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Old 10/31/2008, 03:57 PM   #1
BlueCorn
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Which tripod?

There have been several posts asking about tripods lately.


First, a personal rant
There is more to a tripod than just holding the camera still. While that is certainly a primary function, the impact on your photography goes much further than that. When you hand hold your camera you make creative choices based on the speed of the exposure. In an effort to keep the shutter speed fast enough to get a sharp image you let the mechanics of the camera choose your aperture; not the requirements of the scene. It is no different from setting your camera on "Automatic" and pushing the shutter. You are not able to have full creative control because you are allowing the camera to make choices for you. Depth of field can suffer and so do your images. Using a tripod gives you back that creative control. You can choose the exposure combination, that the scene requires, with no concern over the mechanics. If the scene calls for f/16 and 2 seconds, you can use that exposure without compromise.

The other benefit is less tangible. Very simply put, it slows you down. It is much easier to do a thorough job of setting up the scene when you have time on your side. You can scan the edges of the frame looking for distractions and decide whether they should be included in your image or perhaps recomposed out. You can take the time to use the DOF preview button on your camera to make sure that all of the elements that you want in focus really are in focus.

There are areas of photography where a tripod just isn't practical; i.e. sports, wedding and birds in flight. For landscape, architectural, nature and macro work I consider my tripod absolutely essential. You can make good images with nearly any camera but if it's not sharp it's not a good image. Conversely, a cheap unstable tripod can actually be worse on your images than using no tripod at all.

What to look for in a tripod
There are 3 basic qualities that you can shop for when looking for a tripod. The catch is that you can only pick two:
  • Very stable
  • Low cost
  • Light weight

It works like this: If you want a stable, light weight tripod it's going to cost more. Low cost and stable is possible; it'll just be heavy. Get one that's low cost and light weight and it's not going to be very stable. If you keep that concept in mind, while shopping, it'll greatly improve your chance of getting something that will perform well and fit your budget.

Tripod legs generally come in two materials; aluminum and carbon fiber. There are other variations on the carbon fiber models but those are generally the high-end gear; i.e. basalt and magnesium. Carbon fiber is light, very stable but expensive. Aluminum can be very stable but is much heavier.

Picking the right gear
Your height should have a bearing on the model that you select. If at all possible, you want a tripod that puts the camera at your eye level without having to extend the center column. If you already have a tripod here's a little exercise:

Set up your tripod with the center column down and look through the view finder. Tap one tripod leg and watch the vibration. Now extend the column all the way and repeat. All that bouncing around is bad for your image.

Fewer joints in the tripod legs make for a more stable platform but make for a larger collapsed size. It's okay to buy a tripod with 4 section legs, just understand that impacts stability somewhat. Since I travel a lot with my gear, I consider that an acceptable trade-off.

Okay - that covers the legs, what goes on top?
The tripod head should be a separate purchase. Always avoid tripods with non-removable heads. There are a ton of different styles of available. Unless you really like the old style pan and tilt heads get a ball style head. You should also pick one that has some sort of quick-release mechanism. Some use a proprietary plate, many of the better ones use a plate based on the Arca-Swiss design. If it's a hassle to put the camera on and off of the tripod you won't use it.

Some brands to consider
Tripods: Gitzo, in my opinion, is hands down the best but it's very expensive. Manfrotto, Slik, Velbon and Feisol all make good quality, stable, tripods. Avoid import knock-off type legs. I've heard horror stories about many of them. It's not a comforting sight to see the head snap off of your tripod and have your camera smack the ground.

Ballheads: I like and use Really Right Stuff but like Gitzo they're expensive. Kirk, Acratech, Markins and Manfrotto are all viable, reliable options.

My personal setup is a set of Gitzo GT2540 legs and a Really Right Stuff BH-40 LRII head. I also use the Really Right Stuff L-Bracket on the camera and a 79L plate on my 100-400.

One last thing
If you're going to the trouble of using a tripod you should also invest in a remote trigger. It doesn't matter if it's wired or wireless; the key is that you're not touching the camera during the shot. If you don't have a remote trigger, consider using the camera's self-timer feature. If your current tripod is less than stellar, this can make a huge difference in the sharpness of your shots.

I hope that helps.

Cheers


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Last edited by BlueCorn; 12/05/2008 at 12:27 PM.
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Old 10/31/2008, 04:04 PM   #2
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P.S. While everyone has a different budget you should buy the best that you can afford. Just like skimmers, it's cheaper to buy the right one the first time than it is to buy the wrong one first and then buy the right one.


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Old 10/31/2008, 04:07 PM   #3
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Yeap, tripods are just as much a part of the equipment as the body/glass...

I have several that I use depending on what/where I'll be.

right now my main one is a QSX9500, ultra sturdy and stiff, which is important to my as most of my images are macro and lens tilt is a problem.


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Old 10/31/2008, 04:10 PM   #4
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Not to burst your bubble but you could do MUCH better than that.


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Old 10/31/2008, 04:19 PM   #5
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Hey, still learning and all the equipment is about to be upgraded.... Even though it's not the best, It's sturdy, got it for $50 on sale and it works. Plus It's always in front of the tank and I never take it outside as it's a total beast


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Old 10/31/2008, 09:21 PM   #6
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Good thread Doug. I think people really overlook the importance and convenience of a decent tripod. I went through a cheap (~$50) tripod and absolutely hated it. I purchased Manfrotto 3001pro legs w/488RC2 ball head a few years back and have been MUCH happier. The legs are a little heavier than I would like since they are aluminum but I've been able to hike with them just fine and they fit into carry-on luggage (I frequently travel for work and bring my gear with me, this was important). I have to extent the center column to bring the camera to eye level but larger legs would have been more difficult to fly with. One thing I hated about the cheap tripod is that all of the legs were connected to the center column and couldn't move independently. I found it much better to have each leg move on its own when setting the camera in some strange positions and on uneven ground. A good tripod makes photography a better experience


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Old 10/31/2008, 09:40 PM   #7
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i walked into radioshack and they had a clearance for 15 bucks. it was my first tripod purchase. honest i never thought so much was in tripods. ive bought my first dslr, macro lens, tripod and shutter release within a 3 weeek period. so as of now im going to be in this cheapo.


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Old 11/01/2008, 02:05 AM   #8
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I got a tripod for 30 bucks and its done great for me


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Old 11/01/2008, 07:57 AM   #9
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Doug, this is an EXCELLENT thread! This should be stickied up top.

The only point I would *partially* disagree with is a tripod for BIF. It can be done, and I've seen it done frequently, BUT the lay of the land and the degree/angle of "in flight" is the variable....along with the head for the tripod (Wimberley gimbal-type tripod heads).

So for the general photographer, no, tripod for BIF isn't truly feasible. But for the more advanced who have money they don't know what to do with, it can be done.

I have a Manfrotto 30001BN w/Manfrotto 3030 3-axis head w/quick release plate. I don't use it nearly as often as I should.


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Old 11/01/2008, 09:05 AM   #10
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Thanks for this thread Doug. I'm just in the process of looking for a decent tripod now.


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Old 11/01/2008, 11:18 AM   #11
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Certainly if you're using an el-cheapo tripod with your P&S camera and are happy with your results there's no reason to switch. This is really geared toward the DSLR owner who's looking to move their hobby to the next level.

I honestly can't recall the last time I took a nature, landscape or macro image without using a tripod.


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Old 11/01/2008, 01:27 PM   #12
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so how does these tripod stack up. B&H has it on sale right now.
Bogen / Manfrotto 190XDB Tripod Legs w/Fixed 484RC2 Mini Ball Head


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Old 11/01/2008, 02:21 PM   #13
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Manfrotto makes good stuff. That tripod is 50" tall with the center column down and gets to 61" with it all the way up (which you should avoid). If you're no taller than 5'8" it's probably fine.


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Old 11/01/2008, 09:37 PM   #14
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Can you recommend a particular set of legs and head specifically for shooting our Aquariums, assume lowest height setting around 30 inches from the floor and the top shooting height at 5 ft from the floor.

Also, I'd guess we would be using a remote control or timerto pull the trigger, and possibly have a larger front heavy primary lens (medium telephoto macro 2.8).

Should we look for something that can hold one of those macro geared lateral arms:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...d_Lateral.html

Do we need any special eye piece or lens tip (don't want to tip the tripod into the acrylic and scratch it...) accessories?

Thanks, Kenneth.


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Old 11/02/2008, 08:40 AM   #15
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I've used a Bogen 3011 base with a 3025 3-D head for the past 25 years. I also have a small ball head that I prefer to use on a monopod, but will sometimes use it on the 3011.

Being a former photo journalist, I've dragged this setup around with me everywhere, including the 2 years I lived in a tent and worked as a wilderness guide/photographer.

Just for fun, I recently priced the same rig on eBay, and the price is right on par with what I originally paid for it 25 years ago.

Quality is just that!


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Old 11/02/2008, 09:48 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally posted by kaskiles
Can you recommend a particular set of legs and head specifically for shooting our Aquariums, assume lowest height setting around 30 inches from the floor and the top shooting height at 5 ft from the floor.

Also, I'd guess we would be using a remote control or timerto pull the trigger, and possibly have a larger front heavy primary lens (medium telephoto macro 2.8).

Should we look for something that can hold one of those macro geared lateral arms:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...d_Lateral.html

Do we need any special eye piece or lens tip (don't want to tip the tripod into the acrylic and scratch it...) accessories?

Thanks, Kenneth.

In my experience, there is nothing unique about aquarium shooting with respect to your tripod. Nearly every tripod will collapse to 30" so that's really not a concern. I always advocate buying a tripod that fits you when standing straight up. You can always shorten the legs for a lower vantage point.

I've never found a need for a macro rail. As long as your platform is stable it's not that difficult to achieve a good focus.

Cheers


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Old 11/02/2008, 09:54 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally posted by tgreene
I've used a Bogen 3011 base with a 3025 3-D head for the past 25 years. I also have a small ball head that I prefer to use on a monopod, but will sometimes use it on the 3011.

Being a former photo journalist, I've dragged this setup around with me everywhere, including the 2 years I lived in a tent and worked as a wilderness guide/photographer.

Just for fun, I recently priced the same rig on eBay, and the price is right on par with what I originally paid for it 25 years ago.

Quality is just that!

That's an excellent example of my rule of tripod selection. While that's a stable, inexpensive setup it weighs a ton. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that.

I do a lot of backpacking and hiking. The difference in weight between that rig and what I use means that I can carry an additional lens. For me it's worth the expense to go for a lighter kit. That's a personal choice, not a recommendation. I actually have an old set of 30*1 legs that I still use but they don't leave the house.

I also don't care for the 3D, pan/tilt head. Again that's personal choice but I don't know a single professional that prefers that over a quality ballhead.

Cheers


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Old 11/02/2008, 09:54 AM   #18
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The key to stability, is having beefy legs.

In regards to macro photography specifically, that's where a quality 3-D head can really out perform all others because it has the ability to place the camera body closer to the actual subject.

Tim


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Old 11/02/2008, 10:03 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally posted by tgreene
The key to stability, is having beefy legs.

In regards to macro photography specifically, that's where a quality 3-D head can really out perform all others because it has the ability to place the camera body closer to the actual subject.

Tim

Actually build quality has to do with stability more than shear weight. That's why a cheap carbon fiber tripod isn't generally a good choice.

You're the only one who needs to be happy with your gear choice.


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Old 11/02/2008, 10:05 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally posted by beerguy
That's an excellent example of my rule of tripod selection. While that's a stable, inexpensive setup it weighs a ton. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that.

I do a lot of backpacking and hiking. The difference in weight between that rig and what I use means that I can carry an additional lens.

I also don't care for the 3D, pan/tilt head. Again that's personal choice but I don't know a single professional that prefers that over a quality ballhead.
1) It certainly does weigh a ton, but as a photojournalist carrying several film camera bodies and various lenses for each, including 200 and 600mm old school APO glass, weight wasn't so much of an issue because it was all in my car.

2) When packing and hiking/climbing/skiing etc, I carry my mono-pod.

3) I'm not referring to pan/tilt head at all, but a very compact 3-D head with fully adjustable segments for exact positioning. For studio work or product photography, this by far beats a traditional ball head due to the simple fact that you can very quickly and easily make indicated and indexed adjustments as needed. I shot professionally for years, which is why I have and use this head. I'll agree with you completely in regards to a pan/tilt head being total crap though!

-Tim


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Old 11/02/2008, 10:08 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally posted by beerguy
Actually build quality has to do with stability more than shear weight. That's why a cheap carbon fiber tripod isn't generally a good choice.
Absolutely, but then I never considered carbon fiber as being "beefy" either... It makes for great fishing and ski poles however!

-Tim


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Old 11/02/2008, 10:11 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally posted by tgreene
Absolutely, but then I never considered carbon fiber as being "beefy" either...
My Gitzo is.


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Old 11/02/2008, 10:15 AM   #23
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BTW: Here's the 3025 3-D head... If you're not familiar with it, you'll see that it can easily twist and conform to any conceivable angle, including upside down. It does however take some getting used to!




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Old 11/02/2008, 10:20 AM   #24
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Yeah - I'm familar with it. We have a different frame of reference. I don't do studio/product work. It's all nature photography in the field. In my genre it's all high-end carbon fiber and a ballhead.

For studio work it's a completely different set of requirements.

Cheers


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Old 11/02/2008, 10:39 AM   #25
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I haven't bought a tripod or tripod add-on in 25 years, and back then I don't even recall carbon fiber being an option...

My monopod (Groschupp GCS 1800) w/ removable Groschupp ball is what I used and continue to use as a portable stability device. The other thing however, is being a competitive marksman, I've also learned to significantly reduce my heart rate and stop breathing when I take a shot... The same holds true with photography. Oddly enough, while the lens companies are striving for smaller more lightweight and portable lenses, it's come at a cost, because we can no longer use our arms and legs to create a platform of stability that was anywhere near what e could previously do w/ large bulky lenses.

About all I ever do these days is product or macro photography, but in the 80's I was working for Knight-Ridder, AP and a host of other publishers. During the mid-late 80's I shot a lot of sports all around Cleveland (including some pro), and was even selected to shoot the 89 World Canoe and Kayak Championships for AP out of Baltimore.

Once upon a time I carried 3 Maxxum-9000 bodies everywhere I went, with each having a different ISO film inside. I quit working professionally when I was informed that I would have to begin shooting color... Being a purist, it wasn't happening!

-Tim


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