12-12-2013 01:26 PM
When I started out in photography a couple years ago I purchased a very cheap tripod (we're talking less than $50). It has worked decently for me in perfect conditions, either indoors or outside with zero wind. I would like to upgrade to a real tripod that is dependable in more adverse conditions. Also, sometime in the future I may be upgrading to heavier gear, so this tripod would need to accomodate more weight (I'm thinking my heaviest future setup would be about the weight of a 7D with the 400 5.6L and possibly a teleconverter attached).
My priority list for a tripod would be in this order - sturdiness, then cost, then weight. It is more important to me for the tripod to be rock solid than light weight, and my budget would be about 300 to 500.
Does anyone have experience with a tripod that might satisfy these criteria??
12-12-2013 05:47 PM
Well this is a big topic with zoodles of ways to go. Things to consider is style of leg lock, max height without a center column, whether you can add a center column, and if you can how less steady is the camera. Will you add a ball head, gimbal head or just a quick mount like an Arca Swiss plate? Over the years I've bought several tripods and started out with what I now consider too wobbly to use with anything I now use. Fortunately I have at least 2 decent metal / aluminum tripods that work a lot of the time (one is aimed at the video side of things) but my last purchase was a carbon fiber tripod (used) which I like. It's a Feisol, which wasn't very well known when I bought it, and they've improved since then & seem to have great customer support. B & H now sell Feisol so I'm including the link JUST so you have a starting point because hopefully there will be more input with valid suggestions of other popular brands.
Now FYI when you add a center column to the Feisol leg set it can be inverted so your camera is on the underside (maybe for Macro) & I suspect the other brands do that too, PLUS you can hang some additional weight from the hook supplied for more stability in wind etc.
12-14-2013 02:03 PM
I agree... Tripods are potentially a huge subject and there are lots and lots of choices!
My first piece of advice, for what it's worth, would be to don't cheap out. You sort of learned that with your first purchase.
A tripod bought right can be a once in a lifetime purchase. A good tripod is a lot more fun to use, so you are more likely to use it, to not leave it at home or in the trunk of the car. It's all about compromises, choosing a set of features that together add up to an "ideal tripod".... for you. It's a personal thing, too, what will work best for each of us. Rather than make too specific suggestions, I'll try to give you some general idea what you might want to look for in a tripod.
Carbon fiber tripods are lighter in weight, strong when made right, absorb vibration better than metal, are more pleasant to work with out in cold weather, and the carbon fiber bits are non-corrosive. The trade-off is that carbon fiber tripods are generally more expensive. They also have to be given some reasonable care... The carbon fiber is strong along it's length, but can be damaged by abrading or really hard, sharp knocks against the tubing.. Better CF tripods combine with aluminum or magnesium materials to keep weight light without compromising strength.
Aluminum tripods can be good too. There are high quality ones made, much heavier than their equivalent in CF, but also much more affordable. As you know from your previous purchase, stamped or formed thin aluminum isn't good, won't hold up even if it starts out pretty sturdy. Best ones use heavier tubing combined with machined and/or cast parts. Aluminum (or any metal) tripods also "ring" with vibrations, rather than absorbing them. And they can be less pleasant to handle in the cold. Aluminum also can corrode in severe environments. And, threaded or sliding parts can "gall", damaging themselves to the point where they jam and are unusable.
Wood is a great tripod material for tripods. It absorbs vibration better than metal and is nice to handle. Can look great, too! However it's not as strong and harder to build compact, portable gear with.
Generally speaking, the fewer leg joints a tripod has, the steadier it will usually be. It also will be faster to set up. But it won't be as compact. A tripod leg with no joints would be the strongest, but a pain to move around since you can't reduce it's size at all. Some heavy video camera tripods have only two leg sections. Three or four sections seems a reasonable compromise, to me. But for a really compact travel tripod one might want something with even more, and be willing to give up a little sturdiness and speed of setup.
A tripod without any center column also is usually the steadiest. However, once again this effects how compact the tripod can be, when folded. To have adequate working height without a center column, the legs need to be longer. (But when considering this keep in mind that in addition to a tripod legset's height, there is the height of the head and the camera itself, on top.) There are tripods with geared center columns and bracing that makes them steadier, but adds weight. There are also reversible center columns, that might be used for really low angle shooting (such as macro). And, when using a tripod with a center column, you have the option of leaving it fully retracted to get nearly the same stability of a legset without any column.
Another thing I'd suggest you give some consideration is the availability of accessories and/or repair parts. Some tripod manufacturers offer literal systems that you can customize to best meet your needs. And many of the long-established brands can be repaired... spare parts are available if needed.
And, of course, you'll need a head for that tripod. There are three basic types (and many variations of each): Perhaps the most common is pan/tilt heads, which have protruding handles to operate them. More compact are ballheads, popular for travel and outdoor work in particular, but with more limited movements and sometimes not as well balanced as pan/tilt. Finally there are fluid heads, which are similar to pan/tilt but heavier, more expensive and primarily used for videography where smooth movements are necessary.
Whatever type you decide to get, you might want quick releases. Some manufacturers have their own, proprietary QR systems, that aren't usable on other brands of heads. Other manufacturers use the rather universal Arca-Swiss style release system of platforms and lens/camera plates. If you go with a QR system, keep in mind that you'll need plates for your camera(s) and any lens(es) that have tripod mounting rings, at additional cost. Some of these plates can cost $40-50 each.
Since you plan to use a long telephoto lens with your tripod, you also might want to consider a gimbal mount. This allows you to pan and tilt the lens smoothly while tracking moving subjects. All that I'm aware of use the Arca-Swiss style of QR, which is necessary to allow the lens and camera to be slid forward or backward on the mount to achieve equilibrium. There are two types of gimbals... One that is larger, more expensive and replaces the entire head on the tripod (much more than necessary for a lens the weight of the 400/5.6L.... A full gimbal mount is needed for 400/2.8, 600/4 lenses, mostly). There also are smaller, lighter less expensive accessory gimbals that are used in conjunction with a ballhead.
Other accessories you might want now or in the future include tripod leg pads which make it more pleasant to carry over a shoulder, some offer camouflage, and can help protect a carbon fiber tripod's leg tubes. There are also "aprons" that fit under the tripod, as a convenient place to store small items or put some stones to add some weight and help steady the tripod. (Note: As mentioned in the previous response, some center columns instead have a hook, where you can hang your camera bag to add some weight.) Some tripods can be fitted with different types of feet to work better under different conditions: spikes for hard ground, platform feet for snow, etc.
All these are things to consider when shopping for a tripod. I currently have three: The oldest is a Bogen (now Manfrotto), heavy duty aluminum with geared center column and a pan/tilt head. I used to lug it around everywhere, but I'm getting too old for that now. It's about 30 years old and now semi-retired as a studio tripod. I've installed a dolly on it so it's easily rolled around on a a floor. My other two "field" tripods are both Gitzo 1325 that are about ten years old. They are each fitted with ballheads (Kirk BH-1 on one, a much cheaper Smith-Victor on the other). With one I have a Wimberley Sidekick accessory gimbal mount (that fits into the ballhead). For the other I have a full sized gimbal that replaces the ballhead completely.
Both of my Gitzos have 3-section legs and no center columns, they extend higher than I usually need without a column (which makes them less compact when folded), and in place of the column I have each fitted with a leveling platform to allow for quick setup on uneven ground. (I also have a leveler on the old Bogen, but it's a different type and nowhere near as fast to adjust and set up). I have leg pads on each Gitzo, as well as bags to carry them (Hakuba, which are very nicely made, tho much less expensive than Gitzo bags).
I just recently bought the second Gitzo 1325 used (it's been superseded by another current model, BTW). Got a great deal on it, otherwise I was seriously looking at the Flashpoint tripods Adorama offers. Those are Gitzo copies (a different model, though, with 4-section legs and a short center column). They appear to be a really good deal. The Feisol tripods mentioned in the previous response also appear to be close copies of the Gitzo system and have far more choices and accessory options than Adorama offers with their Flashpoint.
I mention these not so much to recommend them, but to give you some points of comparison. I use a couple lenses that are bigger and heavier than the 400/5.6L, so I need a heavier tripod set up than you would need if that's the largest you'll ever use. The Gitzo use a "twist" style leg locking mechanism, which is a little slower to set up (not bad once you get a procedure figured out), but doesn't protrude. Some other tripods I've used have had screw knobs or quick acting lever style locks on the legs. (My old Bogen uses screw knobs.) Those always worried me a little since they are kind of easy to catch a cuff or sleeve on when working around the tripod, or might catch on branches when carrying out the tripod in the field.
Finally, you can buy legs and head (and other accessories) separately, but a legset and head combo might offer a particularly good deal. But only if it really meets your needs well! For example, Adorama Flashpoint 1228 legset is offered both with and without a head, and that set of legs probably would meet your needs well. However, the ballhead they offer in the combo appears a little lightweight for your purposes (even tho it's a great deal, only adding $10 to the cost of the legs alone, separately). If I were you, I would probably spend a little more to get a ballhead with a little higher weight rating, if considering those legs (that sell for $190 US). Even though the prices are great for a carbon fiber rig, the Flashpoint system of legs and heads is not nearly as extensive as the Gitzo or Feisol system, so may not offer some features or accessories you want. Manfrotto tripods are another brand to consider, good value, though most of what they offer are aluminum and they use 2 or 3 different proprietary quick release systems on their heads (I've modified several Bogen/Manfrotto items - ballheads and monopods - so that they now are Arca-Swiss compatible).
Have fun shopping. If possible, go to a store and check out tripods in person. Play with them for a while to see what you like and what you don't.
Hope this helps!
12-14-2013 02:41 PM
Very nice Allen. I recently bought a Smith Victor ballhead (BH 5) just for the QR plate but I'm quite imtressed by the ball head vs my Kirk. I had to modify the QR plate to get it to open wider but amazingly now that I've done that the safety pin works perfectly with my Really Right Stuff camera plates & the Kirk camera plate I bought at the same time. The SV ball head was the same price as the Feisol QR plate all by itself so thinking I'll put the ballhead to use I went that route.
12-14-2013 06:51 PM - edited 12-15-2013 10:43 AM
I think the model number of the Smith-Victor ballhead I got was BH-8... it's fairly large and supposedly rated to 50 lbs (though I would never put that much weight on it). It was cheap and I only got it for occasional use as a backup to a full size gimbal that's usually on the tripod.
But like you, I was impressed with the quality, especially considering the price and comparing it with my Kirk BH-1. I don't have any problem with the QR platform, like you did. But the panning movement of the the ballhead was very stiff. I took it apart, cleaned off the heavy grease that was in the ball bearings and replaced it with bicycle chain oil. It now works very smoothly and easily! The only other thing I noticed was the rubber grips on the knobs are a little loose fitting (the BH-1 has knurled metal knobs, no rubber). I'll be gluing those in place and they will work fine.