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Thread: Choosing a Tripod

  1. #1
    New Member bfeero's Avatar
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    Choosing a Tripod

    Hello everyone,

    I am interested in nighttime photography (partly inspired by this great site!) and I quickly realized that I should invest in a good tripod. In truth, I know absolutely nothing about what makes a good tripod or a good tripod head, and I'm unsure where to start.

    Here are the things I want:

    • Favorable Price
    • Sturdy in a light wind
    • Strong enough to support my 40D w/large-ish lens
    • Can support a 4"x5" view camera in the future
    • Fairly light weight
    • Will not need to extend to extraordinarily heights nor will it need to collapse too close to the ground


    I'm not looking for a tripod that can keep a 400mm f/2.8 lens rock-steady in a hurricane; I want something convenient that will enable me to take sharp photos without breaking the bank. What should I be looking at (brands, designs, etc.) and how much should I expect to pay new or used?

    -Brett

  2. #2

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    Re: Tripods

    I don't know too much about tripods, since I don't use them. As far as I know, Manfrotto tripods and heads are stellar. I think any of them would do for your needs, as long as you don't choose a monopod . However, when you are looking for the appropiate head consider the range of possible movements, size, weight and ease of adjustments. There was one Manfrotto head that was awesome for me, small, light. Here it is. However, you may want a head that has different controls for each axis.

    Cheers,
    Sebas.

  3. #3
    shreds's Avatar
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    Re: Tripods

    First point with Tripods….don’t go for a cheap plastic one. You want a pod that does a job and that is to be solid and stable.

    I have had a Velbon for over 25 years and also have a Manfrotto too. You get what you pay for and a quality pod will probably outlast your current camera. Good brands like these also have spares available and have interchangeable parts so that you can build a system. Your needs may change over the years and it is more economical in the long run to be able to swap parts rather than buying new.

    What to look for: Monopods and Tripods actually do different jobs whilst both holding the camera steady. For what you say you want to use it for, then a Tripod would seem to be best. Monopods are better with long lenses and daytime panning photography say at a sports event, but they do have many other uses.

    First thing that I would consider is that if you are doing night photography you and the equipment are going to be colder if not freezing at night. Therefore bearing in mind that a good tripod is going to be aluminium or similar, you need easy controls eg leg releases with cold hands. Some are twist lock, others are a cam lock. Personal preference here, but I have always used cams. Go and check some out at your local camera shop.

    Here you also need to consider how often you will move the tripod and will it need to be moved quickly and reset. Some tripods have built in spirit levels to assist.
    Stability wise you will find some tripods have secondary struts to help stabilise the pod. Useful but on a top quality tripod generally the legs will be reasonably stable.

    Do consider the tripod as two items: head and legs.
    Interchangeable heads are useful for different things, either a pan & tilt or a ball & socket type. Again personal preference and dependant on usage. I have one of each that can be interchanged with my monopod as required.
    Quick Release plates are a boon but make sure it is a good size and again stable when fitted. A number of these fitted to different cameras allows quick interchange and I don’t know how I used to manage without one.

    Bear in mind too that your local shop salesman may be keen to sell you the latest esoteric material (carbon fibre…great but it will push up your budget). Same goes for heads, having the latest model is likely to add to the price.

    Given that they do go on forever, you might find a decent second hand bargain, but do ensure ease of use, stability and that nothing is bent or twisted. Ask why are they selling it?

    Some tripod feet are rubber, others have spikes. Both have specific functions and a lot of tripods have both with micro adjusting feet. Definitely worth having.

    Overall just go and try a few, friends relatives, shop models and see what you like. Just try and ensure that you get something that will do the job and is built like a tank. Far better than a flimsy tripod that ends up broken and binned after a year. Weight…well I would say that you need to live with that, I have never found a lightweight tripod that was any good unless you want to go into fancy materials that will cost a fortune but will save you weight.

    Finally, as you will be using a tripod at night, some foam grips on the metal legs can be helpful at not freezing you, but DIY pipe lagging is much cheaper than custom designed pads unless they already come with the tripod at the start.

    Price wise I would expect 70 -200 should get you a decent tripod & head new and probably 50-70 % of that for secondhand.
    Last edited by shreds; 24th May 2008 at 03:17 PM.

  4. #4

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    Re: Tripods

    shreds make some excellent points. I would add one thing to that: Calculate the weight of your heaviest lens/body combination, add 10% and then double it. Now, look for a head and legs that will support that weight range. This will ensure that you have a solid, stable base for your gear. My personal recommendation is for Manfrotto; I have been using their legs and heads for many years and have been completely satisfied with them.

  5. #5
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    Re: Tripods

    Already so much great tripod advice. A tripod for use at night really doesn't require a lot different than a tripod for use during the day, except of course that it will often be much colder and you may not have as good visibility. Foam padded legs or carbon fiber (at a cost) will help with the cold, as mentioned, and the lack of visibility will mean you will need a tripod you can operate like a third arm. Make sure you are very comfortable with the leg-lock/extension mechanism (twist or flip/clamp, etc), and that the tripod head is easy to use. An important decision in this regard is whether to go with a ballhead or a pan/tilt head.

  6. #6
    New Member bfeero's Avatar
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    Re: Tripods

    All,

    Thank you very much for the wonderful advice. My purchase is going to take a bit more thought than I imagined, but I feel like I have direction now.

    I spent some time at the local camera store this weekend to look at tripods and tried out a few heads. To me, the ball heads seem to be the easiest to use for my SLR, and as a bonus, they don't have the knobs sticking out everywhere.

    I do have a question, though. What are the advantages/disadvantages to ball-and-socket and pan-tilt heads? I have only found that ballheads are very easy to move, but the pan-tilt heads might be more precise.

    Many thanks,

    -Brett

  7. #7

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    Re: Tripods

    Indeed, that's the advantage. By controlling the three axis independently, you can have better control over the movements and position adjustment. With a ballhead, you can adjust faster the overall position of the camera, but in exchange you have to control all axis when making just one adjustment. If you want to change the horizontal or vertical adjustment, you need to recheck the tilt of the camera. On heads that control each axis independently, you can have the camera perfectly horizontal and rotate it with no other worries.

    Personally, I prefer ballheads. But landscape photographers usually prefer heads with independent controls for each axis.

    My humble input of course, my experience with tripods is very limited!

    Best,
    Sebas.

  8. #8
    shreds's Avatar
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    Re: Choosing a Tripod

    Personally I prefer to use the ball head with my monopod, but for night photography, I undoubtedly prefer the pan & tilt as there is less fiddling to do in sometimes adverse and dark conditions.

    You will find exponents for both types, just go with what you are comfortable with.

  9. #9
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Choosing a Tripod

    I am not going to recommend any specific tripod but, rather I will give you some generic recommendations regarding tripods.

    1. Normally, you have to pick two of these three parameters when choosing a tripod and cannot have all three: low price - stability - light weight. However, you can occasionally make do with a lower priced tripod that is still relatively light in weight and fairly sturdy if you can settle for a tripod which is shorter. Obviously, a shorter tripod, all other parameters being the same, will weigh less than a taller tripod. The height requirement of a tripod depends on your height and whether you are willing to bend a little to use it. A right angle finder will often help when using a shorter tripod. The shorter tripod will work for sedentary subjects but is not convenient to use when attempting to follow moving subjects.

    2. I do not like a tripod which has braces extending from the center column to the legs. These braces, although ostensibly providing greater stability interfere with spreading the legs separately to work on uneven terrain or setting up the tripod in a very low position with the legs extended almost straight out.

    3. I do not like a tripod which has a geared center column. IMO, the geared center column does not provide for minute adjustments. As a corollary to this rule - I do not like to extend the center column to any great degree because this often makes the setup less stable.

    4. I like a tripod which will allow the camera to be placed at a very low position. Many tripods allow the center column to be reversed with the camera under the apex of the tripod. Other tripods like the U.K. manufactured Benbo (not the Chinese Benro) or the Taiwan manufactured Giottos can articulate and help place your camera nearer to the subject. This is a great asset when doing close-up or macro work.

    5. A tripod which is too light to support your camera/lens package is almost useless. I agree that you should halve the manufacturer's maximum weight recommendations and see how that matches up with the camera/lenses you will be supporting. However, if you have a tripod which is too heavy to be carried, it will not do you any good either. No tripod which has been left at home can support a camera in the field.

    6. I much prefer a tripod with a ball head for the majority of my shooting. I also like a tripod that has an Arca Swiss Compatible quick release. The Arca Q.R. will allow the use of a really Right Stuff L-Bracket. Although this bracket and Arca Compatible Q.R. systems are expensive, they are well worth the price and can often allow the use of a lighter weight tripod and head.

    http://reallyrightstuff.com/QR/05.html

    You can often attach an Arca Compatible Q.R. to a ball head such as the Manfrotto 488. This will allow you to use Arca Compatible plates with the manfrotto head.

    7. Often tripods which are sold new with heads attached are not the very best grade. Better grade tripods are usually sold without heads so you can select the head you desire. I bought a relatively light weight SLIK tripod which is surprisingly stable but which came equipped with an inferior head. I replaced the head with the ball head I use for my larger Giottos tripod and the SLIK works pretty well. Of course, the head weighs half as much as the tripod itself and costs twice as much.

    Finally, many photographers, myself included, have gone through a series of tripods and heads before they find the one which they enjoy using. I have finally settled on two tripods - one which is relatively tall and very sturdy and another which is somewhat shorter and lighter in weight. I will use the larger and sturdier tripod when I do not need to do a lot of walking and when I am using long and heavy lenses. I use the lighter weight tripod when I am hiking long distances.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 3rd July 2008 at 04:11 PM.

  10. #10
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Choosing a Tripod

    Hi Brett,

    There is much good advice above and the only reason for me to pipe up now is that I haven't seen anyone mention there are another couple of specific times when a pan'n'tilt will be more suitable than ball'n'socket, and that is if you are taking a series of shots for a panorama, or if shooting video. Either way, you won't want tilt changes during the panning.

    Maybe not too relevant for your stated needs, but worth a thought just in case.

    Best regards, Dave

    Owner of an ancient, but sturdy, german made Cullman 2920 (with integral pan'n'tilt head).

  11. #11
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Choosing a Tripod

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    Hi Brett,

    There is much good advice above and the only reason for me to pipe up now is that I haven't seen anyone mention there are another couple of specific times when a pan'n'tilt will be more suitable than ball'n'socket, and that is if you are taking a series of shots for a panorama, or if shooting video. Either way, you won't want tilt changes during the panning.

    Maybe not too relevant for your stated needs, but worth a thought just in case.

    Best regards, Dave

    Owner of an ancient, but sturdy, german made Cullman 2920 (with integral pan'n'tilt head).
    Now that you mention it - ball heads are not the best for following action - either with a still or video camera. In actuality I like either a standard pan head for shooting video and stills or a gimbal head for stills. Good pan heads can often be found very inexpensively on eBay while gimbal heads are more specialized and a lot more expensive. Additionally, you normally don't need to worry about placing your camera in the vertical position when following action. I can't remember a pan shot that was composed in the vertical or portrait position.

    The longer handle of the standard pan head is ideal for following action. I usually tape a remote release to the pan handle so I can both follow action and trip the shutter with one hand.

    Regarding using a ball head for pano work, many ball heads do not have a separate control for rotating the camera. You are correct that in using a ball head without the individual rotation control; you can have tilt problems when shooting the multiple pano images. However, there are many ball heads (my Giottos MH-1300 is one of them) that have a separate control which allows you to rotate the camera without having to loosen the tilt controls. The Giottos (as well as other heads) even has a scale that indicates the degree of rotation. You can rotate the camera for the pano series without even needing to look through the viewfinder to get the correct overlap percentage.

  12. #12
    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: Choosing a Tripod

    All the above advice is as usual excelent. All I'd like to add is that if you're shooting is to be done at night then please make sure you're first concern is safety. I shoot nightscapes in Manchester and although I have never had any real problems, there are a lot of idiots out there. Whenever possible make sure you're not on you're own.

    Mark
    Last edited by The Blue Boy; 4th August 2008 at 12:49 AM.

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