Should I consider upgrading my tripod and/or ball head?
I have D700 along with a Gitzo 1541T and RRS BH-40. I shoot purely as a hobby and mostly when traveling. I'm heading to Florida in November and recently purchased the 300mm f4. I don't anticipate acquiring any of the really big zooms anytime soon, so I'm wondering if my current setup will be sufficient. From what I've read, both the Gitzo and RRS are rated to hold his body/lens combo, but I feel I may be pushing the limits when adding the 1.7 or 2.0 TC. I realize for long exposure times, I should probably go with at least a series 3 for this combo, but I will probably be shooting mostly birds with my long lens. I don't want to return from my trip disappointed, but I also don't want to spend the money unnecessarily. I haven't had a chance to test this setup yet (hopefully this weekend), but in the meantime, any advice is appreciated.
Ann Arbor, MI
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#1. "RE: Should I consider upgrading my tripod and/or ball head?" | In response to Reply # 0nrothschild Registered since 25th Jul 2004Wed 26-Sep-12 02:26 PM | edited Wed 26-Sep-12 02:27 PM by nrothschild
Without a TC, at 300mm... I suspect you will find the 300mm marginal on the Series 1. On a Series 2 you may or may not like it depending on your expectations and the demands of the shooting situation. A Series 3 is a slam/dunk.
I suspect that at 500 or 600mm you will find that Series 1 severely overtaxed.
The above is my experience with a 300/4 and TC's on my old 4 section Series 2 CF (and extrapolating to a Series 1). My G1228 was supposedly significantly improved with the latest Series 2 models but I suspect not a game-changer.
Take a look at the GT3542LS and see if that package size meets your portability needs. I shoot that tripod with my 500/4 at up to 850mm, it is a slam/dunk with your lens even at 600mm. The mount is quite a bit wider but for less than $200 you can replace it with a Markins hub (which I am testing now) that probably helps it to fit luggage better and generally makes the Systematic handle more like a Mountaineer (or Traveler) when toting it around. Saves some weight too.
If you are going to replace a Series 3 mount with a Markins hub it would make more economic sense to try to find a gently used GT3541LS. The difference between those models is mainly the top plate locking latch and a beefier mount, both of which you would be replacing (and wasting). And the new Series 3 came with a new even higher price.
I shoot Markins heads. I have little experience with the BH-40 and none with a 300/4. It would be better to get opinions from BH-40 owners. It would appear to be pushing that head to its limits (based on RRS's own assessment) but it would probably work, certainly well enough to tide you over should you not like its performance. And you can figure that out now or when you add the TC(s).
If you do not like the performance of the BH-40, consider a Markins. The Q10 is about the same weight as the BH-40 and I believe it is more capable of higher payloads. The Q20 is the best overall choice in the Markins line for a Series 3 and is only $50 and about 4 oz additional. That is your choice there. A BH-55 is more in line with the Q10/Q20 choice in terms of performance but significantly heavier and bulkier.
The RRS and Markins heads have a very different feature set in terms of controls, among other things. Some like the RRS way and some (like me) prefer the Markins way. Since this is a personal choice you should consider that seriously since it arguably has the biggest impact of user perception.
My comments above about suitability are based on my experience shooting birds and using long lens technique (LLT). LLT is far more difficult with an over-taxed tripod.
To be clear, if you upgrade the tripod I do not suggest stopping at any Series 2 unless you absolutely need the features of a "traveler" but those needs directly contradict the needs of a birder. You can't have both.
Some people believe a Series 2 is "good enough" for your gear but I'm conservative in that way and the difference between a Series 2 and a GT354xLS with Markins hub is not terribly great.
Compare the specs and (assuming a Markins Hub) reduce the GT3541LS spec weight by about 4-8 ounces (I forget the exact number I measured and need to find my notes). The difference between a GT3541LS or GT3542LS + Markins Hub is probably almost a full pound less than the stock GT3542LS, it gaining a half pound over the '1' model, surely all in the beefier mount.
You may find a gimbal like the Sidekick attractive after you have done some birding with a 300mm, especially at 500/600mm. That is a whole different issue. The only issue there is that you will probably not want to shoot the D700 with a grip on a Sidekick with that lens. And that may be true of most compact side-mounted gimbals, even dedicated gimbals. But that is another adventure to deal with after you get the basic setup in place.
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#2. "RE: Should I consider upgrading my tripod and/or ball head?" | In response to Reply # 1Thu 27-Sep-12 11:42 AM
Thanks for your thorough response.
For the ball head, it looks like the Markins Q20 is sufficiently compact for my needs. I'll have to consider that option. For the RRS BH-40, their website specifically calls out the 300mm f4: "For example, we routinely recommend our BH-40 as the ballhead of choice for lenses like 70-200mm/f2.8 zooms and 300mm/f4 primes."
Can you point me to the RSS assessment that says otherwise?
For legs what is your opinion on the GT3541 (non Systematic). It is considerably less expensive and about the same size/weight, but less rated load capacity (39 vs 55 lbs).
I'm still a bit confused on the focal length ratings for tripods. Both of these tripods (3541 and 3542LS) say they are good up to 400mm. Is that also in part due to the weight of a typical >400mm lens? My 300mm f4 + 1.7 TC will weigh less than half of the 500mm f4, so I'm hoping to be able to factor that in as well when choosing support.
Ann Arbor, MI
Visit my Nikonians gallery.
#3. "RE: Should I consider upgrading my tripod and/or ball head?" | In response to Reply # 2MEMcD Nikonian since 24th Dec 2007Thu 27-Sep-12 12:55 PM
>For legs what is your opinion on the GT3541 (non Systematic).
>It is considerably less expensive and about the same
>size/weight, but less rated load capacity (39 vs 55 lbs).
The GT3541 is a Mountaineer series tripod that has a center column.
With a maximum height with the center column down of 51.97" you will be bending over if your eye level is higher than about 58" or so. Even less if you are shooting on anything other than a level surface.
With regard to the difference in capacity, Gitzo has increased the capacity of the newer GT35_2 series over the older GT35_1 series tripods. In the past, all 3 Series tripods have a capacity of 39.68lbs. and only the 5 Series CF tripods had a capacity of 55.12lbs.
>I'm still a bit confused on the focal length ratings for
>tripods. Both of these tripods (3541 and 3542LS) say they are
>good up to 400mm. Is that also in part due to the weight of a
>typical >400mm lens? My 300mm f4 + 1.7 TC will weigh less
>than half of the 500mm f4, so I'm hoping to be able to factor
>that in as well when choosing support.
The maximum focal length capacity of a tripod has more to do with the diameter of the largest leg tube of the tripod than the actual listed weight capacity. Larger tube diameters provide more vibration dampening, in addition to more capacity.
The longer the focal length the more susceptible the camera is to vibration which will result in less than sharp images.
Go to Gitzo's home page and click on the Interactive (Tripod) Configurator and you will see the relationship of focal length to tripod Series which is a function of leg diameter.
They still list the 3 series to 300mm there.
Good Luck and Enjoy your Nikons!
#4. "RE: Should I consider upgrading my tripod and/or ball head?" | In response to Reply # 2nrothschild Registered since 25th Jul 2004Thu 27-Sep-12 02:09 PM | edited Thu 27-Sep-12 02:17 PM by nrothschild
The 300/4 is RRS's largest recommended lens for the BH-40. By my definition that is "pushing it to it's limits" because that is RRS's own stated limit for the head.
Markins recommends the M10 up to 500/4 (or beyond), which is a significantly more difficult lens to manage. They even have a video demonstrating it with an Ai era 800/5.6, which is more or less comparable to a 600/4 and 1./4x TC. I use mine with a 500/4 so I know that that is a legitimate recommendation.
It is the nature of ballheads that it is better to give them some breathing room. If the maker recommends a certain maximum class lens it is better to stay under that class. The ballhead will perform commensurately better with increasingly easier payloads.
Therefore the BH-55 should do a better job, as well as the Markins M10 and M20. And that is the basis of how I tried to thread that needle in my previous reply. The BH-40 will certainly work.
If you are shooting wildlife with a ballhead at up to 500mm you will be using the head in its sweet spot in order to make the head perform as closely as possible to a gimbal (friction-less). You will probably need to track and frame moving subjects. This use of the ballheads argues even more strongly for not pushing the limits of the ballhead.
Even critically framing a static subject at 500mm can, at best, be a bit of extra effort, verses shorter focal lengths.
The GT3541 and GT3541LS, as well as all the '1' version systematics (including some that did not end in a '1' due to a quirk in Gitzo's version numbering system) were all rated at 39LB.
The latest '2' versions, which have only been released in the Systematic series, feature an apparently more robust and heavier triangular shaped mount. Gitzo raised the payload rating.
I have not handled a new '2' version Gitzo so I have no opinion on the real world benefit of that change or the implications of the increased payload rating. I wish I had more insight into that.
Focal Length vs Payload Weight
I have a 300/4 AFS, 300/2.8 AFS II and 500/4 AFS, plus all 3 AFS TC's. From that, I have looked at this issue of weight verses focal length in terms of how they handle on my 3 Gitzo tripods (Series 2 CF,3 CF and 4 alloy).
My general sense is that focal length is a larger factor than lens weight or size (a function of lens speed). However, moving from a 300/4 to a 300/2.8 and then to a 500/4 certainly does not help matters.
I have comparative images of the 300/2.8 verses 300/4 with several different tripods here. The 300's were shot at 300mm without a TC.
I probably have 500mm images directly comparing the 300/4 and/or 300/2.8 to the 500/4 at 500mm but I don't see them in my published galleries. I'll take a look to see if I can find something. I should have that comparison posted to that gallery because this is a frequently discussed question.
My own general assessment has been that focal length is close enough that it is probably not a good idea to more finely split it into payload/focal length classes. There is probably too much variability in other real world issues to try to split hairs over that. Plus, most importantly, there is no precise "wall" that divides what is acceptable from unacceptable.
I would be more comfortable shooting a 300/4 on a Series 2, for example, than a 300/2.8, and when the issue of a 300/2.8 comes up I am more firm in my opinion.
Gitzo is somewhat inconsistent with their focal length recommendations, and that is consistent with the fact that it is not a clear cut issue.
Starting on Page 8 of their download-able 2009 pdf catalog (latest available) they list a chart with recommendations. They recommend on that chart 300mm for Series 3 and I believe that is their most conservative (ideal) rating.
On pg 57, discussing the Series 3, they say "A great choice for professional equipment, medium format and DSLRs with 300mm up to 500mm lenses."
It is quite possible that marketing wrote page 57 where engineering wrote page 8 (I'm not kidding). Or it may be a reflection that in the real world many of us are shooting 500 and 600mm f/4 lenses, with TC's, on a Series 3 even though surely a Series 5 would be better.
My feeling is that as you exceed the recommendations on page 8 you need to add increasing care in your shooting and you will experience more situations (such as wind) where you simply cannot reliably get the shot or get it at all, depending on shutter speed. Gitzo adds some verbiage to that effect in their pg 8 discussion. I have never seen anything from Gitzo stating their firm opinion on focal length verses lens size.
It is quite a grey area but I believe the recommendation on page 8 are very good targets to meet unless you have a compelling reason to push it. In real life most wildlife shooters are pushing it unless they are using a Series 5.
As far as the GT3541 specifically... historically the Systmatics have been less expensive than Mountaineer versions because the Mountaineer version adds a center column worth about $100 and the price historically reflected that.
For the first time since circa 2004 when I started closely following Gitzo, that has reversed because the '2' Series Systematics came with a substantial price increase along with the improved top plate locking latch mechanism and the more robust triangular mount.
If price were no object, nor concerns for the larger girth of the Systematic, I would probably go for the current Systematic...
However, strictly in terms of performance, it is my belief that the weak link here is not the mount, it is in the leg joints and the leg to mount joint. I don't believe it is possible to make what I would call a game changing improvement in the mount. It is a solution in search of a problem.
That is my opinion based on not nearly enough experience with all the different model variants and the opportunity to try to test them.
I'll throw out a final idea that I do not believe has been previously discussed, despite the fact that this is a frequently discussed topic...
I am evolving into the opinion that the purpose of the new more robust triangular mount was not so much to improve performance (being a diminishing return in my opinion) but to strengthen the leg joint making it less susceptible to cracking.
Mechanically, the weakest link in almost all tripods is the metal in the mount that retains the tripod leg and swivel bolt. We see many complaints about this part of the mount breaking, but mostly in less expensive tripods where likely the mount casting is of lower quality than Gitzo. We had a very recent post about this regarding another brand.
I would say it is rare to hear about a Gitzo mount breaking in that area of the mount but it is certainly not unheard of.
The mount is most vulnerable when used in deep snow (as well as the upper leg itself, which can easily crack from that stress). Also perhaps equally vulnerable when the legs are splayed out wide with excessive downward pressure applied to the mount.
I often use my Series 3 CF (and the other 2 Gitzos) with the legs either splayed as wide as possible or the next notch up, depending if I am sitting butt on the ground or lying down for an even lower angle.
I never extent more than about a half section when doing that and would never mount my 500/4 on the tripod with all legs fully extended but for the most part my concerns there are more for the upper region of the Cf leg cracking than the mount. I'm not convinced the mount gets more stress with legs overly extended and splayed out but my gut says there is something wrong with that .
Considering all the above, I think the new triangular Systematic mount would be a good investment for someone that plans to put a lot of stress on that mount joint with heavy payloads and maybe rough handling. It should lessen the already low probability of a mount failure.
Once you run down that line of thought you have to look at other tripods, such as RRS, that use CNC mounts. I believe it is generally believed that those CNC mounts are less susceptible to cracking at the leg joint. I am not a metallurgist so I can't have an educated opinion on that. I just mention conventional thinking here.
I believe we need another 5-10 years of user experience before that aspect has stood the test of time but I do not recall hearing about any RRS mounts cracking. And of course, not many Gitzo's but the Gitzo has been the leading upscale tripod for well over a decade now, and arguably for 30 years. It has had far more opportunities to crack.
Just food for thought. For various reasons I favor Gitzo tripods over RRS but as Gitzo strives to meet RRS's previously higher price levels and the tripod weights climb I start looking more closely at the mounts and I think that aspect may be starting to favor RRS.
There is also the very viable option of the Markins hub, which I am testing on my own Series 3 now. But economically that makes less sense in the context of Gitzo's systemtic pricing. It actually makes more sense to buy a Mountaineer and add the hub, the legs being identical. I find the current situation very strange .
If I were considering a Markins hub and Mountaineer I would not dally because I am not convinced the new reversed pricing will remain intact. And when it reverses I suspect that somehow the Mountaineer prices will go up, it won't likely be Systematic prices going down unless Gitzo meets serious resistance in the market against RRS and the like.
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#5. "RE: Should I consider upgrading my tripod and/or ball head?" | In response to Reply # 0
Thanks Neil and Marty for the helpful information. It never ceases to amaze me how much knowledge resides in this group.
Here is my current plan (to spread out the pain a bit):
1. Upgrade to the 3541 legs (maybe the 3541L)
2. If the results are not satisfactory, add the Markins hub
3. If still not happy, add the Marking Q20.
Worst case is I'll wind up with a two support systems one for hiking and one for the heavier stuff. Oh darn!
Ann Arbor, MI
Visit my Nikonians gallery.