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General information:

Buying a tripod is a compromise between cost, height, weight, compactness, functionality, and strength.  If you spend a lot of time backpacking, you will  be more willing to pay extra for carbon fibre or similar technologies to reduce weight.  

If you can you should try to get a tripod that  will be high enough so you don't have to bend over  too much, and realize that one should generally avoid  using the central column in a raised position as  this adds to camera movement.

Also you need a tripod that will fold down small  enough to fit into your backpack.  Studio photographers of course won't place as much  emphasis on compactness or weight but  strength, stability and height become more  important.

In general, twist mechanisms on legs are more  susceptible to getting clogged with sand. Tripods with 3 or 4 preset leg angles allow for  more precise and stable leg positions. A removable head is important as a cheap head can be frustrating as the camera moves as you tighten it.

Although carbon fibre tripods are generally lighter, they are more susceptible to abrasion and need to be treated more carefully.

I decided to go with the Feisol CT-3442 as it is only 1kg and at the end of the day, if the tripod is too heavy or too big, you wont have it with you when you need it. I also bought a matching levelling base and horizontal arm kit.

 I decided for the time being to stick with my Manfrotto 488RC4 ball head which suits the tripod nicely although really adds weight to it and you can't fold the legs around it as you can do with a Feisol head, but one day I will upgrade this.

Gitzo tripods:

Feisol CT-3441S:

Feisol CT-3442:

Tripod heads:

You also need to consider a good tripod head.  

Unless you do panoramic stitching which requires  a special head for best results, I prefer a ball head  with a quick release plate system, and preferably a  levelling bubble to help you ensure your camera  is level with the horizon. 

A pro ball head is faster to use, more stable and easier to carry than a 3-axis pan-tilt tripod head, while the better ball heads offer variable drag (tension) that makes them even easier to control. Avoid mini-balls which don't have a panning bed to allow left-right rotation.

If your camera + lens is greater than 6kg (15lb) then it is safer to use a geared head or Wimberley head rather than a ball head.

Arca Swiss compatible heads:

The common proprietary quick release plates have a flat top which cause one big problem - the camera can pivot on it, especially in the portrait position as there is no locking facility to prevent such rotation of the camera on the plate. The sole exception is the Arca-Swiss system which includes:

Each camera type requires a specific Arca Swiss compatible plate:

Panoramic heads:

Other ball heads:

If you really can't afford an Arca Swiss compatible heads and you only have a relatively small camera and lens, you can try:

Tripod levelling base:

To really get things level though, you should consider an additional levelling base which sits on your tripod and supports the tripod head. The levelling base should have a bubble level and allow you to adjust the level without having to change heights of individual tripod legs. The downside is extra cost and weight - eg. the Gitzo 1321 Levelling Base weighs about 1.5lbs. or the Gitzo GS5120VL which only fit Gitzo Systematic tripods in place of a centre column. The Manfrotto 338 levelling base weighs 0.6kg (~$A190) and unlike the Gitzo's half ball mechanism, it uses 3 dials to adjust.

As I bought the Feisol CT-3442 tripod, I bought their matching levelling base, the LB-7567 which weighs 435g and costs $US79 which seems simple to use with its half ball base and bubble level although fine adjustment may not be as easy. Looks similar to the Gitzo.

To get best results avoid using the centre column in a raised position as this is not as stable for the camera which is more likely to move in the wind. Even better, remove this centre column and your tripod will weigh less - but if you do this make sure the tripod is tall enough without it.  Alternatively, special "levelling tripods" have built in rapid levelling mechanisms.

Gitzo Al13 aluminium tripods are 30% lighter than normal aluminium, while basalt composite is 45% lighter and carbon fibre is 65% lighter. 

Let's look at a few tripods for the backpacker:

  weight (kg) size (cm) min. ht Min. ht erect Max. ht Max. load (kg).
458B Neotec 2.4 64 10 131 156 8
055MF4 MAG FIBER  4 Sections 2.0 54 11 131 165 7
055MF3 MAG FIBER 3 Sections 2.0 64 11 135 169 7
055DB BASIC 2.2 61 8 137 181 7
190MF4 MAG FIBER  4 section 1.6 46 11 114 131 4
190DB MINI BASIC 1.7 53 8 116 145 5
Gitzo 1349            
Gitzo GT2540VL levelling 4 section carbon tripod 1.7 61 32 151 172 12
Gitzo GT3540LS Systematic 4 section carbon tripod 1.7 excl. centre column kit or levelling base 55 10 146   18
Feisol CT-3441S 4 section carbon 1.0 49 19 128 178 10
Feisol CT-3301N 3 section carbon 1.2/1.4 incl. centre column 56 19 134 171 7
Feisol CT-3342 3 section carbon 1.03 59 18 142   10
Feisol CT-3442 4 section carbon 1.05 48 16 138   10

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