Three legs good, two legs bad. Or: Help me pick a tripod.
November 28, 2008 12:39 AM   Subscribe

Help! I want to buy a tripod for myself for Christmas but I'm confused. I know what sort of pics I want it for, what equipment I'll use it with, what conditions I'll be in and how much I have to spend. But despite tripod research online and reviewing these earlier questions), I just can't figure out which tripod will be the best for my criteria. Hive mind, what would you recommend?

What I'm confused about
Ball head? Replaceable head? Carbon fibre? Aluminium? Collapsible centre column? Locking? Something to hang weights off? Bogen? Manfrotto? Panning head? Quick-release plate? A collapsible centre column sounds cool and I can see myself using it to take down low shots. But everything else is just a confusing blur – I'm not sure how much of it I need.

What I shoot with
A Nikon D2H and assortment of big heavy lenses for work. Also have a little Canon Powershot S3IS for fun at home, and as an emergency back up. Occasionally I use the Nikon for fun things at home too.

What I want to use the tripod for
Mostly fun and experimenting outside of work hours. It's storm season where I live and I want to take lightning pics! Also I live a block from the beach and it would be cool to play around more with sunsets and sunrises. There's a really amazing river and waterfall up the road. I'd love to do some long exposures from the riverbank, or maybe in the shallows. I've always wanted to experiment with star trails and pics of the moon. Oh. And light painting! To be honest, I can't see myself using a tripod at work day to day – the stuff I'm shooting is usually moving around, or I'm moving around it. But I do occasionally think ''O, if only I had a tripod''. I might use it with the Canon to shoot short, simple video at some point down the line, too. Also self portraits, for fun. And shameless Facebook narcissism.

How much I can pay
Cannot be ridiculous expensive. I am a broke journalist. I can save up about AUD $200-or so by Christmas, but much more than that would break the bank. This budget will have to include postage. There are no camera shops near me so I'll be buying over eBay (or another online vendor if anyone can recommend one). On the other hand, if something under $200 is going to be useless, then I'll save for a bit longer and get the better equipment.

Where it'll live and how much I have to lug it around
My kit lives in the tiny boot of my hatchback car and goes everywhere with me. For work, I travel a lot, occasionally to fairly challenging and remote locations, but mainly I'm in a rural area. Sometimes I fly, sometimes I drive. It's a pain in the arse enough to drag all the equipment and a laptop with me as it is. So I'd rather get something fairly light. But I'm worried I'll have to trade off stability?

What I do NOT want
A job gorilla pod, or other mini / bendy tripod. To build my own tripod. A monopod.

I am in your hands photo Mefites.
posted by t0astie to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When you say you shoot with big heavy lenses are you talking in terms of long fast glass like a 300/f2.8 and upward, or not as big heavy lenses like the 80-200/f2.8 AF-S zooms and downwards?
posted by imjustsaying at 2:30 AM on November 28, 2008

Mm, not not as big and heavy as all that. A Tamron 14mm/2.8, this Nikon 24-84mm/2.8-4 and a Nikon 70-300mm/4.5-5.6. But I have my eye on a 70-200mm/2.8 for next Christmas. Also, conceivably I might score some better (and heavier) lenses from work in the next 12 months.
posted by t0astie at 3:09 AM on November 28, 2008

Actually, I just weighed it with the Tamron (it's the heaviest) and a Speedlight. The whole thing is only 2.5kg (just under 6 llb). Weighty to me, but not all *that* heavy.
posted by t0astie at 3:13 AM on November 28, 2008

Excellent overviews I found from other AskMeFi questions: Philip Greenspun on, P.O.T.N. thread.

You should really try any setup first before buying, if at all possible.
posted by wei at 3:46 AM on November 28, 2008

I recently recommended the Slik Pro 700DX in another thread and would suggest you look at it for price/performance, weight/stability, etc. It's my most used tripod and is fine for anything up to 300mm lenses.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:46 AM on November 28, 2008

One more link, from Thom Hogan.

Don't scrimp on a tripod—if you foresee yourself replacing it in the near future, why not just save up a little more?
posted by wei at 3:50 AM on November 28, 2008

Can you get into Cairns, toastie? Apparently there's a Camera House there, which might have something along the lines of what you need, and you should at least be able to trial a bunch of tripods.
posted by b33j at 4:02 AM on November 28, 2008

I purchased a Manfrotto 055XPROB with a 804RC2 Pan Tilt Head and I love it. I tried out a ball head after reading all the buzz on the interwebs and the biggest issue I had was trying to find level was a pain in the ass.

My tripod setup weighs in at about 7lbs and while that may seem like a lot when compared to the super light weight tripods, but its really not noticeable for me (I go hiking with my kit and pod a lot). The 055xprob is very reconfigurable and exceedingly sturdy. If you walk into it, it may knock you over rather than you knocking it over.
posted by wavering at 4:56 AM on November 28, 2008

Seconding the 055XPROB legs; I use mine with a 488RC2 Ballhead (also pans). I thought about spending $800+ and getting a lifelong system (Gitzo carbon fiber legs + Arca Swiss ballhead or a Really Right Stuff system), but in the end - as I'm really not a tripod shooter for the most part - I decided I just needed a solid (not necessarily top-of-the-line) set. I'm very happy with my decision ... I spent less than $300 for extremely sturdy legs (and I don't mind the heft since I'm not hauling it around every day) and a wonderfully versatile ballhead. I couldn't be happier. FYI - I'm usually shooting with a D300 + grip + 70-200 f/2.8, and I feel comfortable setting all that on the tripod and stepping back. :)
posted by roundrock at 9:01 AM on November 28, 2008

I was just going to recommend the Slik Pro 700DX when I read what imjustsaying said. I got this tripod about a year ago and am totally impressed with its build quality, sturdiness, and versatility. I don't think there's a better tripod in this price range, and I did my homework. Simply put, it's a great value.
posted by dinger at 9:48 AM on November 28, 2008

A nice alternative to the 055XPROB legs is the newer Neotec 458B which has pull-out legs which use a pushbutton to retract. A few seconds may not seem like much, but I find it makes a difference in my willingness to go through the trouble to set up the tripod for a few shots that getting the thing out is so effortless, and not having to fumble with clips in cold weather is a bonus. I've used both, and it's not less sturdy than the 055XPROB. It is more expensive though, so you'll need to decide if it's worth it.

The 488RC2 is a nice ballhead, but it's heavy. If you don't need the separate pan control, the 486RC2 or 484RC2 will serve you just as well and are noticeably lighter (and cheaper). Both of those will still hold all of your stuff (the last digit - 4,6, or 8 - corresponds to the number of kg the head is designed to support), though you may want a 2" washer to put under the 484 since the head is smaller than the plate on the tripod column and if you don't use a washer you won't be able to tighten the locking screws.

Buy a few extra RC2 quick release plates.

This is a fine system. It won't be as light as a carbon fiber tripod, but I doubt you'll be able to find one of those in your budget.
posted by Caviar at 9:57 AM on November 28, 2008

I have a Manfrotto tripod with one of these ballheads. I quite like it and recommend it.
posted by kindall at 5:02 PM on November 28, 2008

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