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ronin2307 Apr 22, 2010 4:17 PM

tripod help
I have tried to educate myself about tripods etc, but i am as confused as i have been when i was trying to my a camera itself.
I have seen Manfrotto come up as a good quality brand, but i am not even sure what i need in terms of a tripod (type, type of head, etc)
basically I am 6'2'', have XSi with 3 lenses of which 70-300 is the heaviest one. I dont need pro quality anything, but i would like something that is easy to carry and will last a while. I dont believe in buying stuff that will break in 6 months.
any advice will be appreciated. thx

mtngal Apr 22, 2010 10:17 PM

There's a saying with tripods - there's cheap, there's sturdy and there's lightweight. You can only choose 2 out of the three. Decide which one you can do without and that will go a long way toward helping you decide which tripod to get.

Next thing to do is go to a camera store and try the leg locks on several different tripods. I thought I would hate Gitzo's twist locks, but after pinching my thumb on a Manfrotto lever lock, I changed my mind. Other people don't like twist locks.

As far as heads, I personally prefer a ball head - a pan/tilt head has more controls and can be very fiddly - you get one thing lined up but when you adjust the other control you find it affected the one you set first. A ball head is much faster (though if you think you'll do any panning, buy a ball head that also has a panning control).

It also partly depends on what you are going to use the tripod for - are you going to go hiking with it? Are you going to be shooting macro with it?

In general, the fewer the leg sections, the sturdier it is. But I have a 4 section CF tripod that's plenty sturdy and is small enough to fit in the Kata 3N1 tripod carrier.

Depending on where you put your priority, you might be willing to compromise on the legs and getting a more expensive head - you'll spend more time fiddling with the head than you will the legs. And there's nothing worse than getting everything all lined up, lock down all the knobs on the head, but have the camera droop because the head isn't capable of handling the weight.

ronin2307 Apr 23, 2010 8:43 AM

therein lies the problem. I live in a very small town USA with no decent photo stores at all. hence i was hoping for some advice around here.
the tripod would me more than likely used mostly when hiking and other outdoor activities (parks etc). I have a canon backpack that i haul all my gear in and i suspect i could put a tripod on it. therefore it would be great if it is not the heaviest of the bunch.
i really dont have any true macro lenses so i suspect that wouldn't be a goal (tripod for macro)

mtngal Apr 23, 2010 11:03 AM

I ended up being completely undecided about a tripod until I spent an hour in a camera store once when I was visiting Las Vegas. I had played with some tripods in a different camera store, but hadn't reached any conclusion until I actually tried opening and closing the various legs, hefting the tripods that were in my category stability-wise (i.e., aluminum vs. basalt vs. carbon fiber) and imagining myself carrying/using each of them. It really helped make up my mind, and because a lot of that had to do with my own personal preference instead of functionality, I highly recommend it. If you manage to visit a big city sometime soon, make a point of visiting a camera store that has a reasonable collection of tripods.

There are a number of good manufacturers and some knock-offs that will do almost as well as the more expensive ones (when it comes to legs, not so much when it comes to heads).

The first thing to decide is whether weight is a huge issue. I'm a tiny person who hikes so weight was the highest item on my priority list. The next thing on my list was stability as while my camera and lens combined weight-wise fit into a lower category, the lens I was using was a 300mm lens, and the extra focal length requires more stability so it was marginal for the lower level tripods. Take a look at Gitzo's website, there's a section (or at least there used to be) that talks about their tripods and what type of equipment you can use on them. It's useful when you start looking at other manufacturers and their equipment and how it might or might not work for you. So I figured that the mid-level tripods would probably suit my needs better than a marginal lower level one.

On paper it didn't sound like there was a huge difference between carbon fiber and basalt, while the aluminum ones in that category sounded heavier than I wanted. I was really surprised to find that what appeared to be not much weight difference was really significant when it came to actually carrying and manipulating them, so that put me into the much more expensive carbon fiber category, if I wanted to stay with a mid-level tripod. If you don't mind the extra weight, you can save quite a bit of money getting a good aluminum or basalt tripod.

More leg sections mean a smaller but heavier and slightly less stable platform. Since I'm a hiker, size is important. Since I figured that my set-up was marginal for the lower level tripod, if I stepped up to mid-level I could get away with buying a 4 section tripod instead of a 3 section one, and that would give me a smaller package. This turned out to be a good solution for me, but if size isn't an issue, you'd be better off with a 3 section leg.

The locks on legs is important and a personal thing. The first tripod I looked at was a Gitzo knock-off that had twist locks. The leg sections themselves twisted also and I was surprised to suddenly find myself holding a section in one hand and the tripod in another - figured that was a lousy idea.

The Gitzos I looked at had leg sections that didn't twist, only the locks twisted and had some type of stop for the sections. So one could (even with my small hands) twist all 3 locks at once on a leg (when it was collapsed), making it very fast for set-up (three flicks of the hand has all sections of all 3 legs released, pull out the sections and then close down each lock).

Many people hate the twist locks - they prefer the levers that are on Manfrotto and others (my old Velbon video tripod with its pan-tilt head has them). I didn't mind them on the Velbon, but kept pinching my thumb the time I tried the Manfrotto. The one time I tried hiking with the Velbon I got annoyed because I kept getting stems and things caught under the lever. The Manfrotto lever seems much better designed, it's levers don't stick out like my old Velbon did. However, I couldn't figure out how to reliably close them without catching some of my skin, which seriously discouraged me. But that's me - there are a very large number of people who are extremely happy with their Manfrotto legs and they are sturdy and well built. So that's another reason why I recommend trying before you buy. My first inclination was to get the lever locks, but found (to my surprise) that I really preferred the twist locks.

Since you aren't going to be doing macro, you probably won't care about getting a tripod with a center arm that can rotate to various angles (useful for macro but it usually adds weight). Getting a tripod with longer legs is steadier than getting one that depends on a center column for height. It's nice to have one who's center column can be reversed, so you can do the occasional ground-level picture. That usually means that the column can be removed entirely, which can save you weight if you don't need the extra height (what I do with mine).

For additional flexibility, look for legs that have more than one "stop" or angle for spreading out the legs. I do a fair amount of close-up stuff so it's nice to be able to have the legs out at an extreme angle, getting the camera close to the ground. Or if you are going to be using it on a hillside, being able to have legs at various angles and lengths.

I would not skimp on the tripod head. There's nothing worse than trying to use a head that droops the minute you let go of it. And another consideration is how the camera will mount onto the head - are you going to want a quick release on the head? If so, what type of plate attaches to the camera? Is it able to hold the camera steady without over-torquing the screw (the plate for the Velbon I have, which was designed for video cameras, has an extra pin that dSLR cameras do not have a hole for. The pin was easily removed, but it's about impossible to tighten the screw enough to stop the camera from rotating - the reason behind the second pin for video cameras, which are very heavy). That tripod was steady, the pan/tilt head somewhat acceptable (barely) but it was frustrating to have the camera at an angle (or set for a vertical shot) and watch the camera rotate completely out of position. I ended up opting for an L-bracket for several other reasons, but there are other regular plates that are much better than what came with my Velbon video tripod (Velbon makes good tripods for dSLR cameras, but mine wasn't designed for it and gave me a good idea of what some of the pitfalls are, and why skimping on the head is a bad idea).

Ball heads are faster to set up than pan/tilt, but you do have to be careful to keep things supported as your camera can rotate in all directions when there's no tension on it. More expensive heads have a third knob that can control tension, but mine does not and as long as I'm paying attention, I can judge when I have loosened it off enough to adjust but not so much that I lose control of it easily. It would be nice to have the tension control, but I don't feel like I really need it. If your budget allows, I'd recommend getting a ball head that has a separate panning control. I don't use mine all that often, but it does come in handy enough that I'm glad mine has it.

Many people like pan/tilt heads, especially if they've had a cheap ball head that ended up getting torn up because it was too light-weight for their equipment. And there's the control factor if there's no tension on the ball. On a pan/tilt you can loosen one control and adjust one angle, tighten, then adjust another control for another angle and so on. That was far more fiddling than I liked, give me a ball head where I just put it where I want and tighten it down.

I decided after playing with some equipment that wasn't particularly appropriate, that I didn't want to have to keep buying tripods and changing out equipment. I saved up and spent a small fortune on my set-up (Gitzo 2541 legs, Gitzo head - my second choice but couldn't turn down the extra rebate, Really Right Stuff quick release plate and RRS L-bracket designed specifically for my camera model) but I'm glad I did. I have leg locks I can live with, weight that doesn't make me think twice about taking it with me, size that fits into my tripod holder on my camera bag, stability to handle my equipment without problems (300mm lens with a 30 sec. exposure without a sign of shake anywhere, other pictures a minute or two with shorter lenses same thing) and a head that's quick to put in place and there's no camera sag, the ability to go from vertical to horizontal without changing the head, quick and easy mounting and dismounting of the camera. It's been well worth the money it cost and completely changed my mind about tripods, which up until then I had thought fell into the "necessary evil" category. Other people with entirely different needs and set-ups are equally satisfied with their manfrotto legs and pan/tilt heads. Or Benro tripods and Kirk heads. That's why I highly recommend actually handling all of the various types out there to see what it is you like and can live with - it certainly changed my mind from what it was when I first started thinking about getting one (that was more appropriate than what I had).

Good luck with your search!

ronin2307 Apr 23, 2010 11:48 AM

wow, that you very much for a detail and thorough explanation. i guess i will have to be patient until i can get to a store, where i can try things out.
many thanks!!

interested_observer Apr 23, 2010 11:07 PM

I think that Harriet just gave you one of the all time best primer in tripods I have read. Its going to be difficult to add because she was so complete....

I just wanted to touch on a couple of items. If you have a large box store near by at all - Best Buy, etc., they usually do have a small selection of tripods there. I would go by to see what they have and to pick them up and start to see what appeals to you and what does not. That way you can at least start eliminating features, and have some personal experience to apply to the decision.

Another, idea is if there is a camera club in the area - look on the internet. Folks there tend to always enjoy talking about their stuff, and would probably be glad to let you see what they have in the way of tripods.

Another approach is There may be one that covers your area - I would check it for tripods and see what may be available.

With that thought in mind, a number of years ago, I got a cheap one (~$10), that actually worked pretty well, but it did have issues. Yes, I now have a much better one, with a much better head, and paid more that I ever thought I would ever spend for the combination. The first couple of years I used the tripod infrequently, but it was very nice to have. Then I started getting into evening and night ambient light photography (citiscapes, etc.), where a tripod was an absolute necessity - and finally upgraded to a good reasonably moderate weight travel tripod (Benro) and an absolutely perfect panning ballhead (Acratech). So, starting out inexpensively does have its drawbacks, but (in my opinion) helps out in terms of deciding what you actually need and want. I am now looking for a second tripod to just have in my truck - so prowling for a used second hand one - where size, weight and condition are no longer issues.

It would help to know how you plan to use the tripod, what type of pictures (birding, scenery, panoramas, etc. ...).

hope that helps... :cool:

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