View Full Version : Tripod Tips

10-31-2007, 11:04 AM
Can we do a thread on things to look for in a tripod?

I'll start things off with a question of weight. I frequently see recommendations to buy a heavy tripod, and other people making recommending a light tripod, both for the same application. People say a heavy tripod is more stable, but where does that make a difference? A light tripod makes tons (no pun intended) of sense motorcyclists like me that don't like strapping a lot of weight on my bike.

Some other questions I can think of off the top of my head: Are short tripods really useful? Are there good alternatives to small tripods? (like beanbags?) How tall does a tripod need to be? What should I look for in a head? What are your favorite tripod mods and accessories?

If this thread is successful, I'll compile your ideas and recommendations into this first post so future readers can get what they need without having to sift through the entire thread.

10-31-2007, 12:29 PM
The heavier the tripod the more stable. However, unless its really windy a light tripod is the next best thing. I recommend using a short timer for each shot then REMOVE YOUR HANDS from the tripod. I took a bunch of shots last week and the first half were blurry due to movement when I clicked the shutter. When I used the 2 second timer everything was perfect. As for a head, I like one that has a level bubble on top. I have marked the head in degrees to help me taking panoramas. The last set of legs I also marked so that I can let them down equally if they arent fully extended. Small tripods arent very useful. I have both and use the little one very seldom. You want to be comfortable so it should at least bring the camera viewer to eyelevel.

10-31-2007, 12:40 PM

Weight: This is a tradeoff. Weight is stability. But, you have to schlep it around. Backpackers are willing to trade some stability for light weight. You can get some stability back with superior material. Carbon Fiber is currently the king of tripod materials because it's light but very stiff. Combine that with sturdy joints and you can make a light tripod that is stable in light winds. Backpackers can add stability by hanging weight from a hook built into the tripod. My pod is not a backpacker model. It's not as heavy as some, because it's CF, but the thick legs are very strong and very stable.

Joints: Look for joints that don't flex. When you extend the section and lock it down, does the joint still flex, or is it solid. Solid costs money, but it increases stability. However, this is really one area you don't want to compromise.

Sections: This is the old 3 vs. 4 discussion. If you travel a lot or backpack, a 4 segment tripod is something to consider. There's no question: The more segments in the pod, the less stable it will be. Purists will say that anything over three is life threatening. Balderdash. Compromise is part of life. Just realize that if you really want stability, you may have to compensate for 4 segments by buying higher quality segments. In reality, the most stable tripods are probably the old woodies, though that only applies to one in perfect condition, and wood, being a live material, changes over time and conditions (heat, humitidy). However, they weigh a ton and are a pain to deal with (I've heard of exceptions).

Center Column: Mine has one, but it's a Gitzo. I trust Gitzo. If it were another brand, I'm pretty sure I'd have bought a pod w/o a center column. Tripod purists equate a center column to putting a monopod on top of a tripod. It's not QUITE that bad, but it does reduce stability. I've only once had the need to extend my center column. You should buy a tripod that is tall enough that you can stand tall and look through the view finder without extending the center column. The center column should be for when you have to set the tripod up below your feet or other unusual conditions. It is not there for normal use.

Leveling base: Wish I had one. Maybe someday (add ons are expensive). If you plan on shooting lots of panoramas, DO NOT GET A TRIPOD WITHOUT A LEVELING BASE. You may make a donation to the charity of your choice for this piece of advice. A leveling base means that everything above the leveling base starts from a level surface, no matter what the legs are doing. When you realize how much time that saves you, see the bit about charity above.

Head: Most pros use a ball head. Don't spend a lot of money on the pod, then skimp on the head. There are really good heads that don't cost a fortune. There are even better ones that do. My head costs more than most people's tripod and head. If you've never had the "best of" something, then you don't yet understand what that means. Best of is a luxury, but it's a luxury that you can really get used to. If I want to adjust my aim point (lens @300mm) by 1mm, I just unlock the head and re-aim. There's no overshoot because the tension is set so slick and smooth that the adjustment doesn't overshoot three times before I finally get it on target. I know you know what I'm talking about. ;) I'm not saying get the best. Get the best you can afford, and get one that is commensurate with the quality of the tripod that you get.

Since I don't have any super telephoto lenses, I'll leave it to someone else to talk about stuff like the Wemberly Sidekick and stuff like that. I just don't have the knowledge in that area.

10-31-2007, 08:09 PM
I want to add something to the 3 vs. 4 section debate. I went with a 4 section for two reasons. First the 4 section packs a bit shorter. And second it was actually several inches taller without extending the center section. This can negate the argument for the added stability of less sections if you are constantly needing to extend the center column! I seem to recall that the 4 section saves in packability, but gained about 1/2 lb over it's 3 section brother. My choice was a Velbon CF640. I scraped the 3-way pan/tilt head in favor of a mid-sized Manfrotto ball head. It packs better anyway.

11-13-2007, 07:02 AM
As an amateur just starting out about 5 months ago, I can second erichlund's advice. In an effort to save money to spend it on other accoutrements, I skimped on the tripod and got an el cheapo with everything plastic but the actual legs. Let me tell ya, if I knew then what I know now, I would have sprung for a REAL tripod. No plastic except where absolutely necessary. Make sure that the head is metal (preferrably steel), moves SMOOTHLY and locks your setting securely. My main area of interest is zoomed-in shots of birds and flowers with an occasional distant capture of something else. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to jerk your camera into the right angle, set the 2 second timer, take your hands off the camera, and about a millisecond before it snaps the picture -- you watch as the camera barely-perceptibly tilts! Of course, the bird/butterfly/bee/etc. is gone and your capture is crap. Go to a reputable camera store and test drive them then, see what eBay has to offer in the line you're interested in.

Just my 2 cents worth. :)

11-14-2007, 06:41 PM
I got an el cheapo too. It will hold the camera off the ground, but I am a bit diappointed too. I just ordered this:


Should be here tomorrow. Maybe this one will be better than my $29.95 special. I hope so anyway for tha sort of money.

I could quickly learn to hate this forum almost as much as I learned to hate Head-Fi. And their slogan, "Welcome to Head-Fi. Sorry about your wallet."

12-14-2007, 10:27 AM
How did everything workout?

12-14-2007, 08:31 PM
How did everything workout?

It's a fantastic tripod. I think it's strong and solid enough to support
an 8X10 view camera, yet it is ammazingly light weight. The only thing I wish it had was the ability to detach one leg and use it as a monopod. Now I know that when I look for a monopod, soon, it will have to be something similar in CF construction. The strength to weight factor is just unreal. Unfortunately, the price has gone up about 10% since I got mine, but I have to give it a solid 9.9. And the magnesium panhead is sweet5 to. Just really completes the rig.