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05-12-2015, 09:56 AM   #1
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Backpacking Tripod and Ball Head

Hello Pentaxians!
I recently purchased a K-5 for backpacking and want to get into outdoor photography. I do not have a lot of experience currently, and am looking for a good tripod and ball head set up. My gear will be used for 4-10 day backpacking trips to Big Bend, the Smokies, and other national parks.
The problem is since I donít have experience with using a tripod and ball head, it has made it difficult in knowing what to get and what I need. Iíve read numerous times not to cheap out on a tripod setup, so I donít mind splurging on the cost, provided itís a durable, quality rig that will last me a long long time.
After researching it, Iíve decided on the RRS TQC-14 tripod unless someone can suggest a better alternative. Where I am having trouble is deciding on the ball head, and all the other supplies I will need. Since it will be outdoors in the elements, I would want something durable that can withstand light rain, salt, dirt, etc. Iíve looked at the RRS BH-30, Arca Swiss P0, and Acratech GPS. It seems like these are all quality ball heads that everyone seems to be happy with, which doesnít help me because nobody says anything bad about them. Can anyone say what one does better over the other, or any weaknesses one might have?
Also, advice on additional equipment would be nice. Iíve heard about needing the Arca Swiss quick release claims and a lever release clamp?
Thanks in advance to anyone that can help, and sorry for the rambling post!!!

05-12-2015, 10:10 AM   #2
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I'd go with Acratech for outdoor use -- they are lightweight and are designed to be rugged and never need cleaning (i.e. oiling) other than a wipe-off with a cloth if they get any grit in them (their panning base is maybe less smooth than others because of this, but it isn't bad). It also has the "gimbal" mode which can handle big lenses nicely and does that upside-down thing if I want to use it as a leveling panorama base. I'm very happy with mine. I bought it to be the only ballhead I'd ever need, and it probably will be. I must say the Uniqball looks very interesting (ball inside a ball so can be leveled) -- came out after I already bought my Acratech, but if I was in the market I'd be very tempted by that also...
05-12-2015, 05:54 PM   #3
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What lens(es) do you intend to shoot? Heavier longer lenses require much more support. Subjects? Wildlife (or anything moving) could make a gimbal worthwhile.

Backpacking with a tripod is the art of compromise. You want the lightest thing that will still provide enough support for your intended purposes. Carbon is worth the cost for 2 reasons. It is light and it will not freeze to your hands like aluminum in cold temps. Wood is even better in the cold but frankly not worth the hassle and weight for backcountry excursions.

I am a big fan of bean bags. They are smaller and lighter than any tripod setup and much more stable. The caveat is you have to shoot from the ground or find suitable elevated support (i.e. rock, fence, tree). Great for wildlife and some macro work. Not a solution for anything requiring pointing up or down (astro, other macro).
05-12-2015, 07:41 PM   #4
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Evening Jeremy,

You probably did not need to go as high as the RRS tripod, but anything RRS makes is excellent. In terms of heads, I have had an Arcatech GP for 8 years now. Great for backpacking, small, as light as possible and indestructible. It also inverts and allows you to pan level for stitched panoramas. The GP is highly recommended. There are a number of excellent threads here on the forum on the topic.

Here is a review of some of the heads.Here is a thread that does an excellent job. I would also suggest going to the top and reading the whole thing as it does a good job across the entire topic. Post #13 has a good overview on why inverting the Arcatech GP is helpful with stitched panoramas.Here is part of another discussion thread on heads, that might help. I would also suggest going to the top and reading the whole thing.You might also consider an L Bracket, which helps in putting the camera up in portrait orientation. They are light and attach to the camera body. RRS essentially is really the only vendor providing a custom fit for Pentax bodies now.



05-13-2015, 05:12 AM   #5
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Wow, that tripod is quite really the reverse of "cheaping out"... I was going to suggest the Sirui T-025X, since it's lighter and smaller than this one, and has served me well so far in every situation I threw at it, but seeing your budget... I'll only say I'm sure you'll be happy with your purchase.
05-13-2015, 06:28 AM   #6
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I have been happy with the Giottos 9254. If I am packing really light, I will use a small Slik, but with a mirrorless that has an articulating mirror. It is very light, but too low for using the optical finder of a DSLR.
05-13-2015, 11:31 AM   #7
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Wow thanks everyone for all the replies!
Sorry I should have specified my intended setup. As far as the lenses, the idea of light, quality primes are one of the main advantages that turned me on to Pentax. So with that said, I plan on using the DA15mm, the 43mm, and hopefully in the next year or two the 100mm wr or Kiron 105mm.
I realize that maybe the TQC-14 tripod may be overkill for those lighter lenses, but it was the lightest RRS offered and would allow me to expand my lense collection to larger lenses in the future if I wanted, as well as use it as my everyday tripod as well. That said, Iím certainly not rich so if I can find a comparable tripod that is considerably cheaper Iím ok with that. I will look into the tripods everyone has kindly mentioned, especially the Giottos 9254 and Sirui T-025X.
As far as the ballhead, I was originally favoring the RRS bh-30 or the acratech p0, largely due to the reviews below.
However, since vonBaloney and interested_observer recommend the Arcatech GP, Iím starting to lean in that direction. One thing to note, if I do indeed purchase the TQC-14 tripod, the Arcatech GP will be too large, and I will need to purchase the GPS, so hopefully that ballhead is highly regarded as well. The uniqball looks interesting but may be more than I want to spend (Iím already pushing the limits of my budget ).
I plan on doing more landscape photography, and maybe some macro work when I can get a good macro lens. I donít plan on focusing on wildlife right now, plus I feel like that would require bigger, more expensive telephoto lenses that arenít in the budget right now, even though I would certainly like to capture some great wildlife pictures if I can. So given that Iíll currently be using small primes, is it safe to say that something like the Acratech gimbal mode wouldnít be useful for the time being?
Thanks again guys for all the helpful suggestions!!!

05-13-2015, 12:52 PM   #8
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That's shaping up to be a great setup...I'll be very interested in how it works for you! As long as we're adding kit to your load-out (and emptying your wallet) I'd try to talk you into getting, say, a short tele like the DA70...it's a lot of lens in a small package that I've seen for not a lot of money lately. "As is," it would give you a bit of "compression" for your compositions; add a nodal slide for "technical" pano's and maybe pick up a close-up lens like the Raynox 250 or Sigma Aml-2, and you'd be sorted for a lot of applications.


Otherwise, give me a heads up if you're in the GSMNP--I know the Park pretty well, so if you need trail/campsite feedback, I might be able to point you toward some less crowded alternatives.
05-13-2015, 01:11 PM   #9
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For the record, you could get a Sirui T-025X AND a DFA 100 WR for the price of the RSS. I'm SURE it's a fantastic tripod, but on paper the Sirui compares well. It's actually smaller and lighter. Here is some info about it. I'm not trying to sway you, just passing information along.

Sirui T-025x Travel Tripod Review - Introduction | PentaxForums.com Reviews

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/22-pentax-camera-field-accessories/259167...ew-inside.html

I'd be interested (and, probably, amazed) at how stable and vibration-free the RSS is. On the plus side, the Sirui comes with a pretty good head already (and when shopping for a head for these small tripods, remember that most heads are too large to fit them properly).
05-13-2015, 01:26 PM - 1 Like   #10
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The GP is slightly different from the GPS and GPS-S in the knob placement, the latter models being better for leaving on the tripod legs when folded and the only difference between the S and SS is the SS has a slightly smaller base and is slightly lighter. Each is also available with the screw or lever on the clamp (I think -- in any case the screw is safer and stronger but slower). I think the GPS is the best bet for a hiking head -- that's mainly what I bought it for.
05-13-2015, 05:03 PM   #11
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If you intend to shoot mostly horizontal (don't need to pan your camera much up or down) another alternative to a ball head is a simple leveling base with a clamp directly attached. Most will give you 10 - 20 degrees of tilt which is usually enough for me. Saves weight and is more stable than all but the largest ball heads.
05-13-2015, 05:06 PM   #12
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I thought that backpackers tried to shave every ounce that they could. I would recommend the equipment you are looking at for regular use, but for backpacking as you describe I would take something like this, at most:
http://www.amazon.com/Velbon-EX-Macro-Compact-Tripod-Case/dp/B00FK4CQW6. Good reviews and weighs only 1.27 lbs, which you will be gratetful for shortly after leaving basecamp. Unless you are hiring a sherpa, in which case your sherpa will be the grateful one.

Unboxing and short review:

Amazon says the maximum load weigh is: 5.51 lbs (different that the video above says).

Last edited by cheekygeek; 05-13-2015 at 05:13 PM.
05-14-2015, 08:03 PM   #13
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For general backpacking, I use a Trekpod which functions as a hiking stick and also monopod. It has legs that can open up for use as a tripod but it isn't the steadiest when being used in that mode. If I have a particular shot in mind, I have a Promaster carbon fiber tripod I bought at a local electronics store and a Manfrotto 3 way head. It weighs in at just over 2 pounds and is light enough to carry although I usually don't unless I really expect to need it. I don't usually bring a telephoto either because I've found it rarely gets used when I'm just doing a general hike. The Promaster is steady enough to hold my K5 and Sigma 150-500 without a problem.

Weight is your enemy when backpacking. You do need to anticipate what you need. Wind isn't too much of an issue in our thick Adirondack forests but can be a real problem along lakes and open mountaintops and a heavier tripod will be needed in those conditions and sometimes in the mountains, it can become really difficult.
05-15-2015, 04:38 PM   #14
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Listen to reeftool. For a 4-10 day backpacking trip, unless you are a recently ex-olympian, even the lightest RRS tripod (outside of their mini tabletop model) is overkill, and will kill your back over the long haul. Even when photography is the aim of your trip, carrying excess is never a great idea...

And I've done my part convincing people to use tripods!
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