Tuesday, 23 October 2007

How to save money when buying a tripod

Possibly one of the most important camera accessories is a good tripod. You are wasting good money if you are purchasing good optics without adequate support to create sharp images. Sometimes you need to handhold a camera to get the shot but in nature photography the majority of images are taken from a tripod with sharpness as a critical factor. So how am I going to save you some cash when buying a tripod for your camera? With this one bit of advice, go and buy the best possible tripod and head that you can afford rather than follow the normal sequence of buying successively better tripods until you end up at the one I recommended you buy in the first place. This is the 'normal' sequence of events for purchasing a good tripod.

  1. After shooting handheld for a while the photographer decides to finally purchase a tripod to help improve the amount of sharp images. They go to the store and see a group of 'pods and decides on the $80 special aluminium job. It is pretty light and works ok for a while when using normal focal length lenses but creeps downwards when using a tele, shakes a little in the wind vibrates when the shutter is fired and won't go down to ground level for macro work. It isn't that easy to use and after a few months of use it ends up in the cupboard, that is if the flimsy leg locks don't break first. Total cash spent so far $80
  2. After spending the next month shooting handheld again said photographer heads back to the camera store looking for a better tripod and looks for a slightly heftier model. After the bad experience with the cheap off brand tripod they look at one of the standard models like Manfrotto's 190 series with a pan tilt head for about $150. This is a little heftier and solves a few of the problems associated with the cheaper pod. It is more stable in the wind and goes close to ground level but it is pretty short at full extension necessitating the centre column to be extended reducing stability and giving the photographer a sore back from stooping. The big problem with this set-up is the pan tilt head. The constant fiddling with different knobs to adjust the position and the horror when the wrong knob is loosened and the camera flops and crashes downwards. It is always difficult to get the knobs tight enough to stop the camera drooping and just a pain to use. Total spent so far $240
  3. Now the problem seams to be the head so said photographer heads back to the camera store and grabs a new head paying $100. The sales person recommends a better pan tilt head that work a bit better but there are still too many knobs and working fast is still imposible so they head back and purchase a small ball head for $40. This is great for speed in adjusting position but has no quick release system, cannot be done up tight enough and therefore creeps downwards with all but the lightest lenses. So we are back at the store again and get a bigger ball head. Finally we are getting near with an alright head for around $100 with a few extra camera and lens plates throw in an extra $50. These plate tend to loosen over time and have a little movement in the system, not much but enough to annoy and compromise stability. $430 spent so far!
  4. Now our photographer is almost happy with their ball head but the better ball head shows the short comings with the 'alright' legs. They don't go all the way to the ground, we can reverse the centre column but that is a complete pain. They have a sore back from constantly stooping to look in the viewfinder so they go out and purchase some longer tripod legs for about $400. Total spent so far, $830!
  5. Now these legs are great but pretty heavy and our photographer finds reasons to leave them at home, especially when venturing far from the car but these legs show up all the flaws in the 'alright' head and they finally spend the cash on a really good ball head with Arca Swiss style plates (Really Right Stuff, Kirk) These heads aren't cheep at over $500 plus plates but they are sturdy, easy to use and will out last you camera by a long shot. After getting this fabulous head and using it for a little while they want to use a tripod more and more because the quality of their photos are outstanding and the head is so easy to use so they go out and buy a set of carbon fibre legs at about $600. Total cash spent so far over $2200!
So how can you save money when buying a tripod? Easy, by skipping steps one through four and start at step five. Save over $1000 by not getting the bad tripod and the alright tripod that just take up room in the cupboard. I understand that a 1000 bucks is a lot of cash but are you seriously going to trust you DSLR that cost upwards of $1000 to a flimsy $80 tripod? You will use a nice tripod more than something you have to frig with to get in the right position and you will enjoy using it, it is a pleasure to use my BH-55 from Really Right Stuff. What to buy...my recommendation at the moment is the Gitzo GT3540XLS, a BH-55 ball head from Really Right Stuff and lens/camera plates from Wimberley, RRS or Kirk.

Tripods are getting better and there are a lot of good mid priced legs around, have a good look at legs from
Bogen, Giotto, and Manfrotto but make sure they all do what you want them to do before you leave the shop! You don't want them to just take up space in the cupboard...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sound advice to someone who is about to upgrade his camera equipment from film to digital in the near future.

Andy said...

It appears that GT3540XLS tripod does not have a column - how do you live without it?

Craig said...

Andy, using the centre column almost defeats the purpose of having a tripod. The tripod goes from being a stable device for camera holding to a monopod with legs. Ofcourse this is better than no tripod at all I just prefer to have a tripod that goes to the the maximum height I need without the use of the column. The 3450xls extend to above head height and is lighter than the version that has a column. It takes a little longer to adjust the height but the few seconds extra is paid for with sharper images!



Andy said...

Thanks Craig!

How do you level your camera with the ball head and without a levelling column?

Andy S

George said...
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