Tripods – What, When and Why I Use Them (Podcast 379)

Tripods – What, When and Why I Use Them (Podcast 379)

Once again I’m going to reply to a listener question this week, this time a question from listener Fred Kotler about when and how I use my tripods. I thought this would be a good chance to take a look at my current support line-up, and discuss a little about why I have each of them, when I like to use a tripod, and why I sometimes decide to go hand-held or now also use a monopod sometimes.

First let me read out Fred’s message, that spurred today’s episode: “I’m a serious amateur photographer who has always hand held my camera. That meant I could never get decent shots in low light conditions nor could I experiment with long exposure photography. I’ve remedied the problem by purchasing a top quality tripod system from Really Right Stuff and I was hoping that you could devote a podcast episode to how you use your tripod. Under what conditions do you use one and under what conditions do you not.”

Thanks for the question Fred, and congratulations on avoiding a very common mistake right off the bat. Many people buy a cheap crappy tripod to begin, and often use it for a number of years until they realize that it isn’t helping and perhaps even sometimes hindering their photography. I did it with my first tripod some twenty years ago, and I used that tripod for some 12 years before I bought a decent one, with my old Manfrotto. You went straight for the Really Right Stuff, so despite their high price, you’ve probably saved yourself some money buy doing this.

Over the years I’ve managed to gather a little collection of tripods, two of which are not in this photo, but I’ll use this to first walk you through what I currently use, and the reasons why they ended up in my collection. From left to right we have an old Gitzo Tripod fitted with the Wimberley Head, which is a gimbal head that I use for long lenses. Next is a Really Right Stuff Monopod, then two Really Right Stuff tripods, the left one fitted with a BH-55 and the right one fitted with a BH-40 ball head. On the right we have see a 5 Series Gitzo tripod that is fitted with a Manfrotto 519 Fluid Video Head.

Tripods and Monopod

Martin’s Camera Support Line-up

The left most tripod is now over 5 years old, and superseded by other models, but it’s a GT3540L. My first Gitzo tripod is actually older than this, and although I still have it, I don’t use it anymore, basically because it was made before Gitzo introduced their Anti Leg Rotation system, so whenever you tighten or loosen the legs, quite often a different leg section would come loose, and you have to hold the second leg section to stop that from rotating. This basically drove me crazy, but the good thing about this first tripod was that I could get the camera to my eye level without extended the fourth leg section. One of my Really Right Stuff tripods also does this though, so basically the old big Gitzo has been shelved.

Actually, the GT3540L that we see here is now pretty much a backup tripod, although it’s still a very capable and steady piece of kit. The reason I replaced it is because one of the legs came loose and I had to send it in for repairs, but this happened just a few weeks before the 5 year warranty expired, and I was due to leave for my Pixels 2 Pigment tour in September 2012 before the repairs would be complete. Secretly I was happy, because I had been hankering after a Really Right Stuff tripod for a while, and this was a good chance to pick one up.

Gimbal Heads

Anyway, the main reason the left Gitzo is in this photo is to support the Wimberley Head which is still very important to my photography. As I explain in my latest Craft & Vision eBook, Sharp Shooter, gimbal heads are extremely useful for supporting long lenses without the need to lock them down in any one position. A well balanced gimbal head will allow you to move the camera around with one finger, and stop wherever you let go of it.

Wimberley Head with 600mm f/4

Wimberley Head with 600mm f/4

This is the closest you can get to the freedom of hand-held shooting without actually having to hold the weight of the camera and lens, which is why they are so useful with big heavy lenses like this. I also use a long lens support system from Really Right Stuff to support long lenses and stop them from shuddering from the vibration of the shutter unit. I cover this in Sharp Shooter too, and I’ll be updating you as to whether it’s still necessary to use the long lens support with the new 200-400mm lens once I’ve really had a chance to use it in the field and put a full review together.

Really Right Stuff MC-35 Monopod with MH-02 LR Head

Really Right Stuff MC-35 Monopod with MH-02 LR Head


What I do expect to be using more now with the 200-400mm lens, is the Really Right Stuff Monopod. I owned a Manfrotto monopod some eight years or so ago, and used it a fair bit, but after a while it broke, just locked up solid and couldn’t be extended, and I hadn’t used it enough to warrant getting it fixed or buying a new one. I’m expecting that to change with the 200-400mm lens which is a bit too heavy to hand-hold, but won’t always warrant a full tripod or gimbal to support it, especially for fast paced shooting, and also from the boat where we shoot the eagles in Hokkaido. I won’t be able to use a tripod there, but it would be way too heavy to hand-hold for the 2 hours that we shoot from the boat. Monopods are of course also popular with sports photographers who need to support heavy glass but have some of the freedom of hand-holding shooting without the space required for a tripod and gimbal head, which also require more time to move around and level, and time is not usually a luxury sports photographers are afforded.

Really Right Stuff currently only do one carbon fiber monopod, the MC-34, and I bought it with the MH-02 LR head, which allows you to tilt the camera up and down easily, and it can also be easily oriented either parallel or perpendicular to the tilt of the head by unscrewing the Index Lock Knob and rotating the clamp in 90° increments. This is useful if you sometimes use shorter lenses with a camera plate or L-Bracket, as opposed to the longer lenses with a lens plate running parallel to the lens barrel. The MC-34 at full extend gets the camera quite a way above me eye level, so will be fine height wise too. Again, I haven’t really used this much yet, but intend to really start using it with the 200-400mm, and possibly other lenses as well in the near future. I’ll let you know how this goes too in a future episode.

Really Right Stuff Tripods

In September 2012, I released Podcast episode 350, in which I discussed my Really Right Stuff tripod, and the various L-Brackets, plates and tripod heads that I use to support my gear. For more information on the plates and heads etc. do take a look at that blog post and Podcast at I’m not going to go into so much detail on that area today, but I do want to recap on some of the points of my TVC-34L tripod, which is the second from the left in the photo, and the TA-3-LB leveling base that I had it fitted with.

In reality, this has become the tripod that I use the Wimberley Head with, for the main reason that I can level the head in just a few seconds with the leveling base, rather than having to adjust the levelness of the head by painstakingly adjusting the height of the bottom section of  each leg. Of course, you always shorten a tripod with the thinner bottom leg sections first. Always use the fatter, top leg sections first, as that helps to maintain the rigidity of the tripod.

For my Winter Wonderland Tours this year, I actually just took the RRS TVC-34L tripod and both the BH-55 ball head and the Wimberley Head, and switched between the heads as necessary. The gimbal for the bird photography with the 600mm f/4 lens, and then the BH-55 for all of my landscape work. This works really well, and as I rarely do both at the same time, I no longer take two tripods with me.

Another thing to note here though, as I mentioned earlier, is that the TVC-34L tripod, like my first Gitzo, gets the camera to my eye level without having to extend the fourth leg section. This is important in places like Hokkaido because the snow can sometimes be so deep, that you either need to attach snow feet to your tripod, which I really don’t like to carry around, or allow the feet to sink into the snow. This of course means if the tripod sinks very far, you can end up stooping to see through your viewfinder, and that’s not good if you need to shoot for longer than a few minutes. Having an extra leg section helps to avoid that.

Lose the Center Column

I also don’t like to use a center column with my tripods, and this means if you need to get the camera way up in the air, tilted upwards with you looking up into the viewfinder, you really need a little extra height. I don’t use that center column purely for stability. One pole is less stable than three, so you should always try to calculate your tripod height without figuring in the height of the center column. Having a high tripod also allows you to use step-ladders and shoot over the heads of crowds etc. which is another benefit, especially if you shoot events and have the lens power to still get your shots from behind the crowd.

TVC-34L Tripod with Leveling Base at Ground Level

TVC-34L Tripod with Leveling Base at Ground Level

Another reason I don’t like to use a center column is because it stops you from easily going to ground level. Some manufacturers have tripods with center columns that swing out for easy low level work, but I prefer to keep the camera in the middle of the tripod, and so like to just go really low, as we can see in this photo (above). With my old Gitzo I used to be able to take the center column out and put it in upside down, hanging the camera underneath the tripod for low angles like this, and I quite liked that for macro work, but I found more and more that I just wasn’t doing that, preferring to actually just lie on the floor if I needed to get lower than this, so I didn’t worry about this too much when I bought my Really Right Stuff tripod.

A “Lighter” Alternative

Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head and TA-2-LB Leveling Base

Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head and TA-2-LB Leveling Base

When I was preparing for my Namibia trip, I decided it would be better to take a slightly lighter tripod and head, so I picked up the Really Right Stuff TVC-23 tripod with a TA-2-LB leveling base, and the BH-40 ball head that we can see in this photo (right). You can see from the first photo we looked at that this tripod and head is actually a shade longer than my other RRS Tripod, because the leveling base has to be fitted on top of the TVC-23 tripod, but this combination weighs just 2.3kg (5lbs) as opposed to 3.29kg (7.25lbs) for the TVC-34L with the BH-55 and Leveling Base. That extra kilogram makes a lot of difference when you’re trying to get your overall carry-on weight under 20kg, and it was also nice to have the lighter tripod when walking any distances.

Note too that if I really needed to shave off some weight, and I could live without the leveling base, I could take out, saving an extra 330g (11.6 oz) and the BH-40 actually mounts flush to the top of the Really Right Stuff Versa Series 2 tripods.

The BH-55 ball head has a load capacity of 23kg (50lbs), compared to the BH-40 at 8kg (18lbs), but this means that even the BH-40 would even support my 1D X and the old 600mm, weighing in at a total of 7kg (15.5lbs) are under the maximum load, although I wouldn’t use that combination. Anything up to a 300mm f/2.8 lens and a pro body though would be fine with this combination, and I didn’t have any problems in Namibia at all, even when shooting multi-minute long exposures.

It is always necessary to check the maximum load though. My tripod before my old Gitzo 3540L was a Manfrotto that got my viewfinder just to my eye with all legs fully extended, but not the center pole. I haven’t a clue what capacity it was rated to now, but it stopped supporting my gear when I got my first pro body, the 1Ds Mark III and the 300mm f/2.8 lens. These were just too much for it, so I bought the Gitzo and the Really Right Stuff BH-55, and never looked back.

Video Heads

I’m not going to go into detail on this today, but the fourth tripod in my first photo is a Gitzo 5541LS with a 75mm Bowl Adapter and the Manfrotto 519 Fluid Video Head. This is a beast to carry around, but an essential tool for video shooting, when you need to pan around smoothly. Since I bought this around four years ago now, there have been some interesting fluid heads released from Manfrotto, Gitzo and now also Really Right Stuff, so if I was buying now, I probably wouldn’t have gone for this particular head, just from a weight perspective, but when shooting video, this sort of thing is the way to go.

When Do I Use a Tripod?

So, that’s what I use, with a little information on why and when I use them interwoven, but to more thoroughly answer Fred’s question, let’s talk a little about my general guidelines for when I will use a tripod, and when I don’t.

My general rule of thumb is to use a tripod, unless it doesn’t make sense to do so. What I mean is, my default mode is to use a tripod, but that doesn’t mean I use one all the time, as my definition of “makes sense” is quite flexible. For example, if I go for a walk around a local park alone, I will often use a tripod the entire time, unless I need to get really low, in which case I’ll lie down and either put the camera on the floor, or support it with my left hand and my hand rested on the floor. Otherwise, I use the tripod.

I find that using a tripod makes me think about my photography more. Unless I’m shooting a moving subject, I generally shoot landscapes and flowers etc. in Live View mode. I sometimes start by lining the shot up through the viewfinder, but then switch to Live View, and this helps me to see the world two dimensionally, just as it will be in the final image. I feel it’s easier to fine tune the composition of an image in this way, rather than looking through the viewfinder the entire time, as in there everything is still three dimensional, and it’s easier for our brains to correct things that we don’t notice until we see the image flattened into two dimensions.

I can also zoom in on the viewfinder in Live View, and tweak my focus manually. I actually rarely use the autofocus in Live View, except sometimes to quickly get me focussed on something as I set up the shot, and then it’s always tweaked while zoomed in, in Live View, before I release the shutter.

The slower process also leads me to shoot less. I find that because I’m so happy with what I see when shooting from a tripod, I generally only shoot a handful of frames of each subject, unless I’m waiting for a critical moment, when I might shoot more to increase my chances of capturing that moment, but generally, I shoot less, and that helps to get through your editing process more quickly, and also just feels more like a craft. I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t shoot lots of frames, because I go crazy with birds in flight or wildlife, trying to get the absolute best pose, but when you can slow down, I think it helps your photography.

The Freedom of Hand-Held

Pensive Power

Pensive Power

I already noted that I use a tripod with a gimbal for very long lenses, and I will be trying the monopod again as I get out with the 200-400mm more, but these two methods are really trying to bring us as close to hand-held photography as possible. Following on from my walk in the park example, if I’m walking with my wife, and it’s supposed to be a walk in the park, not a photography shoot, then I will have a camera with me and shoot what I can, but I rarely even take a tripod on these walks, because it annoys the hell out of her.

It’s the same for what little street photography I do. I just want to be fast on my feet, and have the camera ready to shoot, then just do it, rather than spending the time to set up a tripod, which in most cases would take so long that you’d lose the shot, unless you were to set up and wait for a scene to unfold, but then you’d also draw attention to yourself as well, which you might not want to do.

Long Exposures

I have set up a tripod in the city before, to do long exposures. With long exposure shots, be it nature or city photography, you need a very stable tripod. This is one of the reasons I buy such good quality tripods. I’ve seen so many people with flimsy tripods doing multiple second long exposures, then wondering why their images are soft. The camera has to stay perfectly still, or it won’t work, and the only way you can make that happen, is with a good firm tripod. You also need to use a cable release or two second timer to get your hands away from the camera etc. but I’ve covered all that before in a dedicated episode, so we won’t go into that again today.

Wildlife Photography & Panning

Soft Flight

Soft Flight

I also like to shoot wildlife hand-held, again, when it makes sense. If I’m shooting up to a medium telephoto, which in my books used to be something like my 300mm f/2.8 lens with an Extender, usually a 1.4X giving me a 420mm focal length. I also like to use the 70-200mm f/2.8, sometimes with the Extender, and I’ll pretty much always hand-hold these lenses if the wildlife is moving around, or I need to move around a lot to capture them from the best angle.

If the wildlife is not moving a lot or the light is getting low, this means hand-holding does not make sense any more, so I might go back to the tripod. Of course, I might have waited for the light to get low so that I could use a slowish shutter speed and do some panning, and I always hand hold for panning shots, because the action needs to be from the waste, and not rotating around a tripod, so again, it’s all about whether or not it makes sense to use a tripod.

Tripods in Macro

Again, I’ve done episodes dedicated to this, so just a quick word, but there are times when a tripod is the best way to do macro work. Even as we breath we tend to rock back and forth a little, so for very close macro work, I find it works best to use a tripod, especially if I’m also using a Twin-Lite strobe and additional off camera flashes. I’ve done this hand held and it can be frustrating, and sometimes just not work at all, especially if you are trying to hold an off-camera flash in one hand and shoot with the other.

Focus Stacked Flower

Focus Stacked Flower

I also always use a tripod when doing focus stacking. Especially for macro work, you don’t want the camera moving around, or Photoshop will have a job on its hands trying to align the images for you, and it sometimes doesn’t even work. Here’s a shot of a spritzed flower that I did a focus stack of to illustrate this technique in my latest ebook Sharp Shooter.

There are times of course when you are trying to capture an insect for example, flying from flower to flower, when you might go hand-held, and with the IS enabled macro lenses available now, it’s certainly an option. Again, it’s all about whether or not it makes sense to use the tripod, and sense is something that is very individual to each of us.

Studio Shooting

I find that when I’m shooting in a studio, with full blown studio lighting, I prefer to hand hold, even if I’m shooting still life. Firstly, I’m usually shooting at 1/200 or 1/250 of a second, and the flash is much faster than that, so camera shake isn’t really an issue. If I need to really work the framing, I might spend the time to set up a tripod, but I usually like to move around a little more freely, changing angles all the time, working the various nuances that a slightly different angle can create. When shooting people in the studio it’s even more the case. I like to move around a lot, and interact, as well as finding the various angles that really make the shot, so I never shoot people in the studio with a tripod.

Find Your Style

We all shoot differently, so these guidelines are really just a summary of my shooting styles. You might find that using a tripod doesn’t work for you the way it does for me, or you prefer to use a tripod when I don’t. It’s really totally up to you, but if my own guidelines spark any ideas in you, then it’s probably been worth putting this together. The most important thing I think is to shoot as much as you can, and this will help you to define your shooting style for various subject types.

Show Notes

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Tripods, Monopods, etc. (Podcast 32)

Tripods, Monopods, etc. (Podcast 32)

Today I’m going to describe what types of camera supports I use, give you just a few examples of images shot with each, and a few tips on what to look out for when buying a tripod, monopod or other camera support.

Today’s Podcast topic was originally suggested by Dom Leary, username Scrubs, from Surrey, England. Dom has been a member for a while now and contributes a lot to the board, so Thanks Dom, both for the suggestion for today’s topic, and for your continued contributions to the forum.

As of April 2006 I use two tripods and a monopod, selecting from them as necessary based on the intended use. I took all three to Hokkaido with me in February this year and used them all.

So firstly, the tripod that I’ve owned the longest, around 4 years now I think, is comprised of a set of Manfrotto 444 Carbon One legs, and at the end of 2005 I bought Acratech’s The Ultimate Ballhead for this tripod. The Ultimate Ballhead is a great piece of equipment and it fits perfectly onto my Manfrotto 444 legs. Unlike my previous ballhead that was greased, and required a lot of pressure to be applied to fix the camera in any particular position, and even then sometimes the camera would still move, the Ultimate Ballhead is not greased and really needs very list pressure to stop it dead.

When you order from Acratech’s Web site, I’ll put links to all this equipment in the show notes by the way, you can choose from a number of options, such as to optimize the ballhead for left-handed use, and also you can choose rubber knobs, as I did, which makes tightening and un-tightening much easier. I also chose the option to not put a Quick Release shoe on the ballhead, as I wanted to standardize all my camera supports with the same Wimberly QR or Quick Release clamp, C-10. This QR Clamp has a groove down the middle into which screws in the plate that you fit to the camera or your lenses slide, but stop the lens from sliding all the way out if the screw should come loose at all. I now have a plate permanently screwed to both my 5D and 20D, as I sometimes use both together, and I also have a plate on all my lenses that have a tripod mount, namely the 600mm F4, the 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 and my 100mm macro lenses.

I find it important to be able to use both cameras and all my lenses on any of these supports, as the plates that you fit to lens mounts or camera are not quick release. They screw into the tripod mount and in some cases also have other locking nuts, so taking them off and switching to different plates in the field is impractical. So basically this tripod and both my second tripod and monopod are all fitted with QR Clamps from Wimberly, so that I don’t have to waist time changing shoes instead of shooting.

So, why did I go for the Manfrotto 444 legs? Firstly, I wanted carbon-fiber for it’s lightness, as I was going to attach this tripod to the side of my already too heavy camera bag and often trek up mountains or walk for long distances. It can’t be too light though, as we don’t want it blowing over in the slightest breeze with our precious equipment sitting on it. This particular model weighs in at 3.5lbs or 1.6 kilograms and will support up to 11lbs or 5kg of camera equipment happily. It was important to check this as the tripod needs to support a large DSLR with battery grip and flash. Basically the message is don’t go for something too flimsy. Small and light is nice, but only really suitable if your main camera is a compact digital. Even then, I wouldn’t go very light as you’re not going to be too happy if the wind takes it.

The second reason I chose this particular model, the 444, is because it has four leg sections, which means it is compact when the legs are all contracted. The closed length without a head is 19.2 inches or 48cms. When I have a head on this, it is just under the maximum length that you can carry one to an airplane. I don’t like checking any photographic equipment when traveling abroad, so making sure that I can carry it on to a plane was important.

Another consideration was the maximum height. I like a tripod to get the eyepiece of the camera to eye level, without having to extend the center pole. Extending the center pole is OK in emergencies, but you don’t want to put yourself in the position of having to always use it, as it reduces the effectiveness, that is the ability of your tripod to steady your camera greatly. At 48 inches or 1.2 meters, then adding the height of the ball head and the camera itself, this tripod gets the eye piece right to my eye level. You also don’t want to be crouching to shoot, unless you are doing macro work where the subject is low to the ground. For normal landscape work, you want to be able to stand without stooping and look through the finder. This is just a comfort thing really, to stop you from getting back ache unnecessarily.

Now, if you do any amount of macro work or shooting from low angles for any other reason, the minimum height from which you can shoot is also important. I chose this tripod for low angle shooting for two reasons. Firstly, the legs can be widened to three different angles. If you don’t do anything, the legs stop at pretty much the same angle as most tripods, in this case, 25 degrees. Then using the quick action leg angle selector buttons at the top of the legs, you can also allow the legs to open more widely to 45 and then even wider to 65 degrees. This allow you to get lower to the grown with the camera still attached to the top of the tripod. Once you go past a certain angle though, the center pole will hit the floor, so there’s a special low angle adapter, that screws into the bottom of the center pole, which you unscrew, take the center pole out, and then drop the low angle adapter into the hole where the center pole was. This allows you to get the tripod way down low because the pole is no longer sticking out of the bottom to stop you. You then remount your tripod head onto the low angle adapter and drop your camera sits on that as usual.

Today, I’m not going to talk about many photos, as this is going to be more equipment based, but one that I do want to look at is shot number 955, of a tiny blue flower called a Common Field Speedwell. If you know this flower, you’ll know that it grows on a bed of leaves and stalk right down at ground level. To make this image, actually looking up at the flower head slightly, I had my camera upside down, with the flash shoe about 2 centimeters from the ground. To keep my camera stable I was using the Manfrotto 444 Carbon One tripod with the legs opened out to 45 degrees, and the center pole inserted upside down into the tripod so that the camera hung upside down. The ability to do this was another consideration when I bought this particular tripod, and if you are into macro or low angle photography, I suggest you keep this in mind too when deciding what to buy.

Frail Blue Flower

Frail Blue Flower

This shot was made with the 100mm F2.8 macro lens with the 25mm extension tube at F4 for 160th of a second, at ISO 200.

The last thing I kept in mind when buying this particular tripod was the Quick-action leg lever locks that secure the leg extensions firmly in place. This means that I can undo the lever, extended the leg section and lock it again pretty quickly. I’d say that the feeling of how easily the legs extend and contract is going to be pretty much down to personal preference though, so I’d try to get to a camera store and actually handle the tripod before buying.

The second tripod I use, which comprises of a Gitzo 1348 Mk2 and a Wimberly Head, also has four leg sections for shorter minimum length of 24 inches or 0.6 metres, and with this tripod leg sections that are locked by rotating a rubber grip on the leg sections. This takes a maybe a fraction longer than the quick action leg lever of my Manfrotto to undo, but equally easy to use. In fact, this might also just be because I’m not as used to using the Gitzo tripod just yet. The main considerations for this tripod were that I wanted something that would steadily support the weight of my 600mm F4 lens with a camera and battery grip. This tripod weighing in at 4.75lbs or 2.2kg will support up to 26.5lbs or 12kg of equipment. Although the Manfrotto will hold the weight of my 600mm and camera too, I wanted to use this tripod with the Wimberly head, and as changing the head in the field is not practical, because they sometimes lock up, I decided to buy another tripod especially for this combination.

Another reason is that I wanted something that extends higher than my Manfrotto, so that if the legs sink in snow, I would still be OK. This tripod actually extends around good two feet higher than I need it too for this purpose. The other advantage of this is that if I want to use the 600mm to shoot at say a falconry display or something, where there will be a crowd, it is not possible to set up a tripod at the front row or in the crowd. The only option would be to stand at the back of the crowd, so I could take some small steps, set the tripod up to maximum height, which is 65.75 inches or 167cm, and then another twenty cms or so for the head, and then shoot while standing on the steps. This is something to bear in mind if you intend to shoot from a tripod at sports venues or similar locations.

The Gitzo Tripods center pole also can be removed and replaced with a different adapter for low angle shooting, as with my Manfrotto tripod.

I found an interesting fact on Gitzo’s Web site today while preparing for today’s Podcast. It seems that in 1992 a UK company called Vitec Group PLC bought Gitzo, and this same company also owns Manfrotto. They are committed to both as separate brands apparently. I just thought it was funny that I chose two different tripods for different needs, and the money for both ended up going into the same company’s pocket.

Anyway, one other consideration, as making sure the tripod is level when using the Wimberly Head is important, is that this particular model incorporates a spirit level. This helps to get the tripod perfectly level so that when I pan I don’t find myself with a crooked horizon at any point.

The reason I chose the Wimberly Head was partly through seeing it in action in a copy of Michael Reichmann’s The Lumious Landscape Video Journal. For long or super-telephoto lenses the Wimberly Head really comes into its own. As you can achieve perfect balance of your lens and camera, you can literally undo all the locking nuts on the lens and swing it around with almost the same amount of freedom that you get when hand-holding. Once again, I’ll put a link to the Wimberly Web site and Michael Reichmann’s Video Journal in the show notes.

So, by way of introducing just one image I made using the Wimberly Head on the Gitzo 1348 Mk2 legs during a trip to Hokkaido in February 2006, let’s take a quick look at shot number 872. I first spoke about this shot and the Wimberly Head in episode 26 of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast, but I really like the sharpness of this shot, and one of the reasons for that sharpness is the excellent design of the Wimberly Head and the ability it gives you to track subjects like eagles as they move across the sky. This was shot with the 600mm F4 lens at 1/800th of a second, ISO 400 at F11.

Daunting White-Tailed Eagle

Daunting White-Tailed Eagle

Finally, although not very often, I use a Manfrotto 3245 monopod. As I mentioned earlier, this is also fitted with a Wimberly QR Clamp to allow me to fit my lenses to this monopod too, without changing the plates on my equipment. I don’t have a ball head or anything on this monopod, as I can loosen the screw on the tripod mounts on my lenses, and turn the camera in the mount to the vertical or portrait position. This does make it difficult to shoot things very high up in the sky, but I don’t find myself needing to do this very often.

Monopods are great for sports photography and actually provide more stability than you might think. I used mine to good effect also during the Hokkaido trip in February, from the deck of a fishing boat when shooting eagles. Take a look at image number 909 to see the results. This was one of the first images I’d made after switching to the 600mm F4 on the Manfrotto monopod from hand holding the 100-400mm lens with my 5D. It was shot at F5.6 for 1/640th of a second at ISO 400. I hope you can appreciate how sharp this image is. Using a tripod on a rocking boat is obviously not an option, so I hope this image will also help you to appreciate that using a monopod is a viable option when circumstance dictate.

Rausu Steller's Sea Eagle #2

Rausu Steller’s Sea Eagle #2

For studio work, where carrying the tripod around is not an issue, there are also some much larger, heavier tripods around, and as they are usually made from steel or other heavy metals, as opposed to carbon-fiber, they are not as expensive.

I haven’t provided a review of all the options available here, and as I don’t have any experience with other products, I don’t think it would be fair to compare them with what I do use and know. Anything like that would be just speculation. There are lots of makers of excellent quality tripods in addition to Manfrotto and Gitzo, so please do take a look at all of your options. Hopefully sharing what I considered during the search for my camera supports will help to figure out what you want if you are currently in a similar situation.

Options other than tripods and monopods that I can think of include bean-bags that can be dropped onto a wall just about any steady surface and then you rest your camera lens or body on the bean-bag for stability. You can use your camera bag in a similar way, but a bean bag I’d imagine will mould itself to the shape or your camera and lens. There are also clamps that house a standard tripod head, that clamp onto shelves or some that also can be clamped onto your car window. I’m not sure I’d like to support a 600mm lens clamped to my car window, but I’m sure this is a viable option for shooting with shorter lenses. Another similar option is something that clamps onto your car door with the window down. This will obviously support much more weight. There are very small compact tripods. I personally would not use one of these for my photography, but I can imagine if you found one that will support the weight of your camera and your longest lens, they may have some limited applications. As I say, check out what’s available and make up your own mind. At least now you’ll have my own considerations and opinions and will hopefully think of a few things that were not initially important to you.

So that’s it for today’s main topic. I have a quick update on the photography assignment we kicked off last week. Firstly, I decided to change the voting system. I was going to turn on the rating system in the gallery at the end of April when we stop taking entries to the Assignment gallery, but this system allows members to vote multiple times and would also allow zero voting to lower the average score of others images and so would not be fair. I’ve now implemented a system where a vote button will appear above the images when viewed in the Assignment gallery. On clicking the button, your vote will be counted and you will not be able to vote for a second image for that assignment. I have also made it possible to change your mind, so if as you view the gallery you decide you really like a particular image, then as you further view the gallery you find something you like even better, you will be able to change your vote to that image, but it will be removed from your previous vote. To do this, just click the vote button again on a different image and the system will give you the option to update your vote.

Also, a good point about the rules of the assignment was raised by Dom, the member that suggested today’s topic. I’d not mentioned what the limits for reworking images in Photoshop or any other editing tool was. I’ve added a bunch of guidelines to the rules section on the top page of the site. If you are thinking of entering, please take a look.

There currently just under three more weeks to shoot your entry to the assignment. Remember the theme is contrasting colours, and for full details listen to Episode 31 if you haven’t already. I look forward to seeing what you make of this assignment.

Even if you are not thinking of entering, have a great week. Bye bye.

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