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10-30-2013, 08:27 PM   #1
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Tips on buying a tripod

Been at this for just under a year and I almost never use a tripod. I do have have an older cheap tripod for those situations when I just absolutely need one but it does not have a quick release and that leaves me wary of overusing it.

I see this as something that is about to change as I have a 400mm 5.6 in shipping right now and expect a tripod will soon follow. (SMC Pentax 400mm F5.6 Reviews - K Prime Lenses - Pentax Lens Reviews & Lens Database). For some reason I find most enjoyment with either a macro or shooting things at a distance. My 2 most used lenses are my Macro and my 55mm-300mm although I've a 35mm and some 50mm primes as well. I find using a macro outdoors to be a challenge with a tripod as bugs just don't sit there for me. I envision a monopod as being of more value with the macro as it allows for increased stability but is far more mobile. I have never used one though so maybe that will prove to be a challenge as well.

Anyhow, to the point......

I need a tripod and a half decent head. I'm not a fan of spending $350 on a head and tripod only to buy another set next year as I need something better, but I'm not looking to throw money away on something that I'll only ever use as a hobby. I am also curious as to how compatible quick release plates are. I've looked a bit at the manfrotto 324RC2 joystick head and it certainly looks like it would fulfil my needs. I've not spent much time investigating tripods though yet. Portability is not my main consideration.

Any advice on things I should be wary of or recommendations appreciated.

10-30-2013, 09:13 PM   #2
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If possible get an Arca Swiss compatible quick release. Then you are not locked into any particular brand for legs or head.

If you are into macro take a good look at the ones that allow the center column to go horizontal or at least move off center.

You can spend anything from $10 to $2,000 without a problem. I bought several tripods before I decided to bite the bullet and just get my last one. Paid more than I wanted but I won't need to spend again.

I have Manfrotto 055cxpro3 but if weight is not a big issue the 055xprob is less expensive. You won't go wrong with this but there are many others, just take a look at the 055 series to see what features it has.

Spend more than you think you should on the head. A good ball head is a joy to use, a poor one is not less of a joy, it is a total pain in the rear. Check KEH or other used dealers for heads, I got my wife a nice one there for about half of new price.
10-30-2013, 10:10 PM   #3
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I have a Manfrotto 055B black aluminum legs with 0168 ball head that I bought in the early '80s. The only thing I have had to do other than cleaning and tightening is to replace the plate because the cork was worn down to the metal. The 0168 Manfrotto has a hex plate - I would buy Arca Swiss compatible today just because it is now a standard. I have no regrets paying for the Manfrotto. I've gotten steady shots with an M 400/5.6 and 1.4x extender.
10-30-2013, 11:11 PM   #4
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+1 for Arca!

I have Sirui ball heads, they are ok. My main tripod is benro carbon! fiber that have twist! locks feets and allows centre column to move. Each tick Leg have only 2 lock so its steady and especially fast to use. Center column still down my camera is allready my eye level when legs fully entended! Tripod came with carrying strap and bag, anyway i use strap only to carry! that in my back. Weights! with sirui k20x ballhead only 2 kg.

If u buy proper gear no need to buy new all time. My tripod and ballhead are chinamade but still quality is enough for my use. i like so much this tripod for me its perfect.

I hope this helps.

10-31-2013, 05:08 AM   #5
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Another vote for Arca compatible.

One thing I'd definitely recommend is going into a real store to get a feel of the one you're think of selecting after all the inevitable internet researching. Maybe for you that means a ferry ride.

For example I almost ordered a particularly sturdy Sirui online (an M3204) then went into a store and realised how massive it was. I ended up with still very sturdy N2204 that is perfect for my height, i can carry easily, and can actually fit in a suitcase when going travelling.

This is my second tripod.
The first one my wife bought me for Christmas after I pointed at some on a webpage. That was a mistake.


I can definitely recommend the Sirui. I compared it to a Gitzo (GT-2??-something) in the store & felt it was same sturdy/quality for less than 1/2 the price.

Vangaurd make a couple of pretty sturdy ones and a couple with the centre column able to be flipped to horizontal for getting in tight for macro.

Feisol are another brand I was keen on but couldn't get locally.
Apparently they are now available in CA through someone in Vancouver according to the Feisol website.
10-31-2013, 05:22 AM   #6
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+ For Arca Swiss clamps.

After my hobby use of cheap aluminium tripods, more expencive Manfrotto tripods, I have stopped spending and jorney with carbon Gitzo GT3530s and Gitzo GT0541. So, my suggestions is: save some money and buy Gitzo. Don`t wait ten years spending on crap year after. Just buy right tool already.

3530 is little bit short sometims, buy Gitzo GT 3532LS (new model, little bit longer too).

It`s impossible to explain reasons why to buy Gitzo. Buy and you will understand!

Tripods and Ball Heads by Thom Hogan
10-31-2013, 07:39 AM   #7
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As steve did say its good idea to check that tripod will fit ur suitcase before buy (i did also )
10-31-2013, 09:18 AM   #8
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If you're not terribly concerned about portability, I would get a tripod that will go to eye-level with no center column extension. That will be the most stable platform for your 400mm. Plus, since this will allow you to go with a short or no center column, you can look for a tripod with extreme leg-spreading abilities and have something that can provide support from ground level to eye level...and then you'll have your macro covered, too. Of course, the rule of thumb is that the fewer leg sections a tripod has, the more stable it is. But it's also generally true that the more leg sections a tripod has, the shorter it will fold up. So it's a bit of a trade off and it's up to you to decide which is more important to you.

10-31-2013, 10:02 AM   #9
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Arca-swiss compatibility is a must.

I find that Vanguard heads often are on sale and are a great value for what you pay. Regarding the tripod brand, if you want to pay below 150$ get a Dolica aluminum tripod, above look at Manfrotto, Sirui, and the like. You get what you pay for, except below 150$.
10-31-2013, 11:16 AM   #10
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At your point, spend the money for the best ball head you can afford and worry about the actual tripod legs later as you understand your needs better. If you have a cheap tripod now, you can most likely even fit a new ball head onto it temporarily. Eventually, you will want to pair up a good quality set of legs with your head. The biggest mistake many newbies make in this area is to go cheap and then "creep" up, buying slightly better equipment over and over, only to discover it doesn't do the job. I have seen people work their way through 3 or 4 sets before getting to what they really want. They now have several "spare" tripod sets gathering dust in the garage and over time spent far more than the good unit cost. Penny wise but pound foolish.

Frankly, for the way I shoot, macro and wildlife sometimes require different tripod leg sets anyway, although I can use the same head. Mine is a Really Right Stuff head, which also has the Arca-compatible quick release plate. An "L" plate is also helpful.
10-31-2013, 02:17 PM - 1 Like   #11
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I like versatility.

For a most versatile head, I'd pick a ballhead. The features I'd look for are:

Separate controls for ball lock, unlocked pre tension, and panning base. The separate pre tension and lock controls are more important than they might seem. When you use different lenses, being able to dial in the unlocked tension on the ball allows you to position the camera easily, then lock it down with as little droop as possible since you're only adding a relatively small increment of tension on the ball. With a head without an unlocked tension control, you need to fiddle with the tension each time you want to move the camera, and it becomes cumbersome very quickly.

Arca Swiss compatible clamp. This is a no brainer IMO. This is the most universal system by a long shot, and the number of plates and accessories that can be obtained with this system, already far and away ahead of any proprietary QR system, is still growing rapidly, so further distancing itself as we speak. You could, of course probably retrofit an Arca compatible clamp to whatever head you get, but that's just another hassle, with its own cost. I'd suggest a knob locking clamp over a lever type. It's slower, but lever locks depend on exact fit plates, and there is a lot of variation in the actual width of the most affordable plates, so all will not necessarily work with a given lever clamp. Even the cheapest plates I've seen work as intended with knob clamps since there are no specific plate width tolerances necessary.

Weight capacity rating should be at least double that of your camera body/heaviest lens and external flash if you anticipate using one. Larger ball diameters handle heavier lenses and usually lock more solidly than smaller ones, but this varies by mfg. and model.

For long tele work and for macros, a ballhead can also be used as a faux gimbal by dropping the ball stem into the portrait notch. To shoot in landscape orientation, you'd need either a rotating tripod collar for the lens or an L plate for the camera body, but using the head like this adds considerable speed to sighting by limiting camera movement to only the horizontal and vertical planes. If your legs are level, then you don't have to make any effort to square the frame of the shot as you normally need to do with a ballhead, and concentrating on only horizontal or vertical panning makes finding your subject in the VF orders of magnitude easier. This does put the weight off center, so care needs to be exercised if you take your hand off the camera.

Since compactness is not an issue at this point, I'd say the fewer the leg segments the better. More legs sections mean slower setup and thinner tubes which generally means that there will be less stability fully extended.

If you plan to shoot outdoors, and possibly on angled soft surfaces, then the availability of spikes ends for the feet can become important. Rubber leg caps can slip on a graded grass/dirt surfaces pretty easily. I shoot birds, but mostly from pretty level surfaces, so this is not a high priority feature for me.

The legs should be individually able to be locked at different angles from the central column or camera base.

The height should be sufficient so you can shoot standing straight up without extending a center column if you want max stability. Personally, my ideal tripod would be taller than needed so I could opt to not extend the legs fully and still have one that's tall enough. Remember to include the head and the camera's body height to get a tripod that's the right height. I shoot from a sitting position quite a bit, so I can get away with shorter lighter tripods for a lot of my work.

The weight capacity for the leg set should be at least double that of your head/camera body/heaviest lens/external flash.

I find rotating leg locks preferable for longevity and less possibility of the the locks snagging on things when walking around. Lever locks are significantly faster, and seem handier, but they are also considerably more vulnerable to breakage, and unless you get a major brand that's widely distributed and supported, replacement parts can be a problem. If one breaks, it can make the legs unusable.

At least one foam leg tube should be included, especially if you plan to use the tripod in cold weather and get a set of metal legs -- the metal can get really cold, really fast. The foam tube also makes carrying a folded, but fully extended tripod more comfortable on the shoulder.

Knowing what I know now, I'd place priority on getting a decent head. This is where precision is necessary -- being able to position the camera exactly where you want it easily and quickly. You'll be doing this much more often than anything else in tripod work. You can add stability to legs by hanging weight, spreading the legs, or extending fewer leg sections. An inadequate head will frustrate you just about every time you try to position your camera for a shot. This does not have to be extremely expensive.

There are quite a few new heads from China and Korea that are considerably less expensive than the old standby's of the pros -- Arca Swiss, RRS, Acratech, Markins, etc, but still have the necessary features and build quality -- they might not be the works of art and have the ultimate precision that the big boys have, but these are really rarely needed by most, IMO.

Scott
10-31-2013, 09:24 PM   #12
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Thank you all for all the great information and detailed replies. The main points I took were:
1) The head is probably more important then the tripod (long term).
2) Make sure you aren't left needing to upgrade - plan out what you need and buy quality, 1 good purchase is more economical then 2 upgrades prior to my final choice...
3) Go Arca-Swiss.


I am sure I'll take a bit before I buy as there were terms used in some replies I'm not familiar with. Google will help with that.
11-03-2013, 05:31 AM   #13
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Sounds like you mainly want the tripod for use with your new 400/5.6. Is this for birds & wildlife? For this kind of shooting a tripod is sometimes the right tool, but at other times it's too cumbersome and slow to adjust. Likewise for a ballhead -- good for a lot of things, but frustrating for tracking moving animals with a long lens. Depending on what you're shooting and how you like going about it, a monopod might be more useful.

A 400mm lens will really test the stability of a tripod. Helps to add mass to the system, e.g. hanging weight from the tripod (some have a hook for this purpose), bracing the legs with additional weight, and/or placing your hand on top of the camera/lens. Another route to consider is using a bean bag for support -- very stable if on a solid base. Obviously you do need that solid base, so this is only suitable for certain situations, such as shooting from a car window.

You've pointed out that a tripod isn't always a good match for insect macro, either -- handheld shooting with diffused flash is very useful for this.

Whatever rig you get, make sure it is rated for significantly more weight than you plan to put on it.
11-07-2013, 09:02 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by snostorm Quote
I like versatility.

Knowing what I know now, I'd place priority on getting a decent head. This is where precision is necessary -- being able to position the camera exactly where you want it easily and quickly. You'll be doing this much more often than anything else in tripod work. You can add stability to legs by hanging weight, spreading the legs, or extending fewer leg sections. An inadequate head will frustrate you just about every time you try to position your camera for a shot. This does not have to be extremely expensive.

There are quite a few new heads from China and Korea that are considerably less expensive than the old standby's of the pros -- Arca Swiss, RRS, Acratech, Markins, etc, but still have the necessary features and build quality -- they might not be the works of art and have the ultimate precision that the big boys have, but these are really rarely needed by most, IMO.

Scott
Thank you for your long and detailed post, it really made me change my priority from legs to the head. I will get a good head first, and then worry about getting a good set of legs. It makes perfect sense, thank you. Do you have recommendations for specific "budget" heads that are arca swiss compatible and support at least 7 lbs (the heaviest combo I'll probably use on it in for now is a little over 2kg if I calculated it right, so a little over 4 lbs?) I don't want to buy a cheap head and then buy another one after I realize it's not enough but I also don't want to buy a head that costs me more than I absolutely need to pay for something that will be stable and work for me for both video and photography for a reasonably long time (3-5 years? I'm okay with it if it doesn't last for 20+ years, that's a compromise I'm willing to make)

Last edited by tripodquest; 11-07-2013 at 09:12 PM.
11-07-2013, 10:48 PM   #15
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Some people are happy with inexpensive tripods and heads. Some need the very "best," whatever that is. Thom Hogan has a good article (Tripod 101) on tripod considerations. It's worth a read.
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