Techniques : Why Use a Tripod? :
Our first tripod, as mentioned on the Why Tripod? page, was an inexpensive Velbon. It weighed a few pounds and had a tripod head that was desiged for a camcorder. We used it until it just wore out.
Some photographers have the opinion that a light tripod is less useful than a heavy tripod. We disagree somewhat... a light tripod that is used is better than a heavy tripod that is left home. Of course, if you are hiking or backpacking, weight can definitely become a consideration. After we wore out our original lightweight (Velbon) tripod, we purchased a Bogen 3001. It is an aluminum tripod that is fairly light, but much better construction than the Velbon. But the primary consideration was weight.
We took that tripod everywhere. It was great for hiking trips for landscape photography. But when we started buying larger and faster lenses for wildlife and bird photography, it wasn't quite up to the task. Tripods are rated by how much weight they can support. The weight has to include the tripod head, camera, lens, and any additional equipment (like a flash unit). So it was soon time to move up.
Our next tripod was a Bogen 3221W. The "W" stands for "Wilderness" model, and we really like this tripod. It is almost twice as heavy, but comes with foam-padded legs to make it easier to carry. The padding also helps insulate your hands from the cold... remember that aluminum is an incredible heat conductor. Carrying your aluminum tripod in the winter becomes quite a challenge. The same model is available as a "G" version, which comes in green instead of black.
The 3221 also comes with "quick-flip" leg locks. These are so much nicer and easier to use than the twist-clamp versions that came on the Bogen 3001. When you are hiking through the woods, the last thing you want to do is fight with your equipment. If a tool is easy to use, then it is more likely to be used.
Then came the "big gun". We purchased a used Nikon 600mm F4 lens. The weight of the lens alone was more than the 3221W was rated for! Once again, it was time to move up. But the Bogen 3221W was already about as heavy as we wanted to carry. The larger models that support more weight become heavier and heaver. Where do we go from here?
Enter the high-tech world of Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods. Our final purchase in the tripod area was a Gitzo 1329 MK2. This tripod weighs less than the Bogen 3221W, yet supports twice as much weight. It does not come with the padding, but carbon-fiber does not conduct heat as aggressively as aluminum anyway.
We also purchased a Wimberley tripod head to support the 600mm lens. Without going into details here, suffice it to say that the Gitzo / Wimberley combination is one of the best investments that we have made. The combination weighs less than our original Bogen 3221W tripod by itself, much less the pan/tilt head that we used.
With the arsenal that we now have - Bogen 3001, Bogen 3221W, Gitzo 1329 - we are set for any trip, with any type of lens. If we are driving to our destination, we bring all three to be prepared. If we fly, we generally pick two.
For comparison, here is a table showing each of our three tripods with some of the more important statistics. Each of the tripod images is a thumbnail that can be enlarged by clicking on it. Details on each category in the table are included at the end of the page.
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|Weight||4.2 lbs||6.2 lbs||5.25 lbs|
|Load Capacity||11 lbs||13.2 lbs||26.5 lbs|
(Capacity / Weight)
|Maximum Height||57 inches||71.3 inches||72.125 inches|
|46.7 inches||54.3 inches||57 inches|
|Minimum Height||8.2 inches||3.2 inches||17 inches|
This refers to the weight of the tripod by itself. If you are concerned about how much you have to pack, this is an important factor to consider.
This refers to the stated load capacity of the tripod. The load should include the tripod head, camera, and any other attached equipment. This is the factor that required us to upgrade to the Gitzo when we bought the 600 F4 lens.
This is a number that we included to show you the relative strength of the three different tripods. The lower model weighs 4.2 pounds and can support 11 pounds. Dividing 11 by 4.2 gives you 2.62. What does this mean? It means that each pound of weight that you have to carry can support 2.62 pounds of camera equipment. This is where the Gitzo really shows off, as each pound of weight can support over 5 pounds of equipment. It is easily more that double the strength of the aluminum tripods.
Without showing actual prices, this is a rough estimate of the relative costs of our three tripods, using the Bogen 3001 as a baseline. The 3221W was about 1.5 times as much, while the Gitzo costs about 8 times as much as the baseline. Is it worth it? Remember the Load Ratio numbers? The Gitzo costs more, but does more as well.
The maximum height assumes that the tripod legs are fully extended and the center column (if available) is raised. This can be important if you are very tall, or if your tripod is sitting down in a low spot while you are sitting higher up. For best results, the center column should generally not be raised.
Max Height Without Column
This column shows the maximum height without the center column extended. When we purchased the Gitzo, we bought the version that came with a removable center column. When we use smaller lenses we use a pan/tilt head, and it is mounted on the center column. The Wimberley head mounts directly to the top of the tripod (no center column) for stability when using the larger lenses.
The minimum height assumes that the legs are not extended, and that they are spread out to the maximum stop available. This is a concern if you are considering doing a lot of macro or other work that requires you to get close to the ground.
Our equipment evolution included more than tripods, we went through a number of tripod heads as well. They range from pan/tilt to ball to gimbal. We even tried a tripod head that many people rave about (Arca Swiss B1) and didn't like it at all. But that's a topic for another article. If you would like to be notified when we update or post new content to our site, please sign up for our subscription service. Thanks for stopping by.