October 15, 2013

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton Quick Release Clamp Review

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton Quick Release Clamp
Up to now Desmond QR Clamps were classified in my mind as flat, solid, robust products justifying some compromises in appearance and weight due to their low budget pricing.
Somehow, when I first saw the drawings of the new Desmond DAC-X1 QR Clamp, I was first surprised and second I figured that it would cost at least double than its siblings. Well that's not the case.

With DAC-X1, Desmond has introduced an original Skeleton clamp weighing only 61 gr, which has nothing to envy from competition at an unbelievably low price.

The clamp
Manufacturer Specification:
Height:14.0 mm (0.55 ")
Width w/ Screw Knob:83.0 mm (3.26 ")
Width w/ Bubble Level (optional):97.5 mm (3.84 ")
Jaw Length:50.0 mm (1.97 ")
Metal Converter:3/8"-16 to 1/4"-20
Weight:61 gr (2.15 oz)
Weight w/ Bubble Level (optional):65 gr (2.29 oz)

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp - Box
DAC-X1 comes in a common to Desmond clamps and rails, small, plain, white box with a model and code sticker. The QR clamp travels within a zip-lock nylon bag and is accompanied by a good quality 3/8"-16 to 1/4"-20 reducer bushing.
Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp - Top view
The clamp is made totally out of Aluminium with no rubber parts. A very elaborate design with curved beams instead of the usual flat surfaces, two safety-screw relief openings on the sides and a countersunk hole in the center which is also threaded 3/8"-16.
Both clamp jaws feature laser engraved decimal scales with short lines in 1mm increments. Longer lines with digits are set in 5mm increments. Zero (0) defines the center of the clamp and numbering increases from the center, outwards.
On the front side of the steady jaw exist two M3 tapped holes for the installation of the optional bubble level, as we can see later on. The 33mm long, captive screw knob is of one piece design, with a grooved surface for good handling even with gloves.
Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp - Bottom view
The bottom is more indicative of the fine carving art performed on this clamp. It is equally well finished, with obvious now the center hole 3/8"-16 thread and the cross type alignment/anti-twist grooves. With this cross type anti-twist grooves the clamp may be easily re-oriented by 90° increments on certain heads especially monopod heads and some multipurpose rails with matching anti-twist bosses.
Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp - side-top view
Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp - side-bottom view
The moving jaw tongues are classic in design, from end to end,  letting a small glimpse of the push-back springs when opened. The jaw opens and closes very smoothly via the screw knob, due to the very small tolerances and the thick silicone-grease used for lubrication.

Comparison with DAC-01
DAC-01 was the first 50mm QR clamp introduced by Desmond more than a year ago. A direct comparison shows the vast improvement in all aspects, introduced with its same size sibling the DAC-X1.

Desmond DAC-01 and DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamps - top view
Desmond DAC-01 50mm QR Clamp on the left and Desmond DAC-X1 50mm Skeleton QR Clamp on the right. Besides the Screw-Knob and the length of the jaws nothing is the same. A flat solid mass compared to a skeletal CAD optimized design. A mass of 106 gr against a mass of 61 gr. Every possible elimination of material resulted in a 42,5 % decrease of weight. DAC-X1 is also slimmer as DAC-01 stands 18 mm high opposed to the 14 mm of DAC-X1.
Desmond DAC-01 and DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamps - bottom view
The bottom view of both clamps is even more contrasting, making more evident the work done on the DAC-X1.

Optional Bubble Level
The DAC-X1 QR clamp is offered in two versions. Basically without Bubble Level and optionally with a 10mm bull's eye Bubble Level. Actually the price difference is just US$ 2.00 but shows that at Desmond they are very cost minded, feeling that nobody should pay more than needed.

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp - bubble level components
The bubble level is attached on the steady jaw front side with two M3 screws using an appropriate 2.5mm Allen hex key. 
Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp - bubble level attached
The precise placement of the holes, takes care of the proper alignment of the bubble level on the clamp. However the total clamp width increases from 83 mm to 97.5 mm while the weight increases marginally by 4 gr.

Fitting the QR clamp on a Ball head
Depending on the ball head design the QR clamp can be mounted on top of a ball head stem either using a pass through M6 or 1/4"-20 screw or by screwing it directly on a 3/8" or an 1/4" stud (via the conversion bushing).

Triopo RS-3 ballhead and Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp + screw
In most cases where the ball stem is equipped with anti-twist bosses and a threaded hole like the Triopo RS-3 ball head pictured in the above illustration, the DAC-X1 QR clamp is attached using an M6 or an 1/4"-20 flat head screw with a hex socket.
Triopo RS-3 ballhead w/ Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp attached
With very little effort the clamp is aligned and fixed in place securely, just tightened with a 4mm Allen hex key.
Desmond DBH ballhead w/ Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp aside
On the other hand when the ball stem ends in a 3/8"-16 stud, as with the Desmond DBH ball head pictured above, we need simply to screw-on the DAC-X1 utilizing the 3/8"-16 threads in its center hole.
Desmond DBH ballhead w/ Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp attached
In this case the ball has to be locked very well in order to deliver the appropriate resistance for tightening the QR clamp on top of the stud. Since there exist no anti-twist bosses here, it is advisable to use one drop of medium (blue) thread lock compound on the stud before screwing the clamp and let it cure for 24 hours.

Using with Arca compatible plates.

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp on Desmond DBH ballhead w/ QR plates
The DAC-X1 QR clamp jaws are strong enough and can accept Arca-Swiss® compatible plates from 4cm long with M3 safety-stop screws attached (or smaller without safety screws) up to long multipurpose rails. The laser engraved decimal scales on the clamp jaws are quite accurate, proving helpful when alignment with a nodal slide is critical (top photo above). Thanks to the deep safety stop relief grooves the 6 cm plate pictured in the bottom left photo above, can move-in by 1 cm on either side if alignment of the attached equipment is required.

Arca-Swiss® Compatibility
The DAC-X1 skeleton quick release clamp was tested with various camera plates and lens plates, as well as with multipurpose long rails of various thicknesses and widths. Plates / Rails tested were from Benro, Desmond, Kiwi Fotos, Fotoporo, Marumi and Hejnar PHOTO, without any issue whatsoever.
For the readers that like numbers, I hereunder quote detailed measurements of the clamp Jaw dimensions, so as they can decide whether this clamp is compatible with the dimensions of their plates or rails.

Desmond DAC-X1 Skeleton QR Clamp jaws view

Clamp Jaw dimensions        mm
Jaw Length50.00
Steady Jaw Height04.92
Moving Jaw Height04.95
Min Jaw Lip Opening31.99
Max Jaw Lip Opening37.77
Min Base Opening38.74
Max Base Opening45.94

All dimensions fall within the average limits, consisting the clamp compatible with all variations of Arca-Swiss® type plates and rails.
Although there is a lot of material removed, the clamp jaws are very strong and due to the very small tolerances there is no play or deformation of the moving jaw as with some really cheap clamps.
In my load test nothing moved, nothing slipped, it was rock solid.

In the past I had contacted Desmond Photographic Distribution regarding some issues with their clamps' geometry and they had responded that their engineer is working on it. Well, the DAC-X1 proves that their engineer worked really hard indeed!
DAC-X1 is the QR clamp with the best geometry among all the Desmond clamps I have tested up to now.

Very low weight for the clamp size.
Original and innovative design.
Exceptional machining, finishing and anodizing quality for the price.
Very good fitting with very small tolerances.
Very smooth operation.
Good quality metal 3/8"-16 to 1/4"-20 conversion bushing included.
Removable Bubble level (optional).
Excellent value for money.

None found up to the time of this review.

In all previous Desmond QR Clamp reviews I made some critical comments about their weight. However, I understood that the extra machining required to lower the weight would rise the manufacturing cost substantially. Finally positive criticism seems to work, as with the DAC-X1, Desmond team succeeded to introduce a vast improvement over their original DAC-01 QR Clamp. Not only they improved the geometry and reduced the weight by 42.5% but also maintained a price very close to the price of the DAC-01 when introduced more than a year ago.
I believe this clamp is a great machining example and considering the Desmond quality standards, which has proved constant by now, combined with a very low price tag, I can say it offers excellent Value for Money !

Note : The DAC-X1 Skeleton Quick Release Clamp presented in this article was kindly offered by Desmond Photographic Distribution, USA, for evaluation and review.

I hope you found the review useful, thank you for viewing.
All Photos: © 2013 S.C.Vlachos

Price & Availability:
Current price for the DAC-X1  is US$ 27.97 18.95 w/o bubble level and US$ 29.97 19.95 w/ bubble level (+Shipping where applicable). Both are available from Amazon or from eBay

Referenced Articles:

New Desmond DBH Tension Control Ball Head

Triopo RS-3 Ball Head Review

Relevant Articles:

Desmond DBA-1 Bogen (Manfrotto) / Arca Clamp Review

Desmond DAC-01 50mm Quick Release Clamp Review

Desmond DAC-02 60mm Quick Release Clamp Review

Desmond DAC-04 Arca/Slidefix Quick Release Clamp Review

Desmond DTR-1 Tripod Reducer Review

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