Author Topic: Tripod recommendations?  (Read 1831 times)

prairiedust

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Tripod recommendations?
« on: October 11, 2010, 02:18:21 PM »
I broke one of the leg tension brackets on my tripod last night.  :-[ Do you have any recommendations on a practical tripod (sturdy but not too heavy) for hard outdoor use?  It won't need to accomodate anything larger than a D300 system.  My current head (Manfrotto 322RC2) is a problem to use so I'd like to replace it too.
Dave Leiker (PrairieDust)
Exploring the Rural Midwest

keithsnell

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2010, 03:04:22 PM »
Hi Dave,

I find making tripod recommendations really tough.  I have a very strong preference for the Gitzo carbon fiber tripods, but they're so darned expensive that most people think I'm nuts when I recommend a tripod that costs five to six hundred dollars, with a $350 tripod head (Arca Swiss Z-ball) to match.  Unfortunately tripods are one of those things that "you get what you pay for."  Personally, I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than a Gitzo CF with an Arca Swiss ball head.  I've tried many other alternatives over the years, including some relatively expensive alternatives, and they've all come up short.  I've owned my Gitzo CF tripod for about 12 years now, and it is pretty much bullet proof.

Obviously not everyone can justify $900 for a tripod and ball head combination.  (Or maybe they can try to justify it, but their spouse would think they've gone off the deep end.)  With most other tripods, I've had to resort to techniques like using mirror lockup in combination with a remote release in order to capture really sharp images.  So, if I'm using those techniques (mirror lockup and a remote release) it doesn't really matter much if I'm using the cheapest tripod from Walmart, or a $250 "midrange" tripod.  My best advice, if you can't justify the $900 for a really steady Gitzo/Arca Swiss combination, is to buy the least expensive Walmart or discount  tripod that can to extend to your shooting height without using a center post extension.  You can pay more for a tripod, but you don't really gain a significant amount between the Walmart/Sams/Costo/Best Buy version and the $250 - $300 camera store version. 

Tom Hogan says it best when he talks about avoiding the cost of "incremental upgrades."  He (and many other pro photographers) recommend against spending money on "incremental upgrades" to your tripod until you finally pay the price for a really solid setup that you will be satisfied with.  They all recommend buying the cheapest tripod you can get by with, and saving your money for a really solid setup like the Gitzo. 

So my advice?  Shop at Walmart or an equivalent and buy a tripod that is tall enough without extending a center column, and save your allowance to buy a Gitzo (3 series) carbon fiber (or watch ebay for a used 3-series Gitzo without center column).

Probably not the advice you were looking for, but the best I can do.

Keith


Chris

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2010, 03:40:08 PM »
Heh. I didn't think I'd have any thing to say but maybe I do.  :D

I have a cheap Sunpack from walmart. It works. The only thing I don't like is when you get it right where you want it then try to tighten it, it moves. It doesn't move enough to be a problem for a group photo but it stinks when trying to get  a picture of the moon at full zoom. I haven't tried to use it on anything that moves faster than the moon. lol

I really like my gorillapod. You might look at the Gorillapod SLR Zoom or Focus. They're probably too short though.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2010, 03:44:22 PM by Chris »

Chris

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2010, 03:47:04 PM »
By the way, were you thumping frogs with it? ;D

prairiedust

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2010, 04:49:24 PM »
I was on uneven ground and accidently put too much stress on a leg to keep my balance.  There aren't many designed to handle the weight of both camera and the photographer.  The Gitzo sounds like what I need.  The initial cost is relatively high, but that one has served you for 12 years so it sounds like a great investment to me.  Thanks for the help.
Nope, didn't whomp the frog. I was annoying but not a real threat. I was laying on a boardwalk over a wetland area, camera hanging over the edge. I kept expecting the little guys to bolt, but they stayed very still.
Dave Leiker (PrairieDust)
Exploring the Rural Midwest

keithsnell

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2010, 05:28:35 PM »
Since you're interested in the Gitzo, here's a link to the one I would recommend: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/569166-REG/Gitzo_GT3531S_GT3531S_Systematic_6X_Carbon.html   Itís the Gitzo 3 series carbon fiber tripod, and the price is currently $684 after rebate. (You want the three-section 3 series tripod, not one from a lower series, or with more sections.  The LS version, which is slightly taller is recommended for people over 6' tall.)  The load capacity is "only" 39 pounds, but I've seen a full grown man put their full weight on the tripod with no ill effects.  (The Gitzo reps will typically do this to demonstrate the strength at trade shows.) 

in my opinion the best tripod head for this set of legs is the Arca Swiss Z-ball:  $388 http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/469077-REG/Arca_Swiss_801103_Monoball_Z1_sp_with.html  Some people will swear by the Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head at $415 http://reallyrightstuff.com/rrs/Customkititems.asp?kc=BH%2D55%2DPro&eq=  Personally I think the Arca Swiss holds weight better without drooping, and it's slightly less expensive.

Hope this helps.

Keith

keithsnell

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2011, 09:41:21 AM »
Since Chris mentioned in his gallery comments that his next serious purchase will probably be a tripod, I thought I would update this thread.  Based on the other articles I've read on lensrentals.com, I was curious to see what Roger Cicala has to say about tripods.  Roger is in the unique position of being able to test out literally hundreds of different products, and to see how they fare over time.  His advice is consistent with what I have read by other photographers that I trust.  

Roger hit the nail on the head when he says "most new photographers spend a year or two trying to work without tripod, and then buy a cheap tripod-and-head combination. Only after these two stages have been completed is the photographer usually ready to buy a good quality tripod and ballhead."  When I read statements like this nowadays, I just smile and nod.  I usually spend "due diligence" trying to convince folks to buy a decent tripod, but as Roger said, if they're not ready, they're just not ready, and although they might understand what I am trying to tell them on a logical level, they're often not ready to make the financial commitment necessary to buy a good quality tripod.  If they stick with photography as a serious pursuit, eventually they will learn for themselves that a good quality tripod is one of the best investments they can make.  

Unlike camera bodies, which now become obsolete in 3 or 4 years time, my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod is still going strong after 13 years of HARD use.  I spent just a bit over $500 for it brand new, and considering how well that tripod has worked for me over the years, I think it was probably one of the very best investments I've made.

Here's what Roger has to say about choosing a tripod:  http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2009/05/choosing-a-tripod  If you ever see yourself shooting with a long lens in the future (300mm f4 or longer), then I would recommend saving your money and jumping right up to the Gitzo 3 series tripod I recommended to Dave earlier in this thread.  If you don't think you will ever be shooting with any of the exotic long lenses, then I think Roger's recommendation for a Velbon El Carmaigne 640-4 is right on the mark.

And here's what he has to say about choosing a ball head:  http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2009/06/choosing-a-ballhead  Just in case you don't get the point when you read through Roger's article, if you are serious about buying something that you can grow into in the future, buy a decent ball head that uses Arca-Swiss style quick release plates.  If you don't, you'll be spending more money in the long run to upgrade to an A-S type system (once you figure out that all those other photographers really did know what they were talking about.)  I don't have any experience with the Markins heads; however Roger's recommendation is strong enough that I would probably go with it if you are looking for something in the "medium duty" range.  If you will be shooting with longer macro lenses, or with super-telephoto lenses, then one of the heavy duty ball heads with a Wimberly Sidekick is a great combination.  In the heavy duty ball heads, I would definitely go with the Arca-Swiss Z1 or equivalent.  This head has the least amount of "droop" of any head that I have ever used.  

Hopefully this helps,

Keith


« Last Edit: April 25, 2011, 09:48:27 AM by keithsnell »

Chris

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2011, 09:22:38 PM »
Thanks Keith. I'm not sure when I'll be able to upgrade from my walmart special but I'll be jumping a step or 2 in the upgrade path. :) I don't know that I will be buying any long lenses but I have already thought about renting one when the need comes along. The Gitzo with the Arca-Swiss Z1 seems to be a good combo that should last many years.

Lars

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #8 on: April 27, 2011, 05:23:27 AM »
I bought a Velbon Sherpa Pro Carbon tripod and a cheap Quick Release Ballhead (noname china made )
and im satisfied with that combination.
But then I dont use big heavy telelens.

Lars

clay

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2011, 02:32:42 AM »
Keith, Thank you for reviewing and updating your recommendations on "sticks" and heads.  Do you think that, with our upcoming AK cruise we'll shoot handheld on the rail?  With a little backpacking in mind -  my reqmts are modest under 11 lb inc glass (alas). I like IS, which ups the ante, but I would still expect to stay under 11 # with my next couple dream upgrades. 

Q:  To avoid me carrying the wt., will a Gitzo 6X CF Series Zero fly ?  # 0541 (I prefer 4 over 3 for the height) or fly around the landscape ?  with any kind of A-S Z-1 on top (as in heavy?) Do you have to hang a bag from the hook of a 1.7# 19" tripstand? Or is this pricy little devil solid? What think you? What are you packing on the hikes?  Also what do you think of the Really Right Stuff BH-25 "Ultra-light" in this situation?:Or are you saying Series Three period?  Thanks!!

keithsnell

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2011, 07:24:20 AM »
Keith, Thank you for reviewing and updating your recommendations on "sticks" and heads.  Do you think that, with our upcoming AK cruise we'll shoot handheld on the rail?  With a little backpacking in mind -  my reqmts are modest under 11 lb inc glass (alas). I like IS, which ups the ante, but I would still expect to stay under 11 # with my next couple dream upgrades. 

Q:  To avoid me carrying the wt., will a Gitzo 6X CF Series Zero fly ?  # 0541 (I prefer 4 over 3 for the height) or fly around the landscape ?  with any kind of A-S Z-1 on top (as in heavy?) Do you have to hang a bag from the hook of a 1.7# 19" tripstand? Or is this pricy little devil solid? What think you? What are you packing on the hikes?  Also what do you think of the Really Right Stuff BH-25 "Ultra-light" in this situation?:Or are you saying Series Three period?  Thanks!!

Hi Clay,

If you went with the 0541, I would definitely recommend a smaller head as well.  The BH-25 would be a good match as far as size and weight. 

That said, you're giving up a lot of support for only a few pounds.  The difference between a 3 series Gitzo and the 0541 is only about 2.7 pounds, and the difference in head weight would be just over a pound, for a total weight difference of less than four pounds.  If you were to get a longer lens in the future (even something like a 70-200 with a 2x teleconverter) I think you would want something a bit sturdier than the 0541.  I've read many of the reviews on the 0541 tripod and BH-25 head combination, and most people rave about it.  I've also personally "tested" CF tripods lighter than the 3-series when at places like NANPA, and I don't trust the level of vibration that travels through the skinnier legs of the lighter tripods. 

I think a more pertinent question to be asking yourself, instead of focusing on the weight, would be how do you intend to carry the tripod?  If I'm "traveling light" I typically pack just my D3 and 28-70 (and maybe flash, bracket, cable release, bubble level, etc.) in a Mountainsmith lumbar pack.  The 3 series tripod with my BH-1 ballhead could strap on the bottom, but it sticks out the sides and is a bit too heavy not to be awkward, so I end up carrying it in my hand.  At that point, the difference between carrying 6 pounds or 2+ pounds in my hand is really insignificant.  The 0541 and BH-25 probably could be strapped on the bottom of the lumbar pack more easily, but even then I'm guessing that the shift in weight distribution would be enough that I would actually prefer carrying the tripod in my hands.  If, on the other hand, "traveling light" means that you carry a midsize camera backpack, then the 0541 could easily be strapped on the back or sides without affecting the weight distribution of the pack that much.  My 3-series and Arca-Swiss BH-1 easily strap on the back of my mid-to-large size Lowepro AW Pro backpack (which is about 23 inches tall) however I still find that I carry the tripod in my hand most of the time.  It's just easier for my to pick up the tripod and start walking instead of taking the time to strap it on the pack, and I don't have to unstrap the tripod each time I want to use it.  And when I get to a location where I'm photographing a lot, I leave the camera mounted on the tripod, and so would obviously be hand-carrying it at that point.

So instead of concentrating on the weight, I would ask these questions instead:

1) does it fit in the suitcase I intend to travel with?  (That's why we bought Rebecca's 4-section 3-series tripod instead of my 3-section tripod.)
2) Is it compact enough that I can comfortably strap it on my camera bag when hiking?  And have it not get in the way/snag on branches, or affect the weight distribution?  Really, honestly?  And if not, does carrying 4 extra pounds in my hands really matter?

Here's another thought.  If you hike with your tripod strapped to your camera pack, and your camera in your hand or hanging on a strap around your neck, how often do you think you will actually use your tripod?  :)

Almost all of the reviews I read about the 0541 and BH-25 combination were very, very positive.  But when I compare the "performance" I get for the price of the 0541 with the performance I would get for the price of a larger version of Gitzo CF tripods, then the larger ones start to look like a bargain. :)  It's just a fraction of a pound to upgrade to the next larger series, and then a fraction more to the next one, and then before you know it, you're at the 3-series. :)

BUT, If you will take a 0541 on your hikes, but would leave a larger tripod behind, then definitely get the 0541 and BH-25.

Rebecca and I plan to take our 200-400 f4 lens on the cruise, and when we're using that lens we will definitely be using a tripod (we'll be taking her 4-section 3-series tripod).  For most of the "day trips" I'll probably travel light (D3 with a single midrange zoom) and will probably even make the decision to leave the tripod behind.  But then again, we have two young children and all their "stuff" to keep track of, so I can't get too obsessive about my photography gear on this trip.  If this was a photography trip instead of a family vacation, I would be taking my tripod with me everywhere.

I hope this rambling explanation helps?

Keith



keithsnell

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2011, 08:16:44 AM »
P.S.

I should add that one of the reasons I chose the D3 over other cameras available at the time (and for the most part, available now) is because its sensor design (and that of the D3s and D700) is optimized for the situations I find myself in when shooting travel photography images (for potential submission to our stock agent).  Because the sensor design enables me to shoot at higher ISOs/shutter speeds without significant loss in dynamic range or image clarity, I can capture high-quality images (when shooting hand-held) that I wouldn't be able to capture with most other cameras.  I made the conscious decision to go with a (full frame) lower megapixel sensor optimized for higher ISOs because it gave me the latitude to shoot hand-held when I needed to.

Just thought I should tag that "caveat" on to the discussion about tripods, and explain why I feel comfortable "hand-holding" for our travel photography images. :)

Keith
« Last Edit: April 29, 2011, 09:58:51 AM by keithsnell »

clay

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2011, 02:36:04 PM »
Keith, As always your answers are astute.  I've not yet upgraded my canon body, but feel tinges in my salivary glands... 

Re:  Vibration, esp onboard ship 1) could that be overcome by settings (max exposure, High ISO, fast , timer, lock-up?) and Image Stabilization? on my well-worn Rebel xti and a rented 400L with IS? Maybe DO.  So you're right to remind me of the possible future heavy glass, but my overall equipment list is at issue.  We are flying with baggage limits on some legs. Note:  "clay's" recently "famous" wide angle lens is not IS.  So we have ship rail and hopefully elbow room?,  preferably tripods.  2) What is the difference in vibration, with a small sandbag of water bottles, ruinous/perceptible in a 13 x 19 coffee table art print?  3) would canon image stailization (IS) best be left on since the ship is moving anyway?  And we do not have a cable/remote.(probably should be discussed in a different forum)  4) Does IS even cover the full micro to macro vibration range (macro waves haha) ?

That's four questions, but they're yes/no. haha  I'm thinking glacier blues and whites, dense coast, bears on low tide. 

Answers to your earlier email:  I agree weight is not the most important issue.  "Light" for me is toting less than 20# - 2-3 extra # is okay especially for lenses,  but 2.7 is pushing it) I'm starting justify trade offs.  Carrying a pod by hand for a mile or so is my preference too (the shoulder straps are interesting). 

My art/style is either scientific/doc or guerrilla, arty, natural, but this trip is for fun like yours, so I'm wondering about quickness of set-up and unobtrusiveness in crowded conditions.  Monopoles are not attractive to me because they're not hands-free.

You said long ago that these recommendations are so difficult.  The equipment is so expensive (currently $800 -1k for the G-pod + Z-head ).  Yes they last decades.  We can't take the series 3 everywhere, maybe not a series 0 either. 

I am still hunting for Gitzo 6X CF performance stats and pricing to decide if the damping makes a difference for my rqmts and set-up - both now and as we journey into the expensive world of photography. So your help is fantastic, and not rambling.  I am so glad I asked!

keithsnell

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2011, 03:19:00 PM »
Hi Clay,

If you are really thinking about taking a 400mm on the trip, then I would say the 0541 is insufficient.  I'd definitely recommend a 3-series tripod if you're shooting with serious glass like that. 

IS will help with the ships vibration, as long as you are shooting in the range of 1/250 to 1/500 of a second. :)  (IS or VR actually has a very narrow range of shutter speeds where it's really effective.  Below 1/250 you will have motion blur from the ship's movement, and above 1/500, you should turn off IS.  (The IS system can't respond fast enough to compensate for movement at shutter speeds above 1/500 of a second, and sometimes this will add blur to your images as the IS system struggles to keep up.)  If you 're shooting in good light and can get above 1/1000 sec, that's where you should be.  I'd always choose a wider aperture and faster shutter speed (and "midrange" ISO) when shooting from the ship.  (Lookup you sensor at www.DXOMark.com, look at the dynamic range graph, and find where dynamic range drops below 10 stops.  This is typically a good guideline for the highest ISO you can shoot at without significantly degrading image quality.  (It's right at ISO 400 for the Xti.))

Cindy Miller Hopkins, a good friend of ours that makes much of her living from the travel photography images she obtains while on cruises, says "don't underestimate the movement of the ship, even on calm seas."  So, to answer your question, I wouldn't count too much on using mirror lockup and timer, etc. to stop the movement while on the ship.  The bottom line is that you'll need to use faster shutter speeds than when on land.

Does this help?

Keith

clay

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Re: Tripod recommendations?
« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2011, 03:43:50 PM »
Yes, excellent points again.  This interview should be in a hot photo website with contests and experts.  Fast shutter speeds... did you just rip this off in answer on a bright and colorful Friday AM?  (Sorry for the garbled "hot" settings" I was mid edit cut and paste)