A good tripod is one of those essentials that every photographer has to have in their arsenal. Even those posh lenses (or cameras) with image stabilisation occasionally require additional support. The requirement for good depth of field, especially when photographing scale models, usually means that with long exposure times at large ƒ-stops, a good sturdy tripod is all but essential.
I have two tripods. They’re both different, and have different strengths and weaknesses. There are plenty of good quality tripods out there by other well-known manufacturers, so please read the following as my own personal experience with the products I mention. The usual disclaimers ought to go here about there being many other reputable tripod manufacturers whose products are readily available through the usual channels, etc, etc.
The largest tripod I own is a Uni-Loc 1700. (I’ve removed the link since the Uni-Loc stocks seem to have disappeared since originally posting.)
…the smallest of the System range of heavy duty tripods designed to cater for both professional and amateur user. The 3 leg sections mean it has a smaller closed size and is lighter in weight. Constructed from rigid aluminium alloy tubing and high impact nylon moulding, the tripods incorporate fully sealed lower leg sections with tough spiked feet, making them equally at home in the studio environment as well as outdoors even when immersed in mud and water. The single curved bolt and locking lever allows independent movement of each tripod leg and centre column, allowing the tripod to be locked into almost any position. The result is an extremely rigid tripod, versatile enough to be used on the most uneven terrain.
It’s a beast, to be sure. Coupled with the ball-joint camera mount, there’s virtually no position in which you cannot hold a camera. In fact, it’s really easy to locate the camera in positions where you are simply unable to look through the viewfinder, let alone operate without remote release or tethered to a computer! Despite being made from aluminium, this tripod is heavy, which is great for studio work where a rock steady platform is essential. The single locking/unlocking system is excellent, save it really does unlock the whole system, legs and central column at once — think wrestling bagpipes, then consider wrestling bagpipes when you have some expensive camera gear attached at one end, and you’ll have a pretty good idea! The system is awkward to set up in confined spaces, although being able to swing a leg up to a wall for stability is not to be sneezed at. If only I was still that flexible!
So, on the positive side, the Uni-Loc or Benbo systems are sturdy, versatile and rugged. On the negative side, they’re quite pricy, hard to set up without practice, and hefty to lug about. I used the Uni-Loc on some landscape work last year, and that alone set my mind on purchasing something a whole lot more portable for when I’m lugging the camera bag and a tripod more than a few metres from my car!
After some research into a lighter tripod system (essentially posting a budget limit and asking for recommendations on a forum), I came down on the Giottos MT 9242 tripod. That particular link will take you to a page with the current (June 2010) version of the MT 9242. While you’re rummaging, check out the MH 5001 three-way head, and MH 1302 ball head, because I’ve added one each of those after a while. (In this case, I’ve not linked directly to the Giottos web site, because it’s framed, which means I can’t link directly to the product page. How 20th century!)
MT professional classic tripod series made from classic aluminum by a precision manufacturing process, elaborately assembled by hand to assure the maximum stability and for maximum security. They are feature black and silver fleck hammered paint finish. The center column can be reversed to position the camera upside down. With Non-slip foam rubber sleeves, Non-slip shoulder strap, carrying bag and bubble level and compass. All the MT series have quick releases for individual leg spread at different angles.
I know this will sound like a completely Appleista thing to say, but from the moment I opened the box, I was struck by the thought that the design and manufacture of this tripod would not have been out of place if it had come from my preferred fruit-flavoured computer manufacturer. Please don’t bite my head off for saying that. If you haven’t experienced unpacking any Apple hardware, you won’t have a clue what I mean, and I’ll sound like a complete loon! Suffice it to say there’s a lot of thought gone into the Giottos range, from the packaging to the product, and I am still amazed at the value for money and the build quality. I bought it over a year ago, paid less than £90 (three-way head extra), and got a shoulder strap, weatherproof carry bag and a little toolkit as well as the tripod. I can’t recommend Giottos kit highly enough for anyone wanting a light, sturdy and well-made tripod that doesn’t cost the earth.
On the positive, then, the MT 9242 is a tripod I’m happy to sling over my shoulder in its carry bag or not, and trek across fields or set up in an exhibition hall. I carry it around in the back of my car, something I never did with the Uni-Loc. If there is a negative to the Giottos, it is that it’s not possible to get the camera over a layout — something very easy with the bagpipesUni-Loc. Oh, and you can’t tilt the camera up and down when the head is set in portrait mode. (I did find I could fit the Uni-Loc ball head to the Giottos base unit, though.)
That’s it for this post. Next time, I’ll consider the efficacy of UV filters for DSLR lenses. Thanks for reading.