Choosing the Right Tripod
Tripods are like camera bags. You spend a lot of time researching for the one that suits your needs and not long after you’ve found the perfect one you find you need another one.
When choosing a tripod, make sure it’s a solid one. That last thing you want is to put your thousand-dollar DSLR on a 20-dollar tripod from Best Buy. It might get you by for a little while, but if you want to get serious about taking rock-steady and tack-sharp images, then you need to step up to the professional level; and as you’re about to find out, it’s not as expensive as you might think thanks to a little known brand.
So when do I use a tripod? Whenever my shutter speed is below 1/60th of a second. Or when shooting portraits and I need to lock down my composition for repeated shots.
My first tripod is the one pictured above; the Manfrotto 190 CX PRO3 Carbon Fiber. I was attracted to carbon fiber from my days shooting TV news. The carbon fiber sticks were rare and on the few occasions I got to use one it was a dream compared to the big, bulky tripods needed to support a huge television news camera.
Pros and Cons
There’s nothing wrong with my tripod. It’s super light, which is great ’cause my camera bag is a back-pack and the tripod attaches to it and I hardly feel the weight. Another cool feature is the center column can go vertical which, when you spread the legs, allows your camera to be just inches from the ground; great for low angle or macro photography.
Check out this review for close-up pictures and images of the different configurations.
The only drawback is a purely aesthetic one. I was surprised at how thin the legs were. Sure, this contributes to the low weight, but when I look at my tripod, it just doesn’t look professional; at least not like the sticks I used in news or see other pro photogs using. Then there’s the concern that thin legs can lead to instability, not that I can report that problem.
Hey, Nice Legs!
Let’s face it, “carbon fiber” is sexy. It sounds a lot better than “aluminum”. I use an aluminum Manfrotto for my interior/architecture shoots and it’s not that heavy. The legs are thicker, and two of the them are padded (adding, in my opinion to that professional look) so I’m not sure I’d want to carry it on my back for extended periods of time; but what I’m saying is, aluminum has come a long way and you can save money by forgoing the “sex-appeal” of carbon fiber.
The problem with carbon fiber, of course, is cost. The big names like Gitzo, Manfrotto and Slik charge a hefty premium for its respective carbon fiber line.
I don’t know how I first heard of it, but there’s a company called Induro that makes relatively inexpensive tripods, both aluminum and carbon fiber. Some of their legs+head kits go for as little as $136.
Well, there has to be a catch, right? Maybe poor quality? So I researched and found only positive reviews, including this one by Scott Bourne. He reviews the CT 414, Induro’s largest carbon fiber. I have my eye on the smaller CT-213 pictured above. I don’t have it yet so I can’t tell you what it’s like; but I like what I’ve seen and read.
There are essentially two types of heads; ball heads and pan/tilt. Ball heads give you quick adjustments. I use the Manfrotto 322 RC2 joystick style head.
There are more traditional ball heads, I just liked the pistol grip of the RC2. I also use a pan and tilt model for my interior work. I find it gives me more exact movements on three different planes or axis.
But what if you could combine a ball-head with a pan/tilt and achieve motion on FIVE different planes? That’s just what Induro did with the PHQ 3.
Again, I don’t have it yet, but Scott Bourne reviewed the PHQ3 here. What’s so special about it? Well I can’t say it any better than this video from the company:
I know this seems like a love-fest for Induro. I may be infatuated, but remember, I have not tried these products. Induro also makes more affordable heads (both ball and pan/tilt). I suggest shopping around and comparing the brands and models. Manfrotto is a well known name with some affordable options and Scott Kelby swears by the Really Right Stuff brand.
Weigh Your Options
One last consideration is the weight of your gear. Check the specs of the tripod AND head to make sure it’ll hold the gear you have now and plan to use in the future. On my 190CX, for example, I can mount a Canon 40D with battery grip, flash and lens (either the 17-55 or 70-200) with no problem. But when I tilt the whole rig vertically, the head starts to slip; just too much weight. The box or instructions for your equipment should list its weight (usually in grams). Add this up and if you need to, look for a grams-to-pounds converter on the web.
Also make sure the legs extend as tall or collapse as low as you need it. The number of sections (more sections usually means lighter, but less stable), the type of feet and features like the moveable center column I mentioned are all things to consider.
A good tripod will last you years but it likely won’t be your only one.