A Nurse with a Gun

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tripod Shopping

When I started to consider the type of photography that interests me the most, portraiture, still lifes and landscape photography, I realized that it might be time to upgrade from the aluminum tripod that I purchased years ago at the Navy Exchange. The Velbon tripod I bought back then was barely adequate, and it became a learning experience in what I wanted in a tripod.

My upgrade requirements for the legs were three section aluminum legs that could support 11 pounds of camera and glass without a shiver. I wanted to be able to shift from a vertical to horizontal arm with ease. The portability of the tripod was not as much a concern for me as stability. I am not one to hike for a day into the wilderness or about town with a tripod on my back anymore. I am, however, likely to set things up where it might be bumped by someone not paying attention. After reading reviews all over the internet, I chose the Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod Legs by Bogen for my legs. I found the best price on amazon.com.

Professional quality tripod legs do not routinely come with a head. I was used to the old twist 'em and pan 'em rod sticking out the rear of the Velbon tripod, and my technique had adapted to it. Even though I tend to erect the tripod, attach the camera, line things up and shoot, I wanted a head that adjusted easily, was compact, and functioned similarly to what I was used to. The Manfrotto 322RC2 Horizontal Grip Action Ball Head with a RC2 Rapid Connect Plate seemed to be just the ticket. I was concerned about quality of construction though. I surfed through numerous online reviews again, and when I found it was constructed of magnesium instead of plastic, I was sold. I added it to my order at amazon.

With guns, I often tell people that the sting of the price disappears long before the regret of a cheaper, inadequate choice made on the basis of price. I also tell people that putting a cheap scope on an accurate rifle results in an inaccurate rifle. The same holds true for photography support equipment. I'm still feeling the sting, but I have a feeling that it will go away as soon as I start using this set-up.

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Blogger tom said...

Ever thought of using shooting sticks for the impromptu chances at shots where you wouldn't have time to set up a proper tripod? Just curious. Idea that occurred as I read your post. Wouldn't be perfect but it'd be a lot better than nothing or seriously "improvised" rests.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Manfroto makes GOOD stuff... I use the vertical head for my spotting scope and it's survived 5 years so far.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Laughingdog said...

I do have to say that I'm very appreciative of the timing of the resurgence of your interest in photography. I was an avid B&W photographer from high school, through the Navy, until I went back to college. The damper for me was when my darkroom equipment was stolen. Taking color photos and mailing them off just didn't do the same thing for me as sitting in a darkroom, making prints from my own negatives.

It wasn't until last fall that I realized the image quality you could get from the lower end DSLRs, so I picked up a D90 with the money I got from selling a 93 Miata I had inherited.

I'm fortunate that I also inherited a bit of good camera gear as well, including a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF lens as well as a Bogen 3001 tripod with a 3028 head. It's a very sturdy tripod. But that head is not the easiest thing to work with. Granted, before reading this post, and looking up "Bogen 3028" (written on the head), I didn't even realize the head and tripod were separate pieces. I guess this means there's a chance of a better head fitting this tripod.

I do find it amusing that the newer tripods are "Manfrotto by Bogen", while my 25 year old tripod is a "Bogen by Manfrotto".

11:26 PM  
Blogger Laughingdog said...

Actually, since you're already on such a roll at getting interested in things ahead of me (1911s, bikes, cameras), do you think you could develop an interest in drums sometime this year? ;)

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

I also have one that I normally use for my spotting scope. Manfroto is very good stuff. Their quick detach system is the best I've used.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous TJP said...

I've also been trying to make the best of my camera support situation, except I'm considering going in the other direction. I also have one of those aluminum tripods, and I've been doing dusk and night shots with it. While it's quite stable, it makes all kinds of pops and creaks when deploy it, or even if I touch it.

Then there is the issue of portability. It's far easier for me to park and hoof it around town. The tripod is unbalanced on the handle when I carry it full length, and clumsy, too. That's why I'm looking at monopods. I also considered this for areas where nature produces plenty of supports.

My activity of late has been practicing how quickly I can deploy the support and take a picture.

Aside from this, I'm hitting my frustration saturation point with the lack of image quality in my digital cameras. I have a Minolta P&S and a loaner D40. The breaking point came when I compared some shots of the same subject to some 24-year-old prints made on a small-format cartridge, fixed-focus plastic-body film camera, and found them to be good as the best that could be done by a 6 MP AE/AF digital with a good lens. (Architecture, not close-range shots.)

The great DSLRs are out of my price range; for what a cheaper DSLR body costs, I can got back to an SLR, but this time a high-end metal body with a good lense. I'm going back to film until such time as rear-end coated optics abound on the used market, and hobby-grade camera manufacturers decide to again make cameras--instead of building expensive cPods full of annoying external LCD displays, dozens of poorly placed buttons and superfluous functions like video recording. I would trade all this garbage for a decent kit lens and a big CCD on an affordable DSLR.

The convenience of digital isn't so convenient when I'm retaking shots to capture the defining quality which made me decide to shoot the subject to begin with. I'm keeping my P&S for close up work, returning the D40 and going back to film. Tomorrow I troll the shops looking for golden oldies. I have to keep progressing with the material or this hobby will not last long.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Sevesteen said...

I kind of agree with Tom. When I was shooting 35mm and trying to do more than snapshots, I kept a tiny and limited tabletop tripod in my bag. The difference between having a tripod or not having one is much bigger than the difference between having a tripod and having a good tripod. I was able to get a number of unplanned shots by having some sort of tripod available. (This was especially valuable when shooting film on a limited budget--there were shots I wouldn't attempt without the extra confidence of a tripod)

At a job where we often needed tools, I carried a bicycle multi-tool that handled 95% of what we needed to do. Often a co-worker would ask if I had a tool, I'd hand it over and they would complain as they used it...I'd ask if they had better tools, the usual answer would be "In my locker". I'd tell them I've got better tools in my locker too--this is here"

I'm not saying don't get a really good tripod, but don't put off getting a tripod of some sort if you want to be at all serious about photography, and if you are carrying more than just what is attached to the camera, a mini-tripod should be part of the bag.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous speedygonzales said...


12:25 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Do what ever Thom Hogan says:

3:16 PM  
Anonymous TJP said...


I thought about it and realized that someone might come away with an impression from my last reply that I think a plastic film P&S shoots better pictures than a D40. I would deservedly gain a reputation as a crank if I didn't point out that my criticism was aimed at the lack of resolving power in a 6 MP sensor compared to film, not that the old film camera was a superior instrument; e.g. the CCD will make think power lines and branches disappear, but the Nikon exposure system and lens quality is still far superior when within the resolving power of the sensor.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Brigid said...

Xavier - I take my photos with a plain old Fujifilm S3100. Staging and lighting is everything, so with that I can get some great pictures but just shooting it "off the cuff" so to speak they're not as good.

What camera would you recommend as a next step for me and at around $500-$600. Thanks! Brigid

11:02 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Wow Brigid! Your photography is beautiful. I feel like Renoir just asked me which brush to use.

If you are already shooting film, my recommendation is a fully manual camera and a separate light meter. Seriously. If you have never shot that way, you have no idea what an incredible learning experience it can be.

I would advise you to go on ebay and buy a Nikon F with a 50mm f1.2 AiS lens, and a quality light meter. Try to pick up an inexpensive waist level viewfinder as well.

Once you experience total control and responsibility for the image, there is no going back. Even auto focus and TTL metering seems to get in your way.

The best advice I ever got in photography is the same I got in shooting. 99.999% of the time, it aint the gun that's the problem. In photography, it ain't the camera or the lens. It's the person using it, who fails to maximize it's potential.

A fully manual camera gets completely out of your way.

The reason i recommend the Nikon F with this particular lens is if you later decide to go to a DSLR, the lens can be used on the DSLR in manual mode. The Nikon F will hold it's value, and if you decide to sell it later (doubtful) you will get your money back if you got a decent deal to start with.

Don't worry about a functional Photomic viewfinder on the Nikon, just get a good hand held light meter. Taking readings by hand really teaches you to "see" light.

Ok, just googled it, and I see the Fujifilm S3100 is a digital......

Scratch the above advice, unless you really want to shoot film.

I like Nikon because of the lenses and the fact you can use the old manual lenses on a DSLR. If you go to adorama.com, you can find used DSLRs for fair prices, with a guarantee. They rate their used equipment fairly, and have a good reputation. Rather than chose a camera for the electronics, I would chose it for the solidity of the body. That means a D200 in the lower ranges. At adorama they start around $600 for the body. The thing is, it will last you the rest of your life. It's a tank. It will be the last one you need. The D40, D50 and D60 have plastic bodies. The D200 is CNC magnesium.

Lenses are available from adorama, but generally less expensive on ebay, especially manual lenses. I like a 18-50 or so zoom, a 50mm with a fast apreture, and a 70-210. One lens that does everything generally doesn't let in enough light for me. I prefer not to use a flash at all.

If you want a digital point & shoot, I just picked up a Nikon refurbished Nikon Coolpix S52 for a hundred bucks at adorama. They still have them in stock. Its incredibly slim, 9 megapixels, and gives great photos. The battery is proprietory, so order an extra one.

I was using a Canon Powershot point & shoot before I got my D200, and this little Nikon camera makes the Canon look like a pulpwood truck beside a Ferrari. I'm going to be blogging on it soon.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Ruminator said...

I have a Manfroto (sp?) that I really like. I also have a pistol-grip ball head, but I like the one you selected better -- the horizontal grip puts the center of mass much lower and it's a better design. I need to replace mine.

I thought about an Arca-Swiss ball head, but they're quite proud of them. If you haven't been to Really Right Stuff, you should visit their website. Recommended.

On a side note, I saw the comment a few weeks ago about your "departure" from strictly gun-related posts and images. It's your weblog and you are free to post anything you damned-well please. I like the gun posts and the images, so I think I'll stick around, if that's OK. It's kinda like wandering into someone's living room that you kinda know but don't, and then they offer you a beer and a shot at the nachos too.


9:59 PM  
Blogger tom said...

I may be a heathen, but I still use my SRT-201 (made out of honest to god metal with a proper fabric shutter) and I sometimes use irons on rifles...

I'd never thought about shooting sticks before this for a camera but I don't see why they wouldn't help and they are super fast to deploy.

Like anything else. USE ENOUGH GUN. (or related tools if yer just taking pics.) Express sights aren't as nice as a Swaro, but if they get the job done properly, it's a lot better than not having anything...

Like the old adage..."Everything is as good as you feel comfortable spending, but you can do a lot with a lot less than the top line if you can deploy it faster".

1:29 AM  
Blogger Brigid said...

Thanks!. I just know I can do a little better than this now that I've got the hang of the lighting and such.

I appreciate all the information.

4:24 PM  

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