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Thread: Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Adelaide, South Australia
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    Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

    G'day to all you birders out there, I am curious to know what the average birders prefer, is there a trend
    I have a vanguard alta pro263 tripod with vanguard SBH -100 Ball head.
    Nikon D7000 with sigma 150 - 500mm.
    Do people prefer ball heads or pan heads for birds?
    Do people prefer Tripods or Monopods?
    Should I stay with my 150 - 500 and hope to get steadier, or should I stay with my 150 - 500 and get a better tripod and or tripod head?
    Should I keep the tripod and tripod head and stay with my 55 - 300 and crop to suit?
    bloody birds, look at the trouble they are causing me....ha
    Last edited by Poider; 18th March 2012 at 10:27 PM.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    A Pacific Island
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    Re: Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

    I'm not a bird photographer but I do know a few through the club. All of the them have 200-400 or 500mm lenses. All have a tripod with very large legs and manufacturer doesn't seem to be a concern. Stability and not weight is the point there. All have Wimberley heads. Hope that helps a bit. I'm sure some birders here will have the details and specs you need.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    May 2010
    Bucharest, Romania
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    Cristian Alexe

    Re: Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

    While I am not a fan of Sigma lenses and Vanguard tripods / monopods, my thoughts to your issues would be:
    - Ball head is better for birding, the one you already owe is absolutely ok looking at the specs. I just don't know if it works as it should be. If yes, then stay with it.
    - CF tripod & ball head as yours should be ok for camera & lens weighing under 3-4 kg together. Again, I have no clue if the Vanguard tripod & ballhead perform good. But from the paper specs they should be ok.
    - Monopod is nice to have, but does not replace tripod in every application. You gain some 1-2 stops in stabilisation towards shooting from hand. If you buy a monopod make sure about some things:
    ---- 3 sections is better than 4, 4 sections is better than 5 or 6
    ---- Light CF monopods come with you, heavy monopods are cheaper but usually stay at home, in the closet
    ---- Choose a quick-release system compatible to the one used on your tripod
    ---- No fancy head is needed, a tilt head like Manfrotto 234 is ok

    Regarding tripod / head - here a simple test procedure:
    Extend the tripod as for normal use. Put the target lens on it, if it is a zoom lens extend to maximum zoom. Put camera in LV mode, if available set LV magnification to x5 or x10. Make sure all knobs are secured. You may also hang some weight on the tripods hook, as you would do in field. Now look on the LCD while gently hitting the lens with your finger. You will see vibrations in the LCD image. This would be normal. If vibrations cancel in (much) less than 1 second then you have a good tripod. If vibrations last 1 second or more then it is advisable to look for a better tripod / ball head. Not necessary heavier, just better.

    Of course, 500mm f/4 lenses are better for birding. These ones should benefit from a good tripod, tipically tripods without center column (e.g. Gitzo Systematic series, may be found cheaper at other manufacturers). And for such a setup tripod should have a Wimberly head mounted. Only problem may be the price: such a setup (500 f/4 & systematic tripod & Wimberley Gimbal head & accessories) will cost +10K USD/EUR/GBP...
    But bird photography can be obtained with 300mm f/4 ... 400mm f/5,6 lenses, with or without tripod.

  4. #4
    Momo's Avatar
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    Mar 2012
    Seattle, WA
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    Re: Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

    Most of my birding friends use a monopod. I have never talked to any of them as to why they use a monopod. But, my best guess is that it would be...

    1. much faster to extend one leg vs three.
    2. allow you to pivot your body around a central axis and not run into the legs.
    3. provide stability in areas where there may not be room/surface for three footings.
    4. much less expensive than a really good tripod.
    5. lighter.

  5. #5
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Jul 2008
    Southern California, USA
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    Re: Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

    I like a monopod when I am walking around and a tripod when I am set up and do not need to walk around as much.

    I will normally use a Kirk MPA-1 monopod tilting head on my monopod.

    If I am using my longest lens (400mm f/5.6L) on my tripod, I like the manfrotto 3421 gimbal head. It works great on both a tripod (Giottos MT-8180 which has been discontinued)) and a monopod (Calumet 8103

    The Manfrotto head is capable of supporting the largest lenses. It is "almost" overkill for a lens the size of my 400mm f/5.6L but, when I bought this mount, it was exceptionally low priced. I have had it for years but, I think that I paid somewhere in the area of $120 USD. I had plans at that time for buying a larger sized lens...

    The Manfroto gimbal head is sometimes found on eBay USA at quite a decent price...

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    South Devon, UK

    Re: Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

    The Sigma 150-500 is a good lens, Peter, but needs to be used with some restraint.

    I find it is best around the F8-F11 range so that does limit its use in poor light. The OS is, in my opinion, excellent and I have sometimes surprised myself with the quality of hand held shots. But using a tripod is always best.

    In windy conditions, I find that leaving the OS switched on when tripod shooting will help to limit wind sway problems.

    Auto focus is slow so difficulties can be encountered when attempting quick shots of flying birds.

    I use a Manfrotto tripod and ball head. I've never tried the Vanguard equipment. One thing I did with my ball head was to reverse the attachment so I now use the quick release trigger in my left hand while my right index finger is always on the shutter button. This saves a lot of time on those quick shots.

    But the Manfrotto is heavy and cumbersome, so for easy lightweight carry around use I have a Velbon Luxi L tripod which folds up small enough to fit inside my backpack. But, although it works reasonably well, it isn't in the same league as the Manfrotto and I really miss the ball head for quick shots.

    At one time I used a monopod, but haven't done anything with it recently. I find that a tripod is far more useful; and if I push the legs together it works just like a monopod; but retains the tripod option when needed.

    The Velbon tripod folds up to almost the same size and weight as a monopod.

    Even the Manfrotto ball head will experience some droop when using heavy equipment and pointed at a downward angle, say 45 degrees. But for quick shots of birds or insects I usually have my left hand continuously holding, and guiding, the trigger handle so I don't experience any problems.

    Very slow shutter speeds can be a problem though.

    So I would say, stick with the equipment you currently have, but watch your shutter speeds.

    A couple of examples of problem shots and full exif information may be useful.

  7. #7
    jeeperman's Avatar
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    Jan 2011
    Seattle Washington
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    Re: Tripod, monopod, ball head or panhead?

    Although I shoot mostly handheld Sony 70-400G, when my tripod is needed due to low light conditions.....I find my Giottos 1300 ball head atop a Manfrotto tripod to be quite good. However where I get in trouble is having it mounted and being surprised with a fast happening oppotunity. It is not the fastest or easiest to adjust quickly and I can miss a shot. Hence, part of the reason I hand hold much of the time. Now a friend uses a prime bigger than my 400mm and a teleconverter added and he will most times make that same shot{provided it is not moving in to close} useing a Whimberley head. I am amazed at how quickly he can flip the camera on its side and be pointed in the opposite direction, while I am still working on getting there. The whimberley set-up is very simple and offers complete movement in any direction with 2 knobs all while being fully supported. The draw back is the price....I thought I was being crazy when I bought the Giottos head.

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