Cheaping out - a big pile of glass and carbon fibre?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by fluppeteer, Dec 9, 2010.

  1. Hi all. Those who've followed it, sorry to bang on again about my big lens purchasing options - I'm just trying to balance a budget, and I'd value an opinion on how much extra equipment I need in, er, support. This is about how much a cheap tripod and head compromises heavy glassware.

    I already have:
    Camaras: D700 and F5.
    Tripod: Manfrotto 055CXPro3. Stated weight limit 8kg.

    Lens options (beaten-up second-hand options in both cases):
    1) 400 f/2.8 AI-S. Partly so I can combine it with a (modified) TC-16A and get some sort of autofocus - I'm not scared of manual focus, but it's nice to have an option, especially if (within its limited range) the TC-16A is reasonably fast on a D700. I don't mind a little post-processing to handle LaCA and vignetting; however, I'm concerned that I've often seen this lens used stopped-down, and I'm not so interested in using it as an overweight 400 f/4. This lens weighs roughly 5kg.
    2) 500 f/4 P. Inability to combine with a TC-16A is annoying (although I'd be after a TC-14), but the reduced weight (3kg) is nice. It's also about half the price of the 400, given that I can get one in the UK whereas I'd have to pay import duty on the 400mm. Used bare, it's quite a big jump from my next-longest lens (200mm), though.

    I'd prefer not to have to shell out on a full Wimberley head - utterly smooth subject tracking is beyond my needs until I can afford an AF-S lens. My preferred option would be a Manfrotto 393 bracket, if it'll cope. My current ball head is hopelessly inadequate for anything of this weight, so a Sidekick or similar is out of the question; there doesn't seem much point getting an expensive ball head for a huge lens when a gimbal head is easier to use.

    Likely subjects, in decreasing order of priority: (mostly small) wildlife, photoastronomy (mostly deep-sky objects), possible portraits, a little (outdoor/daylit) sport without too much subject movement. I expect that means shutter speeds either faster than 1/100 or, for astronomy, in the several seconds range - I might be able to stay out of the "danger zone" for camera vibration.

    Don't worry, I'm not asking yet again for someone to help me decide between the lenses - at least, not directly. I would like to know:
    1) If I go with the 400mm, will my tripod (which with the lens, camera and bracket is right up on its stated maximum load of the tripod, which I'd normally stay well below) hold up, if I treat it gently (pick fastish or - with mirror lock up - very slow shutter speeds, don't extend the column, block the wind)? Even with a TC-16A making things unstable?
    2) If not, do I need to budget for a new tripod even for the 500mm?
    3) Will the 393 bracket cope, or would I utterly regret it? It seemed okay at holding a current 400 f/2.8 and a 200 f/2 when I last saw one set up, but the new stuff is lighter than the manual focus lenses, and I didn't try shooting through it.
    4) If I stay out of the vibration danger zone, is it possible to live with the existing lens feet? I've read Bjørn's rant, but I suspect he's more exacting than me.

    I know the perfect support would be something like a Gitzo systematic series 5 and a full Wimberley head, but I'm obliged to cheap out a bit. Yes, Thom's article on buying expensive stuff to start with is hanging over my head - I'd anticipated living with a Sigma 150-500 longer than I'm in fact prepared to, so the big glass shopping snuck up on me.

    If I really have to drop a thousand pounds on upgraded support, that pushes the 400 f/2.8 well out of my price bracket. If I have to do the same even for the 500 f/4, I need to spend some more time saving up. I'm not as critical as professional wildlife photographers, but if I'm going to get a cracking noise followed by a mangled pile of carbon fibre and glass the moment I try putting everything together I'd rather know in advance. Whether it's wasteful to buy a 500 f/4 if what I really want is a 400 f/2.8 depends rather on how much the 400mm really costs if I'm going to get decent images out of it.

    Any advice, including "you don't deserve decent glass if you can't treat it properly" appreciated. :)
  2. I went through four tripods and (more important) tripod heads before finally buying a Gitzo 1325cf and an ArcaTech Ultimate ballhead. Haven't felt the need to buy anything else since then, and that was eight years ago. I should have done that in the first place. Easily holds a Nikon 500mm f4, along with anything else I've ever put on it. No problems with vibrations. No problems, period. Buying a top quality ballhead in the first place would have saved me over a hundred dollars. The lesser ones don't bring much when resold on e Bay.
    Kent in SD
  3. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Check page 373 of the D700 manual. It looks like the TC-16A is not compatible with the D700.
    One item I wouldn't skim on are tripod legs. Once you have a big 400mm/f2.8 or 500mm/f4 type lens + body on it, it has to be stable. Otherwise, some repair bill will likely cost you a lot of money in the future. I am not familiar with the 055CXPro3; you need to decide for yourself whether it is sufficient for your intended load, especially under some wind outdoors.
    Last year, solely due to my carelessness, I left my 70-200mm/f2.8 + D700 on my Gitzo 1325 under very windy conditions in the Antarctic. I turned around to pick something up from my camera bag on the ground, and it look the wide literally seconds to blow the whole thing over. It broke the hood on the lens and make small damages on both lens and body. The lens is still AF fine but the manual focus ring is now stiff. Nikon gave me a repair estimate of $500 or so, and I declined repair. At least both my lens and body are still in working condition without any problems, as long as I don't manual focus.
  4. "It looks like the TC-16A is not compatible with the D700."
    In its factory original form, no. But I believe that the OP has indicated he will be using a *modified* TC-16A.
    TC-16A modification:
  5. Shun--
    I live in an extremely windy place. I've had my own tripod and camera blown over by a 62 mph wind, and also a 74 mph wind. That last one blew me into the ditch too! Winds of 30-50 mph are fairly routine here, especially in winter when the snow greatly reduces friction on the wind. My strategy has been to not extend the legs at all and simply sit on the ground to take my shots. Otherwise, I keep my camera in my hand and only attach it when taking a shot. That's yet another reason to buy a first class ballhead--they have a very robust quick release. I went "cheap" on my camera, not the important things.
    Kent in SD
  6. Will the 393 bracket cope, or would I utterly regret it? It seemed okay at holding a current 400 f/2.8 and a 200 f/2 when I last saw one set up, but the new stuff is lighter than the manual focus lenses, and I didn't try shooting through it.​
    I must say the 393 bracket surely can hold the 400mm f/3.5 + TC 301 + D200 making this combo an effective 1200mm lens. I also added the long lens support with the velcro tape for better stabilty.
    I can acchieve very good results with this setup (and even better without the TC) with resting or very slow moving objects. Otherwise it is quite hard to precisely manually focus such a long lens. Often I have problems with atmospherical phenomena when focusing very far objects.
  7. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Thanks Michael; I missed the point about modification. In any case, the TC-16A is not something that works well in today's standards for AF and optics.
  8. Don't buy an inadequate tripod! Company stated tripod maximum load specifications
    are generally overly optimistic and for shooting under ideal conditions. Buy a quality tripod with more than the load capacity you think you will require, especially for long lenses. Pay now for the proper equipment or pay again later for what really works. A good quality tripod and head will last you a lifetime if you take care of them. Avoid hanging weighty pendulums from whatever you purchase. This technique does not steady a tripod, and a swinging weight will guarantee just the opposite and/or exceed the capacity of the tripod. even if the weight attached ultimately sets on the ground. Bowing tripod legs do not make for a solid camera mount.
  9. Thanks, guys - sounds like I should worry about my Manfrotto (or at least use it with its legs collapsed) - I've been impressed with it so far, but then I wasn't thinking of a 5kg lens when I bought it. A Gitzo 353x, which I gather is the replacement for the 1325, still looks reassuringly expensive, although I suppose an aluminium GT3330 isn't too bad. I'm still unconvinced by the idea of a ball head for a big lens - it just feels like balancing six kilos on top of a ball is the wrong approach, compared with a gimbal, but I can't claim experience.

    Fortunately I don't tend to be out in inclement conditions much, so I might be an easy customer. Until, of course, I do take it out in a gale and forget its shortcomings. I appreciate that those who suffer for their art may be more demanding. (The nearest suffering I can claim is a few shots of the Milky Way taken at about -15 degrees C a couple of weeks ago, standing in the snow in my jumper and trainers.)

    Shun - as Michael said, people seem to have modified the TC-16A to work on a D700 (et al.) successfully. I remain worried that the hoi polloi will notice this and drive the used price up...
  10. Andrew, I will comment only on the head for the tripod. Taking Kent Staubus advice for getting an ArcaTech Ultimate ballhead I never had to look back. Whereas I don't have a 400 lens I do have a Sigma 70-200 f2.8 that is big and heavy. Put that along with the TC 2 for it and you still have a solid setup.
    phil b
    benton, ky
  11. Miha - cool, thanks (although the f/2.8 is a bit heavier). Re. conditions, I plan either to be not that far from the subject, or pointing at the sky and hopefully avoiding the worst of the atmosphere - but I'll be stuck no matter how I get to a long lens.

    Robert - knowing I have designs on a bit of big glass, I wouldn't now buy a mid-range tripod like the 055CXPro. The thing is, not having planned to uprate my glass at the time, I already have it - so given that I've already wasted the money, do I need to step up? It sounds worryingly like the answer is yes, although Miha's feedback on the 393 might mean that I don't quite need to spend the same as the lens price on both a big tripod and a Wimberley (accepting the restrictions of the Manfrotto). I knew I'd be at the limits of my tripod - I'm within stated range, so I don't really expect it to collapse, but it may well be wobbly. Of course, I've never seen it be anything other than rock solid, but I've never sat an eight kilo sail on the top...

    Shun - can you elaborate on how detrimental the optics of the TC-16A are? There seemed to be some happy customers. I can get autofocus but fuzzy from my 150-500, so if that's all the 400 f/2.8 + TC will achieve, I'll save my money (and stop my tripod from sweating) and go the 500 f/4 P route. [Edit: I've just spotted that Bjørn claims "sharp centre, fuzzy corners" and that some of the "happy customers" are using DX. Ah...]

    Thanks again for your help, everyone.
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Shun - can you elaborate on how detrimental the optics of the TC-16A are? There seemed to be some happy customers.​
    Andrew, the TC-16A was a stop-gap device Nikon introduced back in the 1980's during the early days of AF when the world was full of manual-focus lenses. That was like a quarter century ago. I do not have the habit of collecting lenses that don't work well for me. You need to search for reviews youself. I am not pointing at the TC-16A per se, but regardless of how poor a lens is, there is always a bunch of people who rave about it.
  13. Thanks, Shun. Sorry, I'd not meant to put you on the spot - I just wondered whether your "not something that works well" comment was from personal experience. I'm not expecting 400 f/2.8 VR and latest teleconverter performance, either in optics or autofocus speed - I know my place, and my bank balance - but I didn't know whether you were specifically saying it was worse than I expected. I'll go review hunting - I just know I'm asking a lot for a review of a teleconverter that isn't supposed to work on a D700, combined with a 400mm lens that it was never designed to work with. :)
  14. Kent, just curious what you would be photographing in 60+mph winds?
  15. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Kent, just curious what you would be photographing in 60+mph winds?​
    He was testing a Nikon VR3 prototype that is supposed to give you 10 stops of vibration reduction. :)
  16. Andrew,
    My tripod advise stands. However, as far as tripod heads go, if a Gimble type head or adequate ball head are too costly for you at this point, I would consider a large vintage Gitzo 3 way head which can be found used, quite reasonably priced. Some will argue that they are cumbersome and slow compared to the alternatives, and they may have a point, but Gitzo 3 way heads are very sturdy.
  17. Shun, I'm afraid you are violating the nondisclosure agreement. (lol)
  18. Elliot--
    I shoot outdoors almost everyday. I'm a salesrep in the Dakotas and Minnesota and can't pick the weather. When weather is really nasty, I just cope with it as best I can. I photo a wide range of things on my daily rambles, but often photo trains. Several times a year here the wind is SO strong it blows trucks right off the highway. I never linger when passing one on the downwind side! When I was in Iceland last summer I was out in a wind coming off a big glacier that was so strong I had to lay flat on the ground to get a photo.

    Kent in SD
  19. I wouldn't call the 055CX series 'midrange' - they're extremely light and stable. Also, Manfrotto rates them very conservatively. I have used a D300s with a 300 f/2.8 and TC (forget which one) on a 190CX with good results, and that definitely exceeds the 'recommended' load of the tripod. Things you need to do:
    1) Use the mirror lock-up and a cable release. Obv.
    2) Give the tripod a couple seconds to stabilize after you move it and before you shoot.
    3) Hang a little weight off the centre column. The legs are strong enough to support your rig, but (for lack of a technical term) they don't weigh enough to hold your gear down for long exposures if it's even a little windy. I found that by hanging half a bottle of antifreeze off my legs (now we're at about twice the recommended load of the tripod) my longer exposures were much better. And yes, I do often keep antifreeze in my car. I had a leak a while ago while out of state, and now I'm paranoid.
    These steps helped me immensely. Of course the lens was a rental - if I actually owned it, I wouldn't be running around with a tripod rated for half what I was putting on it. But for short-term using going to double the recommended load worked fine (albeit a little touchy), so I wouldn't worry about slightly exceeding it. I'd still plan on buying a heavier tripod eventually, but don't feel you need to run out and get one right away.
  20. I can't comment on the tripods. I would like to comment on one of your proposed uses for these lenses though. You said you want to do astrophotography of deep-sky objects. With the 400 at F2.8 you will need exposures in excess of 30 seconds to get anything decent. Even at 10 seconds and 400 mm you will get little more than a field of comma shaped stars. To photograph deep-sky you will need a mount that has equatorial tracking. And for a 400 mm lens and camera that heavy a pretty good one.
    There is software that will stack images taken at shorter exposures but field rotation will still be a problem. So you need an equatorial mount to do that. You can piggyback the lens on a substantial telescope or buy a mount only. You can take some great wide field shots with the D700 but to get the faint-fuzzys you need a good mount. There is a product called a hyperstar and I believe a mount so you can use your d700 through celestron SCTs if you want to hear about it. You will also want to read up on long exposure noise reduction. There are three kinds in the D700. One of these you can't shut off.
    Good luck with your search.
    Just thought you would like to consider this.
  21. stp


    I did a side-by-side comparison of a gimbal head and a ballhead (RRS BH-55) with a Canon 500mm f/4 lens, and there was no comparison at all regarding lens stability for photographing relatively static objects: the ballhead was far more stable. The gimbal head is great for tracking a flying bird, but from my (limited) experience, that's about it. I've used the RRS ballhead for 500mm f/4 and 300mm f/2.8 lenses with no problems regarding balance or modest tracking. The steps outlined by Zack above are important for any long lens on any tripod. I'm also considering a bean bag for added weight on top of the lens as well as an extension arm that locks to a tripod leg and the camera (thereby offering two points of contact between the tripod and the camera/lens combination). For big lenses 400mm and above, I don't think there's such a thing as too much stability.
  22. Zack - reassuring, thank you! Technically I could also borrow a surveying tripod from a friend that at least looks like it should be rated for enough (as far as I know, all he's ever done with it is drop it on his foot), but it's so heavy that the prospect doesn't appeal too much. I know my current kit isn't ideal, but I'm really wondering what I can get away with in the short term.

    Lee - thanks for the advice. I'd been thinking mainly of stacking a lot of images and using processing to shorten the star trails, but to be honest the astrophotography thought is secondary. I'd rather see things through a telescope than produce poor versions of images that people with better kit, and Hubble, have done better - hence I'm after a big Dobsonian to look through rather than a much smaller driven mount to photograph from. My theory was that if I did want to photograph anything, a 400 f/2.8 might be better than an f/5.5 telescope (for deep sky - for stars, the scope will be brighter). I've only made a few abortive attempts through lesser glass so far, so if I'm going to find it very fiddly, remove it from my list of requirements. :) I'll do some googling on the rest of your suggestions.

    Robert/Stephen: thank you, I'll have a look at other heads. Astrophotography aside, I was hoping to use the D700's decent high ISO performance to keep the shutter speed in the 100s range, and I was hoping that this might offset some of my technique and equipment deficiencies. A pan-and-tilt is a bit of a last resort if I ever point the lens at something moving - the same applies to the ideal long-lens technique of letting everything stabilise (although I'll do my best).

    It sounds like I should get the cheap gimbal head, but also plan on the high end tripod and ball head in my future. The import costs and the review I've now found of the TC-16A (thanks, Shun - dodgy edges indeed) mean I might be going the less-demanding 500 f/4 route after all. Choices choices, but I'm always going to dither over something this expensive. Now to ebay everything I own. :)

    Thanks again, everyone. The world of big glass is intimidating. Although not as intimidating as my credit card statement.
  23. Aside: I've posted in the beginners' forum (since it's not a Nikon-specific question) asking how much good long lens technique matters in the days of high ISO. That's not quite what I was asking here (here, I wanted to know whether what I've got will suffice to provide "good long lens technique", not whether I still need it in the first place). I quite expect to be told that it's still as relevant as ever. I just wanted to add this note in case anyone interpreted my question as cross-posting, or thought I'd had amnesia about all the good advice you've given me.

Share This Page