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Thread: new tripod (maybe) and head

  1. #1
    can't remember Tannin's Avatar
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    16 Apr 2007
    Huon Valley
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    new tripod (maybe) and head

    G'day all,

    I would welcome advice or ideas for a second tripod/head setup suitable for getting low to the ground.

    Currently I mainly use a Manfrotto carbon tripod with a geared head shaft, something like this one: Not sure of the exact model; I've had it a while and the manufacturer label is covered by tape and foam padding I don't want to take off. But that doesn't matter: it's very stable, plenty tall, and the geared head shaft is very useful. On that, a Wimberley head. The whole setup is quite heavy, but I'm OK with that for most purposes, and the stability and fast, smooth operation is everything I could want. (Typically I use it with a 600/4, now and them a 100-400.)

    But there are things the big tripod doesn't do, or doesn't do well.

    * It doesn't go very low. Quite often I want to be as close to ground level as possible, At standard leg angles, the lens foot is 720mm above ground level. With the legs on the second angle stop, 590mm. The third stop is unusable because the head shaft fouls.
    * It is big and heavy. Usually that's OK but on a longer walk it becomes problematic.
    * It is barely usable for any lens without a tripod mounting foot. Like all gymbal heads, the Wimberley does not provide any rotation. I have a gadget to adapt it for use with an ordinary lens (i.e., for use with the camera mounted to the tripod rather than lens). This - - was ridiculously expensive for such a little thing and it's beautifully made but it is not properly compatible with the Wimberley. It works fine in landscape mode but you can't rotate it 90 degrees for portrait shots because the camera body fouls the Wimberley Arca-Swiss mount locking screw. (You'd think the designers would have checked this, wouldn't you? It's not as if the Wimberley head is a new and different model, or not the established industry standard gymbal. At over $200 for a little gadget, one is entitled to expect better. Sigh.) In practice, this can be a right pain. For example, the other week I went on a longish walk with a big lens looking for things like Pink Robins and Bassian Thrushes, but also to visit a rainforest waterfall. You can't do a useful landscape in that light without a tripod, so the only answers were to carry two tripods or shoot everything in landscape and crop later.

    My second tripod, just for landscapes, is my old birding tripod, a Manfrotto 055XBPro - a good standard aluminium tripod solid enough to use with long lenses. (Though not as good as the big one, of course.) On it I have a cheap little Manfrotto ball head which is good enough for use with (for example) a 24-105, though a bit annoying because it tends to stick a bit. It has one of those 5-sided Manfrotto mounting plate receptacles. I like these because you can mount and de-mount the camera plates easily without tools.

    What I am thinking of is the following:

    (1) Either adapt the existing spare tripod so that it doesn't have the centre column to foul the ground, or buy a new one.

    (2) Buy a second gymbal head, a smaller, lighter one than the Wimberley, possibly one of these:

    (3) I'll need a couple of better-designed Arca-Swiss camera mounting plates - ones where you can mount and demount them in the field without having to carry tools around. The rule-of-thumb seems to be that ones from expensive, good quality manufacturers require mucking about with Allen keys where the cheap Chinese ones have convenient thumb-rings. Go figure. Anyway, that bit is easy.

    The idea is to use the second tripod and small head for:

    (a) long walks where I don't want to carry the big Wimberley kit
    (b) landscape work, employing the Jobu gadget for rotation
    (c) situations where I want to use a long lens (600/4 or similar) close to the ground.

    Price: I don't like wasting money or spending it without good reason, nevertheless, if something is the best answer then I'll spend whatever it takes.

    Tripod type (assuming I replace the 055Xprob, which may or may not be required). I've always had Manfrotto snaplock legs rather than Gitzo-style twist-lock ones, but I'm sure I'd get used to twist-locks soon enough. So either way on that question. I assume that I'd buy something in carbon fibre rather than aluminium if I bought a new one. So something light, stiff enough for a 600/4, and that goes all the way down to the ground as quickly and easily as possible, or near enough to ground level as makes no difference. I do like to have a tall tripod as a general rule - that helps a lot with getting a decent angle on a high-up bird, or peering over some shrubbery - but I've got that aspect covered with the main tripod, so within reason height doesn't matter.

    Flash bracket: This might be the hardest part to figure out. I normally use the Wimberley flash bracket - scroll down to see the F-9 at the bottom of the page - which mounts to the vertical part of the swinging head via an Arca-Swiss arrangement. (Think of the L arm of a gymbal head. The horizontal part of the L has the female Arca-Swiss mount that your lens plate slots into; the vertical part of the L has an Arca-Swiss male slot machined into it such that the threaded flash bracket slots over it and locks onto it.) In a perfect world, I could use the same flash bracket. But the devil is always in the detail.

    Cameras and lenses: I'll be using a mixed bag of Canons (7D II, 1D IV, 5D IV) with a 600/4 II, a 100-400 II, and various shorter lenses for landscapes and so on. I have a 580EX II and a 600EX. I've pretty much stopped using the Better Beamer; it's a clumsy damn thing and not really needed since the 600EX came along.

    My apologies for such a long and (I hope sufficiently!) detailed post. I'll be very interested to see what comments and suggestions people can make.

    It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.

  2. #2
    Ausphotography Veteran
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    01 Dec 2011
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    Hi Tony

    Just related to your requirement for a ball head, have you looked at the Acratech GPSS,

    From the website:

    "A smaller version of our GP Ballhead, but it maintains the 25 lb. (11.4 kg) capacity, and the ability to function as a ballhead, gimbal head, and a panorama head.
    The GPSS has a shorter quick release clamp, and a smaller base diameter than the GP. It is perfect for travel tripods.

    All Acratech Ballheads are designed to be lightweight and rugged for the active outdoor photographer.
    The open structure lets moisture, dirt and debris fall through instead of being trapped inside a socket.
    Available with our Arca Swiss style, knob or locking lever quick release clamp."

    I purchased one recently from O/S (on special) but they are available from the local supplier:

    I have yet to use it in the wild. Playing in the house indicates that its performance should meet all the claims made by Acratech and I am very pleased with it. The main driver for purchasing this unit in my case was the ballhead/gimbal/pano head flexibility.



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