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Zen and the Art of Tripod Selection

Al in MD

Sykesville, US
73 posts

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Al in MD Silver Member Nikonian since 21st Jan 2009
Tue 28-Apr-09 05:09 PM


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Probably the most contraversial topic discussed on this forum is the selection of tripods. At the risk of offending the Mystic Kights of the NAS and those that believe that anything less than a high end Gitzo and Markins ballhead simply won't do, most of the tripods suggested herein are just plain overkill. Sometimes, I think that the type/model of tripod and head are more of a status symbol to give the photographer bragging rights instead of a practical tool used for photography.

The selection of a tripod to fit your individual needs should be an exercise in engineering and economics based on the individual needs of the photographer, not simply on the premise that more expensive is better or a particular brand is superior just because their name is slapped on it. The old bromide that you get what you pay for when it comes to cost vs. quality just ain't so in many cases.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with asking for opinions of other photographers remember these factors. Opinions are like cameras, every photographer has at leastone and advice is cheap. Add to that the fact that no one likes to admit that they might have made the wrong choice. In the end, it is YOU who must make the final decision.

You have to consider that a tripod is a tool and as a tool, does it fit your requirements?

There are those who would have you believe that a tripod is an absolute must have. This is only true if you intend to try to photograph the Loch Ness monster. So, the first thing to consider is do I really need a tripod? That depends on what you shoot and under what conditions. Also consider how much you will actually use a tripod if you do decide that you really need one as opposed to it would be nice to have one.

For every photographer, there are only three types of tripod: damn near useless, just right and overkill. In terms of economics (money)that equates to "I could have gotten better but I'm a cheapskate", "Fits right into my budget" and "Don't need it, don't want it, couldn't afford it if I did." Everyone wants the best bang for their buck, but getting there is going to cost you some time, but the rewards are saving money and getting a tripod that works for you.

Besides for mining the Nikonians website for information, surf the Internet for other sources of reviews. Consider the objective as opposed to the subjective. The best way to compare tripods is to visit a camera shop and do side-by-side comparisons. While buying from a shop may be more expensive, you may be able to return it if you are not satisfied with it. You may also find a good used tripod and save some dollars.

When you consider a tripod, the most important things to look for are materials, construction and quality control. As for materials, good quality aluminum is expensive to process as is carbon fiber. I am really not all that knowledgable about basalt, therefore I cannot give you any information other than to say basalt seems to be much less popular than aluminum and carbon fiber. As for construction, you want ruggedness and precision of operation. Do the legs operate easily? Is there any play in the nesting sections? Are the locks strong enough to hold the leg sections? Does the head spin on easily? Is the head and tripod up to the task of holding the weight that you intend to place on it?

A word on weight. A backpacker can buy an aluminum tripod for say $400 or a carbon fiber one that weighs 10 ounces less for $600. Is the weight savings worth it? The more important question is which one will hold up better to the abuses of backpacking? I have been a backpacker and I know that whatever you take into the wild, if it ain't bulletproof, it'll fail on you.

Okay, time for me to 'fess up. I have a Manfrotto 190 and ball head (nothing spectacular - okay reviews). Caught it on sale from one of the NY camera stores. It works just fine for me with a D300, 16-85mm lens and SB-900. I've had it for three months and used it extactly three times. Twice to hold the SB-900 only. Obviously, I don't use a tripod very often. That's why I didn't spend the money on a Gitzo with a Markins ballhead. Another factor to consider when buying a tripod/head.

Bottom line: buy what suits your needs, not what gives you the most bragging rights.

"A good photographer knows how, but a great phtotgrapher knows why."

Happy shootin'

Al

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