GEARED UP

MY FA­VORITE TRIPODS AND CAM­ERA SUP­PORTS

Shutterbug - - Contents - By Joe Farace

My Fa­vorite Tripods and Cam­era Sup­ports

“Some cam­eras are heav­ier and need to be on tripods. Oth­ers are small enough to hide in your pocket. There are places where you don’t want to feel like you are dis­turb­ing any­thing, so I may use a cam­era like that.” —Jonas Mekas

TRIPODS COME IN MANY SIZES, FROM table­top models to heavy-duty cam­era stands de­signed for stu­dio use. Be­cause of the va­ri­ety of types, styles, and even col­ors, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all tri­pod for most pho­tog­ra­phers. And, like eat­ing potato chips, you can’t have just one. That’s why most of us end up with col­lec­tions of cam­era sup­ports— each one al­lo­cated to dif­fer­ent kinds of as­sign­ments. Ev­ery­one has his or her fa­vorites; here are some of mine.

WHY USE A TRI­POD, ANY­WAY?

The most ob­vi­ous ben­e­fit is that a prop­erly de­signed tri­pod pro­duces sharper im­ages than is oth­er­wise pos­si­ble at sup­pos­edly hand­held speeds. As we get older the thresh­old be­tween hand-hold­ing a cam­era and us­ing a tri­pod ex­pands to higher shut­ter speeds. Im­age sta­bi­liza­tion lenses as well as in-body sta­bi­liza­tion can help but even the most high-tech so­lu­tion can’t be a three-legged as­sis­tant dur­ing a por­trait shoot. You can leave your cam­era perched on the tri­pod, walk up to your sub­ject to touch up a pose, talk, or pick up a twig, and it will be du­ti­fully wait­ing for you when you get back where you left it.

There are just a few ba­sics re­quired for a good tri­pod. For ex­am­ple, it must be sturdy but light­weight enough so you ac­tu­ally use it! Af­ter that it be­comes a mat­ter of match­ing the tri­pod to your pre­ferred way of work­ing.

Gitzo’s GIGT1545T Trav­eler Se­ries 1 is their least ex­pen­sive ($599) car­bon­fiber tri­pod in this se­ries. Add the el­e­gant Se­ries 1 Trav­eler Cen­ter Ball Head ($319) for a com­plete unit. The legs use Car­bon ex­act tub­ing for strength and stiff­ness and are ad­justed with the Trav­eler G-lock, a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of Gitzo’s G-lock legs that are de­signed to re­duce the tri­pod’s over­all size. These re­verse-fold­ing legs fold around the cen­ter col­umn and con­tribute to the tri­pod’s folded length of just 16.7 inches. They ex­tend to 60.2-inches high and can sup­port up to 22 pounds of gear. With the in­cluded short cen­ter col­umn in­stalled, the tri­pod can get as low as 8.6 inches for macro or low-an­gle shoot­ing. The legs have space-sav­ing feet that fit the com­pact de­sign aes­thetic of the Trav­eler Se­ries. A shoul­der strap is in­cluded, too. Who’s It For: Travel pho­tog­ra­phers look­ing for a high qual­ity but light­weight (2.34 pounds) set of tri­pod legs.

Why I Like It: Gitzo has al­ways rep­re­sented class and qual­ity in tri­pod de­sign with ex­tremely well-made gear for the dis­crim­i­nat­ing pho­tog­ra­pher.

TWO HEADS ARE BET­TER THAN ONE

While there may be some dis­agree­ment among pho­tog­ra­phers as to the best ma­te­rial (alu­minum vs. car­bon fiber) for tri­pod legs, there’s also a de­bate as to what kind of head is best. On one side are the ball head afi­ciona­dos who will tell you their fa­vorite is quick, easy to use, and you don’t have to turn dif­fer­ent levers to place the cam­era where you want it. On the op­pos­ing side are the pan-and-tilt head devo­tees; for them, us­ing the three-han­dle de­sign makes it eas­ier and faster to level the cam­era or fol­low move­ment.

Smith-vic­tor’s Pro-4a Pro­fes­sional Grade 3-Way Me­tal Pan­head ($49) works with most tripods, has a load ca­pac­ity of 8.8 pounds, and has a tra­di­tional 1/4-inch20 head mount­ing screw. The head has large, er­gonomic pan-and-tilt han­dles, a bub­ble level, and a quick-re­lease plate for mount­ing and dis­mount­ing your cam­era. Sim­plic­ity it­self. Back in the day, the

“hot lick” tri­pod setup was us­ing Smithvic­tor legs with a Gitzo head; I used this com­bi­na­tion well into the dig­i­tal age. Who’s It For: Pho­tog­ra­phers look­ing for an af­ford­able and de­pend­able pan-and-tilt head. Why I Like It: I’ve al­ways had a soft spot for rugged and af­ford­able Smith-vic­tor gear.

Re­ally Right Stuff’s BH-40 Ball Head with a full-size lever-re­lease clamp

($415) is the Goldilocks head for na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers. It’s a 17.1-ounce mid­sized ball head that sup­ports cam­era/lens com­bi­na­tions up to 18 pounds. Made from alu­minum and stain­less steel, the BH-40 has an er­gonomic-lock­ing T-knob that tilts 45 de­grees in all direc­tions with a 90-de­gree drop-notch that lets you quickly switch from land­scape to por­trait ori­en­ta­tion. A sep­a­rate ten­sion knob is pro­vided for ap­ply­ing pres­sure cor­re­spond­ing to the weight of the cam­era. A third knob loosens and locks the pan­ning base and is en­graved with mark­ers ev­ery 2.5 de­grees, from 0 to 360 de­grees.

Who’s It For: Na­ture and wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers who want the best in tri­pod ball heads.

Why I Like It: I’ve al­ways been a fan of prod­ucts that are built to a stan­dard not a price point, like those by Re­ally Right Stuff.

If price is an ob­ject, con­sider the Acrat­ech Nomad ($299). It’s a light­weight, durable ball head with an open de­sign en­gi­neered to let dust, dirt, mois­ture, and de­bris pass through or around the mech­a­nism, prevent­ing dam­age or jam­ming. Both ball and chas­sis are made from alu­minum al­loy, which makes the

head weigh 0.9 pounds while sup­port­ing up to 25 pounds. It fea­tures a three­knob con­trol: one knob con­trols the ball lock, the sec­ond knob con­trols fric­tion ad­just­ment, and the third knob locks and un­locks the 360-de­gree in­de­pen­dent pan. The head’s top clamp fea­tures a twist-knob de­sign for lock­ing an Arca-com­pat­i­ble quick re­lease and has a brass re­strain­ing pin for ex­tra safety. To as­sist in lev­el­ing the cam­era into a hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion, a bub­ble level is built into the top clamp. The side of the chas­sis has a 90-de­gree ver­ti­cal notch, al­low­ing you to move the cam­era into a ver­ti­cal ori­en­ta­tion.

Who’s It For: Na­ture and wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers who want to travel light and still have top-flight gear.

Why I Like It: Acrat­ech gear is just so beau­ti­fully de­signed and built that I can’t re­sist it.

ALL TO­GETHER NOW

Us­ing a tri­pod en­forces a de­lib­er­ate ap­proach to mak­ing pho­to­graphs and hav­ing to think about com­po­si­tion be­fore bang­ing off a few frames will im­prove the qual­ity of your pho­to­graphs more than you might imag­ine.

Van­guard’s Alta Pro 2 264AP Alu­minum Tri­pod with the Alta PH-32 3-Way Fluid Pan Head ($209) sup­ports up to 11 pounds, mea­sures 23.6 inches when folded, and has a cen­ter col­umn that rises to 64.25 inches. Its four sec­tion legs fea­ture an in­de­pen­dent 20-, 40-,

60-, or 80-de­gree spread with twist locks for ad­just­ments. The tri­pod spi­der has a bub­ble level with a 3/8-inch-16 tap for

at­tach­ing lights, ar­tic­u­lat­ing arms, and other ac­ces­sories. The PH-32 3-Way Fluid Pan Head can be ro­tated 360 de­grees and tilted back­ward 30 de­grees or for­ward 90 de­grees and has an Arca-com­pat­i­ble quick re­lease. Non-slip, all-weather ther­mo­plas­tic polyurethane grips on two of the legs pro­vide a se­cure grip and there are rub­ber feet for sta­bil­ity on dif­fer­ent kinds of sur­faces.

Who’s It For: Hy­brid pho­tog­ra­phers who shoot as much video as they do still pho­to­graphs.

Why I Like It: Classy gray styling and well-thought-out de­tails make this an ideal first tri­pod, if it fits your bud­get.

You don’t have to go to the poor­house to buy a good tri­pod. Man­frotto’s Com­pact Ad­vanced Alu­minum Tri­pod ($97) in­cludes a three-way pan-and-tilt head with two er­gonomic han­dles that fold on top of each other to save space when the tri­pod isn’t be­ing used. One han­dle con­trols the pan­ning and ver­ti­cal tilt, while the other con­trols the hor­i­zon­tal tilt. The tri­pod weighs just 3.1 pounds, sup­ports up to 6.6 pounds, and ex­tends from 17.5 to 65 inches. The tri­pod’s five leg sec­tions are se­cured via flip locks. A quick­re­lease plate at­taches to your cam­era via a 1/4-inch-20 threaded screw. A padded car­ry­ing bag is also in­cluded.

Who’s It For: Travel pho­tog­ra­phers on a bud­get or new­bie pho­tog­ra­phers look­ing for an af­ford­able tri­pod that won’t fall apart with rea­son­able use.

Why I Like It: When I think of tripods, I also think of Man­frotto.

I would be re­miss if I didn’t men­tion the clas­sic Til­tall TE Orig­i­nal Se­ries Tri­pod with 3-Way Head ($174). The tri­pod has a load ca­pac­ity of 44 pounds and can ex­tend to a height of 74 inches and go as low as 28.5 inches. The three sec­tion legs have twist locks for leg ex­ten­sion and ad­justable stain­less steel spiked feet for a se­cure grip on un­even ter­rain. One of the legs is de­tach­able and can be con­verted into a mono­pod. Both head and legs are con­structed from an­odized alu­minum. A car­ry­ing case is in­cluded.

Who’s It For: Pho­tog­ra­phers look­ing for a well-made, mid-priced tri­pod.

Why I Like It: The Til­tall is as clas­sic as a Le­ica M3. The red and gold model shown in my photo was cus­tom made for me by the man­u­fac­turer many years ago—sorry.

SMART­PHONE SUP­PORTS

It has come to my at­ten­tion that some peo­ple, like my friend Ralph Nel­son (ralph­nel­son.com), ac­tu­ally take pho­to­graphs—not just self­ies—with their cell phones. So for all these brave souls I have some tri­pod-re­lated sug­ges­tions, start­ing with…

Joby’s Go­ril­la­pod Mo­bile Mini Flex­i­ble Stand ($14) is a mini tri­pod de­signed for large and small smart­phones, in­clud­ing most iphones, An­droids, and even Win­dows phones. If you’re look­ing for a more com­pre­hen­sive so­lu­tion, their Griptight Ac­tion Kit ($49) turns your phone into an ac­tion cam and in­cludes a flex­i­ble tri­pod with a lock­ing lever mount and an in­te­grated pin-joint mount along with a long thumb­screw for Gopro com­pat­i­bil­ity. Weigh­ing un­der three ounces, it fits most smart­phones (56-91mm) with or with­out a case, has a lock­ing lever to se­curely clamp the phone, and has a cold shoe adapter that al­lows you to at­tach ac­ces­sories such as a mi­cro­phone or LED light. It’s flex­i­ble and has wrap­pable joints to let you se­cure the de­vice to ob­jects and po­si­tion the built-in cam­era at any an­gle to get the best per­spec­tive.

Who’s It For: Smart­phone own­ers who are se­ri­ous about their pho­tog­ra­phy.

Why I Like It: Joby’s gear is well made, af­ford­able, and use­ful. Tip: Make sure it’s a real Joby; there are lots of knock­offs made with in­fe­rior qual­ity.

Man­frotto’s Shoul­der­pod R2 Pocket

Rig ($79) is a pro­fes­sional grip for mount­ing any phone and is fully ad­justable us­ing wide rub­ber pads and a thumb­screw to hold a smart­phone. It has a 1/4-inch-20 tri­pod screw con­nec­tion and cold shoe.

It’s por­ta­ble with a closed length of 1.89 inches and a closed width of 0.98 inches. It’s avail­able in alu­minum and nat­u­ral sapeli wood. Alas, un­like most Man­frotto tripods, there’s no quick re­lease.

Who’s It For: Smart­phone own­ers who are re­ally se­ri­ous about their pho­tog­ra­phy. Why I Like It: Man­frotto knows a thing or two about build­ing well-made, af­ford­able yet sturdy tripods.

Joe Farace has owned a va­ri­ety of tripods and monopods, too, al­though space was not present in this col­umn to talk about those one-legged won­ders. Over the years he has used many kinds of tripods, from cheapo flimsy models that fell apart when used to beau­ti­fully crafted Gitzo models. You can see im­ages and learn about the spe­cific gear, in­clud­ing tripods, that he uses to pho­to­graph ev­ery­thing from por­traits to race cars via his blogs, joe­farace­blogs.com and joe­faraceshootscars.com.

« On a nice sunny day last sum­mer, I was out shoot­ing with my cus­tom-made red and gold tri­pod that was a gift from Til­tall’s CEO many years ago. I be­lieve that us­ing a tri­pod is the sign of a se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­pher and that peo­ple tend to move out of the way when they see a pho­tog­ra­pher us­ing a tri­pod, giv­ing him more el­bow room than if he or she was shoot­ing hand-held.

Gitzo’s GIGT1545T Trav­eler Se­ries 1 Tri­pod; Se­ries 1 Trav­eler Cen­ter

Ball Head

Ç Re­ally Right Stuff’s BH-40 Ball Head; Smith-vic­tor’s Pro-4a Pro­fes­sional Grade 3-Way Me­tal Pan­head

Left to right: Acrat­ech’s Nomad; Van­guard’s Alta Pro 2 264AP Alu­minum Tri­pod with the Alta PH-32 3-Way Fluid Pan Head; Man­frotto’s Com­pact Ad­vanced Alu­minum Tri­pod

Man­frotto’s Shoul­der­pod R2 Pocket Rig

Left to right: Til­tall’s TE

Orig­i­nal Se­ries Tri­pod with 3-Way Head; Joby’s Go­ril­la­pod Mo­bile Mini Flex­i­ble Stand; Joby’s Griptight Ac­tion Kit

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