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  • first, what NOT to buy:
    • there is no such thing as a cheap, lightweight & sturdy tripod - so beware and avoid false economy and wasting your money - perhaps decide first on which tripod head you want THEN a tripod to match.
    • a large heavy tripod may be fine for a studio or for the 600mm f/4 lenses but in reality, you won't be taking them places so get something a bit more portable.
  • should you pay extra for carbon fibre?
    • “Just about all the “big name” nature pros have switched to carbon fiber tripods. If you have to carry them far in the field, the lower weight is a big advantage. You still can't beat the Bogen 3021 ($100) for value if cost is an issue. There's no doubt that carbon fiber tripods are better in just about every way (stability, weight) than similar aluminum tripods. Only you and your wallet can decide if they are worth the extra cost.”
    • the newer Feisol tripods may represent a good buy for advanced amateurs who need light weight, good quality tripods.
    • if you sit on a carbon fibre leg, it will break!
  • if you are doing bird/wildlife photography with Canon or Nikon monster lenses such as 500-600mm f/4:
    • gimbal type head:
      • the reason gimbal heads work so well is principally that they support the camera in such a way as to allow all the movements to be about the centre of gravity, so that the system is perfectly balanced at all times - something generally not possible with conventional heads.
      • Wimberley Head II
      • Wimberley Sidekick
        • designed to fit into the quick release plate of a heavy duty ball head such as a Markins M20
        • 0.6kg plus the ball head, so only a little lighter than the Wimberley head II
        • more compact and can easily take off the tripod 
        • OK for 500mm f/4 but perhaps not a 600mm f/4
      • Manfrotto 393 (Bogen 3421):
    • heavy duty but not too heavy tripod:
      • Gitzo G1548 - sturdy but heavy 3kg
      • Gitzo GT3530S - adequate for an IS 500mm f/4 and only 1.8kg.
  • if you have a kit similar to the 3kg total of Canon 1D series dSLR with a 70-200mm f/2.8L lens then:
    • there are 2 main recommendations:
      • heavy duty pro work:
        • ball head:
        • tripod to match:
          • heavy (can be used with a Wimberley head for 400mm f/2.8 lenses): 
            • Gitzo G1410 3.8kg, 19-164cm, packs to 76cm, 3 sections, no centre column, supports 16kg; systematic
            • Gitzo GT5540LS 3kg, 14-151cm, packs to 60cm, 4 sections, supports 25kg; ~$US785
            • Gitzo GT5560SGT 3.4kg, 27-260cm, packs to 73cm, 6 sections, supports 25kg; 
          • standard (for a 500mm f/4 or 200-500mm f/4 lens): 
            • Gitzo G1340 (aa)  2.9kg, 11-153cm, packs to 72cm, 3 sections, no centre column, supports 10kg
            • Gitzo GT3530S (cf) 1.8kg, 10-128cm, packs to 61cm, 3 sections, no centre column, supports 18kg ~$US560
            • Gitzo GT3530LSV (cf) 1.8kg, 11-148cm, packs to 67cm, 3 sections, supports 18kg $A1369
            • Gitzo GT3540 (cf) 2kg, 36-161cm, packs to 55cm, 4 sections, supports 18kg.
              • Manfrotto 055MF4 (mf) 2kg, 11-165cm, packs to 54cm, 4 sections, supports 7kg 
              • Manfrotto Neotec 458B 2.4kg, 10-156cm, packs to 64cm, 3 sections, supports 6kg
            • Gitzo GT3540L (cf) 2.1kg, 39-181cm, packs to 60cm, 4 sections, supports 18kg. ~$US775
            • Gitzo GT3540LS $A1369 w/o column see here
            • Gitzo GT3540XLS (cf) 2kg, 10-198cm, packs to 70cm, 4 sections, supports 18kg $A1499 w/o column
          • lightweight (will take a 500mm f/4.5 but only just and not in the wind):
            • Gitzo GT2530 (cf) 1.4kg, 33-161cm, packs to 65cm, 3 sections, supports 12kg  ~$US520
              • supersedes the very popular G1227 & G1257
            • Gitzo GT2540 (cf) 1.4kg, 29-156cm, packs to 56cm, 4 sections, supports 12kg
            • Gitzo GT 2540LVL (cf) 1.66kg, 32-172cm, packs to 61cm, 4 sections $US745
            • Gitzo GT2540EX (cf) 1.8kg, 0-164cm, packs to 57cm, 4 sections, supports 12kg $A1229
            • Feisol CT-3442 (cf) 1kg ~$US300 - this seemed to be the best value for money tripod that is also light and compact, so I decided on buying this one over the Gitzo models.
            • Feisol CT-3342 (cf) 1kg ~$US300
      • when compact size & lighter weight is a consideration for travel or bushwalking:
        • Acratech GV2 ballhead or RRS BH-25LR ball head
        • either:
          • hiking:
            • Gitzo GT1540 (cf) 1.12kg, 29-159cm, packs to 54cm, 4 sections, supports 8kg
            • Feisol CT-3442 (cf) 1kg, packs to 48cm, supports 10kg ~$US300
            • Feisol CT-3342 (cf) 1kg, packs to 59cm, supports 10kg ~$US300
          • compact travel:
            • Gitzo GT1540T (cf) 1kg, 36-140cm, packs to 39cm, 4 sections, removable centre column for ground level, max. 4.5kg;
            • Manfrotto 190MF4 (mf) 1.6kg, 11-131cm, packs to 46cm, 4 sections, supports 4kg
            • Feisol CT-3442 (cf) 1kg packs to 48cm, supports 10kg ~$US300
              • Feisol make a ball head that allows the legs to fold back over it for even more compact storage.
    • in either case you will also need:
      • RRS plate for lens (and another for the camera when not using this lens)
      • and optionally:
        • RRS L-plate for portrait/landscape for each camera (highly recommended)
        • Gitzo G1321 levelling base (check tripod compatibilities)
        • panoramic mounts (see below)
        • other accessories (see below)

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:

  • Gitzo classify their tripods into series (this is the 3rd digit of the product code ie. the digit after GT) according to the diameter of the 1st tube:
    • Series 00 (tabletop) = 16mm ⇒ max. load ~3kg - for compact cameras, dSLRs with up to 75mm lenses
    • Series 0 (weekend) = 20mm ⇒ max. load ~4.5-5kg - for compact cameras, dSLRs with up to 75-135mm lenses
    • Series 1 (sport) = 24mm ⇒ max. load 5.5-8kg - for compact cameras, dSLRs with up to 135-200mm lenses
    • Series 2 (reporter) = 28mm ⇒ max. load 8.5-12kg - for dSLRs with up to 200-300mm lenses
    • Series 3 (studex) = 32mm ⇒ max. load 12.5-18kg - for medium format, pro-dSLRs
    • Series 4 (pro studex) = 37mm ⇒ max. load 16kg (aa)
    • Series 5 (tele studex) = 41mm ⇒ max. load 20-25kg
    • max. load ranges given relate to lower end being for aluminium alloy (aa) and higher end for carbon fibre (cf) with basalt in the middle. Gitzo also have a new material Soulid 238 developed in 2006.
  • if purchasing a Gitzo tripod head, it should be of the same series as the tripod for best compatibility, however, you may prefer to purchase a RRS tripod head instead.
  • a tripod's torsional angle should be smaller than the viewing angle of the lens being used
    • a 200mm lens in 35mm terms has a view angle of 12deg and should be used on a Series 2 tripod or higher, otherwise extra care needs to be taken to avoid strong winds
    • a 300mm lens should be used on a Series 3 tripod or higher;
    • a 400mm lens should be used on a Series 4 tripod or higher;
    • a 500mm lens should be used on a Series 5 tripod;
  • Gitzo further classify their tripods according to features & identified by the suffix (in brackets):
    • traveller (T) - compact, lightweight with 180deg leg folding mechanism making it 25% shorter for packing it away.
    • levelling (LVL) - in-built levelling of tripod head
    • explorer (EX) - versatile, ability to use centre column as horizontal arm
    • traditional
    • systematic (S) - customisable; ultra-wide platform;
    • geared (G)
  • Gitzo code according to material by using the 4th digit of the code (ie. the 2nd digit after the GT):
    • basalt = 9
    • carbon fibre = 5
    • aluminium = 2 
  • the 5th digit of the Gitzo code is how many sections in the legs.
  • within each category their are a range of options based on material used and maximum height

Feisol tripods

Feisol CT-3441S:

  • twist lock carbon fibre travel tripod weighing 1kg and max. load of 10kg with leg diameter of 28mm.
  • folds to 43cm, extends to 128cm or 178cm with extended centre column.
  • optional short column allows min. height of 19cm

Feisol CT-3442:

  • looks a good, versatile, light, compact travel/bushwalking tripod that could potentially be used up to a 500mm f/4 lens on a dSLR as long as it was not windy.
  • twist lock carbon fibre travel tripod weighing 1.05kg and max. load of 10kg with leg diameter of 28mm.
  • folds to 48cm, extends to 138cm or higher with extended optional centre column.
  • min. height of 16cm
  • $US299-309
  • improvements over the older CT 3401N:
    • uses a higher grade carbon fibre to increase stiffness and reduce weight
    • max load increased by ~43% (7kg to 10kg)
    • lighter by 200 – 300 grams (1/2 to 3/4 pound)
    • the legs can folded upward to surround the ball head to reduce the overall folded length (only works with their new CB-50D head)
  • optional accessories include:
    • CT-3442CC centre column kit $US39 weighs 200g
    • horizontal adapter - I presume its the PB-70HA $US49 209g  (the PB-70HA kit includes a centre column at $US85)
    • panning base - I presume its the PB-70 $US39 170g (this appears to be part of the horizontal adapter kit)
    • CB-50D ball head plus QP-144750 quick release plate $US159 760g in box, extra plates $US19
      • location of knobs 120deg apart allows this tripod to reverse its legs and fold it compactly.
      • other heads that *may* allow legs to fold (this needs verifying) include:
        • Kirk BH-3, Markins M10
      • nb. uses a M6 screw to attach QR clamp to ball thus not compatible with other manufacturer's QR clamps
    • CB-70H ball head plus QP-144750 quick release plate $US245 1300g in box, extra plates $US19
    • levelling base LB-7567
    • long or short leg spikes

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:

  • original Arca Swiss monoball
  • newer Arca-Swiss:
    • B1:
      • historically the most popular head of all times, especially for advanced amateurs and many professionals
      • it's expensive, but rugged, and handles heavy cameras and lenses with ease. 
      • has a tendency to lock up unexpectedly due to its elliptical design
    • B1E
    • B1G
    • Markin M20L 
    • NB. many feel Markin make the best plates
    • BH-55:
      • one of the best heads if weight not important & better than the Arca Swiss B1 although need to swap hands to pan
      • recommends the lever clamp version which is $US455 and weighs 861g
      • ? incompatibilities with lever clamp version & some plates (eg. Markins, Arca Swiss)
    • BH-40:
    • BH-25:
      • designed mainly for macro work; max. load ~4kg, ideal for dSLR with up to 200mm macro lens; 
      • also useful for lightweight backpacking with Gitzo 0-Series and 1-Series tripods
        • the BH-25 with the Gitzo G1027 Mountaineer carbon fiber tripod combined weighs just a hair over 2 lbs.
        • BH-25LR ~$US175 and weighs 221g.
      • for travel, consider the BH-25 Pro on a set of Gitzo 1158T Traveler. 
        • The unique legs on the G1158T fold back over themselves, creating a collapsed length that is 2“ shorter.
        • Collapsed length of G1158T with BH-25 Pro = 18'
        • BH-25Pro ~$US145 and weighs 186g
  • Graf’s large, older model Studioball
  • Foba’s Superball Quick Release ballhead
  • Foba’s Mini-Superball
  • Kirk’s BH-1
  • F & L Photo’s P1-Q
  • the following can be modified to fit Arca Swiss:
    • Linhof Profi II and Linhof Profi III
    • Giotto ballheads,
    • Gitzo’s G1377M
  • unfortunately you cannot modify Slik, Manfrotto, or Kaiser ballheads.

Each camera type requires a specific Arca Swiss compatible plate:

  • NB. RRS ball heads with lever release clamps are ONLY compatible with plates by RRS or Wimberley.
  • eg. RRS plate for a Canon 1D series dSLR costs ~$US55 (B57) and for a L plate costs ~$US183 (B57L).
  • or RRS B86 plate ($US55) for Ring B or C collared Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lenses
  • other accessories:
    • RRS's L-plate that makes portrait vs landscape much easier.
    • flash mounting brackets eg. for Metz flash
    • precision macro focusing rails
    • camera bar can be used for:
      • macro focusing rail
      • copy stand rack
      • multiple cameras mounted for stereography
      • as a boom to assist in positioning your camera
      • with a end rail to create a support for camera and long lens simultaneously

Panoramic heads:

  • although you could use a ball head with a panning bed at its base, mounted on a levelling base but then you have to level the base and then level the camera on the ball head.
  • alternatively, get a special panning head:
    • RRS PCL-1 panning clamp ~$US235
      • this can be used on a levelling base or levelling tripod
      • this can be placed ON TOP of your RRS ball head via the PCL-DVTL dovetail mount which means only the panning clamp needs to be made level and you can remove it at ease
  • in addition, to ensure the lens nodal point is exactly over the centre of the tripod, you need a nodal slide:
    • RRS MPR-CL ~$US110
    • RRS MPR-CL II for longer lenses
  • in addition, if you wish to shoot in portrait position to get more sky in, you need a RRS L-plate
  • if however, you wish to do multiple row panoramas then just get the following package:
    • RRS Ultimate-Pro Omni-Pivot Package ~$US800 & 1.15kg
      • once you have set your lens nodal point, you then just set it sequentially for each row and then pan left to right.
  • see also:

automatic motorized panoramic tripod heads


  • just set it up and it will do the panorama for you and take the shots as needed
  • GigaPan:
    • 360deg range of movement;
      • introduced in 2010;
      • can hold camera and lens to 10lbs;
      • works with almost all digital DSLR cameras introduced after 2004
      • onboard bubble level for horizontal alignment
      • can do up to 20 shots per position;
      • can take up to 20 photos per minute allowing for 2 sec camera delay setting to allow vibrations to settle
      • -65/+90 tilt range of motion with precision incremental movement
      • adjustable features include: start delay (15sec-5min), time per photo before moves to next position, time between exposures (0-3sec), motor speed (slow, med, fast), aspect ratio (1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9), mirror lockup time, time lapse (0sec-99 days) for time between panaromas, and picture overlap (25-75% with 30% being default)
      • camera mounting: “Slide the camera rail so that the mass of the camera and lens is centered over the axis of rotation so that the EPIC Pro can easily move the lens and is less susceptible to external forces such as wind or vibration from vehicles. If you are photographing subjects that are closer with a medium to small mass lens you may opt to adjust the lens so that the optical center is centered at the axii of rotation. This choice affects the adjustment of the rail forward or backward. It does not effect the height adjustment, which will be adjusted to the center of the lens or as close as possible.”
      • requires RM-UC1 camera trigger cable for Olympus E-30, E-620, etc
      • requires Canon N3 trigger cable for N3-compatible dSLRs
      • 7.25lb / 3.3kg with 7.2V, 4300mAH rechargeable battery; $895
    • EPIC 100:
      • introduced in 2010;
      • can hold smaller dSLR/mirrorless cameras and is compatible with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera
      • 6 AA-sized Batteries
      • can do up to 9 shots per position;
      • some cameras cannot use the mechanical shutter button pusher - eg. Canon Rebel/Xt series dSLRs and these need the trigger cable
      • 4lb / 1.3kg; $449

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:

  • In the Manfrotto range, the 488 or 468 RC4 would  be nice but it is a bit big & heavy for hiking and the new hydrostatic one is some $A580 while the older style is some $A440 and suffers from movement of the camera when tightening the knob. For digital work on hikes, the smaller, lighter 484 or 486 RC2 may suffice but  neither have a levelling bubble, and will  not be stable enough for medium format cameras but at a much more affordable $A165 and $A105 respectively may be the best option.

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 MARKET:MKT2||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.

    • RRS tutorial recommends the Gitzo 1321 as THE ONLY levelling base worth buying BUT it is only compatible with certain Gitzo tripods
    • but now suggests the Gitzo GS5120LVL if you have the Gitzo Systematic series tripod (GT3530S, GT3530LSV).

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. htMin. ht erectMax. htMax. load (kg).
458B Neotec2.464101311568
055MF4 MAG FIBER  4 Sections2.054111311657
055MF3 MAG FIBER 3 Sections2.064111351697
055DB BASIC2.26181371817
190MF4 MAG FIBER  4 section1.646111141314
190DB MINI BASIC1.75381161455
Gitzo 1349      
Gitzo GT2540VL levelling 4 section carbon tripod1.7613215117212
Gitzo GT3540LS Systematic 4 section carbon tripod1.7 excl. centre column kit or levelling base5510146 18
Feisol CT-3441S 4 section carbon1.0491912817810
Feisol CT-3301N 3 section carbon1.2/1.4 incl. centre column56191341717
Feisol CT-3342 3 section carbon1.035918142 10
Feisol CT-3442 4 section carbon1.054816138 10

tips from the net:

  • Some people don't like the Gitzo leg locks.
    • Gitzo's twist-lock although not as quick to setup as Bogen/Manf.'s snap-lock, is still very nice and easy.
    • There is a trick to this: do not over-tighten the locks! If you do, ultimately, it will require even more tightening, etc., and become more annoying. Tighten the locks one quarter turn past when you first feel resistance, and that's it. Also, extend the leg locks working from the lowest lock first, untwist that, extend, go up the tripod leg. If anything slips, slightly tighten the upper locks. Reverse the procedure to collapse.
    • “They use a rotating collar lock design with very few parts (so they don't break) and which can be taken apart and cleaned in the field with no tools. There's also nothing sicking out from the legs to catch on branches, cameras straps etc. That's the good part. The bad part is that you have to tighten them in the right order and with the right tension or the legs can be a real pain to extend. If you don't tighten the top one enough and overtighten the lower one, then when you try to losen the lower leg lock, the upper leg rotates, not the lock. You can have endless fun trying to extend all the sections. Evetually you can learn the right tightning sequence and tension, but you will still long for the Bogen “flip” locks which take seconds to operate, not minutes. However the Bogen locks sometimes come loose (requiring a nut driver and scredriver to tighten) and they occasionally break, so they aren't perfect either.”
  • Some people don't like the Bogen/Manf.'s snap-lock as fingers always get pinched opening the leg lock.
  • Induro's new tripods:
    • C413:
      • sling mounting point may break in heavy use
      • should use supplied wrench to ensure interchangeable metal spike feet don't vibrate undone and get lost.
      • no top plate so that the center column can be removed.
      • the large leg release grips were found to work well, even when wet or cold.
  • monopods for wildlife photography:
    • Gitzo G1564 aluminium alloy monopod or G1568/G1588 (carbon fiber) monopod minus their round platform
      • PLUS Bogen #3232 (Manfrotto #234) swivel to allow portrait vs landscape shooting
      • PLUS RRS B2-Pro clamp
    • Gitzo's Monotrek - also doubles as a trekking pole
  • making your camera even more stable:
    • avoid using your centre column
    • ensure legs are firmly planted, spiked legs are even better
    • don't extend the legs if you don't have to
    • put downward pressure on your lens above the tripod mount with your hand or a bean bag
    • add weight to the setup by hanging rocks or camera bag
    • use an eyecup and press eye against it to further stabilise camera
    • use a cable release, remote release or self timer
    • use mirror lockup
    • use a lens tripod mount rather than the camera tripod mount if available
photo/tripods.txt · Last modified: 2018/12/08 09:56 by gary1

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