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Thread: tripod for wildlife photography

  1. #1

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    tripod for wildlife photography

    Would love to hear some recommendations for a tripod for wildlife photography.

  2. #2
    davidedric's Avatar
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Hi Bernie, you are going to get a range of views on this. An awful lot depends on what kind of wildlife photography you have in mind.

    My own experience is mostly on African safaris. There I find things just happen too fast and in any direction to use a tripod. I would say that you are much better to rely on ISO and shutter speed to freeze motion. In these circumstances you won't have time to set up your camera for the shot.

    Now over to the tripod using brigade

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    The wildlife specialists need to come in and advise on this one. However, if I was really thinking about getting into wildlife photography, my thoughts would be turning, I think, to a monopod rather than a tripod.

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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    I agree. We really need more info from you before going to far with recommendations. What type of wildlife - birds, herds, backyard, will you be hiking, traveling on planes, sitting in blinds or moving about? Just a few things that impact.

    I've used a tripod when shooting elk herds in a national park where they are pretty much staying in one place and the light is low. Also used a tripod when shooting mountain goats on Mt Evans - again where the herds were moving slowly. With birds in the wild, I've found it just gets in the way. For birds in the backyard visiting a branch placed near a feeder, I use a tripod. A regular contributor here uses a tripod mounted on a kayak. Foxes move too fast. I guess that gives you an idea why we say we need more info.

  5. #5
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Hello Bernie, I am with David (who commented above) that I do not use a tripod. I shoot a lot of birds and as David wrote things just happen too fast at times. I use a lens the Nikkor 70-300mm that can easily be handheld, with the crop sensor on my Nikon D7000 that lens gets me out to 450mm full frame equivalent. I see many nature photographers in my travels who lug around a tripod. The mistake most of them make is for the sake of weight they use one too small for the weight of the camera and lens. If you go the tripod route I would suggest that you weigh your camera and lens and then when purchasing a tripod and ball head get one rated higher than what your gear weighs. I also find that those with tripods are inclined to shoot things farther away than I will and this leads to lack of detail in the images. That's my two cents, hoping it helps.

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    rtbaum's Avatar
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Bernie, I also have been struggling with this. It can not be denied that the tripod will give rock-steady support......at the expense of maneuverability. I think that a tripod is a good idea if you have the benefit of a blind or if your subject is relatively stationary.

    I have a 400 mm 5.6 lens without image stabilization, hand held shots are not going to happen for me!!

    I have a tendency to sit at the base of a tree on the edge of the woodlot and use an old manfrotto monopod with a head that only pivots up or down...........and I love it!!!!! It rapidly deployable and very agile.

  7. #7

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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    One of the quick release ball heads will work better for those quick shots when using a tripod. There are several different versions.

    Last year I went over to a carbon fibre tripod to reduce the carrying weight; although more expensive.

    I use a Manfrotto 005 range tripod which suits me well. Previously used the heavier version.

    At one time, I used a monopod but haven't shot with it for several years now. It will reduce some shake and is easy to carry but for me it just isn't the same as a real tripod. Although that Manfrotto is rather cumbersome at times.

    For those quicker shots I sometimes close up the legs so it works like a monopod. For casual light use I have a four stage Velbon tripod which folds up small enough to fit inside my backpack. The Manfrotto has to be strapped to the outside of my bag.

  8. #8
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Bernie:
    Here is one of the best articles I've found on tripod purchase theory. http://www.bythom.com/support.htm My advice is the same as Joe's, buy the best you can afford that's rated for more weight than you plan to use. It's always better to have a tripod and not use it than to be standing there wishing you had one while others near by are taking fabulous photos while yours are all blurry due to camera shake. Good luck.

  9. #9
    FlyingSquirrel's Avatar
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Good points all around. Depends on when and where you'll be shooting, the subjects, AND the gear (lens particularly)

    Slow moving / stationary wildlife, and or sitting in a blind or hiding with camo, use a tripod (carbon fiber if you can afford it)
    Fast moving / mobile wildlife and run 'n gun style shooting, use a monopod in medium light, or in bright light shoot hand held if possible.

    This will depend on your lens. Lighter 400mm or smaller can probably be hand held, larger/heavier lenses you will probably always want a monopod at the least, as I'm not sure hand holding for long periods would be possible (not that I have experience with big lenses, but from what I've read, anyway)

    On top of all that, you'll need to consider the type of head for the support. For a tripod rig, I'd recommend a gimbal head (not cheap unless you get a lower quality brand, which is not smart if you have extremely expensive and/or heavy lenses and such) I got an opteka gimbal head for about $150. It's not super smooth or nice, but for my 400mm 5.6L lens and my 7D camera it works well. I had to modify the gimbal head a bit to get it to work smoother. When I upgrade to a bigger / heavier / more expensive lens one day, I'll definitely upgrade the gimbal to a better one

    For monopods, I would recommened a head designed for use with a monopod. I got an affordable carbon fiber sirui brand monopod and head and love them. They are my secret weapon support system for decent light wildlife shots.

  10. #10
    PRSearls's Avatar
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    I agree with "flyingSquirrel's" comments. In good light, my 400 f/5.6 is a wonderful, fast-focusing lens. It's light enough I can shoot several hours hand-holding. When I move up to the 500 f/4.0, it's a completely different animal because of its weight. Hand-holding is possible for a few quick shots but gets very tiring and I don't have the youthful, upper-body strength I once had. A solid tripod is a very important requirement with super telephotos to minimize vibration that degrades image sharpness. A gimbal mount (I use a Wimberley) allows effortless tracking (it takes practice) for bird-in-flight or other moving subjects.

    Here are some shots with the 400 f/5.6 hand-held. It performs very well; use servo-mode to keep your subject in focus.

    Paul S

    Juvenile Bald Eagle

    tripod for wildlife photography

    Adult Bald Eagle

    tripod for wildlife photography

    A little faster "bird" at 600+ mph. If you look closely, you can see several shock waves

    tripod for wildlife photography

  11. #11

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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Hi Bernie,

    Going on a wildlife photo shooting safari in Africa you will mostly be either inside a vehicle or on a boat. You may be brave enough to walk with a guide as well.

    On all the vehicles and boats taking tourists on photo safaris I see camera mounts. Locals use mostly bean bags on the door or window from inside the vehicle. Walking with a guide you will have plenty of time taking the shot and a light tripod might just help you get that perfect shot in perfect light. You will be too busy crapping yourself to get any shot when a Lion, Buffalo, Elephant or Rhino is charging at you. Getting as close as 30M from a pride of lions on foot with only the guide having a rifle is a scary experience and then the guide even has the audacity to tell you whatever happens DO NOT RUN – NEVER! Trying to take a handheld shot with you shivering either of fear or excitement, you decide!

    When the light is crappy, like high in the sky, I guess you can handhold a 400mm lens. Under perfect light, I guess it is a little more difficult to shoot handheld. Should you be using a tripod or some other form of support on a wildlife safari? I would guess, yes!

    Check out what this guy uses:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOhTF...ture=endscreen

    See the head - that is what is mostly mounted on vehicles and boats.

  12. #12
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post
    One of the quick release ball heads will work better for those quick shots when using a tripod. There are several different versions.
    For general tripod shooting, I also like a ball head (with an Arca Compatible Q/R Clamp).

    However for following fast moving subjects with a long lens, I prefer a gimbal head (I use a Manfrotto 393).

    Another option for following fast moving subjects using a long lens might be a fluid dampened pan head. These were basically designed for use with movie cameras and later for use with video cameras but, they work quite well for following subjects with a DSLR shooting stills.

    A monopod will probably strike the balance between support and mobility. Originally, I used a Manfrotto 681 which is a very good 3-section monopod that is quite sturdy, reasonably light weight and pretty inexpensive. It is almost impossible to find that trifecta in tripod selection. I switched to a Calumet 4-section monopod because the Manfrotto 681 did not collapse short enough to carry in my check-on luggage when flying. Monopods can be a hassle to try to take aboard flights.

    I top my monopod with a Kirk MPA-1 tilt swivel. This, IMO, is better than a ball head for monopod use; especially when you are using a lens with a tripod ring or if your caqmera is equipped with an L-Bracket. The heaviest weight I support with my monopod is a 7D with a 300mm f/4L IS or 400mm f/5.6L lens. The MPA-1 supports these combinations adequately.

    However, if I were using a heavier combination, I would opt for the heavier duty Kirk MPA-2 swivel or the Really Right Stuff Heavy Duty swivel.

    Some photographers attach their camera/lens directly to the monopod with no swivel or ball head in between. I like to keep my monopod straight up at 90 degrees to the ground and directly uner my camera/lens so a swivel is my best option...

  13. #13
    davidedric's Avatar
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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    Lots of ideas here, but we really need to know what kind of wildlife shooting the OP has in mind.

    Come on, Bernie, what are you thinking of?

  14. #14

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    Re: tripod for wildlife photography

    As al;ways there is no perfect tripod. However remember legs have to be on the ground. I have found my old Benbo very good on uneven and especially wet ground, where 50cm sealed legs really come into their own. Of course in other conditions other solutions work better. The Pistol grip ball heads are great for quick adjustment and following the prey.

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