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Thread: Tripod Buying Guide, legs and heads, which styles?

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    Question Tripod Buying Guide, legs and heads, which styles?

    Ok, I'm in the market for a tripod. I'm looking at in the range of maybe $400ish (flexible) which I think is reasonable given the use it will likely get. I want quality that will serve me well, but can't justify a huge price tag. I have a cheap and nasty tripod now that might only get used once every month or two. I would be using for general landscape shots, day and night and maybe a dabble in macro one day.

    I've read many threads that have plenty of people talking up their gear (not a bad thing), but I have some questions more about what to look for.

    3 way vs ball head?
    I've got a cheap and very nasty 3 way head that I shouldn't use to judge them. I'm really split on this one, do I go a good 3 way head, or a low to mid range ball head? I've not used a ball head and not really sure about them. Do they stay tight, do they allow for small adjustments etc? Are $200 ball heads good quality?

    Tripod Leg locking? Twist lock vs flippy catch?
    The manfrotto style click in locking leg is what I'm familiar with and I don't mind them but I recall Arthur being rather taken by his twist lock legs (no not his dodgy knee!). Do they stay tight though, or wear over time? Seems this is the big difference between Manfrotto and Benro.

    Mounting plates?
    My current cheapo has a bad mounting plate with sharp edges that I can't leave on the camera. I'd love one with a decent d ring that I could attach my r-strap too, but not a deal breaker. The mounting plate seems to be an area with the mid range gear that I struggle to find any detail on.

    I'll leave it at that for now, I'd love to hear what people think the pros and cons of the different styles and what to look for and why. And then on from that, what recommendations and why.

    Cheers,
    Mic

    Photography is the art of telling stories with light.

    www.michaelgoulding.com

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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    Have a look at the Benro carbon range for legs. I think (and all this is going from memory!) their C298(??) range is well priced and sturdy kit, at a fraction of the gitzo prices, but seemingly similar in ability(they are... for all intents and purposes, direct rip'offs of Gitzo tripods).

    Carbon!.. you just cant beat it

    I think their J series ballheads look to be useful.. maybe not perfect, but I reckon will do you well with the gear you have and the types of shooting you want to mainly do.

    The bigger the number, the stronger the ball heads(if I remember correctly) .. the J2 or J3 is the way to go.
    You'll eventually find that the Gitzo style quick twist lock legs will eventually see you set up faster than the flippy things. I hate those manfrotto flippy/twisty addendums they use on their legs!
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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    OOOh! .. I came back.

    C-257 benro was what I was thinking of, not the 298 as I deliriously stated above
    C-258 is the 4 section version of the 257, but the more sections you have the less sturdy is the leg set.

    with the ballheads, the bigger the diameter of the ball, the more securely it locks.
    I can't see a J-3 any longer on the local distributors website, but they seem to have a B(something)3 series ballhead with a 54mm diameter ball(that's huuuuge!) and it may do for most applications.

    I was wanting to get one of them type of ballheads to replace my manfrotto head, which sags when I mount a long(focal length) lens.. very annoying to frame a scene millimeter perfect and find that once you let the setup go(hands off), that the frame drops by a mill or two!

    from their website the legs and heads I'm referring too will cost you approx mid $500's, but then you need quick release plates for your camera and any lenses that require them.

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    I have a Benro and they are a rip off of the Gitzo - but they are quite good ,their ball heads are reasonable quality as well and I find they do stay tight and i find I much prefer them to 3 way which I always used before and good for doing small adjustments. As for the twist lock legs - much better than the flippy style locks and faster to use. Your budget of $400ish should see you get quite a decent combination. There is a Sydney based company that has very good prices on them and very quick delivery.
    Mike
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    i got a benro c269 travel angel. carbon fibre with a b-1 ball head. the mounting plate has no sharp edges, and i actually leave it on the camera body most of the time, as i don't find it uncomfortable at all! fast to unfold and cost me approx $460ish from ebay. was very influenced by a post on the web regarding this exact tripod! and holds a 70-200 with a 5dm2 perfectly still!
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    Go for a brand that supports modular compatibility.
    Don't go for those heavilly marketed one off brands that don't have common components from one tripod model to another.
    The basic of all tripod components is the QR plate. Does it fit in almost all tripod models?
    Then look at the head mounts. Is is standard throughout the range?
    Then look at the modular expansion capabilites.
    The main tripod I use currently can be a tripod, light stand, flash bracket stand, and many more uses, because of the modular components of that brand.
    I have used that brand for over 18 years and the components have not changed.
    Last edited by RaoulIsidro; 31-08-2010 at 1:17pm.
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    Member SnowA's Avatar
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    Re: flicklocks.

    Benro's EX series offer flicklocks instead of their twist locks on their non-EX tripods. I think that's the only difference with that series (to be honest, they have so many models it's a bit hard to compare sometimes).
    SA

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    Thanks everyone, I'm getting the feeling ball heads are the go and provided you buy one that has a high weight rating (with a decent diameter) they are pretty stable?

    And for legs, it seems Carbon Fibre is the way to go, still not convinced on the twisty lock legs.

    It also seems that Gitzo, Benro, Manfrotto is the go in that order? Other brands in price range any good?

    There seem to be so many options when it comes to all of these and very little in the way of reviews or buying guides. Benro alone have 5 different 'series' of ball heads, who knows which are best! Anyway, happy to hear peoples experience. I think I need to find a store which has a decent range on the floor to have a play, none up here in Ballarat!

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    G'day Etheral

    Regarding 3-section or 4-section legs ... while every joint introduces the potential for wobble, closed-storage-dimensions are also important for many of us ... will it fit into the cupboard at home, or the car boot?

    Regarding leg-locking ... clips vs twisties. Over the years I have had both styles of leg-lockers.

    All clips seem to lock okay, tho some need more finger pressure than others.
    As to twisties - if you get sand into the internal locking mechanism, kiss it goodbye
    My Manfrotto [now 4yrs old] is becoming an absolute bugger to use at times - if I have any moisture on the legs (say dew after a star trails pic) when it's put away, then it will not unlock afterwards to extend the legs ... getting to the stage where I need to carry a plumbers wrench (not kidding)

    My next tripod will have clips for leg locking
    Regards, Phil
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    Just for my two-bob's worth:

    I feel that if you're planning on shooting video as well as taking photographs with your DSLR, and you'd like your video have a more refined look and feel, then a fluid pan/tilt head is always useful to keep on hand.

    They are designed to provide good smooth pan and tilt motion and some allow tensioning so that you can find the right balance of pan/tilt freedom whilst still having them sit in place when coming to rest without the need to keep holding and tightening the adjustment levers all of the time when the shot is static.
    Dan

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    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    If you can afford it - go for Gitzo. The twist lock legs won't break - at least they've never given any hint of it to me, and I've been on beaches and in deserts, and volcanoes.

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    GDay all, thanks for the comments, well I've been reading as much as I can across the web. I thought I would share my thoughts for two reasons, to seek advice on whether I'm on the right track and following of from that with any luck we'll help others know what to look for.

    I've looked mainly at Benro or Manfrotto as they seem to be the most common coming up at the price point in the forums I've been searching.

    My current leader
    I'm looking at a Benro C297 Carbon Fibre seen here.
    And to put on top a Benro B series ball head seen here. (B-2 as a minimum)
    Or look at this eBay listing for more photos.

    At Photo-Shop-Studio the legs are $330 and the B-2 head with PU-60 plate is $180 making a total of $510 plus delivery. I have found however the same setup on eBay for $492 delivered. I also found the B-2, B-3 and B-4 ball heads for $143, $156 and $187 respectively which is quite a saving and might mean I can go for a bigger one.

    Legs
    I've landed at this point because I think it is good value for money. This tripod is the right height for me once it has the head and camera on it so I can use it without extending the centre pole much if at all. It has a good load rating of 12kg which will be ample for me. I like the flexibility of the vertical or horizontal centre pole. Folding size isn't a big concern for me, so the 650mm is ok. The weight of 1.6kg is good (0.5kg lighter than the Aluminium version) and it has a good hook for attaching ballast.

    Leg Locking
    Regarding the leg locking, there is a C297EX which is exactly the same as above but it has flip lock legs (Although I can't find it in any shop to compare prices). It seems the twisty vs flippy is very much personal preference. The twist lock legs seem to have quite a few positives and the main criticism of them is about speed (which is debatable) and the issue of getting dust or dirt in them, but the flip locks seem to have issues with people getting skin caught in them, they come loose therefore requiring adjustments, they get caught on things and they can get hard to operate. I was 50/50 about them even after playing with the two types at an AP meet, but considering the above I'm starting to lean towards twist lock legs.

    Heads
    The Benro ball heads seem to get good reviews from what I can find. I like the fact that the plate mounting system is a common system used by many manufacturers and I can easily get extra plates for lenses etc. I would have liked a quick locking plate rather than having to screw it up tight, but I think this would probably be more secure anyway and the benefits of being common outweigh the negatives in my opinion. It has the 360 degree panning ability and I like that it has separate knobs for friction adjustment and locking.

    Other Options?
    I've also considered Manfrotto, but something of similar size, build and functionality (although only 8kg rating vs 12kg) is the 055CXPRO3 and that is in the order of $600 just for the legs. Also their ball heads seem to be more expensive for similar features.

    Gitzo is out of my price range unfortunately. I haven't really looked into Benbo, Slik, Feisol, V-Tec, Vanguard, Velbon or any others.

    So what do people think, have I considered what I should be? What other options might be out there that I have neglected?

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    I'm very very happy with my Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head. I wrote about it here.
    Greg
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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    I have tripods with both flip locking tabs and the (much better) twist locks.
    For speed the twist locks are much more of an advantage in speed to set up the tripod, and work well enough when you have to micro adjust each leg for uneven terrain.

    The hydraulic design of the Manfrotto 458 series is the best/fastest for setup and adjustment speed, and even though the tripod is useless for long lenses compared to a sturdier design like the Benro/gitzo carbon legs, I'll still keep that one.

    My 055 manfrotto is the redundant tripod of my three.. it'll be the one to go.... soon.

    Dirt and grit in the twist locking mechanisms is nothing to worry about. and apart from my stupidity in putting it back together again(after pulling them apart to clean them) they seem strong enough for 99.9% of the average persons usage.
    ie. they never need to be tightened too much under any circumstances.. and that includes my 300/2.8 mounted with my bag hanging off the hook for extra stability in a windy environment one day(out your way).

    if you can get the biggest J series ballhead, do so! ... I think one day you may end up appreciating that decision, long after you realize that bigger usually also means less practical too(ie. storage).

    I'm assuming that you have a small cheapo tripod now. If you need a small lightweight tripod for carry-on travel, use that if the new tripod is too big/heavy/impractical/etc.

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    Who let the rabble in? Lance B's Avatar
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    There is a Benro ebay reseller in Sydney called the Photo Shop Studio here:

    I purchased my C258 M8 Benro and KS-2 ball head from them, but I actually went to the shop rather than buy it on line as I could get to see the tripod and the head. I am very happy with it so far.

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    Well after a lot of reading and research, I finally settled on the the Benro C297 M8 Carbon Fibre and B-3 Ball head as mentioned a couple of posts above. I ended up going with eBay seller dc-stuffs and got the entire package delivered for $493 which was significantly cheaper than buying from Sydney. It arrived in about 3 business days in perfect condition.

    I used the tripod last night at an AP meet for the first time and I am really impressed with it. I found it brilliantly easy to use. The nice large ball head is very smooth and locks down nicely, the twisty legs are fantastic and overall the tripod is very user friendly.

    At this point, I highly recommend it!

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