Tripod recommendation

Started Apr 22, 2012 | Discussions thread
PHXAZCRAIG Forum Pro • Posts: 13,970
Re: Tripod recommendation

My two cents:

First, a question. How tall are you? You generally want a tripod that doesn't require you to stoop to use. That includes shooting upward into trees. Some compromise can be made there for a travel tripod, if you are not using it constantly.

I went through the classic scenario listed by Thom Hogan. Started with a cheap 'has every feature' Slik tripod that only cost me about $100. Absolute cr*p. I've still got it, but it's really worthless. It bends and flexes even with a point-n-shoot on it.

I've got a couple of light travel tripods too, and one isn't actually too bad, but it's just too small for reasonable use with a DSLR.

Then I bought a big metal Bogen with Manfrotto 3-way pan head. Used it for years, but gradually got sick of the weight, the pan head, the head mounting system, the leg locks and the metal. The weight issue is obvious. If you have to carry it at all, you start not bringing it.

The pan head just wasn't as flexible as a ballhead, though I didn't know it until I got a ballhead. (That said, I believe a pan head is probably better for video).

The mounting system was to put a hexagonal quick-release plate on the camera, and clip it into a locking mechanism on the pan head. I liked the quick locking system, but the plate was very uncomfortable in the hand when not shooting on a tripod, and it constantly was unscrewing itself and loosening and turning when shooting in portrait mode with a longer lens.

The leg locks were flip locks. I will never understand why some people prefer them. They constantly pinched me, were sometimes sticky and balky, and you had to do them one at a time. (With screw locks on my Gitzo, I can grab all of them on one leg to loosen them at once.)

The metal was extremely cold to the touch in winter in the mountains.

Eventually I bought a 3550 LSV Gitzo. Problems pretty much solved. It's light enough to carry. Even though it has longer leg sections, it still fits in a large suitcase for travel. (I remove the ballhead and carry that with me, partly for weight savings on checked luggage). I picked 3-section legs instead of 4 sections for two reasons: 1 less lock per leg, which you will benefit from every single time you collapse the tripod, and a bit more stability with fewer, larger leg sections. On the other hand, a 4-section leg collapses farther for packing, and often allows a taller tripod. My tripod puts my camera at eye level (I'm 6' 2") when mounted on my ballhead. This is just right, except when shooting upward. However, there was no taller choice in a 3-series Gitzo with 3 leg sections.

I did not get a center column, for stability reasons. I don't miss it.

I got an RRS BH-55 ballhead, and I'm happy with it. Gives me a bit of room to grow into some larger lenses. Works well with my longest lenses (80-400 and 300F4 with TC). It is heavy though, and for travel I could see getting a smaller RRS or Markins.

I have the RRS quick-release clamp on the ballhead, and L-plates on my cameras. Also RRS plates on my lenses or RRS tripod collars. They are all extremely well made and fit the clamp perfectly. The L-plates are also pretty comfortable in the hand, so I have never felt the urge to remove them when not using the tripod. (Something I can't say about the Kirk collar I put on my 80-200).

If you get a ballhead and arca-swiss mount, you definitely want an L-plate. It's just too much of a pain to shoot in portrait mode on a ballhead without an L-plate. Trying to line up the head into a drop slot and then make little adjustments to the framing is an exercise in frustration. Conversely, using an L-plate and quick release clamp is about a 1 second change with no framing issues.

In short, my recommendation is carbon fiber, no center column, twist (not flip) locks - as long as the legs don't rotate when not locked, and fewer leg sections if you can get away with that for the sizing you need. Get a good ballhead, arca swiss mounting style and L-plate for your camera.

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