Tripod suggestion?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by wadeschields, Feb 6, 2019.

  1. Ive got a job where I need to photograph a lot of locations and carry my gear. My carbon fiber Gitzo has been fine but is still to heavy and big.... I want to get a smaller / lighter tripod. I need it to go about 55 inches high (without extending the column) . It needs to be solid enough for me to take five exposures to be blended together in Post. So the camera can not move... Does this exist? Preferably not to pricey either. So far the reviews on the ones I have researched always say that the camera moves on them so that wont work for me. Anyone have something that they like that would fit my needs?
  2. What degree of movement versus rigidity is required? What kind of camera/lens combo are you using? What kind of "blending" are you doing in PP? Light weight and portability are generally incompatible with extreme rigidity, so a clear understanding of your equipment and operational requirements will be helpful.
    William Michael likes this.
  3. Light, cheap, sturdy - pick 2.
    Carbon fiber is pretty much the lightest material you'll find that is yet sturdy enough to be really stable. So frankly, I severly doubt you can do better than the one you already have, at best a smaller carbon fiber (and Gitzo is a great brand), but the weight savings won't be massive.
  4. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    More than 'helpful': necessary to give quality advice.

  5. Without some guidance on what camera you use, what and where you use it, it's hard to make a good recommendation. I can start with some basic specifications, types of construction, and specifications to consider. As suggested, "cheap," "light," and "strong" are mutually exclusive - pick any two.

    Gitzo CF tripods come in a variety of sizes, from smallest to largest, #0 to #5. I would not recommend anything smaller than a Gitzo #2, and then only in CF. For lenses 300 mm or longer, start with a #3. Weight capacity is immaterial as long as it is more than that of your gear. It is a function of joint strength, not the tubes, and Gitzo joints are among the strongest in the industry. What counts is stiffness - the ability to resist wind and other disturbance, then settle down once disturbed. CF is much better than aluminum in that regard. Gitzo uses bushings between the upper part of the leg and the inside of the larger tube. This imparts great stiffness to the joints, so that they don't degrade the overall stiffness of the leg.

    55" tall, without a column, is actually pretty large for a tripod, consistent with a #2 Gitzo long.

    I recently purchased a Really Right Stuff #2 long tripod. RRS uses oversized but somewhat thinner tubing. The #2 tripod has the weight of a Gitzo $2, but the stiffness of a Gitzo #3, for about the same price as the former.

    These are relatively light weight, perform well with long lenses (I use up to 600 mm equivalent for video, indoors). They are not inexpensive. That's the tradeoff. Manfrotto tripods tend to be twice as heavy as a Gitzo for the same capacity, which is no higher than a Gitzo #2. They employ heavy aluminum castings for strength, rather than high pressure castings (Gitzo), or machined aircraft aluminum (RRS). Clamp type joints add to the weight, and don't hold as well as collars.

    Benro, a Chinese company, seems to make high quality equipment, at half the price of a comparable Gitzo. They started with some serious manufacturing flaws, but have since cleaned up their act. There are other Chinese knock-off's under various names.

    Now you have to choose a head, and they're not cheap either.
  6. Canon 5D with a 16-35mm zoom... hdr type blending. So it can’t move at all.. I shoot on a timer so as long as the head doesn’t slip at all it’s fine . And I never use the column
  7. Well, all structures, including tripods and heads, deflect under load. The trick is to mitigate and minimize movement such that it is within tolerance of the system. This includes all movement, not only the camera on its mount. The use you describe will be as sensitive to movement in your zoom lens, or changes in focus point, as to minor deflection in the tripod structure. You need to consider all of the following factors and then decide which are contributing to your problems and can be addressed effectively:
    1. Is the tripod sufficiently stiff at the desired height? 55 inches is pretty tall, but is certainly achievable in a carbon fiber tripod. RRS TVC/TFC-34 MK2 fits the bill. However, they are certainly pricey, and will require the purchase of an appropriate ball head. You did not say which Gitzo you have, but that is likely not the weak link in your system. As alluded to by Ed, the larger diameter the leg sections are the stiffer for a given weight of material. However, tightness in the joints can also be an issue. Check all of the pivot points to make sure they are not sloppy, and tighten the screws/bolts if needed.
    2. Select a ball head large and strong enough to provide excess strength and rigidity. RRS BH-55 or BH-40 ball heads will fit the bill, particularly if mated to an RRS L bracket on the camera. One of the weak points in a camera mounting system is very often the clamp and plate attachment to the head. The RRS ARCA-Swiss type system is very rigid and nearly foolproof. (No, I don't work for or own RRS stock, but they are a benchmark in performance.) A good ball head will not be cheap. The beauty of the RRS head is that it incorporates their clamp as an integral component, rather than securing it to the head using a separate plate+clamp system.
    3. For any blending, panorama, or stacking work it is essential that the relationship between the lens elements and the sensor remain as or more rigid than the camera mount. Even tiny, internal movements of lens elements can have more impact on the images than more substantial movements in the camera or mount. Since you are using a zoom lens, are you taking any measures to fix the focal length across multiple exposures? If not, then you should be applying gaffer tape to the zoom ring once you have set up your composition.
    4. Unless you are intentionally using focus stacking you should choose a fixed focus point and then lock focus. Generally, this means either using manual focus (with AF turned off), or using back button focus and not re-focusing between exposures. Even the best AF system can experience slight differences in focus from frame to frame with the same focus point, so it's best to only focus once and then not move the lens elements at all.
    5. Use a remote shutter release, and mirror lock-up.
    6. Forget shooting in the wind, or where there is substantial vibration due to traffic, etc.
    7. If your tripod is so equipped, hang a heavy, stabilizing weight (like your camera bag) from the hook on the center post. If no hook, you can still rig a sling and hang a weight to stabilize the rig. However, be wary of any swing.
    8. If exposure bracketing, set the camera to do it automatically (if supported), rather than manually adjusting between exposures.
    9. This is picking at minutiae, but you might consider which component(s) of exposure you're changing between shots. The aperture diaphragm is a moving component inside the lens and in the light path, so leaving it alone, and adjusting either ISO or shutter speed to modify exposure, might remove one variable.

    Conclusion: Without a more detailed understanding of how and what you shoot it's hard to know if any of these will make a difference. I suggest you do everything you can with your current kit to lock down all of the variables noted above, and see if this improves your results. It might simply be a matter of removing the cumulative effects of multiple, minor inconsistencies, rather than changing one big thing. If not, then you'll most likely need to spend money on more capable (hence more expensive) gear like the RRS tripod, ball head, and L plate. Like Ed said, cheap, light weight, and strong are mutually exclusive.
  8. You can produce HDR images from hand-held shots, so I think most any reasonably sturdy tripod, and more importantly, good ball head would do the trick.
  9. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Commenting only about the Head: I have a Manfrotto 128LP; it’s a Pan and Tilt Head (typically used for Video but I don't use it for that).

    I use this Head for: long exposures (e.g. night time and daytime using ND1000; IR; and some HDRI bracketing exposures.

    I use 5D Series (Fuji for IR), and typically I’d use an EF 16 to 35mm; 14mm or 11mm; the latter two lenses are a bit 'front heavy'.

    I find that this Pan Tilt Head combines the relatively light weight (compared to my Three Way Head) and it does easily lock solidly into place.

    The P/T handle allows an easier fine tuning for Framing, rather than using a Ball Head.

    There are quite a few P/T heads on the market, mine is not an expensive one: I have found that it stays locked in place and it does the job nicely.

    As you might glean I am not 100% sold on the "expansive usefulness" and "value for money" of most Ball Heads - in this conversation, there are many points which you might find useful and applicable: [LINK]

  10. Thanks all.... Ill take it all into consideration.... Ive got my system for shooting down. Works great with my Gitzo but walking up and down 6 flights of stairs and all over Manhattan with all my gear, I was just needing to lighten the load. If you want too you can see what I am doing at . I supposed I should have just asked for a tripod /head that wont break loose . The reviews on Amazon usually have complaints of the camera falling forward without notice....
    I did work at a studio today that supplies the equipment . I was shooting handbags and dresses and what not , so I wasnt looking for the same qualities in the tripod but I have to say that the manfrotto tripod head was stiff and hard to lock down without really cranking down on the twisties on the pan and tilt head. Big difference in a cheap tripod and a pro one.... Maybe I'll just give up on the lighter idea and keep doing what I do.
  11. I'd just emphasize this. Total mass of the tripod and its steadiness are dialectically interrelated.

    or as Wouter put it:
    Wayne Melia likes this.
  12. [Q
    What do you mean by "break loose"? The mount? The angle of the tripod head?

    On the whole, a good ball head (~ US$500-600) is the lightest, most compact and most flexible choice, especially if one were to carry it up 6 flights of stairs. It will work an any set of legs capable of supporting the camera safely. Wind and vibration are not an issue for indoor photography. On a ledge in the mountains, you might need something more substantial, perhaps with weights hanging from a hook for good measure. In use, you control the head with one hand and the camera with the other. That's easy enough, but must be repeated each time you re-position the camera. You can pan accurately, but must first level both the base and the camera, in that order.

    The most secure way to mount a camera is with an Arca-style clamp and plate. It is a V-block style, used in heavy machine tools throughout the world, is stable and can withstand considerable force (the camera will break first). RRS and Kirk make plates which conform to the camera, resisting any tendency to turn on it's screw when the camera is tilted or moved, and does not need excessive tension when screwed to the base of the camera (or lens). The clamp is attached to the plate is by direct force, either screw or cam, and is not dependent on safety catches or springs. Not all Arca-style plates are compatible with each other. A few thousands of an inch difference matters. It's best to use clamps and plates made by the same company.

    No ball head that has visible grease is worth consideration. The best heads have no grease, other than sealed within the controls. For that matter, a 3-way head should not need grease either.

    Arca QR is oriented in one direction, either parallel to the film plane, or parallel to the optical axis. They can only be used on a 2 or 3-way head with adapters for the other direction. Consequently Arca QR is used almost exclusively on ball heads.

    If you want to work with both precision and speed, fluid heads, with base leveling, are the best choice. They have relatively weak holding power against an off-balance load. In order to be reliable, they employ various means of counterbalancing the load. Designed and adjusted properly, they will support a load over a +/- 90 deg tilt range, without clamping. Clamping is simply insurance the position won't be disturbed accidentally. Fluid heads which do everything well range in cost from $500 to over $2000. Inexpensive fluid heads, as described above, are best used with lightweight cameras, or kept nearly level, as for landscapes and panos,

    3-way heads are the cheapest, and almost as flexible as a ball head. However they have separate handles for pan, tilt and angle, and the handles themselves are used to tighten and loosen the movements. As a result, they wobble. That's not a problem for a view camera, where a few degrees precision is good enough. Their stickiness and looseness will drive you batty making fine adjustments for closeups or with telephoto lenses. No matter how you carry them, a handle is in your way. None come with Arca QR, and the QR they have depends on screws and springs for security.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2019
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  13. Tough spot. You've already got a steady carbon fiber set up. If you go super-light and smaller, you're going to have to stabilize it anyways. Maybe you can hire a local photo student who would be willing to assist. You might get someone to help schlep who will work for less in exchange for the experience of working with a pro. Just a thought.
  14. I read that some of these 100 dollar tripods will "break loose" .. meaning that after cranking down on the ball head , the camera can still fall forward.... I cant have it move at all, not even a millimeter.Tripod "shake" is ok cause Im shooting on timer. But it needs to settle in the same position as when I took the first frame. I suppose my tripod is light enough . Im certainly not spending that much money again, on a second tripod when mine is already perfect for most applications. . I was just hoping someone had an experience with a satisfactory cheap tripod. I use assistants when i can pay them but this real estate work is always last minute and low pay. It just fills in during slow times.
  15. You aren't making sense. You don't need to "crank down" on a good ball head, particularly the BH-55. Even if you did, how would that affect the tripod? Do the legs slip on your Gitzo tripod once tightened? I didn't think so. The new "G-Loc" collars are even better than ever. They won't loosen even if they back off a little. You need to literally unscrew the bushing from engagement (about 1/2 turn). If you want a lighter tripod, then a Gitzo #2 would do the job, as would a Really Right Stuff "long" #2 tripod (for about the same price).

    Once set, the camera won't move a millimeter, unless you kick it. Even if it did, stacking software like AuroraHD will align the shots and crop the result, perfectly.
    wadeschields likes this.
  16. As a tidbit to reinforce what I said before, the BH-55 has a tension control, which can be very useful setting up a shot. The camera can be moved, but is held well enough you can lock the head, keeping one hand on the camera.

    The trick is to set the tension (with the small knob) with the main knob completely loose. If the main knob is tight, and you screw in the tension knob until you feel resistance, the ball won't unlock when you loosen the main knob. Furthermore, you can't turn the tension knob until you tighten the main knob.

    Loose to lock takes about 1/4 turn of the main knob, with little or no effort - fingers, not a fist.
  17. Since you already did real estate and interiors before, not sure why what has worked for you previously wouldn’t work for you now?

    I’m using this Manfrotto (the third one, different versions) on an almost daily basis for full-time real estate shooting. Eventually, with regular use, the screw threads of any tripod legs will become so loose that simply re-tightening them isn’t an option anymore (part of it is also the fact that my tripod is bouncing around in the back of the car all the time, I need to find a system for keeping it in place):

    055 aluminium 3-section photo tripod, with horizontal column

    A ball head is too finicky for interior real estate photography which often requires quick horizontal adjustments of the head while keeping it leveled vertically. So instead of a ball head, this is the head to go for:

    ManfrottoXPRO 3-Way, Geared Pan-and-Tilt Head with 200PL-14 Quick Release Plate

    Real estate photography is a volume business. Volume (3-4-5 homes/day) is where the money's at if you know how to do it. It's not an "I do it every once in a while" business.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
    wadeschields likes this.
  18. I’m currently using a very worn out and beat up version of THIS Manfrotto 3 way gear head, which is more heavy duty than the other one I linked. If I buy a new one to replace it, I’ll probably go with the other one though because it’s lighter and seems to do the job just as well…In either case, a ball head is not what you want to be using when shooting real estate.
  19. Since (most) interiors are shot from a level floor, it is not necessary to use a leveling platform. A flat plate (or column) is sufficient. For small interiors, the camera should be dead level, to avoid convergence, and loss by cropping for stitched panoramas or VR. The BH-55 (or BH-40) has a bubble level in the clamp for this purpose - level the clamp, then attach and point the camera. If nothing else changes, the ball head could be left locked in place, requiring only panning to take the shot.

    If a ball head were to require adjustments, there would still be a net gain with regard to QR. Manfrotto plates are large, and often removed from the camera, then re-attached for each use. Arca plates are thin, and generally left in place. Furthermore Manfrotto QR is less solid and much less reliable than the clamp and V-block principle.

    The thought of a head "wearing out" is intriguing. In 20 years of using ball heads, none have ever "worn out." However, I've worn out two or three Manfrotto video heads in that time period, through loose, unreparable joints and broken castings.
  20. I’m sure ball heads will be better in other circumstances (like studio and portrait) than a geared head, but a ball head is not the right tool for shooting interiors and when needing predictable non-fidgeting accuracy between horizontal and vertical leveling. A 3 way geared head is the right tool for that.

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