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Sunday, 27 June 2010


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That compass may be twee, but it'd be fine for use with the DEPSSI card -



Last year I needed a new tripod for our spotting scope, used for bird watching and often carried long distances. We were using my old Bogen 3021 with an inexpensive video head, which weighed a ton. After some looking, I bought a Manfrotto 190CX3, a small and light 3 section carbon fiber tripod. Like your Promaster and Gitzo, it weighs just over 2 pounds, stands plenty tall enough, and only cost around $250. It's been great for its primary purpose of supporting a big spotting scope.

Now I use the little 'pod as a photo tripod when I need something small and light, with a cheap ball head mounted. It's nowhere near as useful for "real work" as my big carbon Gitzo, but for hiking it's been great. All I really need now is the little Really Right Stuff head with the proper lever release plate. That's where my next $200 will go, I suppose.

Lightweight is good, as you said, for portability, but it's not good for everything. When I went shopping for a tripod to hold my view camera I made sure to go aluminum rather than carbon fiber, because having your camera significantly heavier than your tripod can lead to instability. I'm often shooting with slow film in low light, so I'm taking exposures of 30 seconds or more. When doing that my support needs to be rock solid.

On the other hand, schlepping my heavy tripod around when I'm shooting with my DSLR is a pain in the neck (well, shoulder, really). Since I use a tripod more often with the big camera, though, it's worth the trouble.

Veteran tripod users will know that having the stiffest lightest weight tripod isn't always a good thing. I remember when a Tiltall with a center column filled with molten lead was the hot thing ( at least until the lead cooled ).

You really want to match the moment of inertia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moment_of_inertia of the tripod/camera system and the damping http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damping of the tripod with the shutter speed of the camera.

Sometimes a flimsy legged heavy tripod with a stiff heavy center column will vastly outperform a stiff lightweight tripod.

My understanding is that one of carbon fiber's advantages is that it is good at turning vibration into heat much like wood does.

Maybe someone should try making tripods like those K2 piezoelectric skis from a few years ago, where you could tie the shutterspeed to the damping. Oh wait, we do that in the camera or lens these days don't we...

Pretty sure that all Gitzos are made in Italy, in the same factory as Manfrotto (Bogen) tripods. They are owned by the same firm (Vitec plc). Gitzos used to be made in France--not sure when they relocated.

I have a Gitzo with a leveling base and it is the only difference between this and my other 3 copycat from mainland China, other than prices. The short column (so that you can take macro on the ground level), the screw up bubble etc. are all compatible. The latest one you can fold it up so that it looks like the Gitzo on the left when not fold up but then becomes shorter when fold up. Both can hold my 8x10 but the leveling base is helpful as it is very hard to adjust for minor leveling issues for big camera using a ball head.

Now wait for test on ball hand. Hope it is not the $1,000+ one as just reviewed by LR. I just use Manfrotto quick release now, as the past swiss style one let me drop my 8x10. Manfrotto is much better.

I got the 4-section Induro version of the Gitzo, although I think the leg tubes are slightly smaller so the total weight is only about two pounds.

Even with that, I've only used it a few times. I never get out for those night shots anymore. It's not as "fun" if you don't have to stand in the cold due to reciprocity failure.

One lateral comment, I don't know if it's been already mentioned, hasn't a tripod become exponentially more useful with digital? Understanding long exposures has become easier than ever, especially through the possibility of instant, costless trial shots. And forget about film latitude and meter sensibility and other usual complications. Suddenly a lot of people can do lots of new things with tripods that used to demand much more experience. And the smaller tripods are the ones that people would get more benefits from, since some tiny cameras can do excelent low light exposures now. I'm just saying that digital defines a new market, with new niches, in my opinion. A tripod is becoming more useful than ever.

Not to cavil, but it used to be the case that $600 (the Gitzo) was more than twice as much as $260 (the ProMaster) — 2.3 times as much, as a matter of fact — rather than "nearly twice as much" … and even if you went with the five section ProMaster for $40 more, it would still be exactly twice as much.

No offense meant — I started a blog myself a while back and find it fiendishly difficult to avoid worse errors than that!

Tripods are like bicycles; weight is only relevant if you have managed to reduce your own body fat to a minimum.

I haven't.

Mike, I've been following your tripod travails and it seems that you did very well purchasing the ProMaster. The aluminum Manfrotto 190XproB (which I own) is about half the price of your ProMaster but twice as heavy, and the Gitzo weighs about the same as your carbon fiber but costs twice as much. It seems you found the sweetspot by not having to sacrifice extreme light weight, and by not having to spend an exhorbinant amount of cash as well.

Both of these seem like nice choices for a "basic" eye-level tripod. At least you have the "performance legs" that Gitzo gave us so many years ago. But I find I am always trying to get the camera off to one side, so the "center column" needs to tilt over. Or I need to get closer to the ground, so the legs need to get really short. Or I need to get higher. Thus my tall tripods.
And another thing this tripod could use is a way to level the head support or center column without running legs up and down. A ball or cup is really nice, my Berlebach has that and many Gitzo and Manfrotto tripods have that as well.
Both of these tripods seem pretty nice, but 20 years out of date.

Dear Mike,

For those of us constrained by the dimensions of airline luggage (both checked and unchecked) it would be most useful to know the dimensions of the tripods, with and without the center columns removed (assuming they're removable).

pax / Ctein

One thing I like about Gitzo is the way that the technology is applied across their range. If you want a small, light tripod, you don't need to compromise on features.

Having supports of theirs covering 3 generations of CF technology, I can attest to the small but significant improvements that they continue to apply to the designs. The latest form of the leg locks are really quite incredible for function and simple design.

Thanks Richard; error fixed.

--innumerate Mike


Do you know if there are any "ultra-portable" tripods out there? I'd like to find one for backpacking that weighs 500 grams or less, but none seem to exist... there are tabletop tripods that weigh considerably less, and the full-size tripods that seem to bottom out around 1000g. But nothing in between? Any ideas?

I'm happy to sit down while photographing, but I'd like to make photos without needing a rock or log to put the tabletop on.

In the spirit of a tripod is better than no tripod, I'd give up a lot. But this product doesn't seem to exist...

In New Zealand the comparable clone to the Induro/ProMaster/Gitzo is the Benro.
I have a mid sized carbon job with the tilting-removable centre post and it has all but replaced my gear-cranked Manfrotto monster. It is light and incredibly rigid, but be warned: these new lightweight tripods are useless for anything under hand-held shutter speeds unless you hang a suitable heavy weight from the centre post hook.
Before and after testing is convincing to those who might think that the difference would be negligible.
With live-view activated on the 5DmkII etc, you can see the image vibration in the X10 view with the unweighted tripod.
I've hung sandbags, large rocks in a gear-bag and plastic fillable water bladders (used for airline-packable sandbag replacements). However, the most used is my camera bag. It always weighs too much even without the camera and is usually enough to damp the camera vibrations for those long exposures.

"...a better, more accurate word is "trial."

As long as you don't use "trialling" -- trial is not a verb!


I got the same Gitzo. I'm a photo hobbyist. It's the only piece of equipment that I'm sure I'll never sell and use forever. And what else in photography (other than consumables) can you spend less than $1000 and know you got the best?

I remember Michael Reichmann recommending pulling on the hook via a bungee elastic, so that the weight holding it down can be on the ground, hence no risk of swinging - you can use your foot if the exposure duration isn't too taxing. A spare bungee has many other uses for lightweight travellers.


If you're looking for the most compact and stable tripod, Gitzo offers better.

I own a Gitzo Traveller tripod and the legs fold backward allowing for a more compact setup. In fact in fits inside my photo messenger bag.

Regarding stability, I fit it with a small Gitzo ball head (not as nice as an Arca Swiss by far) and it behaves quite well with my Pentax K20D + primes. In particular in the 1s to 5s exposure zone, I could get pixel sharp pictures meaning that shutter vibration dampening is really good.

But of course depending on the camera, this tripod may not be relevant. I had to upgrade to Manfrotto 028B when buying a used Pentax 6x7. Totally different beast, in size and weight.

All in all, one of the best advice I got when entering photography was : "don't cheap out with tripods, you'll end up buying a very good one anyway".

Hugh Crawford: "Sometimes a flimsy legged heavy tripod with a stiff heavy center column will vastly outperform a stiff lightweight tripod."

That's effectively what my little 1kg Giottos carbon fibre job becomes, when I hang the camera bag onto the little hook of the metal centre column. Next logical step for me is a camera L-bracket, to stop the rig from getting so horribly off-centre whenever I use portrait format (which is over half the time). My hope is to get greater stability that way, for a quite small weight penalty, than I would do by carrying much more expensive and heavier legs and head (no really long lenses used, so the loadings should be quite well balanced). That investment would still be useful even on a different, heavier tripod. We'll see.

http://reallyrightstuff.com/QR/05.html>This page by RRS makes a good case for it.

For the same reason Ctein asked, Mike, you haven't by any chance got the measurements for an AK-47, I suppose?

Your photos of the tripods are pretty crisp, did you use a tripod to take them ?

In small tripods, the differences between CF and ALU are minimal.

I've found the softer collars on my Giottos to be easier to use than the harder collars on the Gitzos; legs are smoother on Giottos, too. Price is "smoother", too.

Good technique trumps equipment every time.

The newer IS systems, seem to work well even when tripod mounted, from my own "trials", and the mouth of Canon tech support. A light tripod might vibrate in the wind, but the IS might compensate. I see no discernible difference, even at pixel peeping enlargement, from my Canon G9.

It's not a value at 1/2 the price if it only lasts 1/3 as long. I'd be worried about the carbon legs coming unglued form the lugs as well as those connectors not holding well.

I think people should jam the car seat back into them and drop them on concrete and rocks as part of the "test."


I don't know about you, but I usually ride my bicycle and carry my tripod. That makes body fat rather less relevant, no? :)

I'm curious about leg locks: my aluminum Bogen has lever locks, which I find vastly superior to the screw type locks that were on my 70's vintage Vivitar.Are the ProMaster's really as ealy to use?

Guess I need to go play with tripods at the store sometime.

FTR my Induro is the " C014" model. Folds to 18 inches long. I think the new model is called the CT014. Not sure what they changed.

"Your photos of the tripods are pretty crisp, did you use a tripod to take them ?"

I didn't, but I actually had trouble. I was on one knee and leaning over when I took the first shot and couldn't hold the @#%! GF1 steady. I really do miss IS when I don't have it. I know everybody's mileage varies with IS, but to me it's a very, very useful feature. The problem wasn't bad enough to break out one of the other tripods, but I did take a couple of blurry shots. (It was rainy and a bit dark outside.) I guess I'm getting shakey in my hale middle age.


The only testimony I can give to longevity is in regard to my Gitzo Studex discussed in Part I. I bought it in 1980 or 1982 and it is still operating flawlessly today. It's easy to assume that more expensive models will outlast less expensive ones, but that's "arguing facts not in evidence."


Lever locks are noisy, easier to foul in sand, etc., and with the twist locks you can loosen all of them at once.

The only testimony I can give to longevity is in regard to my Gitzo Studex discussed in Part I. I bought it in 1980 or 1982 and it is still operating flawlessly today. It's easy to assume that more expensive models will outlast less expensive ones, but that's "arguing facts not in evidence."


"I'm actually quite enamored of the $260 ProMaster. It's very slight, which used to be indelibly associated with cheapie amateur occasional-use tripods, and, indeed, the ProMaster doesn't seem like it would hold up to frequent hard use very well—although it might, who can tell?"

So I "worry" and you say it "doesn't seem like it would hold up."

Anyway,they all last forever sitting in the closet.

For 25+ years my lightweight tripods (for SLR/DSLR) have been two:

1) Bogen 3001BPRO (aka 190PROB), w/o head: @ approx. 4 lbs, 22 1/2" collapsed.

I like lever locks, and with the legs spread to the 3rd position and the center column mounted horizontally, it sits practically flat on the ground for low-angle botany work, which I do a lot of.

A couple of times a year, I look at carbon tripods, but to gain 1-1/2 lbs less weight for a similar size/durable tripod doesn't seem worth the price. If I were a backpacker, yes. But day hikes are no problem with this tripod

2) ProMaster 4100 (no longer manufactured)
w/o head: @ 1- 5/8 lbs (27 oz); collapsed - 19 1/2"; extends to 58"

I read about this in a Photo magazine, an article by Herb Keppler, if my memory serves me. It came with a pan head which I removed and replaced with a small ball head. Presently it has the Manfrotto 484rc2 head.

I use this mostly indoors -- exhibits and churches, where permitted. At baseball games it functions as a monopod while I'm sitting.


Gitzo also has a new line of aluminum tripods. 30% lighter than the old-fangled alloy and vibe-resistant to boot. I walked into a Montreal camera store determined to buy carbon-fiber legs and walked out with the GT2330 instead.

Not exactly compact and about half again as weighty as a comparable CF model, but beautifully made, easy to adjust and sits under my Really Right Stuff BH-40 like it was meant to be. Rubber padding on the upper legs (thighs?) as well.

It's the most non-annoying tripod I've ever owned. High praise!

to Doug Chadwick (and indeed, to anyone else ;)

2 solutions that I find more than adequate:

Manfrotto Superclamp, my everyday tripod replacement.

Benbo Trekker. These are "love them or hate them" tripods. They work for me, as a tripod, lightstand, firing rest on the range, combined video/ photo / audio tripod at the school play. The only thing to consider is that the central column is not - oh, no way - a height extending device. No, it's a 2 way 360 degree swivelling accessory arm that holds rock solid. If you want 6 foot height you need to get the giant version to avoid having to use the central column.

And the Trekker / 2 x Superclamp combo is - IMO - tripod 4D.



James - The AK-47 is 34 1/4" long. I don't think they'll let you carry it on.

In the 1970s, just after the first airline hijackings, I went with my father to France on a photo assignment. (He was an amateur, but had articles published in travel magazines.) I watched him fume as a bag inspector took apart his carefully packed camera bag. Finally, she asked him to take the body cap off of one of his Konicas, and he blurted out, "Jesus Christ, what do you think is in there, a submachine gun?"

Just for the record, that is not the sort of thing you should say if you wish to speed up the process. [g]


I'm surprised there has been no love shown for wooden tripods. If the priority is to keep a camera still, you can't beat wood. I used to use an old surveyor's tripod for night photograpy and it was great. Not so great in NYC, but in the country with a truck to haul it in you couldn't do better.

Good call from latent_image, for a solid tripod at a reasonable price a surveyors tripod is very good value. Not so flexible in terms of working height because they don't have centre columns and usually just two section legs. But for supporting big cameras and/or long lenses anywhere between waist height and head height, they are as good (or better) and (a lot) cheaper than most photographic tripods. I have an old wooden one and a new aluminium one, both of which cost me very little compared to the heavy duty tripods in the camera shop. Apart from the height limitations the only other caveat is that on slippery surfaces I sometimes have to use a spider (which is not built in on these tripods) - I use a DIY spider made from light chain with a few clips. The levelling technique latent_image describes can also be used for deliberately tilting the camera, which means in some circumstances you can get by without a head - which makes things even steadier.

Just get a Velbon Ultra Luxi Mini. It weighs less than 1kg, is shorter folded up than your shoe (unless you buy canoes), comes with a great ball head and, fully extended, holds at least five times its own weight. Not cheap, but worth every brass razoo in your Sporan (apologies for the mixed metaphores).

70's airline security checks: going through LAX once, the Xray machine operator opened my camera bag and pulled out my flash, with a look of utter bafflement on her face. She'd never seen a flash before, evidently.

Bron, can you elaborate on your comment above? I can loosen all the the lever locks on my tripod at once; I'm having a hard time imagining how twist locks are going to be any different in that regard.

I have three mag fiber Manfrotto tripods of varying sizes. I'm sitting in a cafe so I can't remember the product names. Pretty happy with them. Years ago I used to worry about light tripods, but I just hang my rucksack from the centre column, and that keeps them steady. Are you doing heads as a separate topic BTW?

Since the title of your post is "Tripod Technology," I thought this observation might be a useful contribution to the discussion. Both of the tripods you are comparing have a design characteristic that infrequent tripod users seldom notice but that can literally be a pain for frequent users: If you place your fingers between the center column and the top of any of the legs, then move the leg inward, toward the center column, you will discover first-hand the crushing effects of leverage. This is not something you would do on purpose, but it happens by accident more often than you would like to think. The solution is a tripod with a wider diameter mounting platform and/or no center column. You can also reduce (but not eliminate) crushed fingers by inserting foam insulation tubing over the area of the top legs that is closest to the center column.


I misspoke; thinking of thumb locks/screws, though the issue of fouling and noise is still there with levers. Having all three on various support devices, I tend to prefer twist collars, especially outdoors.

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