Thursday, April 7, 2011

Photo Talk: Tripods

My last post was in May 2010…wow!! Between being blessed to make another trip to Kenya, Yellowstone, spending time in central Illinois at a Civil War reenactment, my last wedding (yippee!), and various other photo ventures…my summer of 2010 was packed!!!

Well…lets get back to some Photo Talk. I used to think my using a tripod was just me being old fashioned, that is until I read more and more articles from professionals I respect saying that using a tripod is the best method to make sure your camera is stable…period.

Two of the professionals I respect that have written about this are George Lepp and Art Wolfe. Both have acknowledged that even though image stabilized lenses and cameras are on the rise, the best way to make sure you are steady is by using a trusty tripod.

For a while I started to feel like the odd man out walking around carrying a tripod. When I would go out on shoots I would see other photographers with image stabilized lenses and I would start to think – maybe I should get with the times.

Then I started to watch Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge on PBS. Ahhh…world renowned photographer Mr. Wolfe shot with a tripod more than not. In fact, in addition to a tripod he most often shoots with a remote trigger as well. The remote trigger with a tripod mounted camera and lens gives you the best chance of stability and no unwanted movement from you pushing the release button.

There is yet one more trick up Mr. Wolfe’s sleeve that I knew about but seldom do…mirror lock up. The mirror lock up mode stops your mirror from flapping when you take a shot, therefore stopping movement.

The moral of the story? If you want to make sure your camera is stable, use a tripod, a remote trigger, and mirror lock up (most often for landscape).

I personally do not have a single lens with image stabilization technology. For me the big reason is cash. Canon L lenses are not the cheapest things in the world and I don’t have an endless bank account.

Take the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM for example. The standard version can be purchased for about $625-$700. The image stabilized version runs about $1200 or more. There have been a few times I thought image stabilization would be nice but then I remember that many photographers, well before my time, have produced breath taking images without an image stabilized lens.

Regardless if you buy a pro-grade lens or not, you can still get great shots and you still want your camera stable. So…let’s talk tripods.

I see many people carrying small tripods and many of those tripods being insufficient for what they are trying to achieve. The idea is to make sure you are stable. I have seen some cameras on tripods that waiver in the wind. Such a situation defeats the purpose and of course puts your gear at risk.

Don’t be fooled that you need to spend $500 on a set of tripod legs that are solid and stable. Sure there is some truth to - you get what you pay for. Still, there is also a point where spending $500 or more on tripod legs is really hard to justify.

I set my limit at $200. There are several really nice tripods you can pick up for under $200. Flashpoint, a house brand from Adorama offers several models under $200, as does Giottos and Benbo.

I use Giottos MT-7371 Tripod Legs. I selected this particular model for a number of reasons. One is that it is an older series from Giottos and can be found for a respectful price. Granted it is getting harder to find these legs in stock at e-stores but with a little work you might just get lucky. And…there is always used on Ebay and other auction sites.

Another reason I selected this model was that it has twist lock legs. I live in Wisconsin and do a fair amount of cold weather shooting. I have had tripods with clasp lock legs and although I never had a clasp break on me, I always lived in the fear that it would happen.

Yet another reason I selected this model is because it has only three leg sections. This means there are only two twist locks to adjust. Not only can this make tripod set up faster, the legs are thicker in diameter, therefore more stable.

The Gittos MT-7371 also has the ability for very low level shooting. I used to have a really nice Manfrotto tripod I loved. The problem was that I could not use it for stabilizing low profile shots.

One of the last reasons was this models maximum weight limit of 22 lbs. I figured out my Canon 30D with battery grip, EF 400mm lens, and Sigma EF 500 DG Super flash weighs in at about nearly 6lbs. I felt more than confident that my tripod legs will handle my gear.

If one day I am blessed to be able to afford the Canon EF 400mm f/4 or the Canon EF 500mm f/4, my tripod legs will still be able to handle the weight with utmost confidence. Man…I sure hope that blessing comes around one day.

I no longer let the fact I am lugging around a tripod bother me. I believe that the percentage of “keeper shots” has increased because I use a tripod. Whether it is taking photos of still life, nature, landscapes, events, or wildlife I use a tripod. Besides having increased my chances of stability, using a tripod also decreases fatigue.

The only time I have a hard time with a tripod is taking bird in flight shots. I know there are plenty of photographers taking bird in flight shots using tripods. The problem for me is not the tripod; it is following the birds…LOL!!

The next Photo Talk will focus on tripod heads. If you spend money on a respectful tripod and get a weak head, the point has been defeated. The information I have shared about tripods is based on having owned four different ones through the years. I will use that same experience in sharing about tripod heads.

Thank you.

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