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Can you overkill a tripod?


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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004
Thu 13-Jan-11 12:02 PM | edited Thu 13-Jan-11 12:11 PM by nrothschild

A Nikonian recently asked me the following:

I am torn between a Series 2 and Series 3 for my 70-200 and 2x TC (400mm focal length). I'm concerned that the Series 3 is overkill. What do you think?"color=red>

This is a frequently asked question that I get all the time. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the realities of support. That misunderstanding is likely a result of what I consider a lot of deceptive advertising by makers of small and often insufficient support, and a general misunderstanding of what "rock solid" is all about.

I don't think you can overkill a tripod with a Series 3 - for any use - as long as you actually carry it with you and use it as you would a smaller tripod. In fact, I think the idea of trying to thread the needle, such that a certain series is "good enough" and anything larger is overkill is to totally misunderstand the fundamental nature of support. The truth is that the ideal tripod is simply too heavy to carry about. Ask any astrophotographer about his 60LB or more of support. Now that is support, but not very practical for our uses. Our tripods are always necessarily a compromise for portability.

In this particular case, Gitzo is very clear about their recommendations... a Series 3 for focal lengths greater than 200mm. A Series 2 for focal lengths up to 200mm. You can read Gitzo's recommendations by downloading their 2009 PDF catalog from www.gitzo.com and from the top menu clicking "Service" and then "Request a Catalog". Then read the section titled "Series Concept". This should be required reading for anyone buying a tripod and their concepts apply to any tripod, not just their own although the precise focal length cutoffs might vary according to the engineering and build quality.

Our FAQs are also required reading

Now, that begs the question... is Gitzo giving us the straight dope or are they trying to sell us bigger, more expensive tripods? Consider that at the time of this post the street price, before current rebates, of a GT2541 is $700 and the price of a GT3541LS is about $750. Not much difference.

I compared the performance of my older 4 section Series 2 G1228 (circa 2004) to a modern 4 section Series 3 GT3541LS. The G1228 was tested with the stock column and the Markins TB-20 replacement plate. These G1228 images were posted a few days ago to compare those two configurations and we determined that the TB-20 added significant improvements. Now I'm adding the Series 3 images.

All images were shot with a D300 (without grip) and the 70-200/2.8 AFS/VR at 200mm. The tripods were at my eye level, which corresponds to the G1228 at maximum extension (about 52"). The 4th section of the Series 3 was retracted to achieve the identical height.

You can display and download the test images here. These are 100% pixels, rendered with Capture NX2.2 from the NEF with the straight out of camera settings using the Standard picture control.

For each of 3 mechanical configurations images were shot with Mirror Up, S Mode without exposure delay, and S Mode with exposure delay.

You should consider the Mup images to be reference images and any differences between them should be attributed to minor focus variations. Focus was obtained using LiveView tripod mode contrast detection and then focus was locked for the 3 shots.

For clarity, here are the three S Mode (without exposure delay) images:

Click on image to view larger version

You can easily see from the standard S mode images that the TB-20 improves the situation on the Series 2 but the Series 3 improves things even more. Despite the obvious improvement by the Series 3, that image is far from perfect. That one image explains why I believe that the Series 3 is the ideal tripod for just about any photographer, as long as he or she is willing to carry it. That image also illustrates why you can't really overkill a tripod, and certainly not with a Series 3. Arguably a Series 5 might perform better but I don't have one to test.

And finally, these images illustrate why I never recommend a Series 1 (24mm upper leg diameter) or smaller for general use, not even a Gitzo and certainly not a Manfrotto 190 series. There is a place for the Series 1 but it has to do with extreme portability requirements for travel or very arduous hiking and it should be considered an alternate secondary tripod, not a primary single tripod solution.

The "magic" of the GT3541LS is in the basic physical specs- folded length and weight. It is so close to the comparable series 2 GT2541 that it would be difficult to come up with a compelling reason to forgo the extra stability. The GT3541LS also adds a critical 5" of additional max height (without raising a center column where applicable).

Far from overkill, I would argue that anyone choosing a Series 2 over a Series 3 is obsessing over a few ounces (0.8lbs to be exact). There are some exceptions. For very long arduous hikes every ounce counts. And a Series 2 Mountaineer has a significantly narrower girth (as does a Series 3 Mountaineer to a lesser degree). That might be important in the case that you need to carry the tripod inside a backpack and have limited space to do so. But for most of us toting our tripods a mile or two at most on a typical shoot, the Series 3 is a compelling choice.

John Shaw recommends nothing less than a Series 3 for any serious macro work, and generally for any use at all. I am not alone on this .

Even with a Series 3, it is obvious that even at 200mm we need to employ good technique, which includes a remote and Mirror Up whenever working at critical shutter speeds and our subjects allow it.

I also performed the same tests with the Series 3 and M20 + Sidekick and Wimberly WH-200 full gimbal. Interestingly, the two gimbals outperformed the ballhead alone, something I've not seen in previous tests although those tests were with far heavier and longer lenses. I'll save that for another day and another post

Attachment#1 (jpg file)


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