Get a Tripod With Center Column or Without?

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by tom_thumbnail, Oct 14, 2010.

  1. For a first tripod destined to be one's main tripod, is it better to get one with a center column or without?
    Everyone always says to avoid extending the center column when using a tripod. But most tripods come with them, and most people buy tripods that have them. So if the answer is with a center column: Why?
  2. It's always a compromise - no matter what tripod design you buy into. There are tripods that are tall enough that don't need a center column - I use one of those for my heavy lenses (500mm) - the problem is their weight - typically they are too heavy to go hiking with them (even the carbon fiber ones). For my every-day needs I use a carbon tripod with center column which does come handy now and then. When I have to set up on a slope, the tripod is often not high enough without the center column extended. Yes, you need to be more careful with vibration, but it works quite well.
    As I said - it's always a compromise:)
  3. I am trying to picture a tripod without a center column and only a Ries comes to mind immediately.
    The most important thing for a tripod is how sturdy is it. In fact, not just a first tripod, but why not buy one that will last you a lifetime? I have had a certain Bogen/Manfrotto going back to 1981 or so. I have changed the heads from time to time, but even still have that first one, which is great in some circumstances.
    I have never had a tripod without a center column. Center columns aren't always the most stable thing, especially drawn out to full extension with a large format camera on them. But, without it, I couldn't have gotten the shot I wanted. The main one I use has a two piece column, so when I spread out the legs for a low shot, it generally can accommodate that position--it can also be reversed. I do have an 8 foot tripod as well, very big and very heavy with a pneumatic center column. That center column is every bit as stable as any tripod even when extended all the way.
    A tripod is an investment and one that protects your cameras and can be a one time expense if you make a good choice and treat it right.
  4. I would get one with a center column. Just because you have one doesn't mean you need to use it. But it's there if you want it.
  5. at


    Consider a tripod with two center columns. My Bogen 3021n came with two columns. One normal
    one and a mini one for ground level work. The little was was very cheap...plastic and marginal. So I very carefully cut a four inch piece of the main column and attached a bogen 3/8 inch plate with JB Weld
    epoxy. It worked great. I would def get a tripod with a center column though.
  6. If just one general purpose tripod, I would get it with centre column. No need to use it most of the time, but it can be convenient or essential when extra reach is needed. If you buy a big and heavy tripod for use with long lenses, then I would leave centre column out. It is best not to use centre column for stability and since the tripod is big and heavy anyway, leaving the column out saves a bit of weight. And reach is also not needed with a big tripod, my biggest Gitzo goes to well over my head even without centre column.
  7. I'm not an engineer (nor do I portray one on television), but I bet the added central mass of the center column does a lot to enhance stability and damp vibration. On the other hand, there are times you wish it wasn't there, like if you're on foot where weight is important, and you're using a camera with a waist-level finder.
    Some tripods are convertible. My Manfrotto 190PROB has a removable center column, so you can unscrew it and just replace it with the top plate. This trims off quite a bit of weight, probably 400 - 500g. I've used it in this configuration on a couple of backpacking trips, although it's still pretty heavy for a backcountry tripod. There are probably other tripods that do the same thing.
    Mine is a few years old, so if you're looking at this or a similar Manfrotto product, check to make sure it can still do this. I believe they've updated the specifications, and the center column apparatus has changed a bit, so it may work differently.
  8. Look into the Feisol tripods. They offer tripods that can be converted to use a center column. I just got one of theirs and am very happy with it.
  9. A center column is enormously helpful when making small adjustments. Just don't extend too far when using low shutter speeds.
  10. I exchanged the center column on my Gitzo with the short one, as I more often need to get lower than higher. A big advantage of having a center column vs not having one is that (on Gitzos at least) they can be reversed for extremely low-level work.
  11. Gitzo "Systematic" tripods have an interchangeable center section, which can be used for a plain platform (standard), rapid or geared column, leveling head or video socket (larger video heads usually have a half-ball mount for leveling). With a Gitzo, you can have it both ways.
    A column is very useful for making fine adjustments in height, but raising the camera decreases the stability of the tripod. I prefer to use a leveling head, which makes shooting landscapes, buildings and panoramas easier. That's pretty much all I use in the field. I replace it with a column for portraits and closeups, and a short (stub) column when I need to get as low as possible. It takes only a few seconds and a wrench to make the switch.
    Systematic tripods are fairly large, which works better for me. Most smaller tripods come with a permanent fixture for columns. You can usually remove or exchange the column, but not the holding mechanism. That's enough for most people. Just because you have a column, you are not obliged to use it (decreasing stability). For convenience, I use a leveling device on top of the column (and usually leave the column in the down position).
  12. I bought a Feisol tripod and the separate center column. It turns out that for me, the tripod is the perfect height without the column. I never use it.
    If you decide on a tripod with a separate column, it might be wise to buy it without the column first to see how you like it. You only risk the cost of the shipping on the center column if you decide you need it. I wish I had done that.
  13. For me without it is better, but sometimes you neeed it higher and the column can be useful but less stable but it gets you the shot.
  14. I like the centre column ones best, because if you have one it's much quicker to adjust the tripods height rather than all three legs and if the tripod you buy goes to a sufficient height you don't need to use the centre column anyway if you don't want to.
  15. What Edward said. You can have it both ways and Gitzo make well designed and reliable products. The Sytematics are excellent. If the Gitzo prices are a bit rich for you Benro also make systematic-type products that are of good build quality, they call theirs Combination. I use both Gitzo and Benro products and they are built to last.
  16. I like the center column. It adds some weight but does not compromise rigidity on a good design ( you have to remember to lock it down, true.) The ones with elevator mechanism are probably the best as it is hard to wiggle a shaft to height and lock down precisely as on my older Gitzo.) I never had one without, but I could get used to it I agree. Never used it upside down to go low, but that offers another choice for the part. Get one with center column, unless you are a multiple pod user and then with and without.
  17. I would get one with a center column. Especially if this is your first tripod.
    I treated myself to a Gitzo eye-level tripod, GT2942L, in 2008. It included a center column. It also allows one to remove the center post, and use the legs without the center column. As well as reverse the center column. To use the tripod legs without the center column, one removes the Saflok Power Disk and the hook from the column. This is called the Ground Level Set, as when the legs are splayed out, and positions the Saflok Power Disk, about 6 inches high.
    At the top of the center column is the Saflok Power Disk, and at the bottom, is the hook. The Saflok Power Disk is the platform upon which one sets the head. The hook is for hanging weights, like your camera bag, either to stabilize your tripod setup, or to keep your camera bag handy plus stabilize your tripod setup. The hook is on a bolt which screws into the Saflok Power Disk when you reassemble your tripod without the center column.
    I recently purchased the medium length column as well. It's a little less than half the length of the normal center column. It's the same quality build as the original center column and tripod legs. Reason: when the legs are set at "medium", and the center column is not extended, the normal center column reaches the ground. So I have the medium length column so I don't need to extend the center column much when I position the legs at "medium".
    Lastly, a center column is necessary for my uses. I use a Nikon FE with the MD-12 winder often. I just like the feel of the combination. And the tripod socket on the winder is not at the center, but on the right-side. Because of the tripod socket's offset, when I reorient the camera for portrait with the shutter button up, panning brings the camera body in contact with the legs. Raising the center column a bit resolves this.
    Gitzo is high-quality and higher cost. To me, it's worth it. I like the feel, and I believe it's durable and reliable. And I don't believe extending the center column reasonably lessens stability, at least not with this Gitzo tripod.
    In any case, if you're fortunate enough to have a store nearby where you can try different tripod systems, you should. Take your kit in with you, and try loading up a likely configuration of camera and lens onto the tripod. And then try the tripod head adjustments.
    A tripod which works with you well will make photography more enjoyable. BTW, if such a store exists, where you can try the equipment, please consider purchasing from them, even if it's a bit more.
  18. I know I'm very late to this thread, but thought I would chime in. I would not want a tripod without a center column. As someone mentioend, I'm not so sure that the center columns actually adds to the tripod's stability. With my GT-2531, I have tested it over and over with different lenses, slow shutter speeds, using no delay and with shutter delay and with mirror lockup, and in every case I found absolutely no image degradation when the center column was raised four or five inches. In fact, in some shots, the images appear every so slightly sharper when the column was raised a little. I think a lot of this talk about using a center column turning a tripod into a monopod is hogwash, or maybe it goes back to when tripods weren't as well designed as they are now. Whether all brands of tripods using the center column are as good as the Gitzo I'm not sure. A lot could depend on the locking mechanism for the center column. The way the Gitzo's lock with the twist collar may lend to a more balanced stable platform than the screw type locking mechanism on the Manfrottos (Bogens) which I used to own.

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