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My ultra-light travel setup: Gitzo 1097, Giottos, Kirk, & a cork

Smiert Spionam

Austin, US
619 posts

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Smiert Spionam Registered since 26th Nov 2007
Wed 19-Mar-08 05:54 PM | edited Thu 20-Mar-08 01:21 AM by Smiert Spionam

I've been wanting a solid but tiny little travel pod for a while. This is for when a real tripod wouldn't be practical -- lightweight airline travel, casual hiking, etc. Though carbon fiber is lightweight, even a 2-series tripod is pretty bulky, and there are some times when it just wouldn't be along for the ride. I wanted something a bit sturdier and more flexible than a Leica table tripod, though that can be a great little tool in some circumstances. I pieced together a pretty handy and tiny little combo, the details of which might be interesting:

Gitzo 1097 basalt legs: this is a 0-series legset that is now officially discontinued, and for which there is no real replacement. It's closest in specs to the (also discontinued) 1057 carbon fiber legs. The current 0-series in both CF and basalt are either too wobbly with four sections, or too short, and many don't have independent leg angles, which are crucial. This set has good specs for a mini-tripod: 36" height without column, three section legs, ALR locks, and independent leg spread for ground level shooting. Legs alone weigh 1.5 pounds, the same as the carbon fiber version. Available much cheaper now, too.

Head: I was tempted by the RRS BH-25, though I decided to go a little bigger with a Giottos MH-1002 that seems pretty stable, and which has a rudimentary tension control and separate pan lock. A Q3 would be the next step up, but is really getting too heavy for this set.

Clamp: I added a Kirk 1.75" plate -- the slightly older (and lighter) version from ebay.

What really made it all work was figuring out a way to remove the center column. While the legs and spider of this tripod are very stable, the column adds a lot of flex, even when down all the way. It also is too long (14"), interfering with the low-level leg spread.

Gitzo sells a CF short column for the 0-series, which would certainly have done the trick, but I wanted to do it cheaper, and make it more stable. Took me a while to work out a solution, but I think I've found the perfect one. At first, I though about using a 3/8-16 threaded rod, possible with coupling nuts of some sort to keep the lower hook attachment. That seemed too complex, so my next thought went to making my own mini-column out of 3/4" Delrin rod, possible by tapping a 3/8" thread down the center... still too complicated.

My next idea was just to use a 3/8-16 bolt -- but I had to figure out a way to keep it centered in the shaft, and keep it from scratching up the inner bushings, which are relatively fragile. Thought about using a drilled out dowel or something, but then stumbled across the perfect solution while making dinner:

A standard wine bottle cork is a perfect fit. I drilled out the center, inserted a 2.5" 3/8-16 bolt and a washer, and I was in business. With the tripod collar loose, the whole contraption slides right in, and tightening the collar locks it in place (have to be careful not to over-tighten, which will push the bushings up over the top, and potentially damage them. I could then thread a head directly onto the bolt, and the whole thing is very stable.

I went with a pretty basic Cotes du Rhone, but you can go up market as your budget allows. :- )

Total modification cost: one 28 cent bolt, and a 12 cent washer. To be fair, I spent $1.82 on a couple of different lengths of bolts and a handful of washers, two of which I used as spacers below the clamp. Still, lots better than the $69 Gitzo CF column. It's FAR more stable, too. I might rearrange things a bit to integrate a hook.

Then I simply replaced the tripod platform with a 1/4-20-thread Kirk clamp (needed a couple of washers as standoffs). Total weight with the clamp is 2 lb. 1 oz. Even more importantly, its overall packing volume is tiny -- probably a quarter that of a 2-series legset.

Most of the time, I'll never even extend the legs -- and it's incredibly stable that way. I'm still trying it out, but I'm finding it workable at virtually all shutter speeds with my Tamron 17-50. With an 85/1.4, mirror slap blur becomes a risk between 1 sec. and around 1/15th, and with a 180/2.8 anything between 1 second and 1/40th is a gamble. That's well beyond what something like this should be used for, though.

A few pics to illustrate:


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