Y'know, it seems to me much the discussion around Mike's tripod column can be summed up by a rhetorical question that's similar to the one we ask of cameras:
Which will help you make better pictures—the $50, 2 kg tripod you take with you or the $500, 10 kg tripod you leave at home?
Before going to Baja in 1991 to photograph the solar eclipse, I bought a truly massive 'pod to support my Pentax 67 and the long telephoto lens I would be using. The Bogen (now Manfrotto) 3051 with a 3047 head was reasonably priced for what it offered (in other words, not all that cheap) and it was by far the most rugged and stable tripod I've ever used in my life.
Your intrepid author, accompanied by the monster Bogen tripod, photographing the 1991 solar eclipse. That little black box hanging off the end of the lens? That's a Pentax 67 body. Gives you an idea of the size of the tripod. The mentioned-in-passing Velbon tripod is the one attached directly to the camera body. (Photo by Paula Butler.)
It also weighed at least 7 or 8 kg; it had to be 10 with the Pentax mounted on it. I only ended up using it in the field a couple of times after that; it was simply too heavy for me to lug more than a short distance. Definitely no cross-country hikes with that one. I always ended up taking a relatively flimsy Velbon that I'd had since I can't remember when.
The Bogen was a great tool for the specific task I bought it for, but as a life purchase it sucked. Its primary function was to take up space in the back of the closet and get hauled out for camera, lens, or film tests. I sold it a couple of years back.
In 2002, while planning my trip to Hawaii to photograph the "Jewels of Kilauea" project, I needed a sturdy and flexible tripod that I could take out onto the lava fields. It sure wasn't going to be that Bogen! I needed stability without weight. My ultimate happy compromise was a Gitzo G2227 carbon fiber tripod with a Manfrotto 329RC4 head. That set me back more dinero than I can recall. $600? $800? Whatever, lots, but it was definitely the right tool for the job. I had no trouble carrying it for kilometers across uneven terrain. I still have it and use it. There's a good chance it's the tripod I'll have for the rest of my life.
But still, I don't carry it around routinely. It's a little bulky for that. So I've continued to move down the scale and found two tripods that work fabulously well for my current photographic "lifestyle" and cost me nearly nothing.
The first one I just plain stumbled across. I was going off on a road trip with a friend a few years back, and she needed to stop off at Ritz Cameras on the way to drop off some film for developing. Looking around the place, I realized that an inexpensive, lightweight tripod could be a real boon on the trip. I ended up buying a Quantaray QSX-6601TM on sale for $29.99. It's remarkably capable for what it is, having center leg braces, a quick release plate, and a removable and reversible monopod column. It's small enough with the column removed that it will fit in carry-on luggage, and it only weighs 1.5 kg.
Won't work worth a damn with a Pentax 67 (surprise!) or probably even a full-sized digital SLR. For cameras like my recent Fujifilm S100 and 6500 it proved entirely adequate. It's definitely a nice match for the positively petite Olympus Pen EP-1, even when I mount the 45–200mm zoom.
Is it going to be good in a strong wind? No. Is it going to last me the rest of my life? Given the almost-entirely plastic construction, I very much doubt it. But, when it finally dies, I'm out only $30. I've gotten a huge amount of use from it over the past 2 1/2 years; it's probably the smartest impulse purchase I ever made. It's almost all I've been using for field photography since I started making digital photographs.
Bottom of the bag
Almost. Some years earlier, I'd picked up (again at Ritz Camera) a Vanguard Mini Tabletop Tripod (similar to this one ) for the whopping sum of $12.94. It also weighs a whopping 350g and folds up into a 20 x 8 x 5 cm package. Consequently, it has permanent residence in the bottom of my shoulder bag next to the Olympus. I don't even notice the tripod is there...except when I need it.
That isn't often, but it's sure nice to have it when it is. When I went up to the top of the Empire State building at night on my recent trip to New York City that's the tripod that went with me, because The Powers That Be don't much care for tripods on the observation deck. Nobody complains about a little gadget that's barely bigger than the small camera that's mounted on it. Setting it on floors, putting it on ledges, propping it against walls, I managed to get all the photographs I wanted with all my focal length lenses. Okay, it was a little dicey out at the 200mm end of things; this is not exactly the most stable camera platform. But it worked well enough that about half of my maximum telephoto photographs came out. Without that little 'pod, the percentage would have been precisely zero.
Yup, that's the tripod I have with me...it's helped me make me more good pictures than the Bogen ever did.
Ctein's weekly column appears every Thursday morning, for some value of "morning."
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.