Friday, April 23, 2010

Support Your Habit - Buy a Tripod

Manfrotto 055XPROB Outfit With 488RC2 Head & 1/4 -20 Screw Rapid Connect PlateEarlier this week we reviewed the concept of shutter speed and it's role in "freezing" motion. Regardless of your photography subject of choice, there will come a time when you're faced with a scenario where it just isn't possible to hand hold the camera without suffering the dreaded "camera blur". It's in these low light or long exposure situations in which a good tripod is a must. So you just dropped some cash on the new camera, you're really starting to get into the whole photography thing and now the tripod need surfaces. Maybe you bought a kit and it included a "tripod" or, if you're like me, you're going to try to convince yourself that you can get by with the $30 Wal Mart special for now. In either case, the reality of the situation is that this is one area where you just can't skimp. Or if you do, you'll soon find yourself coming back to revisit the topic and spending the money anyway - I've seen it happen.

Whether for low light sunrise/sunset landscape images, close up macro photography or even portraits, a good tripod will quickly become one of your best friends.

Buying Considerations

  • Height: You should be able to mount your camera to your tripod and stand comfortably while looking through the viewfinder. This means that the maximum height of the tripod plus the height of your ball head (see next bullet) + the height of your camera should be somewhere near "eye level". Also consider the tripods minimum height both for storage and its ability to get low to the ground for different perspectives and/or macro photography. Does it include a center column? Is the column adjustable and how does it impact "minumum height"?
  • Ball head: Yep, you're going to need more than just the tripod. You'll also need to consider a good ball head that allows you to quickly and easily adjust your camera's position on the tripod. Again, there are a lot of options that cover a lot of different budgets.
  • Adjustability: How many different ways can you adjust the legs? Up? Down? Different angles? Does it have a center column?
  • Weight: How much does the tripod weigh? What about when you add the weight of your ball head, camera and lens? Will that amount of weight be managable by you? Is the tripod rated for carrying the weight of your gear?
  • Price: Everyone is going to weigh the various criteria differently and price will be one of them. Carbon fiber tripods offer excellent durability and are very lightweight. They're also very expensive. Aluminum models are less expense with most of the same features, but they're going to weigh more (think "more exercise" ;).
When I made my purchase I went with the Manfrotto 055XPROB and the Manfrotto 488RC2 ball head. I'm over 6' so something with height was one of my major criteria. I also wanted something that would allow me to get "down and dirty" by positioning just inches from the ground. This model features a multi-position center column which has proven to be very useful. Some models with center columns are not as flexible and can limit your minimum height so take some time to determine what's really important to you.

In the end, a tripod is something that falls into the "buy once, keep forever" category as long as you care for your gear. Determine what's important to you, buy as much as you can afford (stretched as far as you can), and enjoy a lifetime of sharp photos as a result.  One last tip - It doesn't matter what you buy or how much you spend if you don't have it with you when you need it.  Keep it close :).

Until next time, keep click'n.


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