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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Buying A New Tripod

The next purchase down the road in October 2011 is the confirmed purchase of a rock-steady Gitzo GT5541LS. This is an $850.00 ($1000.00+ CDN - I haven't been able to find it cheaper despite the strong Canadian $) US tripod. Along with that purchase I will be purchasing a Wimberley WH200 gimbal head. The gimbal head is worth about $560.00 US. I've also added the purchase of a Wimberley P20 Quick Release plate along with that purchase. This quick-release plate is roughly about $55.00 US. The Gitzo is a carbon fibre tripod which is just as strong as the aluminum it replaces. With a total load bearing weight of 55 lbs, it is designed to hold super-telephoto lenses.

Gitzo GT5541LS carbon fibre tripod

Wimberley WH-200 gimbal head

Wimberley P20 Arca-Type Quick Release Plate

Moose Peterson has often mentioned that he laughs when he hears of people buying $10,000 lenses (super-telephoto lenses (400/2.8, 500/4 and 600/4 mm lenses) and placing them on $200.00 tripods then wondering why their images aren't sharp figuring that it is a lens problem. Well. I'm placing a 70-200mm f/2.8 on a tripod designed to support a 600mm f/4 lens. I believe in the motto of "Always buy a tripod that is stronger than what you need.". That's due to the fact that as you get more experienced in photography, your "equipment support" needs change. Just keep in mind that the more you do photography, the larger your camera and your lenses become. This hobby tends to go from being a "weekend" shooter to being bitten by the "photography bug" and you tend to accumulate lenses that grow longer and heavier.

For the past 2 and a half years, I used my Nikon D50 and more recently, my D300s on the Manfrotto 190XB tripod which is weight-wise designed to only support the weight of a DSLR and a basic 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 kit lens or at the most a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR lens. I had a choice between going with a Manfrotto 055XPROB to upgrade from my previous tripod or just outright deciding on going for the top of the line Gitzo. Since my ultimate goal in the business is to get a Nikon 600mm f/4, I figured I don't want to waste $299.00 on a Manfrotto 055XPROB and not be able to support the larger lens when I acquire it.

Manfrotto 190XB with 486RC2 head (my current tripod)

Manfrotto 055XPROB

These are my tips for buying a tripod:

1. Make out a wishlist of the lenses you plan on acquiring. Be realistic though. (Since I do wildlife photography, the 600mm f/4 is a realistic option)
2. Tailor your tripod requirement to the largest lens that you want to acquire.
3. Combine the weight of your camera (add the battery grip weight if you have it) plus the added weight of the largest lens you plan to acquire. Figure out the total weight.
4. Add 10 lbs load bearing weight. (Why? Because the more weight the tripod is able to bear, the stronger and steadier the tripod becomes...) You may even have to hang a 5 lb beanbag off the bottom of the tripod main column to steady it on uneven surfaces. You don't want the tripod to collapse when you put the beanbag on.

I've been a faithful Manfrotto user. I have a 190XB tripod and a 680B monopod. But what I have found is that Manfrotto is more tailored in their larger load-bearing tripods to be a studio tripod. I don't see the flexibility that is required in a outdoor, nature photography tripod in any of Manfrotto's tripods. Even the #359 has horizontal stiffeners that will get in the way of putting your tripod in an uneven surface full of boulders and it seems as though Manfrotto is not going to design a tripod in the vein of Gitzo's GT5541LS. So thus, I am changing my loyalties. At least the 680B will support the 600mm f/4 if I ever need to use it on a monopod.

Manfrotto 680B monopod (my current monopod)

The support that you use on your lenses is perhaps the most important camera purchase that you will ever make. Your lenses may come and go, but your tripod if you buy it with careful forethought, will be the one piece of equipment that will be a constant for the entirety of your photography hobby or career.

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