Tripod Advice Please

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by Robert R Kircher, Jr., Sep 5, 2005.

  1. I need some advice on a tripod. My wife and I have been sharing an old
    clunky Slik 504QF (not the II) which is really made for video but it's
    worked well for us to this point. Lately we've found that one tripod just
    isn't enough so I want to buy a new one.

    First I'd like to spend no more then $200.00.

    I'm looking for something that I can attach a strap to and sling over my
    back when I go hiking so I'd like something that's relatively light weight
    and compact when folded.
    I'd like it to work low to the ground as well as at standing height.
    I believe a tilt pan or ball head will be fine but I'd like to hear some
    comparisons, advantages, disadvantages etc.

    I realize that my budget won't afford me the best possible option but I have
    to believe that there is something out there that comes close to my
    requirements. I'm willing to compromise a bit as needed.

    As to what we'll be mounting on the tripod... The wife uses primarily an
    Elan 7ne with either a 28-135 IS or a 75-300 IS. I use a 20D and a 300D
    with a 28-135 IS or a 100-400L IS

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Robert R Kircher, Jr., Sep 5, 2005
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  2. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    GTO Guest

    For less than US$200, you will not get a decent carbon fiber tripod. Hence,
    you should look at the aluminum tripods from Bogen/Manfrotto.

    I purchased the Bogen/Manfrotto 3021BPro tripod legs (black) for US$149.95
    with the 488RC4 Bogen/Manfrotto midi ball head with RC4 rapid connect for
    US$95.00. It's a great combination. Of course, you will also need the
    Manfrotto 3044 long strap for US$29.95 or something similar.

    GTO, Sep 5, 2005
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  3. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    ASAAR Guest

    The Benbo Trekker Mk II may meet your spec's. B&H has them in
    their large catalog so a picture and description should be on their
    website. Its legs can splay out individually, allowing it to get
    very close to the ground, as well as being able to more easily
    accomodate uneven terrain, and the bottom leg is supposedly
    waterproof. The head is attached to an arm that allows the camera
    to be extended to places a regular tripod wouldn't allow. The "kit"
    version includes the Pro Ball Head and a carry bag and is listed in
    the catalog at $179.95. From the picture in the catalog it appears
    that the Pro Ball Head includes a panning base. It weighs 4.5
    pounds, collapses to 33" and extends to 61". There's also several
    other models including the larger Benbo #2, which weighs 8.27 pounds
    and extends to 101". The catalog says that the Pro Ball Head is
    capable of supporting SLRs equipped with long lenses. The lower end
    of the center columns of the tripods have hooks that allows you to
    hang weights from them if additional stability is needed.
    ASAAR, Sep 5, 2005
  4. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Jeremy Nixon Guest

    Wow, that's pretty funny. You should do stand-up!

    Having said that, I echo the other recommendation: go for the Bogen/Manfrotto
    3021BN with 488RC4 head. It'll be a bit more than $200, but only a bit, and
    you won't get anything nearly as good for $200.

    Note: the RC2 version of the head has a smaller and more convenient-looking
    quick release assembly, and the RC4 is described as being appropriate for
    large-format cameras. Stick with the RC4 anyway. Really.
    The above tripod and head will not suffice at 400mm. You can get away with
    300mm if you use a cable release or wireless remote, don't touch the camera
    at all, and use mirror lockup; or use a high enough shutter speed. The
    experience, however, will convince you that a better tripod is a good
    investment. (I honestly don't know whether IS will help or hurt in that
    situation, but it's probably worth a shot trying it.)
    Jeremy Nixon, Sep 5, 2005
  5. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Jim Guest

    Bogen/Manfrotto 3021 is the one for you.
    Everybody has a budget. Everybody has to compromise somewhere.
    The 3265 ball grip head is adequate for your use. You ought to keep the
    total weight at no more than 6 pounds.
    If, for example, you attempt to make shots of the moon, you will probably
    find (as I did) that this head will be deficient. The 3021 is none to
    sturdy for this application either. Of course, you can only take shots of a
    full moon during a very limited time frame.
    Jim, Sep 5, 2005
  6. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Tony Polson Guest

    The Benbo Trekker is nowhere near stable enough for a 300mm lens on a
    35mm camera, let alone the long end of a 100-400mm zoom on a Canon
    20D. That equates to the field of view of a 640mm lens on 35mm, and
    the Trekker isn't remotely suitable for that.

    I would recommend the Manfrotto/Bogen 055/3021 Pro, which has a
    detachable center column that can be used horizontally for low shots.

    The OP should also spend time learning about tripod heads. People
    tend to have a strong preference for either ball heads or pan and tilt
    (3-way) heads, so it is best to find which you prefer before buying.
    Take your cameras and lenses to the photo store and try the available
    heads with the gear you use.
    Tony Polson, Sep 5, 2005
  7. Thanks Tony and everyone else who answered. I'm glad some of you found my
    request amusing. ;-) I wish I had more money to spend in this right now
    but unfortunately I don't.

    As to ball vs. pan/tilt, I've noticed that all the recommendations are for a
    ball head. I've very interested in opinions as to why one would be
    preferred over the other.

    Robert R Kircher, Jr., Sep 5, 2005
  8. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    ASAAR Guest

    It's far more than adequate, especially if the alternative is to
    do without because of weight or price. Did you miss the word
    "Trekker" in the name? The 3021 Pro that you prefer is a decent
    tripod, but with the addition of a head you're near (for the Micro
    Ball Head at $31.95) the $200 limit, or well above, as most of the
    others are quite a bit more expensive, some priced several times
    higher than the tripod alone. And the Trekker does weigh less.
    Either one would do a good job, but as I already said, the
    independent leg articulation of the Trekker makes it uniquely
    suitable for ease of use in uneven terrain.
    ASAAR, Sep 5, 2005
  9. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Tony Polson Guest

    Your budget is reasonable. We all have to work within a budget. ;-)
    Pan and tilt is a 2-way head, used for video. For most still
    photography you need a 3-way head so you can flip the camera 90
    degrees to change from landscape to portrait format.

    With a 3 way head, you adjust each setting (pan, tilt, flip) one at a
    time by loosening a clamp, making the adjustment and re-tightening.
    With a ball head, you can adjust all three settings together at the
    same time. That is basically the difference, and which one you prefer
    is a very personal thing.

    Some 3-way heads offer fine adjustment with a geared thumbscrew. In
    my experience that is the very best type of three way head, because
    there is always a danger that tightening the clamps can throw off the
    setting you just made. With the thumbscrew you can make precise
    adjustments very quickly. However, they are fairly expensive.

    With ball heads, you get what you pay for. Cheap ball heads often go
    completely floppy as you loosen the clamp. The best ball heads allow
    you to make fine adjustments without fear of losing control.

    Unfortunately the best ball heads (Arca, Kirk, Acratech, Wimberley)
    cost more then your total budget, so you should take your cameras and
    lenses with you to the store and spend a couple of hours trying the
    ones that are within your budget. There is a huge variation between
    makes and models - try mounting your heaviest camera/lens combination
    and then try making small adjustments. With cheaper ball heads, each
    individual ball head may perform very differently to others thanks to
    manufacturing tolerances, so make sure that you buy the exact one you
    liked, not a similar one off the shelf, one that you haven't tried.

    Tripod heads to avoid include the 3-way Manfrotto 460Mg, which lacks
    rigidity to the extent that it vibrates alarmingly in the wind, and
    any ball head with the name Velbon on it. Velbon ball heads are made
    from very soft alloy and are not sufficiently firm and stable to give
    any confidence, especially when supporting expensive cameras.

    Good luck!
    Tony Polson, Sep 5, 2005
  10. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    ASAAR Guest

    Good advice, but which RC4? My catalog show the 488RC4 (Midi Ball
    Head) at $95 and the 490RC4 (Maxi Ball Head) at $178.95. There's
    also a 490 Maxi Ball Head for $160, which lacks the 490RC4's
    quick-release plate, secondary safety catch and spirit levels.

    There may be exceptions, but everything I've read about IS
    indicates that it should always be disabled when tripods are used.
    I guess that ideally one would have the choice of several tripods,
    so the best one that's still practical to use could be selected.
    ASAAR, Sep 5, 2005
  11. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Sheldon Guest

    Call me stupid, but wouldn't weight be an advantage when supporting a
    smaller camera? Not that I'd want to carry around a 50 lb tripod.
    Sheldon, Sep 5, 2005
  12. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Tony Polson Guest

    The Trekker is superb for use with light cameras and short telephoto
    lenses, and it is indeed very versatile. However, it simply isn't
    stable enough for the equipment the original poster is intending to
    use - not by a long way.

    I like Benbo tripods. I bought my first in 1987. At various times I
    owned four - a Trekker, a Trekker II, a Mark 1 and one with very short
    legs which i think was a Mark 4.

    The Mark 1 would be very suitable for the OP's equipment, but it is a
    heavy beast and costs a lot more then the OP's budget, even without a
    tripod head. It is also very bulky and is difficult to carry thanks
    to the awkwardly bulky leg clamps.

    The Manfrotto 3021 Pro (055 Pro) is lighter, but just as stable. It
    is almost as versatile as the Benbo Mark 1 thanks to the removable
    center column which can be clamped horizontally just above the
    tribrach for low shooting. The legs work at four different angles
    including one that is almost horizontal.

    The Trekker is nowhere near as stable as the Mark 1. It has similar
    overall dimensions but by comparison with the Mark 1 it is very
    spindly, with lightweight legs. It is neither sufficiently stable nor
    sufficiently rigid to support for a 640mm (35mm equivalent) lens.

    If I still had my Trekker (I or II) I would probably restrict it to my
    35mm rangefinder outfit where the maximum focal length would be 135mm.

    One problem I didn't mention, which applies to any Benbo or Uni-Lok
    tripod (they are similar) is that loosening the BENt BOlt suddenly
    transforms a rigid tripod into a set of loosely connected components.
    It is very, very easy to send an expensive camera/lens combination
    crashing to the ground. Too easy. :-(

    Yes, you should always remember to hold the camera/lens firmly when
    loosening the bolt. But there will always be one occasion when you
    forget, or when the sudden and total lack of stability takes you
    completely by surprise.

    I have several friends who have used Benbo or Uni-Lok tripods at one
    time or another. None of us uses Benbo now. The experience of seeing
    tripod, head, camera and lens (and often the photographer) collapse to
    the ground has been a major reason why. It only needs to happen once,
    and it is enough to put you off Benbo for ever.
    Tony Polson, Sep 5, 2005
  13. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    ASAAR Guest

    Extra weight would be an advantage. If you don't mind paying a
    porter to carry all of the extra weight. With a light tripod, the
    camera and a lens or two you're already toting the equivalent of a
    bowling ball. That's enough to severely shorten most hikes, if not
    have them cancelled altogether. :)
    ASAAR, Sep 5, 2005
  14. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    ASAAR Guest

    I suppose the theory that a child that sticks a finger in a flame
    will never repeat that mistake is correct only because they're
    forever put off from using anything that burns with a flame? :)

    Thanks for the additional information and I'll carefully examine
    other makes, including Manfrotto before getting my next tripod And
    like the OP, I also want one both stable and portable. But
    assertions such as "nowhere near as stable" and "spindly legs" are
    probably over exaggerations. Even if the Manfrotto surpasses the
    Benbow in these areas, more objective data is needed. As Jeremy
    pointed out, even the Manfrotto model you recommended isn't (in his
    opinion) sufficient for the 100 - 400L IS lens. But it may be more
    than adequate for the OP's purposes, as might the Benbow. I should
    point out though since the OP also wants a compact folded tripod
    that the Manfrotto 3021 Pro collapses to only 25.6", vs. the 33" of
    the Benbo Trekker,
    ASAAR, Sep 5, 2005
  15. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Bigguy Guest

    With tripods there are three critical variables...


    Low weight + low price = low rigidity
    Low weight + rigidity = high price
    High weight + rigidity = lowish price

    If you want rigidity + lowish cost then look at Manfrotto etc. (high-ish

    If you want rigidity + low weight look at Gitzo (high price)

    Second hand is a good way to go... much more bang for your buck.

    Bigguy, Sep 5, 2005
  16. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Tony Polson Guest

    You're welcome.
    Those requirements are shared by 100% of tripod buyers. :)
    I tell it as I see it. I don't think my commitment to giving Benbo a
    try is in doubt; I used four different Benbo tripods over a period of
    more than a decade before finally deciding they weren't for me. I
    still have a soft spot for the design; I might have recommended the
    Benbo Mark 1 to the original poster but for the fact it was way
    outside his budget.

    Benbo tripods certainly have their virtues, notably the excellent
    flexibility of the tripod and the completely sealed lower leg
    sections. However, the risk of losing camera and lens (thanks to the
    locking system) ensures that Benbo will always be a niche product.
    Best avoided IMHO. Your mileage may vary.

    My preferred tripod for outdoor 35mm, digital and medium format is a
    Tiltall. I always used to choose the Tiltall over the Manfrotto 055
    Pro (3021 Pro) so I sold the Manfrotto.

    My studio tripod is a large, heavy Manfrotto 075, which I ought to use
    for large format photography, but it is too heavy for me to carry
    along with all my gear. So I use the Tiltall and hang a heavy
    equipment bag underneath to increase the stability.
    Tony Polson, Sep 5, 2005
  17. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Jer Guest

    Speaking of Gitzo, anybody seen an example of their Ba$alt models?
    Jer, Sep 6, 2005
  18. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Bill Funk Guest

    Get married, have kids. Free porters.
    And by the time they are able to carry all your gear, the gear will be
    better, too! :)
    Bill Funk, Sep 6, 2005
  19. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Jeremy Nixon Guest

    Pan/tilt heads are really made for video; they're an unmitigated pain in the
    butt for photography. I guess some folks like them, but I find a ball head
    both faster and easier to use. It's also more flexible, because you can
    flip the camera to a vertical position.
    Jeremy Nixon, Sep 6, 2005
  20. Robert R Kircher, Jr.

    Jeremy Nixon Guest

    The 490RC4 looks to be a bit beefier. How much, or whether it's enough to
    be worth the extra money, I really don't know. The 488RC4 (which I have
    used quite a lot) is something I would consider "good enough", but you'll
    grow out of it, so you'll replace it with something better later on -- and
    I don't think the 490 is going to be a "lifetime tripod head" either, so
    why spend the extra money?
    The safety catch and levels are incidental, but you really want the quick
    release. The inconvenience of having to screw your camera onto the tripod
    every time *will* lead you to not use it at times when you should.
    Me too. However, that tripod and head will not be stable at 300mm; I speak
    from direct personal experience. It can be used with a cable release or
    remote and mirror lockup, but even then, with only about a 75% success
    rate at low shutter speeds, depending on the wind (if there's no wind, you
    can do very well). I don't have IS (or VR, since I use Nikon) at 300mm,
    so I have no experience as to whether it would help or hurt in that

    Basically, sticking a long telephoto on that rig is a really good way to
    convince yourself that a better tripod is a good investment. :) On the
    other hand, if you are on a limited budget, I fully recommend it and I
    think it will serve you well.
    Yes. Ideally, one that's small and light for when you'll need to lug it
    around, and one that's nice and sturdy for when size and weight are less
    of a factor.
    Jeremy Nixon, Sep 6, 2005
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