I've wanted a tripod for quite some while but I've been reluctant to buy one because I do not know my requirements. I'm thinking of going used because it seems like a better value overall. I also know that you can't really find one that is sturdy, light, and cheap so I'm willing to compromise but saving a few bucks isn't one of my priorities. My budget is flexible. With some things, it's better to spend the money. I'm not planning on overspending ofcourse but I have some questions and seek some advice so that I can make a better informed decision.
My primary intention is for portraits. On site mostly so I value portability and weight but since I am not hiking weight is less of an issue. I do not care for really low or really high angles and I'm 6' if that matters. My primary camera is a Rolleiflex but the most demanding camera that I might* add in the future is a Hasselblad with a 180mm lens. I do not know if I will but I'm just throwing this out there. I have no intention of acquiring a large format camera.
1. Brands. What brands should I look into. I'm thinking Manfrotto but maybe even Gitzo. This is because Ken Rockwell said so ;). It seems that Manfrotto is the better value for general purposes but Gitzo is top-of-the-line choice.
2. Carbon Fiber vs Aluminum. I'm thinking Aluminum because my weight requirements are not as stringent as they are for landscape photographers who need to lug a camera with a bunch of heavy gear. I believe that Carbon Fiber handles vibration better so a carbon fiber tripod can have a lower supported weight, I think.
3. Models. With Manfrotto I'm thinking of getting a 3021/055XB or maybe even 3011/190XB with a comparable ball head. Not sure which Gitzo models to look into because the older ones, which are more affordable, seem to be more difficult to find information.
Anyone have any experience with these Manfrotto tripods and my cameras of choice? Or experience moving from an Aluminum to a Carbon Fiber tripod? My gut feeling is that I do not need a Gitzo or a Carbon Fiber tripod and my selection is fine but I just want to hear your thoughts. Thanks.
I use an aluminum tripod that is a knockoff of the Manfrotto 055 line. It is fairly heavy, but quite easy to use and sturdy. It was cheap (an Amvona eBay auction) but has turned out to be reliable.
I recently purchased a new ballhead for it - a Manfrotto 054 with Q2 quick release plate. I really like the new ballhead :).
Together, they are fairly heavy, but I like that, because I consider the mass reassuring.
The ergonomics of any tripod and head are really important. It is more important that they work well for you than that they have great "specs".
For example, I am left handed, and usually need a tripod that can be adjusted primarily with one hand. Some tripods, and in particular some heads, just don't work for me.
Carbon fibre is also interesting for photographers doing work in very cold climate. Aluminium, being a metal, easily reaches ambient temperature. When you work at low temperature such as below 0° an aluminium tripod becomes uncomfortable to work with, you have to use gloves and at very cold temperatures your hand may become "glued" to the cold metal. It also tends to grip more easily.
Carbon fibre is less elastic than aluminium. I'm not sure it would "handle" vibrations better.
If you need to use your tripod also on grass, sand, earth, look for tripod legs with the possibility to mount "spikes". The more comfortable ones are those which have retractable rubber feet so that you can have rubber, or spike on the ground without carrying accessories with you.
Gitzo tripods normally have a very intelligent accessory, a hook on the lower part of the central column. You can hang something relatively heavy (such as your photographic bag) to the hook so that the entire system becomes heavier and so less prone to vibration. I suppose with a bit of DIY the same solution can be applied to most any tripod leg. This somehow makes a lightweight tripod "work" as a heavier tripod, without paying a price in terms of weight as you have to carry your bag in any case.
Considering that portability is not extremely important for you I wouldn't make without a central column. A central column is practical but only if you raise a few cm (let's say 10 - 15). Don't use the central column to extend the camera position much above the legs unless the camera you are using is very light and the lens very wide angle. I use it for small adjustments of camera position.
Gitzo tripods, or the old ones at least, are often sold without a central column. You might consider placing a levelling head between legs and head, instead of a central column.
Waist level finders are very good for tripod work and if you focus while really keeping the camera at waist-level while using a tripod they would allow to buy a small and light tripod at least with the normal lens.
I wouldn't use a ball head if the main use is portraits, and I would go for a 3-way head. The choice of ball-head and 3-way head is very "personal", YMMV.
I am very satisfied with my Manfrotto gear: A Manfrotto Triman (#028) which I bought in 1984 with the corresponding 3-way head (#029). This is a large tripod especially meant for studio work, although I find myself going around with it (my avatar was taken with this tripod). I used this tripod with 135, with "difficult" focal length such as 300/4.5 and mirror 500/8 with very good results.
For lighter "tourist" use I have a Manfrotto 460MG 3-way head which I use with some Slik legs of a tripod which I bought for birdwatching (originally fitted with a 2-way head).
I don't think I would consider carbon fibre or Gitzo if not for something "extreme" (extreme portability, extreme weight saving). For a frequent air-traveller, or a hiker etc. it is sensible to go for the best tripods around. For a more normal use I would choose a more normal tripod and spend the money on some other photographic need.
Thank you for your advice. It is very helpful.
I'm not looking for anything to be used in extreme conditions and I'm not a frequent traveler/hiker so I think Gitzo and carbon fiber tripods are not my best value choices.
I'll look more into Manfrotto aluminum tripods and different head options. I figured that I would go with a ball head because they're a little slimmer so have a portability advantage but the advantage gained in this aspect doesn't seem much. I'll look more into this.
You can get a decent tripod for a good price if you're willing to carry a bit of weight. I sometimes use a Slik Pro 700DX aluminum tripod. It's sturdy, easy to operate, and inexpensive.
The Slik Pro 700dx is an excellent value-solid, well made, not expensive. Giottos is another very good brand. I have a Giottos MT9371, it is a step up in size, which lets me comfortably tilt the camera upward without getting a stiff neck. I also have a Feisol carbon fibre CT 3442, which is great for carrying places.
One advantage of the heavier tripod is that it is less top-heavy. This is a real advantage in a situation where the tripod might get bumped or trip someone who isn't watching their step.
I have a Manfrotto 055 X-Pro B and the Manfrotto 808RC4 Pan/Tilt head (I don't really like ball heads that much and tend to work more slowly when using a tripod). This combo is solid enough for my Mamiya RB67 Pro SD. Also two of the legs have padding in the top section if you need to use it during cold conditions. I basically got the thing for half price off of eBay and it was almost new. I would buy it again if I was in the market.
I have a Manfrotto 055 XPRO B with 496CR2.
I chose this model because I shoot medium format as well as 35mm. Weight and stability sufficient to hold MF SLR was a must. It IS a heavy tripod and I suffer when I have to travel. However, this model allows me to tilt the whole shaft part so it's very versatile, for example, using it for macro shots.
It's very stable also.
I think it'll meet your requirement just fine.
I have found, there is no such thing as one fit all purpose tripod. I'm going to have to purchase a smaller, lighter, model for travel use. Carbon fiber is nice but ones that I'd like to buy are expensive and beyond my means.
When you do get a tripod make sure you get several guick release plates.
Originally Posted by msbarnes