Uni-Loc Tripod for Macro - a review (images)

Started Jan 4, 2005 | Discussions thread
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Matt F Senior Member • Posts: 1,643
Uni-Loc Tripod for Macro - a review (images)

After a great deal of research and anguish (see http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1034&message=11128469 for the whole saga) , I recently purchased a tripod setup primarily for macro photography. It consists of a Uni-Loc System 1700 tripod, a Markins M10-L ballhead, and a Bogen 3419 focusing rail.

This post is a quick review, with some photos of the setup in action. First the tripod. I was a bit afraid of the Uni-Loc because I had seen using it described as "teaching a drunken octopus to play bagpipes". I honestly do not see what the big deal is. The single lever operation makes it much faster to get into standard position than a normal tripod -- it only took me a couple minutes to get the hang of it. Getting it into its weirder configurations is a bit tricky, but since no other tripod (except the less sturdy Benbo) can do what it can, there is really no grounds for complaint.

You do have to be very careful with it -- it is extremely easy to get it into an unbalanced position, and you must hold the head when you release the lever or your camera could come swinging down to the ground.

Here are a few shots of the tripod in some of its configurations. The full gallery is here: http://imageevent.com/pmattf/naturephotography/uniloc

The main competitor to the Uni-Loc is the Gitzo Explorer. I played with the aluminum one in the store, and I must say it is really a piece of junk compared to the Uni-Loc. The carbon fiber one is a huge step up, but it lacks the joint in the arm that the Uni-Loc has.

There are three separate screws for mounting the ballhead -- one at each end of the center column, and one on the side of the jointed end (see the picture of the tripod at ground level -- that mount point is useful for getting closer to the ground, as using the joint adds some height).

One thing about the Uni-Loc that you can not see in the photos is that the way the leg extensions work feels extremely smooth, and requires just a tiny twist to lock and unlock them. Also, you can submerge them up to the first lock. And the feet have removable plastic caps for floor, that cover spikes for the ground.

The tripod can of course be used normally, I forgot to take a picture of that configuration.

A couple things I am not crazy about:

The tripod has 1/4" screws, but the Markins and most other serious ballheads have 3/8" holes. The tripod came with an adapter bushing, but it would not fit in the Markins for some reason. I found one for $0.99 that works though. The Pro4 Imaging guy (the US distributor) is supposed to be sending me replacement end pieces with the larger screws for a free swap.

Once you extend the arm horizontally, especially as it gets further out, you get vibration. This is totally visible in the viewfinder when you are at 1:1 magnfication with the macro lens. After you adust the camera you have to wait a few seconds for it to settle, and then use the remote release. When used in normal tripod configuration it seems extremely stable with no vibration. Again, since no other tripod can get in these configurations, you can't really complain. The aluminum Gitzo has this problem too. The carbon fiber Gitzo is much more rigid, and has a shorter arm, so less vibration.

As far as the Markins ballhead, it is of course great. There are tons of threads about it already, so I won't bother adding anything. Except to say that I tried some others in the store, and none of them let me do the smooth precise tiny movements you need for ultra close-up work.

The Bogen focusing rail I am not crazy about. Its adjustment knob is too fine-grained for my tastes. About 1 millimeter for a full revolution. There is a release lever so you can manually slide it in larger increments, but I would rather have a large movement knob and a small movement knob like some others have. But I have read several threads here, and this seems to be the best one for the price -- superior to some much more expensive ones. Also note that to use it with an Arca system you have to buy a plate for the bottom and a clamp for the top.

The biggest problem with these focusing rails is that most of them are only available on the internet, so you can't really compare them directly. I would love to try the Novoflex, Kirk, and RRS to the one I have, and then decide. As it is, I will probably just keep the Bogen, because I don't know if I would really like another one better.

Finally, here are a few shots of what I have been doing with the tripod. The full gallery is at http://imageevent.com/pmattf/naturephotography/wintergarden

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