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Sunday, 11 December 2022


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I think you should write “le nec plus ultra”

I've had my Gitzo 1157 Mountaineer carbon fiber for decades, through snow, salt water, fresh water, sand, dirt. It's fallen over onto rocks and from heights. Zero maintenance, works like it's brand new.

And I love my Acratech ballhead -- same review as the Gitzo -- but then I bought mine used from a friend, so I didn't have to pay no $500 for it (!)

Also take a look at the Gitzo Traveler Series 1 tripods for travel. Even the 4-section model is compact enough to fit in a carry-on bag, which makes it more likely that I'll take it along on a trip, and actually take it out of the bag and use it to take pictures at destination.

Sorry, for $1,690 complete- it better last 27 years and then some! Granted, it is a looker and I'm betting one helluva performer for someone who uses it on a (very) regular basis. I still got my $99 Leitz Tiltall from the '70s (what else could you buy with that name for that price)- and it still dutifully serves its purpose every once or twice a decade. Currently clocks in at $200 new.

I'm still using my Bogen 201 aluminim legs from 1982. I did put a RRS RH-40 head on it some years back; that cost about 3 times what the whole tripod plus Bogen ball head cost originally.

Except, I hardly touch my tripod any more. Between higher color ISOs, noise reduction, and image stabilization (in-body or in-lens), I rarely need them any more. I last used one for macro photography using focus stacking, I think. Before that, I think I last used it for convenience in photographing a series of objects, so I didn't have to put it down and pick it up each time.

Ball head, schmall head. Once you’ve used a geared head you’d never touch a ball head again (no matter how long the stick).

Some are even “sort of” in the affordable range today.

I’m a multiple tripod guy. I have one in the trunk of each car, a travel model that I leave in my suitcase, and a few others. But a few years ago, after seeing the Penn exhibition at the Met, I brought back to life a couple of Tiltalls, after watching the film of Mr. Penn using one under his Rolleis. I can’t quite explain it but there is a special feeling for me to use them, short handles only as he set them up.

My first tripod, a Gitzo Pro Studex, and R No.4 Head were purchased while in school for my 4x5. I am proud of every scratch and bald spot on those heavy legs. It helped me pay the bills and move through my career, never letting me down. Then came carbon fiber, and the heavier Gitzo retired to the back of the studio.

I have three CF tripods and have settled on them for about a decade now. I put the pieces together based on format and shooting technique. Below are links to the heads and bases, but the manufacturers have updated the tripods since then and do not show links. All the tripods work as well today as when I acquired them.


If I shoot 4x5 (Linhof MT, Cambo Wide), it is with an RRS TVC-23 with an Acratech Pano Head and Leveling Base.

Acratech Pano Head: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/826076-REG/Acratech_1165_PANORAMIC_HEAD.html
Acratech Leveling Base: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/834487-REG/Acratech_1170_LARGE_LEVELING_BASE.html


If I am shooting medium format film or digital (ALPA, Hasselblad, Mamiya 6), it is an RRS TQC-14 with Fotopro Gimbal Head E-6H Eagle and RRS TA-2U Leveling Base.

Fotopro Gimbal E6H: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1452509-REG/fotopro_e_6h_gimbal_head_black.html
RRS TA-2U Leveling Base: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1525414-REG/really_right_stuff_25364_series_2_leveling_base.html


My Fujifilm APS-C, pinhole cameras (including Titan 4x5), and 135 film cameras sit atop a Gitzo GT1541T with an RRS BH-30.

RRS BH-30: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1301031-REG/really_right_stuff_bh_30_lr_bh_30_ballhead_with_compact.html


I still have the RRS BH-40 I purchased for the RRS TVC-23 a decade ago, but I do not use it. I sold off two BH-50 heads last year from non-use. I have grown away from ball heads, preferring pano heads with leveling bases.

If anyone cares to read my tripod experiences, here is a link.

Back in my days working the Camera Counter, I used to tell folks the ideal tripod is lightweight, sturdy and inexpensive. And you can choose any two of those three features. BTW, I still have and use my mid ‘80’s Bogen 3021.

I bought a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod around 2008. It's still my go-to tripod. Its legs extend to 72 inches. It has survived the ocean, desert sand, snow, ice, rain, and dust. I've got three heads for it: 1) Acratec ball head; 2) Manfrotto 410; 3) Manfrotto 608 Nitrotech fluid head.

I was somewhat reluctant to invest in a high-end tripod. I'm scratching my head trying to think of photo equipment that has lasted so long without a single hassle.

Twist leg locks are just - too - damn - slow. IMO \;~)>
In the time it takes to loosen, then re-tighten those twist locks, I've set up my Velbon El Carmagne 630, taken the shot, taken it down and moved on.

The Velbon somehow managed to make flip locks with light, smooth action, yet reliably solid. Also, length numbers on the legs, so all three can be made the same length without physical matching. Genius!

Manfrotto also makes some nice CF tripods with flip locks, but they are quite stiff. Their 190CXPRO3, whatever it or its replacement is by now, has a nice design of center column that can go horizontal.

For ultimate ability to get camera angles others can't touch — and challenge one's sense of how the universe works, the Benbo, or its better offspring, the Uni-Loc, is unmatched.

BUT, what if the best tripod is no tripod? After hauling tripods along on every trip, (TSA always thinks it's come kind of nefarious device, and opens my luggage.) I spend six weeks this fall in Brooklyn, NE Mass and all over Maine, without a tripod. Never missed it.

The IBIS on my recent Oly bodies is pretty spectacular; more trouble with subject movement than camera.

No more tripod hanging off my belt (Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 here).

Moose at Hetch Hetchy, 2011.

I have both a Gitzo 3 series with a RRS BH55 head, and a Sirui 2205X with a Arcatech SS head. Guess which one gets used more often, especially as the Nikon Z telephoto lenses get lighter and lighter? I would not buy a Gitzo again if I were buying a tripod today, there are many which are excellent at half the price.

I still have and use the Leitz Tiltall I bought in ‘78. As good as the day I bought it.

When I sold my Zone VI tripod, due to weight (which you wrote about in August of 2015,) I bought a Velbon carbon fibre tripod (I don’t know the model) along with an Acratech head. Naturally I did the my “research” and concluded that while there may be “better” tripods, the Velbon seemed to hit my price point while being very capable for my needs. It turns out I was “right” - at least in my experience so far. And ditto for the Acratech head.

I think both these brands fly under the radar a bit. The Acratech heads are not exactly cheap, but they are very well made and there a variety of models to suit one’s requirements.

I agree with Rand Scott Adams. I've had numerous ball heads including the iconic ARCA SWISS B-1, and still use an Acratech on my small Gitzo, but for sheer rigidity, ease of adjustment and "when you put it there, it stays there," nothing can beat a geared head. After listening to Charlie Cramer sing its praises, I got an ARCA SWISS D4 geared head, one of the best pieces of gear I've EVER owned. It lives on my new FLM tripod (seems to be as good as RRS but without the price and politics). The FLM replaced a 3 series CF Gitzo that had gotten wobbly. Everyone is different but I love using a tripod in nature. It slows me down and makes my images more contemplative, just like in the good old days with the 4x5.

I own the RRS BH-55 head, which is high quality in many respects, albeit big and heavy. But it now sits on a shelf and has been replaced by the less expensive, lighter, more compact, but superb Arca Swiss P0 (as in P-zero) head. The BH-55 sometimes slightly drifts under higher loads, while the uniquely and more simply designed P0 remains rock solid. I added an RRS lever-clamp to it..


Truth be told, however, my tripods rarely get used these days with my digital cameras, which typically have high ISO capability (Leica M10-Monochrom or M10-R) and/or IBIS (Leica SL2, sometimes combined with lens OIS).

IF you want to make you tripod even better get a hammock that attaches to the legs. I have one of these and it can make a huge difference. We were in Cape Cod in September and I was shooting on a windy bluff doing long exposures. The wind was really strong so I filled the hammock with a lot of sand and it made the tripod a lot more stable. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1038289-REG/oben_stb_10_stone_bag_for_tripods.html

Another nice accessory are the Manfrotto tripod shoes. These will stop a tripod from sinking into sand, soft soil and snow. I use these a lot and they attach to my Manfrotto and Slik tripods. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/5548-REG/Manfrotto_230_230_3255_All_Weather.html/?ap=y&ap=y&smp=y&smp=y&lsft=BI%3A6879&gclid=CjwKCAiAv9ucBhBXEiwA6N8nYArISbOWSIZ8EIGDka-4PRyBy08IbrYGyfKo02cYBUwG_6tvIGnAwBoCC44QAvD_BwE

I have struggle with the idea that some carbon fiber and aluminum costs $1690 while a complex OM-5 digital camera with the 12-45mm f/4 lens providing 6.5 stops of image stabilization is available for $1600. Not to suggest that the tripod & head over priced, just the contrast in technology price.

The ideal tripod weighs nothing, needs no space at all, reaches to 1,70 meters but also to 10 centimeters should it be necessary, and this without hassle, and is sturdier than a Soviet tank.
In order to get something remotely close to these spces, I spent a little fortune over the decades, and I also have a Gitzo Carbon, which is indeed among the better ones.

Darn you, Michael, I have just spent two hours navigating Darlene and Alex's websites and being absolutely gobsmacked. You have some very interesting reader/contributors!!

Bill S.

Thank you!

I don't get the "fashion appeal" of carbon fiber. Some think it looks as good as a smooth paint job on a car. Function, yes. Looks, no.

You don't have a tripod if it's not carbon fiber, apparently.

Carbon fiber parts can't be stamped out like aluminum. It's a much more expensive and slower process, thus the high price.

I've got a lightweight tripod that works fine for my uses. Not generally used outdoors. I bought it in the '80s and it has all the movements possible with the included "head". No need to buy a separate one, just to use the thing. Around 50 bucks back then and I paid more than I had to, but I was in the store, so I just got it. I probably could have found it for $35-40 somewhere else.

Thanks for the suggestion, Mike, but it's not for me.

I'm sure the Gitzo is the "best" tripod if you and Thom Hogan are both recommending it. For me, light weight and portability are particularly important. I've replaced my old Bogen aluminum tripod (with Manfrotto ball head) with a Sunpak carbon fiber one. It's only 14" when compacted and 2.4 lbs with included ball head and cost less than $100 3 years ago. It uses arca swiss plates so I got a Manfrotto quick-release adapter and screwed an arca swiss plate to the bottom of it and that's permanently attached to the Sunpak. I can easily switch between tripods this way - except that I never do. I use the Sunpak almost exclusively. Its probably not rugged enough for professional use, though. But, it can expand to the same height as the Bogen; it looks spindly but works fine for me, survived 10 days hiking in Utah without issue and is airplane carry-on friendly. Pity they don't sell it anymore.

Note: I find arca swiss plates are not thick enough to accommodate the attachment screw-eye for my sling strap. RC2 plates work best for that.

Back in the 90's the TV station I worked at went with Sachtler HotPods with Sachtler Panorama 7+7 heads and I was in hog heaven.
HotPods were designed specifically for news shooters. One control to drop, level and lock the legs, another to free up the ball leveling system and it had a pneumatic lift that took it up to about six feet. Wonderful as long as you were spending someone else's money.
HotPods are still around and a complete rig is around seven grand so $1700 starts to look like a steal.

Most of the time, I use a RRS Versa with a BH-55, but I needed a lighter tripod for a long human-powered trip I was doing. I didn't want it to weigh more than three pounds.

I found the SIRUI AM-254. If you buy it with the SIRUI ball head, it weighs less than three pounds. Any tripod under three pounds is a compromise, and the SIRUI makes the right compromises. It's surprisingly solid, stable and is four feet tall.

At Amazon, it runs $225 with the ball head.

My Ries wooden tripod and Arca Swiss ball head have held up everything from Leica Ms, Nikon D4, Hassie and Mamiya RZ, and 4x5 view cameras, all rock solid, and it is fairly easy to carry, if bulky. I have a very lightweight and expensive Gitzo carbon fibre that really is built for the D4, max, and which I had to weight down in every breath of air to keep stable. Unless I am packing for a long flight, that one stays home.

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