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Wednesday, 08 March 2023


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Will this new tripod technology get so good that the user may have to learn how to trick it sometimes? And if so, is that not a waste of time?

And as soon as they become the norm, there will be the counter insurgency that discovers the joy of manual, analog tripods… which help slow one down to concentrate on the joy of the picture taking process.

If cameras are going down in popularity, the market shrinking, and IBIS getting better all the time to boot, i can't imagine what's happening to tripod market! Survival mode, i suppose.

Batteries seem to leak a lot more than they used to. At least the alkaline type. I have to remember to take them out or my things will likely be ruined. The NiMH are okay but expensive up front. I’m with you. Carbon fiber was all about weight. Now they are adding weight with batteries and motors? And additional points of failure. No thanks.

Hmm. I dunno. I feel the way you do about modern devices. I recently tested out a friend's Prius and couldn't believe the number of ways the car was trying to distract me by keeping me "safe." Lane warnings! An in-cabin back-up beeper (actual Anglo-Saxon reaction deleted in deference to Mike's guidelines!)! Seat belt warnings? Air bag warnings! Man, I couldn't get out of that car fast enough.

But my wife has introduced me to the concept of "reading with charity" (she's a teacher) . . .So with that in mind and as to the tripod, the question is, "who's it for?" My speculation, as it isn't for me:

1. Astro-photographers?
2. Panoramic photographers?
3. Architectural photographers?
4. Disabled photographers?
5. Robots?

Well, those are my best guesses. I do know that when trying to do anything panoramic, having your platform level is a must. My fancier tripods, and some heads, have levels on each axis, or a bubble level up top.

Speaking of old guys, here's a old guy joke.

A retired guy decided to get a part-time job for some extra cash. At the interview with the much younger manager, the interviewer asked the old guy what he considered to be his greatest weakness. The old fella said "My honesty." Young manager says, "That's interesting, I never thought honesty could be a weakness. Old guy said, "I don't give a damn what you think."

They've got to be kidding. It had never struck me that leveling the camera was a difficult task. In fact, lots of times the tripod is not level, and I've compensated with the ball head. It's all part of finding the composition.

My take is that this is just one more thing that can go wrong. A solution in search of a problem. Another set of batteries to think about. I did the math several times, and it looks like an average of almost $700 was added to the fund by each donor. I'm amazed.

It can join the gadget that fastens to the camera hotshoe and decides what settings the camera should have. What is left for the human to do, but carry around the camera and tripod, then push the button when the computer says to? Where's the fun in that?

Why yes, I enjoy using my metal, mechanical, manual film cameras. Why do you ask?

Well...one of the trends I really hate is the move to single-person remote video production teams. I get that salaries are important (though...in the gig economy they're much less a factor, and much remote production work hires out of the gig economy).

But, for that environment (and remember people often aspire to what they see as the entry level of the professional world, even if it rarely is), automating something that automation can do competently isn't obviously wrong (though your remarks about managing more complex equipment are very much to the point also).

I wonder if the real problem is that too many people buy a video tripod without a leveling bowl, and then have to try to level it to video pan standards using the legs (shudder!). (75mm ball leveling base is pretty standard.)

For stills I don't really need to level the tripod, I have either a ball head or a 3-way head, and I level the camera once for one position, and take a picture or two. But for video, where you may well need to do pans, the level below that has to be level.

(One video person and one sound person seems the minimum, if the shoot requires sound. I can set up lighting, direct, and run the camera easily enough, and I can sort-of set up sound. But the sound also has to be monitored and attended to with some immediacy, and while I can wear monitoring headphones while running the camera, I can't instantly get a hand to a mixer knob when needed. I know, I know, much more headroom on good digital equipment, just record a bit low because clipping is forever. You can even configure a safety track within a modern field recorder, where it records signal from an input once straight, and a second time on a separate track taken down -10db. I often have spare tracks now that I have a 6-track field recorder.)

filmmakers, maybe? that's old school right there .... filmmakers

So lets say I get one of these and store it in our van like my other tripod. Then one cold day I go out to shoot, walk a mile to the hill that I want to shoot from and find that the batteries have died. However my 20 year old Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod that uses no batteries still works with no issues (or batteries).

Just because something is new and cool does not mean that it makes any sense.

[In fairness, the video makes it clear it has a manual mode. But...yeah. --Mike]

Cool. I've ordered three, plus I've got a bunch of money in cryptocurrency just waiting to purchase my "fully automagic 8x10 view camera" which I'm sure will be announced any day. If you'll excuse me, I've got to run down to the courthouse to finalize my name change to Ansel Adams 2.0 before someone beats me to it.

Self-leveling tripods, eh? Fortunately I have a broswser folder set up for ideas like this - Solutions in Search of a Problem (SISOP). Unfortunately that folder is filling up quickley. The first photographic entries seemed to cluster around auto-focus, for which I still haven't found a pressing need. I thought I had identified a few use cases for it when I started shooting equestrian competitions. The point there was to lock focus on my daughter's face at exactly the apex of her jump and do that maybe a couple dozen times in a couple minutes. All day long. After a series of camera upgrades to progressively more advanced and more expensive autofocus systems it became clear that I was at least as good at locking focus as the best AF systems. All that's required are a few carefully selected simplifying assumptions. In this case I didn't need to lock on her face (which moves) I could lock on the gate rails (which don't) and I don't need to nail the Decisive Moment. I can just fire off a burst of 6 or 8 shots and throw away the ones I don't like and they are essentially free anyway. So with AF (for me) we have a SISOP. I could go on and on with additional examples but the best way to make my point is to encouage you to take a stroll through your cameras Menu System. How much of this crap do you really need. To me they are almost entirely SISOP. I think I know where these menus come from.
Big companies are big on focus groups. We used them all the time at P&G back in the day. So this large camera company convenes a focus group and asks the particupants to list their most important camera features or what they'd like to access through the menus. At the end of the day, the leader gathers up all the lists and passes them of to product development with instruction to include all these.
My Lumix G9 allows me to create something like a QMenu. I assume it stands for Quick. In that I can create my Greatest Hits from most of the other menus. I have yet to fill up one screen. So take a look at your menus with an eye toward what you meed and what's SISOP.
Over the last few years I've seen a lot of dialogue on the value of friction in artistic creation. To most folks, I suppose friction is a bad thing. These users would prefer to turn on their camera and have it use Auto Focus, Program Mode, et cetera to properly set up the camera for their shot, freeing them of everthing but composition. I understand the allure of this approach and I fall into that category once in a while. At those times I grab my phone.
Thats not the photography I've grown to love over the last 50-years or so. I want to create not just record. With all the camera-based automation and programming (and heavens forbid, AI) I guess the only missing capability now is composition. That will probably be available in the next firmware release.

"That seems like a much worse headache than simply loosening a collar and dropping a leg."

But it's not one collar! It's at least six, up to twelve. I might consider this somewhat silly thing — if flip lock legs didn't exist.


When I read your summary of it, I thought it could be useful, I pictured a ballhead that leveled itself. But legs that adjust themselves, I wouldn't trust that, if I'm on uneven ground I could see it leveling it itself right up to the point of the tripod tipping over. So I would tell them to go back to the drawing board and just work on a tripod head that levels out.

So here am I with my ball head on top of a self-leveling tripod. Do I need a self-leveling ball head too? Seriously, do I need my tripod to be exactly level? And what about the shots missed because the tripod was downloading the latest firmware update and rebooting? And then, after the latest update, it refuses to set up at all because its newly updated artificial intelligence rejects the subject and/or composition.

I'm just amazed that tripod manufacturers are still coming up with their own, not Arca-compatible, quick-mount systems.

Ridiculous thing. As you say Mike, another example of tech for techs sake. If you take panoramas you need to level the tripod (not the head). So buy a tripod with it built in, such as a Kingjoy, or buy a tripod levelling base about £40 from Amazon. Then enjoy levelling in 10 seconds - no batteries.

Years ago while working photo retail in Ottawa Canada we sold a mechanical self leveling tripod. Can’t remember the manufacturer’s name but it worked well. It was of European manufacture.

I turn 50 this weekend. Does that qualify as turning old? I mostly agree that for standard photography this is rather pointless, apart maybe for stitched panoramas. BUT I have been dabbling in astro photography lately. If they get it right in terms of accuracy, it could be good with a tracking system on top. For now I will test a levelling head though

I'm pretty careful with my tire pressure, but my TPMS has proven useful in the case of a slow leak that I might otherwise not have noticed.

But a self-leveling tripod with a ball head is just dumb, even ignoring the problem of more batteries to maintain.

Not as impressive as this, from an email they sent me seven or more years ago (before they went bankrupt). Guess what date it arrived. :)

[April 1st?

People trying to capitalize on clever photographic inventions is almost as old as the medium. At the magazine I edited, we seldom had any problems with big advertisers such as Ilford, who bought full pages. The ones who were demanding and soaked up the ad dept.'s attention were the guys who bought tiny classified ads, selling little gewgaws for $9.98 or $14.99 they thought were going to somehow become gold mines. --Mike]

"Theta has reached ten times its original $50,000 goal on Kickstarter with 43 days remaining, which means that a lot of people have put their money behind their interest."

My father once said, some people get up in the morning and immediately think "What can I spend money on today?"


I'm with you regarding this device.

"Theta is not only a tripod, but is also a smart console."

What more do they expect it to need to do? Order more groceries while you're photographing? (Please don't say update your social media messages!)

The buyers will think twice about their purchase if they leave the tripod on all night and can't start it the next morning! (Courtesy of an old Peanuts comic.)

Your comment about the younger Harvard Graduate Admissions Committee members being rule-bound made me laugh. All these young people think we oldsters were impossibly racist and sexist all the time. I hate to tell them that race relations were probably better in the '70s -- at least from what I experienced. We mostly got along with others, despite our differences. People just seemed cooler back then.

I'll disagree with you about the Tire Pressure Management System. Unless you check the tires before every use, you'll appreciate the warning if you caught some debris on the way home and didn't notice it. If you don't like checking the tire pressures when there's a bunch of snow on the ground, that system is a valued nicety. (More useful than a heated steering wheel, to be sure!) I haven't had a bit of trouble with the system on my American car. Maybe checking tire pressures will be an added feature with a dedicated module for the tripod.

David Smith should receive some kind of Comment of the Year award. I haven't stopped laughing for 10 minutes!!! Thank you David. You made my day!!

If Garry Winogrand had had one he would've been a great photographer!

I know nothing about product design. I work in software engineering, and if I'm asked to appraise / comment on a new feature development my first thought is "what problem is this trying to solve"

I was ready to denounce this thing as just more tech to go wrong or fail far before the rest of the tripod wears out. Not being a video shooter
left me evaluating this tripod from a stills point of view where a video shooter might find real utility with the features of self levelling in combination with the various modules.Benro has designed a really compact set of legs with the incorporation of the trigonous
centre column and easily adjusted leg sections.
I would buy this tripod in a manual configuration because it folds up in such a small package without sacrificing stability.

Mike, Mike, you are out of touch.

"—a pressure gauge and the air hose at the gas station is a system I never even thought about for many decades. "

Most Americans today have no idea how to measure the pressure or what the hose would do. The "guy" does it for them.

[Wish that were true. Around here we have only one full-service gas station, staffed by ancient guys who look like they just came in from eight days in a deer blind, and with Trump banners in the windows. And they don't even check tire pressure. I remember full-service gas stations and I liked them a lot. I wish they'd come back in fashion. --Mike]

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the "level gage" display included in some Olympus and SONY cameras. I remember it was incredibly distracting until I figured how t turn it off. Most digital cameras fill the screen with so much distracting information that I can understand how many photographers forget to concentrate what they are trying to photograph.
The first thing I do with any digital camera is turn off all the displays except exposure and the focus confirmation dot.

A self-leveling tripod is an interesting concept and I am interested to see what gets reported when some credible reviewers get it into their hands and work with it for a while.

That said, I have four good tripods already and at least two of them are underutilized (and not because I have to level them manually...), so I don't think I'm going to be buying another any time soon. :)


I can't remember who it was but back in the 70s someone was selling Tilt-All tripods that they had filled the center column with lead. They just melted some lead and poured it in. They were great in NYC studios where stuff like people walking around and the subway would cause lots of vibration. Lots of studios had them.

Outdoors, Leica makes some nice wooden tripods https://leica-geosystems.com/en-us/products/levels/accessories/tripods
I never got the point of excessively lightweight tripods.

Time to tune up my Chicago Builders tripod. the worm gear has some lash, but it's so great.

Self-leveling tripods are all well and good until you realize how many buildings and horizons are not level. Good for taking photos of ponds I guess.

One more thought occurs to me. This is advertised as a travel tripod. The last thing I want in a travel tripod is extra complexity and more batteries to charge.

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