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Tuesday, 07 December 2010


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But then there was this comment left on Bob Atkins forum:
"Great! Im going to get the 5o/1.8! thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, its so hard to find camera people to talk to. The 2 shops in town have closed up, thanks to the big box stores! anyway thanks again for this site, Im learning lots!"

It is getting harder and harder to find that guru.

Tripods! We don't need no stinking tripods. Speaking of big tripods. I have a 10' Majestic collecting dust. Best large format tripod I ever owned.

My father used to say, Listen to everyone's opinion, then do what you want.

"...it's wise to go for advice to someone whose needs and usages match your own, or match what you aspire to do."

This is excellent advice that applies in many areas of life.

Excellent advice! Deciding what's 'best for you' is often the part of the process that is ignored. And often the hardest part to figure out.

People tend to be a little lazy about educating themselves, and as a consequence are fairly happy 'drinking by the label.' In the context of tripods it goes 'if this famous photographer, who obviously knows more than I do, chose this brand/model, ten it must be the best. So I'll do the same.' Plus it's instant street cred.

Don't get me wrong -- I really, really like, uh, let's call them "website x" which rhymes with "schmeepeereview.com." I'm just using them as an example. But you've described their biggest weakness, and that of countless other web sites. They boil everything down to a single percentage ranking. Lately they've added to their reviews "good for" and "not so good for" sections, which each contain an entire sentence fragment! I guess this is a tiny step in the right direction.

Great point, and this is why I tend to write 1-2 page emails when people ask me for gear advice. They're usually entry-level buyers, and they know I have a pile of cameras and take a million pictures and occasionally review cameras, so they ask me a seemingly innocent question like, "What should I buy, this one or that one?"

I respond with tons of questions of my own: What do you need it for? Why are you considering this type of camera? What is it you hope this will do better than what you already have? Have you held it or handled it? Do you think you'll mind carrying it? And so on.

Then I give all kinds of qualified recommendations in my desperate attempt to play camera gear matchmaker. Those who ask are invariably confused in the end. Answering the innocent camera questions of others is a tough gig and a huge responsibility.

Thank you!

It's time more people started thinking about how _they_ photograph instead of blindly following advice from folks whom, from a workflow and subject perspective, they have nothing in common with.

I use a tripod, sometimes, and I did not spend very much money on it, relatively speaking. My personal way of shooting involves a lot of walking, camera in hand, being ready for the opportunity to arise. I generally do not have, or take, the time to setup a tripod, but often find railings, trees, lamp posts, concrete barriers or my knee ;) to rest the camera on.

Good point, Mike.

The fact is that a tripod is an essential piece of equipment for everyone who takes a pursuit of photography seriously.

But there are other "facts", too.

It's also a fact, as you noted, that much, probably most, of the most revered photographic work from the past, say, 60 years was done sans tripod. In fact, much of it would have been simply impossible with a tripod.

It's also a fact that the small cameras that most people use were developed specifically to free the camera from such anchors.

It's also a fact, actually a dirty little secret, that all tripods spend most of their existence dormant in closets. (That's why I have so many. They can keep each other company.)

The most common "advice" about tripods is to buy the "best you can afford". Sounds good. Feels good. But the fact is that you're unlikely to use the darn thing much, regardless of how much you spend.

So my "advice" is to get one that is as versatile as possible. Weight, size, configurability (i.e. leg spread, horizontally configurable center column with counter-weight hook, etc.), etc. Put "rugged durability" far down the list unless you know that you'll really by using the thing regularly and heavily. (Durability and weight are two characteristics that seem to goose price the most.)

In the days of ISO 25 film emulsions tripods were necessarily part of the camera. They're still valuable for many jobs. But the final "fact" is that with today's ISO 1,000,000,000 sensors the best tripod most folks could buy for themselves is one that takes the least space in the closet.

Tripods and Camera Bags, fugeddaboutit! You can't own too many! I have 4 tripods because they don't make a tripod that folds to 18 inches, weighs 3 pounds, opens to 84 inches high (not including center post) and holds 25 pounds steady...sheesh. Still, wish I had never sold my Majestic large plate head tripod for 8X10, but don't shoot 8X10 any more, even tho I still have the camera! Find myself selecting a tripod out of the stack specifically for the job. Buying just one would be hard to do, but you're correct, ask someone who does exactly what you want to do, they'll know everything and may have already made 3 or 4 "wrong" purchases.

A tip? Most companies "sneakily" give the fully open measurement as including the center post all the way up; even tho they might not state that in abbreviated literature! You'll be pretty sad when you buy that tripod that folded down to 15 inches, and realize that in order to get your digital PenNiCanon with vertical grip (or your 200 pound Linhof Master XYZ), up to eye level, it's waving around on top of 14 inches of thin center post. Stand up, measure from your eye to the ground, and select a tripod that has the same measurement fully open, with the center post all the way down!

Camera Bags? Sheesh! I mention them here because it's the same deal. Ask your wife, girlfriend, sig/other why they have 10 purses; it's the same deal...

True, true, true. I always cringe when I see posts on forums from people saying something along the lines of "I just bought a Sony A390/Canon Rebel/Nikon D60/... and I want to know what lens to get next."

Cue 50 people suggesting $10,000 worth of lenses from 10mm to 1000mm with maybe one kindly poster who gets ignored when posting "What kind of shooting do you do?"


FYI, in Washington DC, I believe you have to buy a "tripod pass", at least most of my video pals did...I can't remember if you get it from the city, and it's for everywhere, or you get it from the park service, and it's just for the areas under park service control, like the mall, Capitol, Rock Creek, etc. But you can use a tripod...

"If you took my ten all-time favorite photography books..."
First, I wondered what your ten favorite are, then I asked myself what my ten favorites are.
Some of them are obvious -- Weston's Daybooks, Time in New England,Cartier-Bresson, Photographer, Tulsa/Teenage Lust, the early books of Lartigue and Helen Levitt, Kertesz's J'amie Paris, Ansel Adams Letters and Images, US Camera Annual 1941, My First Ten Years With A Leica (Dr. Paul Wolff).
I had a disastrous move into a small condo about 5 years ago, and still can't locate many books (including some of these, and other good stuff) still packed away in boxes in the garage (I hope).
Thinking about this, I have decided that I actually prefer books with lots of accompanying text (The Eye of Eisenstadt), and even biographies such as Jim Hughes' wonderful picture of W. Eugene Smith.

I think having someone who is knowledgeable AND who is also empathic to your needs is important. Of course, someone like that tends to be rare. Too many gearheads who just go "buy the best" infest the interwebz.

"If you took my ten all-time favorite photography books..."

That begs a question.

I echo Jonathan above ... and I'd add 'I love my tripods', especially my backpacking one .. which has helped as a walking stick and to make snow steps as well as it's prescribed job!

And I might add that I've just bartered my first one (purchased without the said good advice) for a pair of cycling shoes!

It's a standing joke between my wife and me that I constantly carry my tripod when I go out to shoot, but never seem to hold still long enough to set it up. Nevertheless, even though I seldom use it, I can tell the difference when I do.

I strongly recommend people review the book by Barry Thornton, Edge of Darkness, that Christer referenced in your previous article. Thorton's visual evidence for using a good tripod is very impressive. Besides that, it's a good book on photography (especially B&W) in general.

My general prejudice is that I will avoid spending money if possible, but if I have to buy something it has to be as high quality as I can afford. My tripod prejudice is that a tripod has to be tall enough to rigidly hold the camera high enough that I don't have to crouch to look through the finder, even if the camera is looking up in the air.

Only this morning I exchanged emails with a cousin who wants to buy her daughter a tripod for christmas. It's difficult. In the end I said that there are three things to consider:

What do you want to do with it?
What are you prepared to carry?
What do you want to spend?

I think that this also applies to cameras. Hopefully my cousin will get back to me with answers to the above and I can stop flailing around in the dark and give them some advice.

You're knocking yourself out for nothing. Let me give you the trick of it: they want either a Nikon or a Canon. Just find out which, and then tell them that it's the best and they can't go wrong. That's all you have to do.


Monopods should be mentioned somewhere in this conversation. They are of some use in making sharp photos, especially in conjunction with a hot-shoe level.

I would also like to see lists of favorite books. Mine would include Inferno by James Nachtwey at the top of the list. I think someday it might be considered one of the primary artistic documents of the 20th century.

It's all a matter of how you are built; if you got lucky in the genetics sweepstake you don't need a tripod at all:


...Let me give you the trick of it: they want either a Nikon or a Canon. Just find out which, and then tell them that it's the best and they can't go wrong....

Sadly a little too true. A fellow at work has been asking me about cameras, since his iPhone doesn't produce pictures of his little kids as good as his sister-in-law's Canon. So, I say, gee, you should look at getting an E-PL1, unless you really want to carry something bigger and heavier. Which he seemed to accept, but every time we talk (it's been months, but he's still not bought anything) he keeps bringing up Canon and Nikon.
Him: "They are good, right?"
Me: "Sure, they're fine cameras, but how much weight do you want to carry."
Him: "Not that much."
...days pass...
Him: "So why are they so popular?"
Me: "Canon and Nikon are the Ford and GM of the camera world. You can buy them anywhere because they sell in such large numbers that the buyers for Wal-Mart and Costco are willing to carry them."
Him: "I see." [He's a businessman, so he understands that explanation.]
...weeks pass...
Him: "So what do you think of the Canon Rebel?"
Me: "It's a fine camera, but if you want to carry a bunch of weight around your neck, I can recommend a better camera." [In his case, a Pentax k-x.]
Him: "Yeah, I don't want a heavy camera."

Mind you, I made up a little chart comparing four cameras for him for a size/weight reference, in all, a GF-1, an EPL-1, a Pentax k-x, and for reference, an Olympus E-520. Prices, weights, fps, and little one or two word comments (fastest, best in the dark, etc.)

I bet he's going to buy a Canon. I just can't resist responding to people who ask for help.

I hear ya. So help him--tell him the Canon T2i is the best-selling serious camera on the planet and a really responsive, really high-quality SLR with fantastic image quality and that he really can't go wrong with it as long as he gets it with an IS lens.

And you won't even be lying.


I hereby propose "The Tripod Problem" as the photography specific variant of the Secretary Problem. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secretary_problem ). If you expect to be able to try 100 tripods in your life, you should start by trying 37 of them for a little while each and then pick one and stick with it for the rest of time. (An accurate estimate for total number of tripods one expects to try is of course the number that are on the market at any given time.)

Applies to cameras too.


My first tripod was a cheap plastic one that was almost useless, the 2nd a manfrotto 055B with a ball head and now a gear head too, the third a smallish travel 714SHB from manfrotto with a tiny ball head built into the centre column. My 4th and favorite tripod is a light weight Benro (A-058 i think) which i got as a light weight alternative to the 055, it's much lighter, extends to a similar height and is almost as stable.

Problem is that i almost never use it, despite it being my favorite i still take the smaller one traveling and the big 055 looks more professional (this matters to realestate agents i shoot for). The cheap plastic one is what i lend to people who ask... They never seem to ask again though...

Ah! That's a good idea, I'll mention it to him the next time it comes up. I suspect some of his hesitance to buy a camera isn't about which one, as it is about putting off buying a new laptop, which comes higher on the list of "necessities".


'Jagged Little Pill'? Urgh...

A surprising, monolithic masterpiece that came out of nowhere and turned out to be the best thing the artist ever did by far, JLP was the bestselling rock album of the 1990s.

The "Immediate Family" work of Sally Mann hit the art photography world like a bombshell and made her internationally famous and very rich. I used to joke that she was literally a Midas who could turn silver into gold: she had only to walk into her darkroom and she could turn a $5 sheet of photo paper into $5500. She had a huge backlog of standing orders that only needed to be filled, and still she didn't have enough time for printing.


Mike - each to their own...Over this side of the pond JLP is generally viewed as very commercial 'Mum' music. Just not my cup of tea, and very surprised to see it mentioned...I could list a number of other 90s albums that I could see as a better comparison.

No complaints about Sally Mann though...excellent work. Nor by the commercial comparison, which I am sure is apt. But I think Alanis will be forgotten long before Sally...



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