Building support system for D200

Started Jul 12, 2007 | Discussions thread
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Ravashaak Regular Member • Posts: 104
Building support system for D200

Just recently I've earned a promotion, a raise, and a decent bonus at work. Although I'd love to buy a piece of fast, high quality glass, I know it's time for me to build a proper support system. I've been through two tripods so far. The first a wal-mart special. No, I did not put my precious D200 on that rickety thing! Let's not talk crazy here, ok? That was a little more than two years ago and I was just getting my toes wet with my first camera, the Coolpix 8700. I outgrew both rather quickly, and when the opportunity came to buy a D200 a little over a year ago, I did. However, before I could buy a new tripod, Christmas rolled around and my girlfriend bought a Manfrotto 817B for me. It was quite unexpected. I had actually planned on buying a better one myself. Nothing too fancy mind you, but I intended to spend $250-300 US (I still wasn't embracing Thom Hogan's advice yet, thinking him a little crazy for advocating $1000+ US dollars on a proper support system). In any event, I couldn't break her heart by saying I had been planning to buy a better tripod myself. No sir. And it was certainly better than the wal-mart cheapo.

I used the Manfrotto periodically and with care. The D200 felt a little top-heavy when mounted on it. Very sadly, I also found that I could not get low...and I really wanted to. That got me thinking about Thom's article again. Ok, maybe he wasn't crazy, but still $1000+ seemed a bit ridiculous. It seemed ridiculous until I realized that I...could...never...seem...to...get...level...with the blasted pan and tilt! Ok, so perhaps I went somewhat overboard when I thought Mr. Hogan's advice a bit ridiculous. We learn, we move on.

Next, one of the uppermost lever-lock leg clamps split. On the 817B they are made of plastic. It almost cost me my first and only chance (so far) to try nighttime lightning photography. It certainly made the unplanned photoshoot a challenge. I managed, but that was the final and proverbial straw. I went back and read Thom Hogan's tripod article again, and I realized he's been on the money so far. I think it's time to trust that the rest is true as well. It's time to spend some money and build a proper support system. Mr. Hogan was right and I was wrong. I once again discover that I do not know everything!

So, the things I want in a tripod:

1. The ability to get low to the ground (I plan to do macros one day)
2. Stability and vibration dampening
3. Build quality (I want it to stand up to adverse conditions)
4. I want a load capacity in the 30-50 lb range (room to grow)
5. Ability to fit into a carryon bag of some sort would be nice
6. I also plan to do some light hiking with this rig
6. Lightweight as possible considering my priorities, so carbon fiber it is

I am currently considering two different sets of Gitzo legs:

1. GT-3530S
2. GT-3540LS

I am somewhat torn. The GT-3530S has 3 leg sections, which I hear may be a bit more stable than 4 leg sections. However, since the GT-3540LS is a bit taller, I could afford to not extend the last leg section completely, assumedly adding back some stability. I also hear it's good to do that anyway because it keeps that last section joint out of the muck, requiring less cleaning. So, the GT-3540LS is sounding a bit better to me. It is also a little over 2 inches shorter in closed length, which matters to me. At 3.8 lbs it is also .2 lbs lighter than the GT-3530S. However, the GT-3540LS is $90 more expensive.

I will obviously also need to purchase a ballhead, camera plate, and L-bracket (do I need the L-bracket and if so, which brand/model?). I thought the side notchouts on some ballheads were how you go vertical. I also see where some people get bases which go between the head and the tripod top-plate. I know at least some of the bases are for levelling, which is important to me. However, I don't want to compromise stability or my ability to get low. Is a levelling base the best way to level the camera? Are there other better options? What other benefits do non-levelling bases convey?

As for ballheads, I have performed some initial research, but not nearly enough. Build quality is an obvious concern. Easy and quick adjustments are important (I'd like to be able to lock the ballhead into position without multiple full-revolution twists of the knob). No sharp edges of course. Nice and finished is what I want. I plan on doing some landscape and pano work as well, so the head and other components need to be suitable. So far, I have been considering the following models:

1. Kirk BH-1 Ballhead
2. RRS BH-55 (maybe the LR or Pro)
3. Markins M20

The models above are just a rough guideline. I am open to any suggestions here. If you see anything I haven't considered, please let me know.

As for plates, I have no clue what to get. Obviously, nothing that will mark up my camera or slip. Something that's quick-release compatible is a plus.

Thanks for reading this far and thanks even more for any advice you provide.

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