Best tripod for document scanning plus occasional outdoor use?
April 26, 2012 10:40 AM   Subscribe

What tripod should I get for 95% document photography (think DIY book scanner) and 5% optional outdoor photography of wildlife and buildings?

I've just started doing a bit of document photography (document scanning) using a Pentax Optio RZ 18 and a GorillaPod. It works fine, but the GorillaPod is a little awkward for this - it's a little difficult to position the legs just the way I want and to get the camera just where I want it.

This kind of document photography is about 95% of what I use this camera for. The rest is the occasional photograph of a cool building or bird I see while I'm out walking around. So far, I've never used a tripod for outdoor photography, even though I'm often using full (18x) optical zoom. If I were to start carrying and using a tripod on my walks, it would have to be super light and convenient, and extremely easy to set up and put away.

Is there an inexpensive tripod that suits both these needs?

If not, is there an inexpensive tripod that would work well for document photography?

(I don't want to be too specific about my "inexpensive" criterion; I'll just say that price is a factor, I definitely do not want to spend $500 on a tripod for a $200 camera, but on the other hand I don't want to get something stupidly cheap that will break the day after I get it.)

posted by kristi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're doing a lot of book and document photography, you might want to think about getting a simple, inexpensive copy stand instead. You'll get far better and more consistent results. There are lots of plans to DIY a copy stand, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:03 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ideally for document photography you want the biggest stiffest tripod you can find. Of course that will be heavy and will suck for carrying into the field. I think a good compromise is to buy the heaviest tripod you can bear to carry around.

For example, I have something like these Manfrotto 190XDB legs ($110) -- 3.5 lbs, which is my upper limit. Add a ball head for about $40. I've had mine for almost 20 years.

At the other end of the weight spectrum is something like this Manfrotto table-top tripod -- as I get older I find myself less willing to lug the big tripod around, and just use this one. I don't know how clumsy it would be for document photography though -- maybe it'll be OK with the extension column?
posted by phliar at 11:04 AM on April 26, 2012

i think you need 2 tripods. actually, a tripod for your documents, and a monopod/hiking stick for outdoor stuff. Even just using a hiking stick as a platform to steady your camera without any fancy mount will work.

and for the document shots, almost any tripod will be an improvement over the gorilla pod, which is mean as a quick solution, not for doing tons of static work--but any of the suggested Manfrotto products are fantastic options.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:07 AM on April 26, 2012

Honestly, if you're reasonably careful with it, even the $80 tripods available at London Drugs, Best Buy, etc. will do you just fine for these needs. Also, check out Kijiji and Craigslist. You can probably find a half decent Manfrotto tripod for a good used price.

I agree with Thorzad, that a document stand of some sort would help too.
posted by hamandcheese at 11:07 AM on April 26, 2012

Are you at all handy? If it were me, I'd build a copy stand out of cheap lumber from the home center - should cost $20 or less with hardware and everything. This guy's plan looks pretty good.

If you were getting a tripod you'd probably need to get something that can extend horizontally for book scanning. That's going to be less stable than a homebrew copy stand, and more trouble to haul around in the woods.
posted by echo target at 1:39 PM on April 26, 2012

Unless you're dealing with bulky bound books that can't be laid flat, a scanner does a better job faster in less space. Scanners are crazy cheap these days, generally built into inkjet printers. I like Brother all-in-one units.

A copy stand with built-in lights is the best way to mount a camera and point it at a lit document. They are kind of bulky and annoying to use though.

You don't need a tripod, judging by the kind of photography you say you do.
posted by w0mbat at 4:04 PM on April 26, 2012

In case this clarification helps:

I'm using a cheap-o cardboard box book cradle (document cradle) as described in Daniel Reetz's instructable (PDF) where you basically cut a cardboard box diagonally to form two wedges to hold your documents or book. That instructable recommends a tripod. So the documents aren't flat; they're at a 45 or 50 degree angle, and the camera is (ideally) at the same angle. I am (now) definitely considering a copy stand for the flattest things I have, but I do have some books, too, which seem especially appropriate for the tripod holding the camera at an angle.

w0mbat, I like the quality of scanners, but using a camera is SO MUCH FASTER - I did a test last night using a 20-page staple-bound insurance company mailing - since it was staple-bound using tabloid pages, it wasn't a good candidate for my auto-document-feed scanner. It took me 5 minutes to get all 20 pages - and that was a bad test, since I was fumbling with the GorillaPod and new camera. Doing 20 pages on my flatbed usually takes me half an hour. And I have boxes and boxes of old mail and stuff that I've been meaning to scan for years, so I think the time factor is really pushing me toward using the camera instead of scanners. I have several scanners and I like them, but they are SO SLOW - even the ADF ones (and I have a lot of stuff I can't use with ADF).

For that test I did last night, I had the cardboard box cradle on the floor and the GorillaPod on the seat of a chair next to/above it, which worked pretty well. I also have a remote shutter control, which means I don't have to touch the camera once I've got it set up.

Please keep the ideas coming - I've already gotten lots of good info in this thread so far!
posted by kristi at 4:49 PM on April 26, 2012

In case you don't already have an excellent solution, here are two things I've found to work well (out of many I've tried -- several generations of all-in-one scanners, flatbeds, various tripod and copy stand setups). Neither are exactly tripods, but they work great for capturing documents and pages from books.

One is a scanner, the ScanSnap 1500M (M for Mac), which has an automatic document feeder that I really like. I run all kinds of wrinkly documents through it, and it just chugs along (you do have to remove staples, though). I use the included software to make OCR'ed PDFs which means I don't have to actually file, sort or tag anything, just dump it all into a giant folder and use Spotlight (the instant search built in to Mac OS X) to search the giant pile. I have emptied over two file cabinets worth of documents into my laptop since 2010. I suppose $400 doesn't qualify as cheap, though.

The other (better answer to your question) is a sub-$20-in-parts, easily portable stand that I made from an instructable. The stand holds the document flat and and the camera perpendicular to the document at the same time. (After I made one, the author updated to a version without plexiglass, which is more compact, non-glare, and not scratchable.) It (dis)assembles in a minute or two, but I usually just leave it assembled with a thrift-store camera attached. Works great. See the instructable for some helpful software.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 7:48 PM on December 22, 2012

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