Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens
(Also posted in the Nikkor Autofocus Lenses Forum)
Just acquired a Nikkor 500mm f/4 VR. I would be grateful for advice from experienced users.
My primary use for this lens is birding. I have a 5 1/2" plate attached to the foot of the lens, a medium size Manfrotto 055 PRO 3-section carbon tripod, and the "junior" Jobu gimbal - which in spite of its name is almost as big and heavy as the Wimberley II. Both have worked very well with my 300mm f/4 plus 1.4TC, but I am not sure they can handle the 500 f/4 even without the TC.
Weighing down the tripod with an 8 pound bag seems to help but not quite enough: I can SEE vibration through the optical viewfinder even with the "long lens technique" of weighing down one hand over the center of gravity. In fact the only setup where I could see no vibration at all is using the cable release.
Any advice on whether my current setup can work if "properly used", and if not what tripod and what gimbal head works for you - yet remains portable in terms of weight and size?
How do you carry the tripod and head (plus the 500 and camera body) for say 1/2 hour?
Photography is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's own originality. It's a way of life. (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
#1. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 0dm1dave Nikonian since 12th Sep 2006Tue 07-Aug-12 08:23 PM | edited Tue 07-Aug-12 09:51 PM by dm1dave
The ideal setup would probably be a 5 series Gitzo and a full Wimberley or one of the bigger Jobu heads.
My guess is that the weakest point in your current setup is the tripod. You should use a Gitzo series 3 (or equivalent) at the very least wit that lens. Feisol is a pretty good alternative to Gitzo.
Look for a tripod with the top leg diameter of 32mm or greater. Also look for a tripod without any center column.
I would probably try better legs first and see how the Jobu junior preforms.
My big lens is the heavier 400/2.8. I usually remove the lens from the tripod and sling it over my shoulder if I am going to walk more than just a few minutes. For longer hikes I have the Lowpro 600AW backpack.
>> “...even with the "long lens technique" of weighing down one hand over the center of gravity.”
One more note regarding Long Lens Technique.
You should not be applying much downward pressure with the hand that you place on top of the lens. The hand should be resting on the lens. Moose Peterson states “You rest your hand on the lens just like you'd rest it in your lap.” Applying downward pressure could induce vibration into the system. Lightly resting you hand is intended to absorb and dampen vibrations.
The other thing you must do for LLT is to lightly press your eye against eye piece. This will help dampen vibrations originating inside the camera body.
Read over the Moose Peterson article linked above and keep on practicing your LLT.
#3. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 1ChrisPlatt Registered since 04th Jun 2011Wed 08-Aug-12 01:02 AM
"You should not be applying much downward pressure with the hand that you place on top of the lens. The hand should be resting on the lens. Moose Peterson states “You rest your hand on the lens just like you'd rest it in your lap.” Applying downward pressure could induce vibration into the system. Lightly resting you hand is intended to absorb and dampen vibrations."
That's a very important point. The hand is placed on top of the lens to absorb/dampen free vibrations that are initiated within the camera/lens system as a result of the mechanical activation of the components - mirror and shutter activation.
Muscle contraction results in normal physiological tremor - a slight contraction and release between 8 to 12 hertz. It's a natural part of the nerve feedback system that controls the strength of the contraction. That is the tremor that lens vibration reduction systems are designed to counter. Longer, fatiguing contractions result in higher amplitude and higher frequency tremors. Resting your hand on top of the lens without contracting muscles will greatly reduce physiological tremor so it doesn't add to the stabilization problem. You can't fight the vibration by pushing back against it. A couple of deep breaths to avoid oxygen debt and keep your pulse under control, breath out slowly, relax, and squeeze the shutter - just like placing a bullet in center mass at 500 yards
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#10. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 3Thu 16-Aug-12 02:59 PM
Just a comment on Moose's article...
He shoots a 600/4. That lens and the 400/2.8 are unique in that the lens collar and foot are well forward of the center of the lens, with the foot pointing rearward. He recommends placing the left hand on top of the tripod collar. The other long lenses all have a lens foot collar further back, with the lens foot facing forward.
Because of that, there is little or no room on a 600/4 to put your hand forward of the lens collar (look at some long lens images to visualize this).
It is my belief that, where possible, it is better to put the left hand on the far end of the lens, between the hood and the focusing ring (but keeping the hand off the focusing ring!), or on the hood/lens "joint".
It then takes far less pressure to accomplish more stabilization (far more efficient per unit of force). Then you can literally just let the lens or hood support the hand and let gravity do all the work. Pushing would then not add any value at all and would just exacerbate the nerve thing that Chris mentioned (interesting explanation, Chris!).
It is probably not possible to do it my way with Moose's lens (or maybe a 400/2.8) and you can visualize that in his image. His arm isn't long enough to reach .
I use my method with a 500/4, a 300/2.8, and some smaller lenses such as the 70-200 and 300/4. If I ever win the lottery and buy a 600/4 I may have to modify my technique!
(For years I thought Moose was "wrong" until it occurred to me that the different physical lens configurations dictate how best to do this)
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#12. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 10Thu 16-Aug-12 06:23 PM
"It is my belief that, where possible, it is better to put the left hand on the far end of the lens, between the hood and the focusing ring (but keeping the hand off the focusing ring!), or on the hood/lens "joint""
Thanks Neil: that absolutely makes sense!
As I now see it, putting your hand above the foot of the lens (i.e. the centre of gravity of the lens/camera) can help if the main problem is that your tripod vibrates, which it does somewhat, and is the reason a tripod with little or no flex is desirable. But the other problem, which a gentle hand pressure can best help with, is that the lens is long and heavy, and its (mostly vertical) vibration is largest at the far end.
If I am right, would you agree that the type of Long Lens Support made by RRS would be a real help?
Photography is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's own originality. It's a way of life. (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
#13. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 12Fri 17-Aug-12 10:42 AM
I agree with previous comments - the 29mm legs of the Manfrotto are inadequate for the 500/4. The same would be true of a Gitzo Series 2. In other words, it's not the wrong the brand, but the wrong leg diameter.
Of course, Manfrotto does not make a larger diameter CF tripod. The perfect tripod (from a stability point of view) would be a Series 5 but a Series 3 (as I use) will do the job. Same thing Dave and Joe suggested. The 3 of us are using more or less similar lenses (Dave's 400/2.8 a bit tougher) and I think all seeing the same thing.
I would guess that the problem with your 055 is that when you use your left hand to stabilize the lens, the view is still shaking. That is because the tripod is simply not rigid enough to stabilize the lens, or even to "support" your hand, if that makes sense.
You can see this in an objective way with the tap test, which Joe mentioned. My guess is that when you tap the lens the view is wild and loose and takes a long time to settle (well over 5 seconds), if it ever really settles outdoors where there is usually some breeze, even if light. That is what I experienced with my G1228. A GT2541 would perform better than my G1228 but it would not solve the problem.
in other words, I don;t think it matters where you put your hand because you can't solve the tripod problem.
The RRS Long Lens Support (LLS) will not help for two reasons:
1. The LLS cannot stop the flex happening underneath the tripod foot, and that flex is the mount, the legs, etc. The LLS can only improve one thing, and that is any flex introduced by the lens foot or collar. If you study the images of the Long Lens Foot on RRS's site I think this will make a lot of sense. The LLS is simply taking some stress off the lens foot/collar. That's it.
2. I have only used the LLS on my 500/4 AFS. This is the original AFs with the metal (not CF) lens barrel, and of course without VR. Interestingly, it weighs about the same as your VR model, apparently the VR weighs about as much as the reduction in lens barrel weight by using CF on the barrel.
I use the LLS whenever possible. I find it quite annoying in some ways. It makes the tripod quite a bit bulkier when I fold it up for transport in my vehicle and the LLS is always attacking something else in my vehicle .
It raises the center of gravity of the lens by about an inch. On a Wimberly without a flash mounted that is no big deal because the clamp platform is just adjusted to a different height. But when using a Wimberly flash bracket with on extension I need the center of gravity as low as possible in order to better balance things with the flash hanging 10" over the lens. And then the Wimberly platform does not go as low as I would like. I don't consider that a design problem with the gimbal but more a general problem with balancing a high flash.
It is difficult or impossible to use with my ThinkTank Hydrophobia, which is more important to me now then anything the LLS might do. The Hydrophobia is a true game changing accessory. I shoot without fear in weather I would never shoot in or might blow off for fear of getting caught out on the trail away from my vehicle in a sudden summer storm... that kind of thing.
Most importantly, the LLS absolutely, positively must be used with an RRS lens foot, or likely a Wimberly plate would work (I think I've tested my P40 plate). The double sided screw clamp on that thing is far more sensitive to plate width than even the RRS lever clamp. And even with an RRS plate I would never use it without stop pins. I find that double sided clamp quite scary .
For some reason I cannot divine, the camera bar on the LLS does not come with a stop pin for the rear side. The front side has a natural stop created by the Y support. I called RRS about that and they gave me an absolutely senseless answer and that phone call in itself was quite a story and reduced my opinion of the company. It was that senseless.
Anyway... I cut down a standard 1/4-20 bolt to the exact height I wanted and screwed that into an available hole at the back end of the camera bar. The bolt was sized to stick out at the same height as a standard RRS stop pin and therefore slides into the Wimberly clamp's stop pin slot.
I may be anal about stop spins but I think that thing just screams for a stop pin. Especially because you end up with two closely adjacent screw clamp knobs. It would be easy to grab and loosen the wrong knob, for example. The whole setup is quite a monstrosity.
Those are all the bad things I found with the LLS.
On the positive side, I found it helps... a little. A very little. It is not in any way a game changer. It won't make a Series 3 act like a Series 4 or 5. I often question if the bad things are worth the little extra stability I get.
I do not know how much, if any, the various long lens collars vary in terms of rigidity. Bkorn Rorslett has long been a critic of various Nikon lens feet and I think he came to the conclusion that the feet and collars have been lightened up over succeeding models (presumably to reduce weight). Recently Thom Hogan has been critical of certain long lens feet and started recommending the LLS.
What I'm trying to say is that my experience with my now rather old lens may be different than that experienced with other lenses. But if other lenses respond better to the LLS then my lens must be showing me the true stability of the tripod, and in that case I know that something mroe than a Series would help, especially without VR.
One other interesting benefit of the LLS. In principle these lenses should always be shot with the collar locked down. But then it adds time required to rotate into a portrait mode shot or just to level a tilted horizon. And since I move about a lot during the day, I rarely take the time to level my mount so I need to constantly tweak the horizon.
With the LLS, I set a lot of tension on the front end Y support, and that allows me to shoot with the collar loose, but still with tension on the collar. And that alone might be worth the various prices of admission .
In summary, that lens needs more tripod and there is nothing you can do to significantly change that. The LLS won't solve the problem, nor will adding weight.
I'll close by saying that I recently tap tested an 80-400 (working 400mm) and a 300/4 working 500mm on an 055. Although both those lenses ideally should be shot on 32mm legs, I was very impressed with the performance of the 055. It's a good tripod, it is just under-powered for your lens. I think it was the CF version, but this was a couple of months ago and now I'm unsure. I actually tried two different 055 tripods, both being side by side, each with one of those two lenses.
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#4. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 1
Thank you Dave for sharing practical, useful info.
About looking for a tripod without any center column. Do you mean
• not using a central column at all and only adjusting height by lengthening/shortening the legs?
• or do you mean buying the legs and central column separately so that you can optimize each one?
#5. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 4gg987 Nikonian since 17th Jun 2012Thu 09-Aug-12 12:09 AM
I have a Gitzo 5542LS and Wimberley II gimbal head. 600mm f/4 is very steady with this setup, especially after balancing it vertically and horizontally. Will stay in position without the clamp.
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR
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#6. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 4dm1dave Nikonian since 12th Sep 2006Thu 09-Aug-12 01:39 AM | edited Thu 09-Aug-12 01:42 AM by dm1dave
I mean a tripod that has no center column at all such as the Gitzo systematic tripods. They have a flat top that your ball head mounts onto without the center column.
Feisol, RRS and others all offer this type of tripod.
All of the new MAGICA tripods sold at the Nikonians Photo pro shop have flat tops. The MAGICA tripods are Gitzo legs with custom made hubs from Markins.
Here is a Gitzo 3 series systematic...
Like the others here I use a Gitzo GT5540LS with my 400mm f/2.8 lens.
If you go for a 5 series you will never have to worry if your support is good enough.
#7. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 6Thu 09-Aug-12 01:51 PM
Thank you for the clarification and the image.
"The problem with not using a center column is, of course, that you can’t raise your lens by extending the center column. The solution I’ve adopted is to use a four-section tripod with a very large maximum height (78 inches, or 6.5 feet), and then to spread the legs extra wide when shooting birds at eye level; when I need to switch to shooting a bird higher up in a tree, I can simply pull one or more of the legs in to increase the height of the lens. This system is faster than using a center column and far more stable." (http://www.digitalbirdphotography.com/4.1.html )
Is it true that "this system is faster than using a center column"?
Also, if the legs have only 3 or 4 allowable angles, doesn't this preclude any fine adjustment of the height? so that you may have to also change the length of the legs?
#8. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 7jrp Charter MemberMon 13-Aug-12 06:05 AM
Fine tuning height needs adjustment on a single leg most of the time. Even in macro.
Using a center column is equivalent to mounting a monopod on top of a tripod.
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#11. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 7Thu 16-Aug-12 03:46 PM
>> and then to spread the legs extra wide when shooting birds at eye level;
Moy, I would be VERY careful trying to do that. With any tripod, as you reduce the leg angle you dramatically increase the stress on the tripod mount connection to the legs, the leg collars, and the CF tubing. The entire assembly is strongest with the leg locks in the "normal" (highest height) position.
For example, if you fully extend a tripod (without a payload) and set the leg angles to put the tripod as low as possible, and then *gently* press down on the mount, you will see everything flex. I would never shoot that way- this is just a visualization exercise to be done with great care and gentleness.
I only increase the leg angles when the tripod is fully retracted or nearly so, so that I can use it in a seated or lying down position at a comfortable height. And especially when fully splayed out I am very careful not to put unnecessary downward stress on the tripod. My 500/4 is enough stress for that position.
Your source is suggesting something in between, with a Gitzo XLS or one of the new Giant models. The amount of stress would depend on how far you spread the legs and I have bo idea where the (literal) breaking point is, and that would depend on the payload and how you used it and "abused" it while going about your business.
I have a suspicion that the few reports you see of broken Gitzo legs or mounts are do to overstressing the mounts with the legs splayed, or use in deep snow, which is apparently even worse if not done correctly.
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#2. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 0
I use a GT5542LS and the Jobu BWG-PRO with my 500/4 AF-S II. It was suggested that at a minimum you could use a 3 series. Since your lens has VR that may be a sound recommendation since VR would be the great equalizer when it comes to vibration reduction.
I have a GT3541LS and have tested it against the 5 series. The 5 series outperforms the 3 series significantly. I have placed a spreadsheet with the results, you can download it from here. Remember your lens has VR and mine does not so you may obtain good results with a series 3 and VR where I get the best out of my non VR lens with a series 5.
#9. "RE: Right tripod and gimbal head for a 500mm f/4 lens" | In response to Reply # 0
Last year we went to Yellowstone in the spring and rented a 600 f/4. Accepting the fact that a long lens was somewhere in my future, I bought a Realy Right Stuff (RRS) "TVC-33 Pano-Gimbal Package". All RRS gear is very well made in the US, it has very smooth action, and is a little lighter than a Gitzo/Wimberley combination. This package is somewhat expensive at $1,861. You can cut that back a bit by side mounting your lens without the vertical arm and skipping the leveling base. You do not use a ball head with it. I tried a TC2 on the 600mm and it was to laugh. At 1200mm the atmosphere blurred anything at any distance and my long lens technique proved to really suck. It made a good telescope to watch a wolf trying to get at a bison calf and the bison forming circle all at about a mile away. Photos show some hazy blobs. I’m still working on my technique with a 300mm f/2.8 sometimes with the TC2. Got some great shots of snowy owls this winter with the setup below. That’s me hauling the rig around the estuary after extracting myself from being up to my knees in muck. The gear remained unharmed, my ego suffered.
If you decide to use the leveling base, consider the “Leveling Base HDL with Hook”. You can use the hook to add stabilizing weight to the tripod plus the shank is a little longer which makes adjusting the base a bit easier. Also, while you’re there maxing out you plastic, take a look at the “Long lens support package”. It is not a substitute for the long lens technique described elsewhere here but it helps.
Their site has a lot of excellent advice: see “Be a Gear Expert” and “Videos”.
Me just out of the bog. Photo by laughing wife.
RRS gimbal head, long lens support, D300 with a TC2.
Yellowstone - tracking with the 600mm on the RRS.
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