Which tripod is right for you ?

camera tripods all different sizes

World © Geoff Wilkinson – All rights reserved

Which tripod is right for you ?

As you are reading this I assume that you have read the first ‘mighty tripod’ story. I pointed out that even though your camera is on a tripod you can still get camera shake by pressing the shutter button with your finger rather than using the self timer of a remote release.

Someone asked me about my tripod setup so here goes. I’ve drawn a deep breath and had a count up and including the smallest, it totals six, yes six but that does include a unipod, well it’s sort of a one legged tripod isn’t it ? It just happens to have two legs missing.

So starting at the bottom and working up. The smallest is a Manfrotto ‘table top’ tripod with a ball and socket head on top, it only stands around six inches high and despite its diminutive size it’s really handy. Because of it’s size and and weight it goes everywhere, I have found it a real boon with my new Leica , they make a great pair.

The thing about having a small tripod is to do a bit of lateral thinking, sure it’s great to use it in the conventional way but there are alternatives. I don’t confine the use of mine to horizontal surfaces, I sometimes press it into position on verticals like the walls of buildings for example. So think about this, the legs are splayed as normal but just pushed firmly up against a vertical wall. The ball and socket head allows me to position the camera at whatever angle I want.Try it, it works once you get your head around it. Of course I also use it more conventionally especially when shooting low angles from the floor.

Next in size is my Gorillapod also fitted with a ball and socket head. In case you don’t know about this bit of gear the legs are approx. twelve inches long but made up of a series of flexible joints instead of being rigid. This means that they can be wrapped around things like posts, fences, lampposts, almost anything really. So that’s the conventional use. I also use mine as a chest pod either fitted onto the camera body or one of my favourites, screwed into the tripod socket of my Nikon F2.8 80/200mm zoom lens. Once it’s fixed to either the camera body or a telephoto lens I just turn the legs back to me, splay them out and rest them against my chest.

Tripod number three, it’s a small, light Cullman that is used when I know I am going to do a lot of walking. I only use this in daylight and with relatively short exposures as I prefer a heavier tripod for long exposures at night or interiors. This little Cullman does a great job for me in this respect if I am photographing a building or a landscape where I am not going to use a slow shutter speed but I do require very precise composition. I use the ‘live view’ mode on the camera. By using this little tripod and ‘live view’ together I can compose in much the same way as I would have done with a 5 x 4 plate camera but minus the focusing cloth over the head ! A number of my students have used this tripod on night workshops and it’s fine, you just have to be a little more careful to make sure it’s completely stable.

Number 4 is my big, heavy duty Manfrotto tripod with a Manfrotto pan and tilt head. This tripod has more air miles under its belt than most airline pilots. I’ve had it for years and it has never let me down. It’s constructed from metal and weighs a lot, I use it all the time on interiors and night shoots. I once had to shoot a night scene in Islington, North London using a Fuji 6 x 17 panoramic film camera, if I remember correctly the exposure was around 15 minutes with the lens stopped all the way down, this tripod didn’t flinch and took it all in its stride. As I say very heavy but then I personally believe the weight is necessary for stability for those very long exposures.

Next in line is my video tripod, again its a Manfrotto. I just don’t know why dedicated video tripods have legs that are different to tripods designed for still photography. Why does each leg have two struts rather than one tube. If you know drop me a line. On top of these legs I have a video pan and tilt head, yes you’ve guessed it Manfrotto. I’m not going to expand on this tripod except to say that it works really well. I will let you into one little secret though about this tripod and head combination, because the pan and tilt head has such a smooth action I have used it with my still camera to follow action with a long lens.

So that just leaves my unipod, bet you can’t guess what make that is ! Again it’s fitted with a ball and socket head and is invaluable when a tripod is too cumbersome or conspicuous. Remember however, that’s it’s no subsistute for a proper tripod.

When people ask me ‘what tripod should I buy ?’ I ask two questions, the first ‘what’s your budget, how much do you want to spend ?’ The second, and more important, is ‘how much weight are you prepared to carry ?’ You really need to think about this because if you are going to be carrying it all day it can easily turn into an unwelcome burden that you will grow to hate.

Spending money on a decent tripod is a sound investment, it’s not something you are going to change every year. Have a good look around there are lots of makes on the market, before you buy make sure you see it extended to it’s full height  to check the rigidity.

Photographers tend to fall into two camps where tripods are concerned, they either love or hate them, me, I tolerate them.

The photograph at the top of the page shows my tripods, minus the unipod. Notice anything about the perspective ? The smallest tripod, the table top Manfrotto appears to be the biggest and the biggest, the video tripod appears to be the smallest. It’s just one photograph, not individual pictures put together in photoshop, any ideas ?

Technical info: Nikon D7000 camera in manual mode, handheld, with a 10/24mm zoom lens at 10mm. The shutter speed was 1/100th of a second and the aperture was f16 and the ISO 100. The lighting was a single Elinchrom D-Lite 4it bounced into a white umbrella.





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