Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Finding a tripod

I remember the discussion that I had with my auto mechanic about whether to buy a cheap replacement exhaust system for my car back when I was newly married and cash strapped.  I had just started to work, had student loans to pay and was trying (without good success) to keep ahead of my debt.

A regular exhaust was affordable (only just) and the stainless steel one was about 3 times the cost.  For me it was a "no-brainer".  Why would I pay 3 times the amount for stainless steel - particularly since my car was an old clunker anyway?

Roughly a year later I'd have the same conversation and after three years I'd have paid what the stainless steel exhaust would have cost me on cheap exhausts that were rusting out on me.  I never learned the lesson...

It is true that almost every photographer makes the same mistake - at least once - with their tripod.

Look at it this way.  You can get a regular tripod at a consumer store for around $160 or so.  It has all the moving parts and adjustments and is relatively light-weight.  It also does the job.  A good tripod costs around $500 and is accessorized so that you have to buy the "head" that attaches to the top for around $200.  Of course you can spend a lot more than this.  The problem is that this is very close to what it costs to buy a really good entry level digital SLR or a nice new lens!

My shopping list for my camera is:
  1. Body with stock lens (2004)
  2. Short zoom (portrait) (2005)
  3. Long zoom (wildlife) (2008)
  4. 50mm f1.8 (portrait and other cool images) (2009)
  5. new body with great low light  capabilities (2009)
  6. really wide angle lens (zoom or fisheye) (TBD)
  7. A faster (more expensive) zoom for wildlife (TBD)
I have worked my way to item #5 and you'll notice that the tripod doesn't even feature on this list.

I had a tripod to start with, an old video camera tripod made of aluminum with clip releases for the legs.  We bought it years ago and the connection that the camera screws into at the top was loose and wobbly and the leg clips were starting to slip.

I got a great tripod from my family for my birthday in 2008 and it went with me to Africa but after two years the entire center column assembly is wobbly even when properly tightened and it will not stay exended even when tightened down.  Plus (and this is a big deal) it vibrates badly in ways that I can't stabilize in wind.

I do own a Manfrotto monopod.  It was given to me as a gift by a good friend of ours who is also a passionate photographer.  It is fantastic for sports photography but as you can imagine doesn't hold up to low light even if it is standing on the built-in fold out legs (it vibrates very easily).  Its main purpose is to keep the weight of the big 100-400mm lens off me and stable enough for the high shutter speeds that you aim for in sport photography.

I guess I have to add in at number 5.5, a new tripod.

So - I am looking for suggestions!  I have a friend and colleague who is the most thorough researcher I know when it comes to what the next camera is to buy.  I am hoping that he is inspired to do some tripod research!

Here is what I have heard you need in a tripod at an NECCC conference presentation:
  • sturdy and light
  • buy a good one - it is one of the few things that you could keep for your photographic lifetime
  • forget about center columns, buy a tripod that can extend to at least your head height without a center column.
  • get a tripod head that allows you to rotate the camera through all planes (I have a video tripod head at the moment which only allows tilt forward and back - the only lens that works well on this is the one that has a rotating bezel that you can screw onto the tripod that allows a portrait to landscape rotation once it is mounted)
Today on my way to work I listened to the excellent podcast TWIP (this week in photography) and I think it was Ron Brinkmann who mentioned a make of tripod that is carbon fiber and not crazy expensive.  A quick look at their web site (the are called Feisol) is promising.

I think that I am going to have some trouble with height though.  Their longest extension for a Fisol tripod without a center column is around 4.5ft for the tournament class tripod but the prices look low compared to what I have come to expect.

What thoughts?

      No comments:

      Post a Comment