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I have three tripods all of which are okay, but not great and not all that smooth operating.  


I shoot nature and scenery mostly.  Catching fast moving objects such as birds and other.  I want a really good tripod that will first of all hold my 7D and 70D with a 70-200 canon lens attached, or my Canon 400 and my Sigma 150-500.  I want it easy and smooth to pan.  I shoot mostly with my 70-200 sometimes with an extender.  I have found some promising professional tripods online....but I know some real professionals read this forum and I would like to get some suggestions on which of the hundreds of tripods made they use.  Money is not a problem, but I would like the next tripod I buy to be my last.  


Thank you for taking out some time to help me.  







You may want to be sitting down when you check out the pro models. And the pro category of tripods do not come with a head. That is extra and cost extra.


EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!


I take it that the three tripods you have come with the heads when you bought them.  Those are consumer grades that usually do not measure up to heavy use, especially with the kind of equipment you are mentioning.  Try mounting your camera and lens on a tripod in gusting wind/breeze and look through the viewfinder at the largest magnification and see if it is solid enough for you.  With a cheap tripod, chance is you will see some wavering


There are so many tripod brands out there so I won't mention them by name.  What you want to look for is sturdiness with the least weight and this usually means carbon fiber.  For sports and birds in flight (BIF), I would recommend getting a tripod rated for a weight 4 times the weight of your actual equipment (for example if your camera/lens weights 5 lbs, get one that is rated for 20 lbs).  In addition to absolute sturdiness, it will provide stability when you or someone accidentally bump into the don't want thousands of dollars of equipment tumbling down.  Expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $1200 for a good tripod.


As the previous poster mentions, a good tripod does not come with a head. You need to get one yourself.  There are many kinds of heads.  For sports and BIF, I recommend a gimbal head - you can google or youtube for more info.  After using one, I'm convinced that is the only head you will ever need for any kind of shooting.  For sports and BIF, it's the only suitable one because it's fast and you don't have to lock it down for a shot.  Unfortunately, a good gimbal head is not cheap.  Expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $600.

Diverhank's photos on Flickr


For wildlife and long telephotos you are going to want a gimbal head. And for birds in flight you need a rather tall tripod setup.


In my opinion, Gitzo tripod leg sets are among the best, for a number of reasons. The same company owns Manfrotto, which are also good, though generally heavier and not quite up to the same overall specifications as Gitzo.


I use two Gitzo 1325 and one 1348. All three of those are carbon fiber t'pods, and are 10 or 12 years old.


Gitzo now uses different model numbers, but still offers similar "Series 3" size tripods. If your 400mm is the f5.6, with that and the 150-500mm you could probably get by with Gitzo's slighlty smaller Series 2 (for example) and a similarly scaled down head. But if you anticipate using larger and heavier, Gitzo's Series 3 or similarly rated gear from other manufacturers might be needed (Gitzo also offers even larger Series 4 and 5).


I also have a 30 year old, rather heavy Bogen (same as Manfrotto today) that's now largely relegated to "studio use only".


The 1325 have 3 section legs, which are potentially more stable (for stability, the fewer sections the better), but also don't fold up as compact as a tripod with more leg sections (for compactness, the more sections the better). OTOH, fewer sections are also usually faster to set up.


Both my 1325s have levelling platforms (instead of center columns), which are very handy for quick setup when shooting on uneven ground (i.e., most of the time outdoors). The platforms operate with the twist of a single, short handle and can be tilted up to 15 degrees in any direction until perfectly level. You can achieve similar level on uneven ground adjusting the legs individually, but it takes a lot longer.


On one of the 1325s I have a Kirk BH-1 ballhead and a Wimberley Sidekick gimbal mount. For lenses the size you are using, this would be more than adequate support. The Sidekick slides into the ballhead, rather than replacing it. This way the tripod can quickly be converted back for normal use with shorter lenses. The Sidekick (on a heavy duty ballhead) is rated up to the Canon EF 500/4 IS (first version) or the 800/5.6 IS, which is similar in size and weight. It is not recommended for larger, heavier 400/2.8 or 600/4 lenses (though I know some folks who use a Sidekick with them).


My other 1325 has a full-size gimbal head on it, which I use primarily with 500/4. Eventually I may get another ballhead to be able to be able swap out the heads and use the tripod for shorter lenses, too.    


The Sidekick mounts to the lens from the side, while a full gimbal head "cradles" larger lenses attaching underneath. A secondary benefit of the Sidekick I wasn't expecting was that it's also handy for vertical orientation of the camera with short lenses... this allows me to skip buying and  using expensive, additional L-plates for my cameras.  


My 1348 is set up with a ballhead and a Gitzo 1318 carbon fiber center column. Generally speaking, a tripod without any column is sturdier (and both 1325 and 1348 are plenty tall even without a center column), but I sometimes reverse the column for low level macro shooting.


I bought the second 1325 w/level platform and the 1348 with center column used at about 1/3 the cost of new.


I went cheap on the full gimbal head on the one 1325 and the ballhead on the 1348. The gimbal is some Chinese manufacture, a copy of the full size Wimberley, but at about 1/5 the cost. It seems fine... the only weakness I see is plastic knobs that might not hold up. So far, they are okay. 


The cheaper ballhead is a Smith-Victor BH8, which is very similar to the Kirk BH-1 or original Arca-Swiss B1, but costs about 1/6 as much or less. The SV BH8's panning movement was very stiff when I first got it.... So I disassembled it and replaced the lubricating grease in the ball bearings with heavy oil (bicycle chain oil, actually) and it works great now. It's very smooth panning. This head is rated to 50 lbs, but I won't be putting more than about 12 or 15 lbs on it, tops, so am sure it will be fine. The only other thing I've noticed is the rubber grips on the knobs, which I don't expect will hold up over the long run... And it has a safety latch that will only work with SV's own quick release plates. But, hey, at 1/5 the cost, it will work fine I'm sure..


Speaking of quick releases, all the above and my cameras and lenses are fitted with Arca-Swiss type plates and platforms. These are necessary to use the gimbal mounts and some of the accessories that are available to use with them. You have to be able to slide the lens mounting plate in the platform on the gimbal to achieve equilibrium, an ideal balance for the gear on top of the tripod, for the gimbal to work properly. The A-S style mounting system allows you to do this. Other QR systems don't. The A-S style system is also somewhat standardized across many manufacturers. Gitzo has even started to produce some heads using it.


My old Bogen tripod is a sturdy, all aluminum beast I used with up to medium and large format film cameras. It's a 3036 tripod with a 3047 pan/tilt head, but is heavier than I care to carry around now... over 20 lbs I think! So I've fitted it with a dolly and it's only used in-studio. Though it worked well, I also found it rather slow to set up... three section legs are locked with thumb screws that cuffs and sleeves and branches can catch on, and each has a separate locking brace back to a geared center column. The head also originally used a rather unique Bogen/Manfrotto/Gitzo quick release, but has since also been converted to Arca-Swiss style.  (Two monopods and some flash brackets I use also have been converted to A-S type platforms.) Now that Bogen is Manfrotto, the model numbers have changed but they still sell similar.


Carbon fiber tripods are more expensive, but lighter than metal tripods with similar weight ratings. CF also absorb fine vibration better than metal tripods. And it's also nicer to handle in extreme cold or heat.


One drawback is that carbon fiber can be damaged. For that reason all three of my Gitzos are fitted with Leg Coats (same company makes Lens Coats). These pads help protect the upper section of the t'pod, plus make the it a lot more pleasant to carry over my shoulder.  


A nice thing about both Gitzo and Manfrotto/Bogen is that replacement parts are generally available for them, should they be needed. I have not had anything break on either, but it's nice to know that I'd likely be able to repair even the 30 year old t'pod, if necessary.


There are some other excellent tripods and tripod accessories. As I mentioned, I bought two out of three of my GItzo t'pods used at considerable savings. Before doing that I was seriously considering some others. I was impressed with the quality and value of Adorama's Flashpoint tripods and heads. Those, RRS and Feisol are close copies of GItzo. I know folks who happily use Cullman, Oben, Benbo and other brands. When it comes to tripod heads, there are even more choices: Kirk, Wimberley, Really Right Stuff (RRS), Acratech, Arca-Swiss and many more. If you want to use a gimbal mount, you to plan to use Arca-Swiss compatible items, plus get lens and camera plates. (Some manufacturers - including Gitzo and Manfrotto - have their own, proprietary QR systems.... which aren't compatible.)


Hope this helps! Have fun shopping.


Alan Myers

San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories