the open, for extended periods of time; without any cause for complaint or concern. Over the years that I have been using it, my only grumble would be that it is quite heavy (1.6kg) & also an awkward shape for carrying; but heavy loads are the lot of a natural history photographer 😉 The rubber hand grips are a godsend in cold weather, helping reduce contact between hands & metal. The quick release plate system is also excellent, allowing for the camera to be removed for an opportunistic shot and then quickly replaced for further use.
A final attractive feature is the price, typically retailing for about 1/3 the cost of many other heavy duty gimbal mounts.
Manfotto’s 393 Bracket is an excellent head for use by natural history or sports photographers. It is well built and simply does its job well with the minimum of fuss.
Build quality, price, effectiveness
Awkward to carry
I happily recommend this product.