Tripod for Nikon travel / wildlife kit

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by michael_bisset|1, Jan 30, 2017.

  1. I do a lot of travelling and am keen on shooting wildlife. My kit is Nikon D810, 16-35mm, 24-120mm and 80-400mm with 1.4x teleconverter. In recent years I have shot wildlife in Botswana and in the Galapagos Islands handheld, with good results. In July I am going to Alaska to 'shoot' bears at a wilderness lodge and because there might be a lot of sitting around and waiting, most blogs that I have read, recommend you take a tripod.
    I am torn between a Gitzo 2 series traveller tripod with Arca Swiss P0 head (with Kirk mount to be added) and a Gitzo 3 series systematic with Kirk BH1 head. I have Kirk mounts on camera and long telephoto. The traveller is portable and would fit in carry-on luggage but may be a bit small for the 80-400mm. In contrast the systematic is well suited for the bigger lens but would have to be checked in and I am concerned that its size might deter me from using it for day hikes and landscape work that requires a bit of walking.
    Welcome your thoughts as both about the same price. The choice is between small and more portable and big and more sturdy.
    Many thanks
  2. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I think it will be tough to get wildlife & travel with the same tripod. I have large tripods for wildlife & car travel and they do a fine job. I have virtually stopped taking a tripod for air travel. I used to bring a Leica table top with a ball head, but used it so rarely I stopped. Your 810 and an 80-400 are a pretty good load. I have a Manfrotto 3245 monopod I have thought of trying -- without the ball head & plate it is still 26" (or so) long, so a packing issue. I have used it for wildlife with the 80-400, and even a ED 600 5.6 and it works fairly well. Good Luck with your quest!
  3. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Would you consider using a monopod?
    If you are going to Alaska to photograph bears from a lodge, the advantage of a tripod is that you can set it up to aim at some bears. When you see activity, your camera is mostly pointing to the right direction already. Even though you may need to make some adjustment, it will probably be minor.
    For locations such as Botswana and the Galapagos, which happen to be my last two major travel destinations, I was mostly hand holding, and a monopod could work well too if your biggest lens is the 80-400mm zoom.
  4. Most of my tripod shots are taken with carbon Velbon legs and Acratech head - the lightest kit I have and tends to be with me on hikes and in carryon luggage while the Gitzos (w/heavier ballheads) are sitting at home. Your 80-400 should work fine with the lighter tripod and head with a bit of attention to balance and technique.
  5. I guess you just have to follow your own bliss. Sometimes I use a monopod, but if the 200-500 is used, I'd take my (no mid column) Feisol CF is helpful and it's below 5lbs (hike friendly). It's about 26" long when folded, so it fits into my duffle bag. Prefer to keep it simple - using one tripod.
  6. Mike, I suggest you consider taking a tripod and a monopod. Both may be of great use to you at different times. When I travel, I like to take my four leg section Induro carbon fiber tripod with me. I believe the current model is INDURO CLT204 CLASSIC SERIES 2 STEALTH CARBON FIBER TRIPOD. This series two ought to be strong enough for your 80-400mm. Just make sure it is tall enough for you when fully extended.
    My monopod is similar to the INDURO CM14 CARBON 8X CM-SERIES 4-SECTION MONOPOD. I use the Really Right Stuff MH-01 monopod head with it. Kirk has a similar head. It often supports my Nikon 300mm f2.8 on my d810.
    In Botswana I used a bean bag filled with buckwheat hulls in lieu of a tripod and head. I did have my monopod and head with me in Botswana and it was used every day.
    I would add a second body to your kit. I bet when you are shooting bears, you might be needing to use more than one lens when the shooting gets started.
  7. I'll second the beanbag option — if you'll have good options for placement. Mine can hang over a window or railing or lay flat or ???. You can rest the foot in it or attach a tripod head for more control. On a recent trip to Tanzania I used my monopod once but could easily have lived without it. I think my son used his tripod once or twice but I don't think it was critical for either.
  8. You don`t mention if the tripods are CF or aluminum. I assume they are CF.
    I have both series 2 and 3 from Gitzo (old versions), currently with a P0 on the 2. Obviously the bigger the better, but to my taste a series 2 is more suited to the task. Series 3 are noticeable bigger and heavier, not my choice for backpacking.
    I find the 2 good enough for my 70-200, don`t know with a 80-400, my guess is that it will be perfectly fine.
    I have mixed feelings about the P0; it is strong, small and light, but it doesn`t have the typical smoothness of other A-S heads. Not bad, is the one I mostly use in this tripod, do the task. BTW, I had to modify mine to directly accept A-S compatible plates.
  9. Thanks everyone for their comments. The 2 tripods I mentioned are both carbon fibre. I was planning on taking a Gitzo GM2541 monopod which I have and which should work with the 80-400mm lens. I have a D300 body as backup. I do have a beanbag but until now had not thought of taking it.
    Some of the waiting for bears is done while sitting and the Gitzo GT2542T tripod which under normal circumstance might be a few inches too short may end up being just right. I'm 5' 7"
    Life is full of compromises and my aim is to be able to take everything in carry on, to be happy carrying everything in the field and to do the best to support my lenses. I may be asking too much !!
  10. I have 3 Gitzo CF tripods - 1128, 1348, 1548. Of those, I'd take the 1348 (would be a series 3 in their current line). It fits in your checked luggage, is still very "carryable" (I'm 65 and pretty fit, but not very strong), and will provide excellent stability for your body/lens combos. I like the compactness of my 1128 and will sometimes take it when my trip is international or has only limited photography as part of it, but I'm never as happy with it as I am with my 1348. I would always take the 1348 if photography in the US was the reason for my trip. If you compromise as you suggest with no checked bags, then make sure your compact tripod has a center column with a bottom hook for ballast (like your bag and contents) to improve stability.
  11. Rod, IMHO you have a real tripod gap... :) Series 1 tripods are maybe weak (mine are also too short, -I mean, without the wobbling center column-) for 35mm camera use, while series 3 are more suited to medium or large format lightweight cameras (mine are also too tall, useless height adds weight). Of course a series 3 CF is better and a pleasure to use (also a series 5), but I`d say a series 2 is just fine for any DSLR camera (providing that the lens is not too big!).
    I tend to consider (probably wrong) that leg diameter is also something to take into account. A four section tripod has the same lower section as a smaller 3-legged series tripod; that is, a series 2 four section has the same leg diameter as a series 1 three section, or a series 2 three section as the same leg diameter than a series 3 four section... of course, the top section and head size dictates the series, being obviously larger on higher series.
    Anyway, for trips I think four sections is a must. I have three and four section tripods, and while I like three better for everything, they became a pain for backpacking.
  12. Michael, from my experience, I think the GT2542T is simply too low to be useful and comfortable. It is a very nice tripod, but I`d consider it as extreme lightweight option with a big compromise on height... I personally dislike to use center columns, I think they only add wobbling (well, on a series 2 I can use it just a couple centimeters if needed). Gitzo says 119cm without column, which is too low. Of course you can raise the column another 24.5cm to have 143.5cm height... I`d prefer to have that 143cm to the base plate (no raised column).
    Think that your eye should fall directly (or slightly higher) to the viewfinder axis. Measure your camera, add the height of the plate, the clamp and the head. Add this to the tripod height, and it should be equal to your eye point. In my own experience, working forced to a bend position is too tiring, at the end you will loose a good comfortable view through the whole viewfinder.
  13. The newer Gitzo Travelers with the current lock design have some useful extra height while still folding small - e.g. the GT2545T is 131cm with the column down, 44.5cm closed. Even the lightweight GT1545T Series 1 extends to 130cm, column down - I have it as the kit with the GH1382TQD head that's designed to fit between the tripod legs. The new Gitzo heads are very nice, with proper Arca-style clamps, though this smallest one doesn't have an independent friction control. The next one up, the GH1382QD, does have a friction control and is sold as a kit with the GT2545T (GK2545T-82QD) - this could be worth considering.
    Incidentally, it's worth trying these out before buying. I'm shorter than Michael, but when I add the Gitzo head, L-plate and D800 to the 130cm Series 1, the whole stack is marginally too high for comfort with the legs fully extended. For a 5'7" photographer, the GT2545T would probably only need a couple of inches of column extension.
  14. I am a big fan of the 2 Series carbon fiber Gitzo with four leg sections for travel. They are compact, lightweight, and stable. Mine is the GT2542L, which is the 'long' version. It's plenty stable with a 70-200mm or 300mm lens. I have the medium Kirk ball head with ARCA plates, which is also adequately stable. But lately, I have ditched the ARCA plate system, rather using the 1/4-20 screw mount with a medium Gitzo ball head. Works for me.
  15. I think you would find the traveller fine for the 80-400mm. It may not be designed for it, but given that not all your shots will be at 400mm and if you take care, it should be sufficient for what you would need. As to the height issue, you can always use it sitting down if necessary. If you plan on always using the tripod then the 3 series would be better, obviously, but given you already have a monopod, I really don't think it necessary.
  16. Mike, I forgot to comment on heads. I am not familiar with the head you mentioned in your post. I have used Kirk or Really Right Stuff heads on my tripods with arca swiss clamps. I also use gimbal heads on my heavy duty tripods. One travel gimbal head I really like is the Jobu Junior, that can be used like a traditional gimbal head, or as a side mount. More info about it here:
  17. For my trip to Africa with a Nikon D800 and a 200-400 f4 lens and used the The Pod The Red Pod Bean Bag Camera Support. See
    It worked very well
  18. One spends a lot of money on camera and lenses, the tripod (and ballhead) should enjoy the same respect to bring out the best that the camera and lenses can offer.

    Most of the excellent wildlife photographers I know bought the Gitzo 1325 (no center column) some years ago. I bought the same and have never regretted it. Now this model has been slightly upgraded twice - basically the same design. Now I have the next upgraded model GT3530LSV (from the 1325). But, really, you can have the 1325 on eBay on a lucky day for about $300. Save some bucks if you want to and It's all the same basically.

    Now with my lighter weight Micro 4/3 gear, I bought the GT1542T that I could remove the center column and it fits right inside my camera bag. Awesome. It can probably support the D810 and 80-400mm as well. Love Gitzo products, just awesome, what more can I say.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2017
  19. Oh, re GT 1325 and equivalent. It needs to be checked in. it's too long for the camera bag.
  20. For portability with reasonable support, I've been carrying around a Velbon REXi-L (which is probably now the 655). I concede that one of the legs rotates at the top, which it shouldn't, so it's clearly not rock solid. It's not carbon, but it's reasonably cheap, collapses down small (without the reversed legs that can cause problems with a large head), and sets up very quickly. It's a respectable fraction of the solidity of my 055CXPro3. It'll fit in my camera bag, although it's certainly not tiny (like, say, a Tamrac Zipshot or a Velbon VTP-787). I'd be surprised if it couldn't hold an 80-400 fairly solidly. Just a thought. Taking the head off helps with size, of course.

    I had a 500mm f/4 for a while, and since the Manfrotto wouldn't really hold it steady, I'd not trust the Velbon with anything of that weight/length (though my 200 f/2 has been on it). I have a RRS TVC-34L for true stability, having found it much smaller and lighter than a 5-series Gitzo (and probably as stable) - but it absolutely goes diagonally across my suitcase when I'm flying. I'm never that comfortable with carrying a tripod, especially with a solid metal head, on a plane, on the basis that I expect someone to point out that it converts into a respectable weapon. I usually carry the heads in carry on, because they're small and dense, and I'm usually near my baggage allowance.

    Head wise, I have a Triopo RS-3 (with an Arca-compatible plate) that's a little unrefined but cheap and very solid. For a longer lens I either use a gimbal (I have a Manfrotto 393, but I'd go for a Wimberley knock-off for size and weight if buying again) if I were sticking at one length, or use my Arca d4 and selectively clamp the axes as needed - basically the same trick as the Arca Z2 and some FLM heads. That's held up my 200-500 f/5.6 successfully.

    My $.02.

Share This Page