Carbon Fibre tripods for 20lb +

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by david_simon, May 25, 2020.

  1. I have an old Benbo tripod which I have been using for my old 600 mm, f4 Nikon , D500 and the u-shaped Manfrotto tripod head. The lens, body and head together are pushing 20 lb. The tripod is about 8 lb. and is bulky. If we ever travel again I want a lighter tripod that can handle the weight and is more compact. I am fine with old used Carbon fibre ones as the new ones are probably too expensive. Any suggestions as to what would do the job?.
  2. With tripods, it's not the weight but the focal length. Of course the minimum weight management requirements must be met, including the head and mount. That said, any tripod system stiff enough to keep a 600 mm lens from jiggling in a breeze, dampen quickly when touched, and hold the lens position once you set it, will be strong enough to support the weight. The weight limit of a tripod is mostly determined by the strength of its leg joints, to not slip under load.

    The most stable part of a tripod is at the top where the legs meet. Your load should be as close to the apex as practical. Anything which increases the height above the apex increases the lever arm opposed to the stability of the tripod. That means a column should not be used, and if not removable should be set to minimum height. A flat plate is ideal, and a leveling platform is nearly as good.

    A #3 Gitzo CF tripod is a good compromise between stiffness and weight. I use one regularly for video and stills with lenses up to 600 mm. The center plate can be changed between a flat plate, leveling platform, video bowl and column as needed.

    My second choice would be a #2 Gitzo. The column cannot be removed, but it is stiff enough to resist vibration with 300 mm and longer lenses. A better choice is the Really Right Stuff equivalent to the #2 Gitzo. The center column can be replaced with a flat plate or leveling platform (I choose the latter).

    I use Arca type QR for nearly everything except video. It is stiff and since the plates are contoured to fit the body, has no motion between the tripod and camera.

    Ball heads, even the largest, are best used for lenses 200 mm or shorter. Longer lenses are better served with a cantilever head (e.g., Wimberly) or a fluid video head. In both cases the load is balanced on the head and stays where put on the subject. There is relatively little torque put on the tripod, hence little spring-back when released. With a video head, you control the head rather than the camera, for even less rebound. In both cases, you need a leveling platform for accurate balance and panning.
  3. I disagree. While structural rigidity is of course important, weight is the most important 'working part' of tripods. Mass, to be more precise. What keeps a tripod stable is the force needed to make it budge, and that is proportional to the mass of the thing. The heavier the thing, the more inert it is. Light but structural rigid tripods can be pushed aside or even knocked over when you stub your toe against them. Heavy tripods will not even register that you just broke a toe doing the same.

    Focal lengths are important in that longer focal lens lenses also are heavier, and the ratio of mass that needs to be kept still and the mass that is used to keep it still is important. And also because of the ratio of movement of the tripod to the angle of view of the lens. A light but long lens needs to be kept still as much as a heavy lens of the same focal length, but the lighter lens doesn't need as heavy an anchor, as heavy a brake as the heavier lens does.
    The mass of the lens (and camera) of course also helps in increasing inertia. A heavier camera will help stabilize itself.

    So it's weight, mass, that makes a tripod work.

    Structural rigidity is, of course, also important. Any joint must be sturdy. Legs must not flex, etc.
    But then again, when legs flex and bend a bit when hit, that flexing absorbs part of the energy, taking away from the energy that eventually reaches the bit hat is on top of those legs and needs to be kept still. So too tight, rigid or stif is also not that good.
    This mostly so when not considering external forces hitting the tripod with a camera on top, but movement that originates in the camera itself. Camera shake. If a camera is on top of an absolutely inert tripod, the energy that make sthe camera shake has nowhere to go, is reflected back into the camera, making it resonate more/longer. If that camera is on top of a tripod head that is ever so slightly 'sloppy', has some play in it, most of that energy is absorbed by tiny amounts of movement in fixings, the net effect of which will be less vibration.
    Last edited: May 26, 2020
  4. Heavy tripods are best and camera stands are better yet. I'm surprised more photographers don't venture forth in the woods with a 20 pound wooden two-stage set of sticks. Actually I have a 20+ pound tripod and head, permanently residing in my attic. The one I actually use (Gitzo #3 + RRS 55 mm ball head) weighs about 6 pounds. If more mass is needed (e.g., to compress grass) to make a firm connection with earth, that's easy too. However anything you hang from a hook is loosely coupled, and has little effect on vibrations.

    If you are on a solid surface (i.e., not sand, grass or mud), a rigid tripod connects with the ground, which lends the needed stability throughout. If connections are loose, then the mass of the components is not coupled. Those components (e.g., a camera on a sloppy mount) are free to move at their own fundamental frequency.

    Carbon fiber has exceptional damping characteristics. comparable to wood. As a test, you can mount a camera with a long lens and tap the middle of one leg. How much shake and how quickly does it dissipate?

    If mass alone lends stability, why do large bells have a lower pitch? Without damping, heavy objects still oscillate, only slower than lighter ones.
  5. Some years ago the late Barry Thornton did a comparison (on film) of light tripod/heavy tripod/mirror lock up and published the results in his book, the exact name of which escapes me at the moment, but may have been 'Elements'. Imaging a pin point of light, the results demonstrated the benefits of some mass, with those images taken on a heavy tripod being considerably sharper than the ones taken on a lighter tripod. Using MLU also improved things, but only for the shutter speeds where the camera vibration due to mirror slap was a significant proportion of the overall exposure duration. For longer exposures where the vibration was only a fraction of the overall exposure time, there was no noticeable difference for practical purposes. MLU for your 'blurry water x 10 ND filter' shots is a bit pointless, in effect. I seem to recall a maximum shutter speed 'ceiling' as well, beyond which, shorter exposure times made little or no difference between tripod or handholding, but it escapes me what that was, maybe IRO 1/125th? (and obviously dependant on medium, focal length etc.). I suppose body mass counts for something, and provides the best damping of all, for the kind of vibration you might get with mirror slap. I'm a skinny b*gger so most of my shots are blurred.

    Of course, he only did it once, and this may not have been on carbon, so it's neither statistically significant nor entirely relevant to the OPs question, but it was to prove a hunch, which it did to some extent.
  6. I don't have a Gitzo, and have several heavy aluminum tripods ranging from a trusty old Tiltall up to some massive studio tripods that weigh in at 20+lbs each.

    The one I use most often? A mid-range set of Manfrotto CF legs with an Arca Swiss B-1. One of these days, I'll make some sense of the Gitzo catalog and get a CF Gitzo to replace it.

    For now, though, that combo is light enough that I actually take it with me and sturdy enough for 35mm/FX DSLR use with the lenses I own, or even with a Hasselblad and Distagon or Sonnar. I'm afraid to put my Pentax 67 on it-that's where the Tiltall comes out, or one of my heavier tripods.

    I find it funny that one above poster mentions "rigidly coupling" when I recall, several years back, that same poster advocating that at least screw on a tripod head be left slightly loose to act to "damp vibration." I wonder which it is...
  7. Hi David. I love my old Benbo for its versatility; tripod, copy stand, horizontal boom and low-level capability all in one. However, I really don't rate its stability very highly and it wouldn't even be my third choice for holding a 600mm telephoto steady.

    I have an old article #144 Manfrotto that I'd rate more highly for keeping vibration down. It's long discontinued to the best of my knowledge, but similar to the 055 model in weight and size, and a lot lighter than the Benbo, even though it's made from aluminium.

    Long story short. Have a look at Manfotto's 055 model. Either aluminium or CF. I'm not keen on Manfrotto's current plasticky heads, but maybe you could reuse the head you have on the Benbo.
    I've owned and used a few - all aluminium ones. They're built with precision and like military equipment. I.e. heavy as hell and with no regard to the muscle-power needed to use it. I have never taken one out of the studio/house, unless it's to go to another indoor gig that can be accessed by vehicle. Totally stable and reliable, but expensive and weighty. I can't speak for any CF models, since I tend to agree that weight=stability and vibration resistance.
    Last edited: May 27, 2020
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  8. In order to dampen vibrations, there must be work done, ie, a force exerted over a distance. A loose connection has little or nor resistance, hence has no damping capability.

    In my experience, a CF Gitzo has the strength and stiffness of the next size larger aluminum version. The number of leg joints has little effect on stability. Leg sections have a bushing that runs inside the upper section with only about 0.003" clearance. There is virtually no wobble even before the collar is tightened.
  9. Loose connections with little or no resistance were not suggested.

    CF tripods lack one thing that is important for what tripods are suposed to do: mass. Even if they are strong and stiff. Unless you get a heavy one. :)
    That they do is also important, because it makes them more portable. There is a switchover point somewhere beteen too light to be any good and too heavy to even consider carrying along.
    For me, CF tripods mostly remain on the too light side of that point. And are far too expensive for what they offer (less good for a number of times the money is not a good proposition). A metal Gitzo 3 is a fine compromise.
  10. Wrong question. The right question is; why do large bells require a more massive clapper?
  11. Big bells still ring, albiet at a lower pitch. Lead bells go "thud". The difference is damping, not mass. Before you run out looking for a lead tripod, remember that it has low tensile strength and is easily deformable, not to mention high toxicity.

    Aluminum has a modulus of elasticity only about 1/3rd that of steel. Consequently an element with the same stiffness as stell vibrates at a lower frequency. It is also more deformable on the molecular level, which contributes to its high damping factor.

    As a composite material, analysis gets more difficult for carbon fiber. It is composed of two phases - carbon fiber which has an extremely high modulus of elasticity and low ductility, and epoxy resin with a low modules and easily deformable. In deformation, the resin generates heat, which gives the composite a very high damping factor.

    As a fibrous substance, wood has a much higher modulus of elasticity lengthwise than across grain. It is consequently stiff with a high damping factor. That said, mallet instruments use bars of wood (or aluminum) to produce musical sounds. Similar instruments with steel are described as "bells", with long tubes or small bars (glockenspiels and the celeste).

    CF is used in electronic instruments to support sensors and accelerometers. It is effective in a drum set precisely because it contributes virtually no resonance of its own when struck.

    For the mathematically inclined, simple resonance can be described as a 2nd order, linear differential equation.

    mx" + cx' + kx = 0,
    where x = displacement, m = mass, c = damping factor and k = spring constant.
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  12. Rubber has a low spring factor and high damping factor. It is widely used to isolate vibrations between mechanical components (motor couplings and mounts). I use rubber mounts to isolate microphones from handling noises of cameras and vibrations through the floor. When you stretch rubber, it gets hot (q.v., entropy), which dissipates energy of vibration. Microphones don't have to be pointed all that precisely, unlike cameras, and if they wobble a bit, no problem.

    Anyone who has experienced a cheap, plastic tripod has little appreciation for its inherent damping ability when the camera won't stay where pointed unless perfectly balanced and dead level.
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  13. I've known people who claimed that tripods as a whole were useless because that was all they'd been exposed to.

    I then loan them a better one-usually either my Tiltall or my workhorse Manfrotto CF if not both. At first, $100 for a Tiltall or the $350 for tripod+head(used) I have tied up in the Manfrotto/Arca Swiss seems daunting. Then, they use one of them and realize WHY they are that expensive. The we get into the conversation of how that is just entry level :) . Granted the B-1 isn't entry level, but just dated now.

    I know you're not a fan of ball heads, Ed, but at least the B-1 is a fairly competent, if heavy, unit as such things go.
  14. I've had a Gitzo 3 for over 30 years. I think it's the Gitzo 340 Pro Studex Performance. With the Gitzo 3-way head, it weighs 9 lbs. or about 3 lbs. more than a CF equivalent with the same head. The Gitzo is solid as a rock and for me it wasn't worth replacing with a CF. I used it for medium format Mamiya RB67 and now with Large format, although my LF is actually lighter than the RB.
  15. I've had a Benbo too, but gave it up in the end. Like carrying around a set of bagpipes.

    I'd second the 055 though. The first one was stolen in a house burglary, but insurance paid out. Man, did I have a fight with the shop assistant (Park Cameras) trying to get a like-for like replacement. CF was the way to go apparently (and obviously more expensive), but I liked my solid, and heavy ali one. They are reasonable in price too. Eventually, I wore him down.
  16. To the contrary, I have a B-1, and more recently an RRS BH-55 and BH-40. Each has unique benefits, but the B-1 occasionally sticks (needs whacking) and the BH-40 controls are tightly spaced (though complete). They will hold any lens steady (or a 6 lb 4x5 view) at any angle. However it is hard to accurately point a lens longer than 200 mm due to the residual flex in the system, and subsequent spring-back.

    It's been two years since my last major photo vacation (Ireland), when I carried an RRS Series 2 Long and a BH-40 head, about 6 lbs in total. Next time I will seriously consider carrying that tripod with an RRS FH-350 Fluid Head. I use that head mainly for video cameras under 12 lbs and long lenses. It has a lengthwise Arca clamp, perfect for a lens with a foot, but can be used with any lens and the camera with a simple crosswise adapter. It's about twice the size and weight of a BH-55, but you can't pan and tilt video with a ball head.
  17. Somewhat OT but seems to pertain: I see that Wildi and others suggest bearing down strongly on the camera/ tripod when making the exposure. Do we agree?
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  19. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    +1 on suggesting you look at the Manfrotto 055 range. I have two now, recently acquired the CF. Suitable for my uses and steady with 500/4, camera and grip. CF is "really light" comparatively, and a blessing for me.

    Also (probably) +1 on using your existing head, though I don't understand which one it is?

  20. Thanks for the clarification. I've used a version of his 2 bath developer for years, purely out of convenience, and it does what I need of it.

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