Best inexpensive Carbon fiber tripod/ball head for D700

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by stephen_fassman, Sep 30, 2009.

  1. I'd like to get a light weight tripod and head to support a D700, w/ 2lb -3.5lb lens, & strobe. I presume that Carbon fiber will be the lightest to carry? I presume a ball head is recc'ed over the traditional 3 plane/ 3 locking screw head, for ease and speed of mounting, positioning, following action? What height is optimum, (I'm 5'8"), and whose models are most widely used? Is there such a thing as an under $200, quality ensemble, like the Adorama ad for "their knockoff brand" that's advertised in all the photo mags? How much should I expect to spend? I would want low camera mounting/macro ability, and while on that subject, whose Macro heads (and their cost)are most widely used? ARE THERE Any special features (tripod & head) to look for that that would justify spending a bit more? Thanks.
  2. Carbon fiber and $200 = No. Sorry.
    My tripod is around €200 (so should be around $200), so it should be representative for what you can get on that budget. It's Manfrotto (Bogen in US) 055DB aluminium tripod, with a 488RC2 ballhead. It is not exceptionally good, not very light (~2kg) and in winter it is very unpleasant to touch (aluminium gets very cold) - but I feel it's about as good as it can get for the money. It can carry around 6 kilos, and without raising the centre column its height is good for me (around 6'0"). Especially the height of the tripod without raised centre column is a big plus for me.
    The main issue for me is the ballhead; it is indeed way faster to use than a 3-way head (I used to have that), but this one is kind of hard to set precisely when there is a serious load on it (= D300 w/ 300 f/4 and TC14). For panning, the ballhead is fine. I think better ballheads will pay off - but the pricetags of those are already way beyond $200.
    The second, more obvious, issue is the weight. Carbon fibre would be much nicer, but expect to pay double over aluminium.
    For macro, look for a centre column that can be reversed, so you can hang your camera upside down.
    So special features that will justify spending more: quality geared ballheads and light-weight tripod. If you expect to use yours very often, it is very much worth investing more. If you'll be an occassional user (like me), the set I have is good quality for the money as long as you can accept the compromises.
  3. Forget about CF and a ball head for $200. Try this:
  4. I would suggest looking at used options and even then forget CF (try the 'the auction site'). I second the Manfrotto 055 legs, they are good enough for the D700 but I would avoid their ballheads which are very poor. A decent head should use the QR plates from kirk, RRS etc. which don't twist. Also note that just because the manuf spec says you camera + lens fits under the max weight figure it makes no guarantee at all about how stable it will be - tests have shown a cheap tripod is worse than handholding for many shutter speeds.

    Why have you bought a $1700 camera (and probably lenses too) and left just $200 for a tripod? You will never see the performance of the camera and lenses without a solid tripod especially if you are using lenses 200mm and longer. The D700 is a heavy camera even without big lenses.

    I use the gitzo 1327 with acratech head which works very well with the D700. This cost £850 new. Buy cheap and buy twice.
  5. Stephen.... There's no way you'll do it for $200, but take a look at the Benro legs. I was not impressed by their heads, but the legs are superb and half the price of Gitzo.
    Mark.... It's a $2700 camera. Which makes a $200 tripod/head budget even more absurd. (sorry Stephen, but I gotta call a spade a spade)
  6. I have three carbon Gitzo's, large, small and tiny. Two I purchased used and the third is a new one pound GT-921 which cost $200 for hiking as light as possible. The GT-921 is very short but I will only be using it for long hikes (up to 15 miles). It is stong enough with my D700 and a short prime to get sharp images at slow shutter speeds. I suggest you save up more and get a good tripod and head as if it works well and is light enough you will take it with you and use it. I also have had good success with a Gitzo 1077, Induro head and Arca Swiss B-1. You should be able to get a 3 pound setup for less than $450 that will be short and work with small light lenses. I would not try to put a tele on any of these light weight tripods unless you use high shutter speeds.
  7. A bogen aluminum tripod legs that are 58in tall cost about $130.00. I think the model that replaced mine is called the 190xb. The 488 bogen ballhead is a nice solid head. It comes with a couple of quick release plates. It's about $120.00..Later you could add a 438 bogen base leveler so you would be able to shoot panoramics easily. That will run about $90.00. but it can wait or you can never buy one. The bogen legs and ballhead will hold your gear. I use mine with a 70-200 f2.8 lens and it's pretty solid. But it will cost more then $200.00 unless you shop used. If used is ok look for the Bogen 3001 pro tripod legs.
  8. I agree with Mark & Joe above. A tripod is a very crucial piece of gear. I'd have gone "cheap" on the camera rather than the tripod/head. Find a used set up aluminum legs that go to at least 5' 6". If you take a look at the weight savings of medium to smaller sized tripods, you'll see there isn't all that much between carbon fiber & aluminum. The place you DO need to spend money is the tripod head. Do not go cheap there, or you'll simply be buying another again soon. The lowest priced decent ballhead I'm aware of is the AcraTech Ultimate. It weighs about a pound, and supports about 28 pounds. It takes standard Arca Swiss style QR plates. FWIW, my tripod/head cost about $900. At the time I bought it my main camera cost me $600. Never regretted spending the money on the tripod; I still use it every day. The camera (F100) is now nearly worthless on eBay.
    Kent in SD
  9. I have a Bogen 3010 with a Manfrotto ballhead. I have had the legs for 20 yrs, during which time I have replaced one leg clamp. That said, if you want CF, I might try the Flashpoint brand from Adorama. This will cost you about USD 400 for legs and head, but I have heard (FWIW) that these are decently made and capable of doing a good job.
  10. The tripod you seek is here:
    Get a Manfotto 486 ballhead and your quick mount system of choice. I've used this tripod with an 35 DSLR, RZ67, and 4x5 Field without any problems.
  11. I recommend the Kirk BH-3 ball head. Small, relatively inexpensive, very strong and stable.
    CF legs are another story, but you're shooting yourself in the foot if you put price ahead of quality.
  12. The BH-3 is another low priced but very decent ballhead. Buy something like it or AcraTech, and then look for a used Bogen tripod on eBay if you don't have any money. The ability to use Arca Swiss QR plates is very much worth it. The Bogen QR plates used to drive me insane because they slipped around.
    Kent in SD
  13. there's a review on PN on the flashpoint CF which says its not made very well. has anyone used the benro CF legs? they start at about $230...
    for the OP, CF doesnt really become cost-effective unless you have a lot of weight (more than 10lbs, i'd say). there are quite a few well-made aluminum 'pods which weigh around 3 or 4 lbs.--only about 1/2 to 1 1/2 lb heavier than the lightest CF legset. i have the manfrotto 190xprob, which is very sturdy and weighs 4lbs, with the 488RC head, which is good enough for occasional use. for extended hiking and backcountry use, i'd probably want something lighter.
    you can get a decent entry-level aluminum manfrotto or giottos legset and ballhead for around $200; manfrotto's 190 CX is about a pound lighter and costs about $250, while the lightest CF gitzo legset is over $500.
    in the long run it's probably worth it to hold out for what you really want, though. it doesnt make a lot of sense to blow a wad on a camera and cheap out on the tripod or the ballhead if you plan on using them regularly. also, if you plan on doing macro, you want something with low-angle positioning ability, and reversing or horiz. center column, etc.. if your budget is firm, kent has the best advice--buy a new ballhead and a used legset.
    basically,it comes down to this: affordability or quality, pick one. with tripods, you either compromise on weight, features, or price. if you want lightweight + features, you pay more.
  14. A few have recommended the Manfrotto 488RC2 Ballhead. I have it and I'm not really happy with it when using my D300 and 70-300 f4.5-5.6 lens. After composing and tightening the ballhead, when I let go of the camera/lens the lens drops slightly. Is this what is called lens creep? Anyway, I am now looking into replacing it with the AcraTech or Kirk BH-3. I just bought the 488RC2 last February. I guess what they say is true, keep buying until you get it right.
  15. I've also used the 488RC2 and found it to be pretty flimsy and I seriously wouldn't use it for anything other than a small mostly plastic slr. When you use a better quality head there is a noticeable increase in rigidity and sturdiness.
    If you are on a budget, pan and tilt heads are very much more solid than their ballhead equivalents at the same price point in my experience. They do tend to be heavier though.
  16. The most reliable brand that's value-oriented is probably SLIK and even that will run you in the low $200's, just for the tripod alone.
  17. Look at Feisol tripods. You can find a CF tripod for around $200. Ballhead will be more. I own a Feisol CF tripod and love it.
  18. Somebody above posted a link to the Best Buy site for the Velbon 530 carbon fiber tripod for $199. I bought that exact tripod in a Best Buy store on clearance for $119 which was a killer deal. I was going to replace the pan head but it works so good and is very smooth I have decided to keep it on for a while.
  19. there's a review on PN on the flashpoint CF which says its not made very well.​
    I'm the one who wrote the PN review on the Flashpoint. And I'm not sure that is the conclusion anyone should be taking from the review. Essentially I say "It's no Gitzo, but it's very usable". And it is, I use the one I have fairly often.
    Read for yourself here:
  20. Thanks. Can I get a consensus of aluminum tripods and pan heads (since they appear to be more "user/ camera/shooting the pix" friendly, and less prone to sag,(poor thing), than a ball head. I believe the D700 is ~ 2.5 lbs, the 2.8 zooms lens will avg 1.7 lbs, unless its the the 3.5 lb 80-200, a strobe adds +1 lb., for a total range from 5-7 lbs. Please don't forget to recc a MACRO head, the type that is finely adjustable forward and rearward several mm's. Thanks again.
  21. Considering the investment in the D700, 14-24, 24-70, 105 VR, the answer is a bit more obvious after reading the responses.
    **Re the tripod: Weight is the issue. Whether it is made of CF, space shuttle alloys, or a mixture of both, the basic camera kit will be extremely heavy. Then add the filters, accessories, a few AF primes, and a 70-300 VR, and it just became very heavy.Now add the tripod....
    **Re the head: it appears that the better pan head, will be cheaper and more precise in features, than a cheap ball head. But a better ball head appears to set up & mount the camera easier, has finer and more precise adjustments that hold better, will pan with action sports more precisely, and do macro better. So the answer is now obvious... Where do the better ball heads start, where are the diminishing returns realized, where does over kill start? Please be model and price specific. Please also comment on the better QR systems.
    Having used many moderate alum pods w/ generic pan heads with F4/ 80-200 sized kits, and video, I've experienced all the performance probs their cost creates. I'd like to make this purchase for the d700 once, and call it a day. I'll spend whatever is appropriate to get a system that will do what is required or it. I hope this clarifies the situation. Thanks.
  22. I think you should go to a good camera store that has a excellent selection of tripods and heads to see how the different tripods will work with your system. That is what I did with my D700 and 500mm f4 P when I purchased a Gitzo 1327. I would also suggest getting a tripod that is eye level or taller if you plan for just one. Make sure it will also go low enough for macro work. Pick one that is more stable than your current needs so you can grow with it instead of out of it. There are many good ball heads available and I think its pretty much a personal decision on which one works for you in your conditions. I am very pleased with the Arca Swiss QR system which is widely available from different manufactures. I prefer Gitzo and the twist lock method, others do not, you should check both types. Your investment deserves an excellent tripod setup and your system will be heavy regardless.
  23. Thanks for the tips regarding ballheads! I agree with Fred Wheeler's description of the Manfrotto/Bogen 488RC ballhead. For the money, it's OK, but there is just to much play while tightening it.
  24. I use the kirk bh-3 ball head and love it. It holds any of my lens without trouble at any angle I want. A D300s with an 80-400 cocked 45 degrees and it doesn't even blink. You don't have to crank it extra tight like some other heads. A slight turn of the knob and it becomes ridiculously tight. A slight turn the other way and it freely moves again. There's a nice little tensioner knob to prevent flop - a nice feature. Using friend's tripods with junky loose heads makes me appreciate the absolute confidence of the BH-3. I use the generic quick release plate that comes with the head rather than buying a new plate for every camera.
    I've been using a Manfrotto, similar to the 190XB (mine isn't made any more) and have been quite happy with it. It's rock solid. I got rid of the center column and mounted the BH-3 in the funky head on the tripod. Never use the center column anyway and it's just extra weight, plus extending is kills the stability. For the cold aluminum, I wrapped sections of gaffers tape around the upper leg section. I now always have a little tape with me and I'm not directly holding heat-sucking aluminum. Plus it makes the pod black and more cool looking - always a critical factor.
    I'm looking for a lighter CF/basalt pod for hiking but I'm expecting to pay big bucks for it. For $200, you're going to support $5k worth of gear? I know it seems crazy but spend more money. Kent is right. I've gone through 5 bodies and still use the same pod. Heck, I've shot with a medium format and even a large format camera on it. It was tough with the 4x5 but I could. It was kind of dumb but it saved me huge space and weight when it really mattered.
  25. As others have commented, going cheap on the tripod/ballhead is a mistake. I have a Gitzo G2220 Explorer with a Markins M10 ballhead . I paid over $600 for this setup 3 years ago and it was money well spent (it appears this setup is still over $600).
    The tripod is heavy, but extremely stable. I've shot in breezy conditions and still got sharp photos because the tripod stays where I put it. It's also extremely configurable for positioning into odd arrangements that let you get shots you couldn't get with other tripods (it's especially useful for macro photography).
    The M10 ball head is awesome, just set it and forget it. It handles up to 90 lbs, it moves into any position I set it and it stays there. It also rotates on the base for perfect panning.
  26. I'm not going to say that anyone on this thread is WRONG for suggesting expensive or high-end tripods. There is no doubt, they are much better than the cheaper options.
    However, you need to ask yourself "how often and in what situation will I use this item". Tripods are one area where it is very easy to spend a TON of money on something that only gets pulled out every so often.
  27. You have some of the best lenses produces by nikon, you owe it to your huge outlay to get the most out of them buy not skimping on the tripod. Tripods may not be as 'fun' to spend money on but your results will only be as good as the weakest part of the chain, it's like putting cheap tyres on a fast car.
    Better ball heads start around the kirk bh-3 price range
    As for diminishing returns, see this test between the RRS BH-55 and much lighter Acratech V2:
  28. slik 700dx tripod legs aren't light, but they'll be at least as tall as you need them to be...only 99.95 at BH. plus, you can wear the included bag like a backpack :)
    if you've only used outfits with cheesy pan-tilt heads on flimsy legs, a $250-300 tripod comprising some cheap legs (like the slik 700dx) and a cheap ball head (manfrotto 486, 488, whatever) will seriously be a world of difference.
  29. I think if you want a one setup and buy once, my thoughts:

    Gitzo 3 series tripod (CF) new or used, you can get 2nd hand, maybe cheaper that is not the 6x CF materials but still CF. Pro's have used a 500mm on it. Like a common Gitzo 1325 I think. The head - maybe a Kirks BH-1? The BH-3 isn't it would be ok for a 200 or a 300/4 but not anything more. Not sure on macro thou.
    But having said that if you go on holiday and want something light to swing over your small backpack, you will have to buy another tripod. I am just in the midst of getting a Gitzo traveler and a Markins Q3 head.
    Just like your usual backpack or a camera backpack they are made for different situations. Cargo or checkin bag. A week long hike sleep in sleeping bags, a day hike, a bag for strolling in the city. Bags designed for hiking or a journalist or a sport photographer or a climber or as a simple backpack tourist.
  30. I also have the Kirk BH3, and am looking to upgrade my old Bogen aluminum tripod to a Carbon Fiber. The Gitzo's are very expensive. After looking at all the other companies, I see that Induro has the best bang for the buck.
    Kirk BH-3 Ballhead with Quick Release - Supports 15 lbs (6.8kg) for $265.00
    Induro C213 Carbon 8X C-Series 3-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs - Supports 17.6 lbs (8 kg) for $370.00
  31. there's a review on PN on the flashpoint CF which says its not made very well.
    I'm the one who wrote the PN review on the Flashpoint. And I'm not sure that is the conclusion anyone should be taking from the review. Essentially I say "It's no Gitzo, but it's very usable". And it is, I use the one I have fairly often.​
    sorry josh, but that's the conclusion i got. maybe i should have gone more into depth.
    you say:"The legs have the usual carbon fiber “swirl” to them and are all fairly strong feeling with less flex that I would expect out of each individual section. That is, all except for the smallest section with is pretty thin and pretty flexy when you try to bend it"
    "Compared to a more expensive CF tripod like a Gitzo, the Flashpoint 1128 doesn’t have the most rock solid feel to it."
    "the 1128 does have more leg flex and vibration that I would like when all four sections are extended. I have a feeling that long exposures in windy environments might be troublesome ."
    this one is the clincher:
    "Tapping each of the tripods on the ‘shoulder’ transmits much more vibration to the Flashpoint than to the Bogen."
    so, essentially, what you're saying is the Flashpoint shaves weight at the expense of stability compared to similarly-priced aluminum 'pods, and that its less well-built than more expensive CF 'pods, correct?
    i've never used the flashpoint, but basically it seems that you get what you pay for. i guess you can always weigh the flashpoint down with a sandbag, but if you're hiking and trying to go light, that kinda defeats the purpose, doesnt it?
  32. Steve,
    Although I have a much heavier setup I also use, I have a lightweight setup I use for hiking long distances. It is a Feisol CT 3342 carbon fiber tripod, with an Acratech Ultimate ballhead. The whole outfit weighs 3.25 pounds. I have used a Nikon 400 f/3.5 with an F5 on the Acratech and had it hold steady, but obviously that's in a pinch--point is, it will easily hold your other lenses and D700. Price wise you are probably in the 500-600 range, but I agree with everyone above that your tripod is essential and should not be skimped on.

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