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Photography Question 
Wayne Turk
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/5/2005

Choosing a Tripod

Need your help. I recently purchased a used Nikon F5, and recently I have been looking at purchasing a better tripod then I currently have. The more I look the more confused I get on how much I should spend. The prices vary from $150.00 to $1,000.00. There's Aluminum, Carbon Fiber, and now Basalt. Plus I also see for Video there are fluid pan heads, or ball heads, etc. How much should an amateur spend for a good overall tripod, and should one purchase the tripod legs separate, and then purchase a separate head. Please Help.


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8/17/2005 5:31:08 AM

Sharon  Day
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  Hi Wayne,

I have a Manfrotto 724B tripod. It comes with a ball head. I also have the Slik U212 that came with a pan/tilt head. Both tripods were in the $100 price range. Both tripod heads slip a little when I'm adjusting them. The quick release I have with the Manfrotto tripod has play in it as well as slipping. I always have to compensate when composing my picture and set them a tad higher than I want. I know this isn't much help, but if you want a tripod that doesn't slip I suspect you'll have to spend more money. I do like both tripods well enough except for the slipping.

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8/17/2005 6:58:55 AM

Will Turner   First, you have to decide what you'll put on the tripod. The F5 only, or do you plan to eventually use even heavier bodies? The tripod and head should be able to easily stabilize your largest lens (that you have or plan to buy) as well, without creep or slipping. Will you be using it outdoors in windy conditions - more weight and stability will be needed, or at least extra improvised bracing and support.

Next, decide how much you can portage and for how long. Short distances may allow you to use a heavier tripod made of less hi-tech materials. If you're going further afield, you may need to pay for carbon fiber legs and a top-quality tripod head to get both light weight and sturdiness. Do you plan to travel with it? You may then need two tripods, one lightweight, compact tripod for long hikes and air travel with minimal gear, the other heavier tripod for local use.

Once you've decided that, then it's time to choose tripod fit. Tall tripods that allow eye-level viewing are very comfortable, but are heavier. Tripods that achieve considerable height through extending the center post are lighter, but usually aren't that stable. Short, compact tripods are easier to pack, and can be more lightly built, but may not clear obstructions such as road barriers or tall grass at camera level. OTOH, in places with lots of fixed surfaces - trees, flat rocks, fences, car doors or windows - you may be able to utilize clamped mounts, beanbags, or improvsed rests, obviating the need for something taller in some instances. If you do a lot of macro close-up work, you may want something that can adjust low to the ground or can reverse-mount the camera. You have to choose the type of leg locks (flip, twist) that you prefer.

What about the tripod head? Stability? Price? Simplicity? Smoothness of operation? Easy-to-use, large levers? Low-profile levers that won't catch on brush? Weigh your camera/lenses and take note of long supertelephoto lenses - a head that handles these easily will most likely be heavy and relatively inexpensive, or lighter weight and very expensive. Convenience and quick adjustment would be nice - but the F5 with its tall profile and battery pack needs something stable, so a light-duty pistol grip Manfrotto or small ballhead might not do. Do you need the ability to pan on a flat axis (pan-tilt)? Or is the ability to quickly release the head and shift direction (ballhead) more important to you?

My last advice is - take your time, a tripod is a serious investment and its purchase requires serious thought.

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8/17/2005 8:14:49 AM

Michael H. Cothran   In my opinion, a camera as robust as the F5 should be sitting on nothing less than a Gitzo. If you plan on any hiking, Gitzo makes light weight carbon fiber units. In fact, Gitzo is the originator of carbon fiber tripods. They come in any size & configuration you can imagine. I own two, a heavyweight for the studio, and when I'm feeling strong outside, and a lightweight unit for extended hiking trips. The former is 20 years old, and the latter is 12 years old. They work as good as ever, and are guaranteed for life. I'll never have to buy another tripod again.
You get what you pay for, and you are obviously capable of affording top drawer equipment. Don't falter on the tripod - it IS the most important accessory you can own.
Michael H. Cothran
PS - While you will certainly get recommendations for Manfrotto/Bogen - they are the most prolific manufacturer of tripods in the world, I have owned them, and have friends who own them. I find them to be brittle, easy to break, and lacking in the build-quality of the Gitzo.

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8/17/2005 11:37:47 AM

Nevia Cashwell
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Which Gitzo and head would you recommend for a Canon 20D with a Sigma 170-500mm lens, a pretty heavy combination? Light a weight as possible is a must in that this will be used for wildlife photography that includes some fairly long hikes. Thanks.

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1/7/2007 7:50:50 AM

Christopher A. Walrath
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2006
  I just glanced through and I am sure you got a lot of great advice but may I offer one more. Get a tripod that will support the next format up, that way if you decide to move it on up, your tripod can go where you go and you won't need to get a new one.

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1/7/2007 8:35:34 AM

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