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07-29-2013, 02:32 AM   #1
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First tripod - go for mediocre or the best?

I am finally tired of setting my camera and lens up on some make-shift stability platform when doing either night or long exposure photogrphy (I usually just find a flat spot and put pieces of paper or some stuff under the camera to get the right angle, getto things like that).

So, I have an upcoming hiking trip and I am ready for my first ever tripod. I will mainly use it with my K-5 with grip and my biggest lens is the 50-135. I plan to use the tripod primarily for long exposures and night photgraphy. I don't think I will get any bigger lens in the foreseeable future. I don't have a car right now so if I go out with my gear, I need to carry the tripod on my back.

I have read many stories about folks getting a medicore tripods and ball heads only to upgrade later to a more expensive combo. Based on my research, I have decided on Gitzo mountaineer/travler series 1 tripod and Arc-Swiss Z1 or RRS BH30 or 40 for ball heads. The only problem is that the combo if purchased new would set me back >$1k, and maybe more tripod than I would need at this stage.

Does it make sense to go for the best or settle for middle of the road? What are some other recommendations?

Thanks in advance.

07-29-2013, 02:39 AM   #2
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Could you just set the camera on the ground or a rock with a bean bag? I sometimes just use my camera bag. Cheap, cheerful and I was carrying it already.
07-29-2013, 02:47 AM   #3
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Cheapo tripods are Ok, they get things done very well. If I were you, I would go for the lightest suitable setup you can afford, not the strongest, nor the tallest.
07-29-2013, 03:18 AM   #4
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Just some general hints.

Weight is a big issue. Less weight plus strength leads towards carbon fibre which is more expensive.
Cheaper units gain stability by bracing the legs together. Uneven ground requires individually adjustable legs. Again more expensive.
Size is an issue, the smaller it folds the better and again more expensive.

Have a look at OBEN CT-3520 approx $470 from B&H with a Ball Head. I don't have one but if looking for a travel tripod I would seriously consider this one.

07-29-2013, 04:05 AM   #5
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I would say it depends mostly on the tripod's features.
For example, do you need it to be very tall? Does it need to be able to go low? Does it have to be heavy, so it can hold a big lens and resist wind? Or does it need to be light, because you will be marathoning with it?
Do you need the quick flexibility of a ball head or would you prefer a bunch of slower, but perhaps more precise knobs?

But I would say that buying a really cheap tripod is probably a bad idea, because it will be shaky and will bend over time.
07-29-2013, 06:03 AM   #6
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I don't think you have to spend 1K to get something that will work well and long for a casual user. This page Tripod Legs | B&H Photo Video is legs only and the head will probably double the price depending on what you pick. The 055 has many good reviews. They also offer combos but without knowing your choice it would be hard to pick one for you.
07-29-2013, 06:10 AM   #7
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I agree with what has been said so far. My experience with a cheap tripod is spend the extra money.
A good thing to try with a cheaper tripod is trying to line something up like the moon with a long lens before and after tightening. You will find cheapie tripods will move heaps and are hard to make small movements with a load.
This is the thing I didn't realise with my first Tripod and now all it serves me is as a Flash stand (so in retrospect no great loss really but a pain at the time).
Also go with an ArcaSwiss compatible model even if you don't currently think you will need it, once you catch the tripod fever you will be gratefull for the compatibility with brackets and such.

07-29-2013, 06:51 AM   #8
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I got a Dolica carbon fiber tripod for about $60 bucks. It's pretty solid, very light, and is reasonably durable. As far as I am concerned, it is perfect for a beginner enthusiast like me (well, I'm not so much a beginner anymore but I digress). It has supported my k-x with the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 without issues.

Given what I have learned from this tripod, I am much more aware of what I am looking for in my future tripods.

I would suggest looking for a well reviewed tripod in the $40-100 range and using it as a beginner. As a beginner, you probably will make a mistake here and there. Better to learn from those mistakes with a solid cheap tripod than an expensive tripod.

Side note - I originally bought a super cheap sunpack with a ballhead and grip. The sunpack's leg locks failed on me, and that is why I chose the Dolica (it comes with twist locks, not snap locks). So yes - don't get the super cheap ones. On the other hand, the ballhead and grip is fantastic and I am using it on my Dolica now.
07-29-2013, 07:15 AM   #9
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I started with a $40 Dolica tripod+head. Stable enough and allow me to learn shooting using tripod and see if I like it. 1 year Later, bought a BENRO carbon fiber tripod and a Vanguard ball head, much better than the Dolica (Tripod is light, ball head is precise and tight). Set me back around $200. After two years of using this combo, I know how my next tripod should be: Carbon fiber, central column removable, can get to extreme low, and easy setup. For ball head, I want a system that accept the same plate for different sized ball head and 3 axis head (changing plate and keeping them handy is troublesome!), but this will come at a later stage.

I think half your budget ($500) can get you a very good one, but like cars, some think Toyota corolla is good enough, but some think only BMW is real car.
07-29-2013, 07:15 AM - 1 Like   #10
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Tripods are like lenses; you cannot have just one and expect it to be the right one from all situations. A heavy tripod is great in a studio environment but not so good for travel and hiking. For that, you need something lightweight with foldable legs. There are many in the market in the $100-$200 with Arca Swiss ball heads.

If you are not using heavy long lenses, another option is to get a little one with bendable legs (like gorilla pods or similar) and attach it to railings, tables, rocks, trees, etc. Use a wired or wireless remote control and you get a very stable setup that can be used in places where a tripod maybe difficult or inappropriate. And you can carry it in your pocket.

For hiking you may also consider a monopod. It will not provide long exposures or night photography but it will greatly improve any handheld telephoto photography and you can use it as a walking stick also.
07-29-2013, 07:19 AM   #11
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I'm pretty happy with my Oben carbon fiber unit. Under $400, only 3 lbs, and I can use it with my Tamron 70-200 as long as the center column is down, and it's not too windy.

07-29-2013, 07:29 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by demp10 Quote
Tripods are like lenses; you cannot have just one and expect it to be the right one from all situations.
Yep... we have somewhere around 8 tripods in our house. They all get used for different things.

My "big Kahuna" is a Manfrotto 055XPROB, with a Davis & Sanford (FLM) Centerball 38. Love it... Rock stable and very versatile, but lightweight, it ain't.
07-29-2013, 07:37 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by JinDesu Quote

I would suggest looking for a well reviewed tripod in the $40-100 range and using it as a beginner. As a beginner, you probably will make a mistake here and there. Better to learn from those mistakes with a solid cheap tripod than an expensive tripod.
What kind of mistake can there be? Open the tripod, lock the legs, put the camera on QR plate and tighten. Hang camera bag on the center column if windy.
07-29-2013, 08:26 AM   #14

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A small gorillapod or a bean bag is the ultimate in portability. Consider that if you don't need much height while hiking.

I'm going to continue on the assumption that you need the extra height of a full size tripod. Don't buy a mediocre tripod. It might cost less but it will be wasted money; a mediocre tripod is too heavy and bulky for hiking, too flimsy for long exposures.

The Manfrotto 055 series has already been mentioned twice in this thread. Make that 3 times now. There are several models, consider a model in carbon fiber (light) with 4-section legs (compact) seems good. Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod and MH054M0-Q2 Ball 190CXPRO4-M0Q2B. You'll need to add a ball head.

Hmm, while searching for the 055 I found this $280 tripod+head combo using the Manfrotto 293. Compared to the 055 it looks like the 293 has less carrying weight, fewer leg angle adjustments, and the center column can't be flipped horizontal (for macro use). The 293 total system is 3.5 pounds and can support 8 pounds of camera gear: Manfrotto 293 w/ ball head: Manfrotto 293 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Quick MK293C4-A0RC2 B&H
07-29-2013, 08:49 AM   #15
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You've had some great suggestions already but I'll throw a different one at you. As you are going hiking think about a monopod that doubles as a hiking pole. There are a lot available at the moment as they are becoming more popular. I have one that I bought for $25 and use a Redged ball head on the top (Redged T-Series RT-1 Professional Ball Head RT-1).

A hiking pole is a great benefit on any hike as it assists you when going up and down hills and in my version the ball knob on the top unscrews to reveal a 1/4" stud which is perfect for mounting cameras directly or via a ball head.

This is mine: Telescoping Hiking Stick - Lee Valley Tools

Here are some more choices:

Monopods | Buy, Compare & Review | Adorama

If you go with a monopod/ball head combo make sure you check compatibility as some monopods only have a 1/4" screw fitting while some ball heads only have a 3/8" threaded hole. You can buy inserts to convert from one to the other and some ball heads come with one already (mine did).

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