Sturdy Tripods For Long Exposure

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by willrobinson, Sep 5, 2019.

  1. I'm looking for a tripod mainly for long exposures...that won't break the bank. Realistically I'm not going to be flying around the world with this so size and weight are not my top concerns. That said I will be doing landscapes so I have to get it from the car to the photo spot. The Mefoto Road Trip gets good reviews and at $150 looks nice, but maybe too lightweight. The Globe Trotter even more robust and still in my price range. How do they compare in stability to say the Manfrotto 290 xtra. Clearly different categories but which is more stable? (i.e. just because it's heavier is it better?). Also the Geekoto is reasonably priced in carbon fiber...besides being lighter does that make it less prone to vibration?

    Thanks for your incites...Will
  2. Without commenting on the specific brands, carbon does generally absorb vibration better than aluminium. When I got my Manfrotto 055CXPro3 (carbon) it was visibly less prone to vibration and more rigid than the plain aluminium version, although Manfrotto have upgraded that model since mine.

    Generally: light, rigid, cheap - pick two. Are you able to narrow it down a bit?

    What camera are you looking at? A long exposure with a 500mm lens or a 5x4 is a different story from a long exposure with a small compact (or consumer dSLR with kit lens). What are you trying to support it against? If you're somewhere sheltered, I've done long exposures with very iffy support that would barely hold the camera (but shook less than me); if you want to set up in a hurricane, you need more, but otherwise you might be able to rely on the exposure time to hide any vibration. You might find something with spiked feet useful if you want rigidity and don't mind the set-up time. How much can you carry? In my experience tripods are lighter than you might think given the weight of a typical decent head (what are you looking at head-wise, or is that part of the question?) but if you don't mind carting something heavy about, that may help. I'm not fit and despite having a relatively expensive and light tripod, don't carry it all that far - but it wouldn't kill me to use a cheaper and heavier tripod. If it's more of an issue than you admit, there's no point going crazy.

    A friend recently donated a really heavy tripod to me (which may relate to it falling on his foot); I believe it was cheap, and certainly old, but it's at least fairly rigid, if not quite the match to my carbon pods; if I remember what it is, I'll post back. Checking carefully, eBay might help - it's hard to make a heavy tripod that's not rigid (check the size of the leg sections), it's making a light one rigid that's hard. I'm sure there are plenty of current options that are affordable - I think of the Manfrotto 290 as relatively flimsy (by some standards; that's not to say it's bad, just built for lightness), so if that's your bar, you should be able to match it.
    willrobinson likes this.
  3. You can always increase the stability and rigidity of a light/less expensive tripod by hanging a sand bag (or camera bag) from the bottom of the center column. The increased weight increase stability by putting the legs into compression. This extra weight will also reduce vibration but you have to be careful that the weight isn't swaying during exposures.
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  4. Good stuff thanks...I'm working with a nikon D7500 and a 17-50 lens, so my camera/lens weight is on the lighter side will likely be exposed...beaches and such is what I'm interested in...I can carry a bit...pretty fit for an old guy...but I also don't want to make it such a chore I don't enjoy it...As I'm going to want to smooth out water I expect that most of my exposures will be at least a couple of minutes so vibration will be an issue...sounds like carbon fiber would be best
  5. I've seen that trick and notice that many have hooks for that purpose too
    ed_farmer likes this.
  6. Thanks for clarifying, Will.

    Firstly: good news about your combination. That is, as you say, a camera/lens on the lighter end of the spectrum. That means less weight cantilevering off the top of the tripod, so it should vibrate/sway less (although it'll also not hold the tripod down to the ground so hard). There's not much area exposed to the wind compared with a big telephoto, so that helps too. It's also not a particularly long focal length, so vibration will be less visible in the image than if you were using something longer. Finally, the same applies to the head as the legs - you shouldn't need the most expensive tripod head just to hold the camera without sagging too badly. Of course, it's easy to buy based on all these decisions and then find yourself later buying a big lens and replacing it all (been there, done that, I'm not alone) - but I think it's reasonable not to start by spending $1000 on the tripod on this occasion!

    Some other concerns, though. Beaches imply salt water, which is a reason to avoid some metals and lean towards carbon. You might want to check that you can strip the legs down when you get home, because sand gets in them. (I often espouse the benefits of the weird leg locks on the Velbon Ultra range, which I see MeFoto have copied as "hyperlocks", but I suspect they're less amenable to stripping down than some. That said, accidentally letting my tripod fall over in Antelope Canyon left me with a long tedious evening of trying to get sand out of the twist lock threads. At least I didn't need tools, which I would have for a flip lock.)

    I'd definitely consider a tripod with spikes as an option (the screw-in ones tend to be longer than the adaptable feet) - you'll want the normal grippy feet if you're on rocks, but in sand - especially if you're going to hit it with waves - being able to wedge the tripod in place helps. Flexibility in the leg positions is probably also going to be useful if you're in rough terrain. If you want to be able to hit it with water, the thicker the leg sections the better. If you're more worried about being in water than being rained on, there are tripods with the leg sections in inverted order - the Manfrotto neotec is an example, although it's an expensive one and I'm not particularly suggesting it; Gitzo have a system for keeping water out, but again, expensive. It would be an argument for a longer tripod with fewer leg sections (which also tends to increase stability) rather than one that folds down very small. The MeFOTO RoadTrip isn't what I'd choose for getting hit by waves and sand by the looks of it, although I've no personal experience.

    I'm not sure whether you're considering a separate head or looking for a combined set. While you can usually replace the head, I'd bear this in mind as a future option - ball heads are likely the quickest to set up (with some argument for variants like pistol grips and the like), which can be useful if you're on uneven ground, but a gear head would give you more precise framing; I use both depending on what I'm doing. All else equal, it's nice to have a tripod head with an Arca-Swiss compatible quick release plate, because then you don't have to switch that around if you use a different head. (You can also get third-party L plates which make it quick to change your framing.)

    You'll have to compromise somewhere (as do we all); I did have a quick look, but I'm not really sure what I'd recommend without a lot of research. If you can, trying one out is useful - I find tripods a personal thing (for example, Gitzos have consistently bitten me and drawn blood when I've tried them in stores - the leg clamps pinch, which my RRS doesn't). So long as you're not actually setting up in the middle of large waves, some of what I'm saying is probably paranoia (and nothing short of a concrete block will work anyway).

    In the interests of giving at least one concrete suggestion, perhaps have a look at the Vanguard Alta Pro 2? It seems to be in your budget, has twist locks that might be easier to clean, has an arca clamp on the ball head, has foot spikes as an accessory (according to Vanguard), and you might find the trick centre column useful if you like rock pools etc. The final leg sections don't look ridiculously skinny - although I've got to say the Manfrotto 290's are less so than I remember. I've never used either, so please don't just take my word for it, but it's something to consider. There are carbon legs in the price range, but the smallest sections look pencil thin.

    willrobinson likes this.
  7. My favorites are the Bogen/Manfrotto aluminum tripods. I'm aware that aluminum will pass vibrations more than carbon fiber, but I've gotten rock solid performance from aluminum, from 35mm up to, and including 8x10. My favorites have been the 3036, 3051, 3033, 3046, and the Manfrotto 475B. When I got my first 3036, it was during a cold winter here in Michigan; so I went to the local hardware store, bought the appropriate size water pipe insulation tubes, and used duct tape to secure them to the upper leg tubes. Besides insulating from cold, the pipe wraps also deadened any vibrations. I have all my aluminum tripods altered this way. I also attached a hook to the bottom of the elevator shaft, so I can hang a sand bag or camera bag to dampen against wind. I do have a CF Manfrotto with a gimbal head on it, and I usually have that and a couple of aluminum jobs in my Escape.

    You can find used Manfrotto/Bogen, and Gitzo aluminum tripods for fairly cheap, since everyone wants carbon fiber.
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  8. Used is a good idea, and the sturdier older tripods should get you a lot of stability for the money; big aluminium trumps skinny carbon. Possibly check whether you'd find ones with a centre brace limiting if your seaside adventures include getting very low or straddling rocks, but that may be an unnecessary concern. Recent tripods are mostly relatively lightweight, and I suspect more photographers are using lighter cameras than they used to (like that 10x8!) - technically that includes Will, but it sounds like he's not hiking with it.

    Just if it wasn't obvious: if you're hanging a weight to stabilise the tripod against wind, make sure it's not swinging in the wind itself (especially since obvious sources of weight have a lot of area exposed) - have enough of it touching the ground to keep it still.

    If you really want wind proofing it might be worth seeking an old video tripod - that is, one with lens designed to resist twisting motions (as with a panning video camera); pure photo tripods are generally more concerned with vibration from the camera than twisting. The legs are typically made of multiple columns that form a triangle with the apex (e.g. this - without knowing anything about this specific model). Probably overkill for what you're talking about doing, though.
    willrobinson likes this.
  9. If your location is suitable another way to stabilize the tripod - if it has a centre column hook - is to secure a length of rope around a heavy rock or driftwood placed on the ground under the middle of the tripod 'spread' and tie it off to the hook.
    This technique has saved me a couple of times on a windy location. Of course don't forget to pack a length of rope :(
    willrobinson likes this.
  10. The stiffness of a. tripod is related to the leg diameter and material of construction. The load bearing capacity is mainly limited by the strength of the joints.

    With Gitzo tripods, I have found that a CF tripod is somewhat stiffer than the next size aluminum version. Gitzo sizes are graded from 0 to 5, with each size about 1/8" greater leg diameter. A #2 Gitzo (about 1-1/8") is the average tripod for outside use, good in CF for a 300 mm lens in a mild breeze.

    You can judge the stiffness of a tripod by looking through the viewfinder with your longest lens mounted. Tap the middle of a leg and see how much vibration is transmitted to the camera, and how long it takes to dampen.

    Collars are stronger (and quieter) than clamps, and do not need periodic adjustments.
    willrobinson likes this.
  11. First thanks to all for the comments...great anyone familiar with the older Vanguard Obeo plus's been discontinued but looks pretty solid in pictures...but hard to judge how big those legs actually are without something for perspective but found the aluminum version for a decent price
  12. The Mefotos are nice but a little wispy for anything aside from light-weight mirrorless. Depending on your height--and assuming it will see duty other than long exposures--the old school Manfrotto 190 or 055 aluminum models are price/quality winners. You really don't need carbon fiber or girder-like rigidity for pin-sharp long exposures with your gear.
    willrobinson likes this.
  13. I have a Bogen/Manfrotto 3001 I like a lot, but my go-to pod is still the Tiltall I've had for 47 years. It's held up my Nikons, TLRs and 4x5s with little trouble.
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  14. Choose a tripod for the longest lens you intend to use. Load capacity is a secondary consideration, and only needs to be enough to support your equipment. In practice, any tripod capable of supporting a 300 mm lens without significant vibration will hold many times the weight of the camera and lens.

    Leg joints are considered a weak point of the support - more leg sections means more vibration. This does not hold for Gitzo tripods and many of their emulators. Leg sections are supported by a tight-fitting conical bushing at the joint and a tight-fitting bushing at the top of each moving section.

    Columns are a liability with any tripod. Not only is the support relatively weak, the added height magnifies any vibration in the legs. Columns have their use, so it's a trade-off between stability and convenience.

    Indoors, on a hard, flat floor, practically any tripod will work. Outdoors, on uneven, often soft ground, you need to choose more carefully. A tripod too large or heavy to carry conveniently will get left behind when you need it the most.

    A hanging weight will press the feet into a soft surface (e.g., grass), and lower the center of gravity against the force of wind, but it will not materially reduce vibration at the camera. The extra weight must be rigidly coupled (e.g., bolted) to do that.
    willrobinson likes this.
  15. It's important to mount camera/lens combos under their center of gravity, if possible. A camera mounted directly to a tripod, with a lens cantilevered out from the mount is a recipe for vibration, not to mention being bad for the mount. As an example, I made a flat plate that mounts under my bellows for macro work. It has several tapped holes so I can balance the load for any reasonable combination of camera and lens. You'll find many 4x5 monorail cameras have a movable block with the tripod socket. The camera should always be balanced by moving the block. Balance is worth way more than any effort to improve the torsional stiffness of the support.
    willrobinson likes this.
  16. My need was for an ultra-steady tripod for use with focal lengths of around 2000mm. I found an "iron boy" sort of tripod for a reasonable price at the local camera store--an STX 72--which had the additional benefit of being tall enough so I didn't have to bend double to use it:
    STX-70, Manfrotto 393, Sigma 600mm+2x tele extender​
    It would be heavy for hiking.

    Another option to consider is a unipod, which does allow porting it about.
    willrobinson likes this.
  17. No experience, and if I've seen one I don't remember it, but I agree that it looks robust and it seems to have fairly positive reviews. If you're getting a used one, check the situation with the feet - it sounds as though they're supposed to come with both spikes and snow shoes, and I suspect they're the kind of things that might get lost. I'm a little wary of tightening mechanisms for flip locks: my Manfrotto 055 has flip locks and came with a tool to tighten them, which took about a week to fall off the tripod and get lost. I think I've got something that will tighten them, so it's not the end of the world, and fortunately I've never needed to - just warning you. (I did have an ancient ultra-portable Manfrotto which broke a flip lock, but it was very flimsy because it was so cheap and tiny, so I'm not holding it against all flip locks.)

    JDM: You find those last leg sections rigid enough for a 2000mm? They're a little skinnier than I would have expected.
  18. I have not seen a price range that the OP is aiming for.The $150 comes across as a suggestion.

    I have a Benro C2980F. It's carbon fiber with flips and it comes with spikes and a nice carrying bag. I've used it at the beach for long exposures, in the woods, in the house. It has never failed me and didn't break the bank. It is a medium weight model and I've had a 400mm lens with a gimble head on problem at all. It's not a burden to carry. I'm a short, aging, but in decent shape for an oldster.

    My husband has an Induro CT214 with twist legs. It was more expensive than the Benro, and is heavier duty. It serves him well and has never had any problems. He's never complained about it's weight.

    You may want to look at either of these brands.

    You don't always need to extend the legs fully. A lower profile is sturdy and sometimes a lower angle is better. It's easy to get in autopilot and just extend the legs fully without thinking about whether it's necessary. No, I wouldn't suggest it in the surf unless you're really good at playing chicken with the waves.

    Best wishes in your search.
  19. I have an early Induro AT313 Alloy/8m with twist legs - It has served me well over the years.

    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
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  20. Actually works just fine. The legs are aluminum, but feel like iron. In judging them in the picture, remember this is 72" high without the extension.
    I bought it in the local store 'cause I could try it out and feel how steady it was -- and this was the tripod bought by the Photography majors at the time

    Here is 1920mm equivalent on the STX 72 (APS-C 1.6x + Teleconverter 2X + 600mm Sigma mirror lens) with an inset showing the view from the same spot on an Argus C3. Of course, I used mirror lockup and a remote trigger.

    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
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