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Thread: Tripod Height

  1. #21
    Join Date
    Mar 2005

    Default Technique on tripod to work for you

    I don't think you need to complicate things a lot, just note down the features that you need to consider and then make an evaluation on what you use the tripod for.

    I use Gitzo a lot and like manfrotto prices and like the fact that the screw on the locks on its legs is faster to release and tighten than the gitzo.

    I've own a 1.4k Gitzo before and even a table top one too. In total I've at least 10 over tripods costing me over $10k. But when I move from my focus of photography, I tend to change and sell the not so practical ones. Depending on your priority and what you think that works, if you have done it the hard way like I do, you should be able to get a few good ones that you will keep and modify the techniques to use them creatively.

    A tripod usually requires consideration in :

    1. Price - a very important factor.
    2. Weight - less is better? Not really.
    3. Stability - mother nature will tell you that the weight and material matters.
    4. Size - affecting ease of carrying around. Eg. 3 vs 4 extentable legs.
    5. Ergonomic/Versatility - easy to setup, close up, bring a long.
    6. Physical appearance - the design, colour will affect your subjects and lastly
    7. Compatibility - with other accessories, if available. Eg. centre column, hook etc.

    A lot of celebrity photographers carry CF tripods, that does not mean that you should do so. They carry them for obvious reasons. When they first came out, I wanted one too. But I change my mind when I met my friend in Australia. He had a 14kg manfrotto tripod which when fully extended with ballhead, plate etc, stand taller than me. I'm 1.87m.

    I show him my new gitzo model, a compact size with 4 extendable legs, weighing just over 2kg and very compact at that time. When fully extend with my ballhead, I dun need to bend at all. That is the #1 buying criteria that a tripod should do - don't stress the photographer's back, as adviced by old man photographers.

    We went to a place where the sea waves were taller than a 4 stories apartment and my photos came back with "vibration" effect. He was a nature photographer, me too. His a 14kg tripod, mine a 2.4 kg tripod.

    Soon I came back to SG and because of an assignment, I upgraded to the gitzo 1500 series with a arcaswiss ballhead - super solid, but my army days on log PT does not help me to move them with ease. I can practically sit on it the whole day and the tripod does not even move an mm. I use on outdoor assignments and because I don't have a vehicle, I practical carry the tripod together with my 30kg camera gear. I sold it after 1 month.

    Then I decide I should be more down to earth and get an inexpensive but worthy one. I go back to manfrotto and even slik. Their build in comparison really makes me ponders. But the price of Gitzo makes me worried too.

    In the end, I decide to focus only on my priorities and make the gitzo works for me instead of keep changing and keeping 101 tripod at home. I started doing experiments on many models and succesfully settled with 1 than I can use it most of the time.

    I tell myself that I need an affordable but sturdy, compact and not heavy model. No tripod maker can give you that, even at 10k a piece. I shall travel with ease in luggage, on shoulder bags, doing hikes, on cramped buses and on foot. Up the hill and down the slope. And even going down the river which it will be in one piece and not rust out on me.

    I know no model can do that, even at hefty price tag. I know something must be done to it so I apply my knowledge on making it work for me and started carrying out experiments.

    In my experiment, I find out the below which I believe you may also agree :

    Lighter => less stable
    Lighter => less weight supported

    Heavier => more stable
    Heavier => more weight supported

    Lighter but more weight supported => more expensive

    but mother nature tells us that in comparison to stability :

    Heavier and more weight supported > Lighter but more weight supported
    Therefore, more expensive & get less stability = defeat purposes & get scolding from wife /mother.

    More stable => More sweat
    More sweat => tired more easily => distract your attention on taking photos
    Ultimately = less frequent use

    So it end up staying at home most of the time.

    A heavy weight tripod helps in stablising even if you have a very compact tripod? But where to find a compact model that is heavy or can support heavy weight? Lets work down part by part of a tripod.

    A good compact model must have good quality material and excellent assembly construct in order to achieve the theory. The old aluminium gitzo is very good on that. I can't comment much on today's models since my gitzo had been with me for over 5 years already.

    Who say cannot use the centre column
    If you are out in the field and requires to extend the centre column to get a higher point of angle, do it. You have no choice but you need to do some homework before using it to help you and not risking the results. The centre column when extended under no wind and reasonable weightage should pose no problem at all. This is especially true if your shutter speed is rather fast. You need to experiment with this though, especially under moderate wind, stronger winds situation etc.

    What you can do is to get an oversized and overweight ballhead to weight it 100% down towards the centre of gravitational force. If you tilt your legs, make sure it still sits perfectly downwards, fully making use of the COG in order to achieve the desired stabilising effect. The gitzo explorer or the benbo are not recommended for this technique since their centre column is not symentrical to the tripod.

    With reasonable weight of your camera, flash, lens together with the ballhead, you should be able to make the centre column rather stable. Bear in mind that all the weight will act down on the tightening of the screw of your centre column as well as down to the legs which will be discussed below.

    Make it stand or sit
    For the tripod legs, if you don't branch out your legs too apart, it will in fact be more sturdy. And if they are all closed up like a monopod, it should be able to take a lot more weight.

    Usually, tripod legs are spreaded out and all you need is to stablised them using a apron that holds them in together slightly above the centre of the legs. If you can, use it to restrict the opening of your tripod legs and tighten them in to make it close up. The closer the 3 legs are together, the better the stability. You need to make sure that the legs can be locked at all angles correctly. You may need to stuff something solid at the locking part where the leg screws are. Most are locked at 2 to 3 different angles.

    You can also use a hook which you can attached to the bottom of the centre column and hang something of moderate weight there. That will balanced up the overall weight distribution from the top to the bottom and also prevent the tripod from wobbling at the centre when wind comes in all directions.

    Take care of my feet
    Also do something to the stopper at the bottom of the leg. Spike ones are best on muddy ground while coarse rubber surface will function better on concrete floors. Use stone if necessary to stop the leg from slipping which works like the triangular block of wood that are used to stop a car tyre from rolling.

    Just like an egg when arrange correctly, it can in fact support an adult human weight. Its not magic, just physics.

    With that setup, you can easily mount at least 1.5 times more than the recommended amount even though Gitzo's tripod should already be capable of taking at least 10-20% more weight than what is stated.

    So the last question arrives, where do all the stress goes? The tripod body channelling towards the ground of course. If you get a cheap tripod with less durable material, you will need to change your tripod very soon.

    In fact most material nowadays like CF or the Basalt material aims to achieve the same principle also. They want their tripod to be light while you load up a lot of gear load to bring up the stability. I've no experience in those tripods as they are far too expensive for me to justify such an investment but I really doubt their strength and weight distribution to achieve a very stable stance.

    With the aluminium models, I'm able to stressed up 3 - 5 times the amount over the recommended weight support of my tripod.

    So at the end of the day, with proper testing, you should be able to get a model that are suitable for most applications and still get the lightness, sturdiness and compactness that you yearn for. Too bad my gitzo model is discontinued already, if not you may want to try that one out yourself. Its about the length of my forearm and weights a little over a kg. I use it before on a 1v, 20D all with PB / 420, 550, 580 flashes / Arca swiss, manfrotto and RRS ballhead all weighing over 1kg and telephoto primes and L zooms all with no problem even in bulb shutter mode. Probably because of the well distributed weight, the tripod never shows its "vibration" mode throughout my travel to 6 countries up the mountain and down the sea.

    To make the dish more juicy, with proper handling techniques and camera specific features such as mirror lock-up, real time viewfinder, DOV preview etc....also accessories such magnifying view from angle finders to detect more subtle vibration, remote shutter release, photoshop editing .... you get the idea.

  2. #22
    Join Date
    Jul 2004

    Default Re: Tripod Height

    great write-up
    Thanks for the effort


  3. #23

    Default Re: Tripod Height

    Thank you very much to all for the time and effort in explaining all the plus and minus with regard to the topic.

    I guess there's some sacrifice somewhere. For my case, travelling light is #1 priority. Thankfully, I only have a kit lens to play with (at the moment) so weight/support is not a factor at this time.

    I am comtemplating getting a Gitzo now... a light one... think they call them the traveler series. Anyone has any idea what are their prices. (Their homepage is down these few days so I do not have a specific model in mind)

    Still, I think it's better to think further down the road to avoid having to go into the buy/sell/buy/sell syndrome; not that one could sometimes avoid it.

  4. #24
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Perth Australia

    Default Re: Tripod Height

    Quote Originally Posted by mcn
    Good morning,

    Am contemplating either the Manfrotto 190D (max ht 145cm, w/out ctr column 116cm) or the 055CL max ht 178cm, w/out ctr column 135cm).

    How important is the height of the tripod with regard to a person's height? (I'm at 175cm). Would it be too awkward to stoop down to the 190D height?

    Thank you.
    I'm going to off you a slightly different insight in to tripods, rather than recommend a single brand or model it's far better for you to go out and try a few tripods and settle with the one you prefer using.

    I'm a tripod whore by nature. I have zero brand allience as no single brand makes the perfect single tripod for all occasions. In the past 30 years or so I've owned over 100 tripods and currently own tripods and pentapods by Manfrotto, Sachtler, Velbon and Miller.

    My critera for a good tripod:

    1) Stability (critical)
    2) Anti-vibration qualities (critical)
    3) Load carrying capacity (critical)
    4) height range (lowest to highest)
    5) Leg lock and operational issues
    6) Construction quality / durability
    7) Spare parts availablity
    8) Weight
    9) Cost

    For the purposes of the rest of this post, I will be referring to tripods / pentapods for field use, as opposed to specialised studio use.

    Looking at the criteria, stability and anti-vibration qualities are of paramount importance. There's no point in buying a tripod that is not stable when shooting under adverse conditions in the field. This means the tripod should possess not only good stability when shooting with the longest lens you own (or are going to use) but should also have good damping qualities, so that any wind or ground generated vibration isn't passed on to the camera and that longer lenses won't vibrate excessively. If you choose well you should be able to take images in all but the most horrific weather conditions with ease.

    Many amateurs eschew the use of leg braces, as they prefer the concept individually adjustable leg angles. While adjustable leg angles is very useful for use against walls or on uneven ground, leg braces when implemented properly offer greater tripod stability as they provide a second triangle of support. Some tripods like the Manfrotto 075, 058, 16MkII, offer the best of both worlds, with adjustable leg braces and angles.

    Load carrying capacity is also critical. Many people overload their tripod legs, which can result in not only a shortened life of the legset but also failure at a critical moment. To work out your maximum load, add up the weights of the following: Camera body, largest lens and TC, flash with batteries, the ballhead or tripod head weight, quick release plates etc. Once you've added all of the weights together add 10-20% as a safety margin. If you're planning on purchasing a larger lens in the next year or two add that weight in as well as there's no point in saving a few dollars now only to have to replace the tripod in a few months time.

    Height is another critical area. I've yet to see a tripod that can extend to say 2m and down to ground zero. There's almost always a tradeoff here between minimum height and maximum height. I can only say that the maximum height is a personal decision, but I do recommend a tripod that will take the camera to eye-level while standing normally. The type of centre column fitted comes in to play here. Many are quite light and flimsy. Some like those found on the professional large Manfrotto tripods are hexagonally shaped and helically geared and have a zero slip design with extremely positive locking.

    Leg locking methods are another personal choice, some folks like flip levers, others rotationg leg locks and some prefer automatic leg extenders. Which ever choice you make ensure that the locks are study and will survive constant use. It's also very important to actually enjoy using a tripod, if there are things that annoy you in the shop when trying out a tripod or head, chances are after 6 months of use you'll really hate it with a passion.

    Construction and quality vary from brand to brand and model to model. For example, consumer tripods aimed at the occasional or casual user will not have the same level of attention to detail or material quality as a tripod intended for professional use in harsh environments. One of the standing jokes in the professional photography world is the use of the term "PRO" on tripods. Few are really professional grade and most simply don't have the weight carrying capacity to swing a professional body, ballhead and lens, at most they are good for a modest amateur body, an 80-200/2.8 lens and flash. On the other hand some highly respected professional tripods such as the wooden units from Miller look quite amateurish when compared to the glittering polished aluminum and black gloss finish of some amateur tripods. Looks mean nothing with a good tripod, it's all in the durability and quality of materials used, construction methods and so on.

    Spare parts availability can be critical if you damage your tripod, many cheaper manufacturers simply don't carry spares. The better tripod manufacturers usually insist that their local distributors carry spare parts.

    Weight is the bug bear of tripods. Unless you are prepared to spend thousands of dollars on a set of Sachtler "sticks" a.k.a. a pentapod (video tripod) you really won't get a lightweight (2.2kg) legset that can carry a large load (50kg) with excellent damping and stability in all weather conditions. The down side is such a legset is going to set you back around 3.5-4K USD for a basic setup and closer to 5-6K by the time you factor in a head, adapters and other accessories. So coming back to the real world, weight is pretty critical, heavy legsets are more stable, especially in windy conditions and offer better load carrying, but do you really want to lug around a 8.5+ kg tripod and head. Probably not if your Asian. Yes if you are a masochistic Ang Moh like me.

    Cost - There's no point in putting a 300 buck camera on a 6,000 buck tripod/head combination so set a realistic budget based on your actual rather than perceived needs. To come out with a realistic figure start by working out the weight you need to carry and then examine legsets in that price range. Repeat with the tripod head and any quick release system you might be interested in. Set realistic budgets for a ballhead and QR system if you are going to go that route. You really don't need an Arca B1 or Graf Studioball unless you are swinging medium format gear or long lenses, chances are an Acratech would be a better bet and it will save you a few hundred dollars and be lighter too.

    In conclusion:

    The best advice is to take your gear down to a good camera shop and try out as many tripods as you can, get a feel for what's available and then purchase on what you like to use and what you consider to be good value for money.
    The Ang Moh from Hell
    Professional Photography - many are called, few are chosen!

  5. #25

    Default Re: Tripod Height


    i read this somewhere else, cannot remember where

    for tripods, pick 2 out of the 3: light, cheap, sturdy


  6. #26
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005

    Default Re: Tripod Height

    Quote Originally Posted by mcn
    Thank you very much to all for the time and effort in explaining all the plus and minus with regard to the topic.

    I guess there's some sacrifice somewhere. For my case, travelling light is #1 priority. Thankfully, I only have a kit lens to play with (at the moment) so weight/support is not a factor at this time.

    I am comtemplating getting a Gitzo now... a light one... think they call them the traveler series. Anyone has any idea what are their prices. (Their homepage is down these few days so I do not have a specific model in mind)

    Still, I think it's better to think further down the road to avoid having to go into the buy/sell/buy/sell syndrome; not that one could sometimes avoid it.
    u may like 2 look at these links.

  7. #27

    Default Re: Tripod Height

    Great... appreciate you all for the feedbacks.

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