I just read a great article about how as photographers, we progress through different stages of gear buying when it comes to camera supports – tripod legs and heads. I was amazed at just how accurate the article is, which is why it’s referenced in may places on the web. I thought I’d talk about my own experiences in this area.
My First tripod after getting back into photography in 2009 was this Slik 713CF carbon fibre tripod plus SH-705E pan head. I paid $343 for the combination, which I thought was pretty premium at the time! I remembered thinking that carbon fibre is carbon fibre, and surely the more expensive legs are just a rip off. As for heads – well all they do is just clamp the camera in place so I shouldn’t pay much for one of those!
As I later found out, pan heads are horrible to adjust for photography, and should only ever be used by videographers. The panhead was big and clunky, and required time to assemble upon each use. Controls were awkward, and I quickly found the system to be very frustrating.
As for the legs – well they didn’t last long. A couple of splashes with salt water here and there destroyed the glue holding the shims against the carbon fibre (which the locks mount onto), and when I spun the locks to unlock the legs the whole bloody legs spun out and came apart! I tried to repair it but realised that I’d lost one of the shims. I thought it was wasted money to buy replacement parts for an item that proved itself to be inferior. In frustration I junked the whole lot.
I then decided I *had to* buy quality. Buy once, cry once. I opted for the Manfrotto 055CXPRO4 Carbon Fibre Tripod for around $550. The goal was to get away from a tripod leg with those nasty turn locks that performed so badly for me on the Slik tripod. The Manfrotto has the flick locks – better. I had friends using Manfrotto, and it seemed to be the most expensive brand at Digital Camera Warehouse – it had to be the best!
I teamed it up with a Manfrotto 498RC2 ball head for $169. Reasonably priced and solid. I’d read good reviews as well, and thought that being Manfrotto, it’ll go perfectly well with the Manfrotto tripod legs.
I thought I’d hit tripod nirvana, and marvelled at my new sturdy setup. Then one day I was photographing in outback Australia and had a bit of a debacle. I was crab-walking (strafing sideways) whilst looking through the viewfinder, with an eye firmly fixed on my photographic prey. So engrossed was I, that I didn’t see a rusty steel post sticking out of the ground.
As I moved sideways, the tripod leg clipped the steel post, throwing me way off balance. It all happened so fast that I can’t recall exactly how it happened, but my body weight swung around to counter a fall and in doing so, I managed to put a knee against a tripod leg which caused it to snap into two pieces, seemingly all to easily.
I was devastated.
Within the space of a year I had destroyed two carbon fibre tripods. I figured – I can’t go on like this! Therefore, I need to stop buying carbon fibre legs!… or give up photography which had jokingly been suggested by friends, as it’ll end up costing me too much! I did repair the 055CXPRO4, but it cost me a pretty penny in parts.
It’s then I decided to get the Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod. It’s solid aluminium, has less leg sections, and is cheaper than equivalent carbon fibre tripods at $292 dollars. I was happy again, or at least I thought I was.
It turned out that this tripod was a bit of a pain to lug around. I thought it would do for the bulk of my tripod work, and I could get a lighter tripod for hiking and travel adventures.
Then it happened – the great tripod topple debacle of 2011! Over she went – a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens – both destroyed!! 5D2’s don’t bounce. (Perhaps I should have took my friends’ advice and given up already!) Laugh it up all you want, but remember that karma’s a bitch! 😉
That’s wasn’t really the tripod’s fault. I had placed it on an uneven rock surface and it topped when I had my back turned to it putting my filters away. I vowed to never again turn my back on a tripod with a camera on it – no matter how much of a pain it is to take the camera off!
I thought at the time that if I was ever going to get another tripod, I’d get one with a centre hook so I could weigh it down if needed, for those long exposures where I am not camped right next to the tripod. Besides not having a centre column hook, a secondary annoyance with the Manfrotto was that since the rubber feet were just pushed on, I’d lost several in-between rocks as I pulled the tripod up after getting wedged.
It was about this time that I started getting interested in panoramas, which lead me to Really Right Stuff. I quickly realised that there’s no easy way to attach the Manfrotto 498RC2 to a Really Right Stuff PCL-1 Panning Clamp. As much as I enjoyed using that head, I needed to find an alternative.
Enter the Markins Q-Ball Q20. A fantastic head, with great performance, strength and simplicity. Teamed up with a Really Right Stuff B2 LR II Quick Release Clamp, it makes for an unbeatable combination. I will review this gear in an upcoming blog post.
So I thought after updating the head, that I’d revisit tripods.
I offloaded both the 055CXPRO4 carbon fibre and 055XPROB aluminium tripods, replacing them both with the big and chunky Induro CT314. It’s not quite as heavy as the 055XPROB, but I’m a firm believer in not going too light for tripods, as really the heavier the better for stability and to minimise vibration. For the Induro CT314, I recommend getting the shorter replacement centre column called the ELC3. The CT314 can go to an impressive 1620mm without the centre column, so I feel that a long centre column is unnecessary. You shouldn’t be relying on the centre column anyway, for reasons of vibration and stability. Having a short centre column means you can get down low for those ground-level macro shots as well, without having to reverse the center column.
The link above shows all the benefits of the Induro. A feature I really like is the screw-in feet. This should mean that I’ll never lose another foot again like on the Manfrotto tripods. Also you can purchase third-party screw-in basket feet for shooting on the snow. The tripod comes with foot spikes, which would be good for setting up on icy surfaces.
I’ll do a full review on this tripod in due course, but for now will leave you with a couple of stock images of the tripod and centre column: