Photo used with permission © 2011 Martha Wells. All Rights Reserved.
OK, let get down to brass tacks, or in this case, tripods and ball heads.
Teaching photo workshops as we do, we run into tons of questions about equipment.
“What camera should I buy?”
“What lens(es) should I bring?”
I was looking at a review on …”
Rarely, however, do people consult with us on tripods and ball heads ahead of time. In spite of our previous blog on this subject, updated several times since it was originally posted in February of 2009 and an article to which we have directed all our participants since it was published, people rarely ask us for any input on tripods and ball heads.
Are we the do-all-end-all in advice? Of course not, but Arnie and I made our living for decades as full-time working professional photographers, and as such, we know what works. And as long-time teachers, we have seen the frustrations of those who try to “save” money.
“I just spent $X on my camera, and those things are expensive.”
Yes, they are, no question, but it’s rather akin to filters. Why would you put a $20-30 filter on an expensive lens? After all, your lens is only as good as the weakest piece of glass on it. Yup, you’ve got it. That expensive lens is now only as good as the glass in that cheap $20-30 filter.
Is there any difference when you contemplate buying a tripod and ball head? You spend, let’s say, $3,000 on a camera body and some lenses. That’s conservative in many cases. And you buy a flimsy, $125 combo deal on sale? Your $3,000 investment isn’t very safe on that I’ve-saved-money piece of … er … well, you know what I might have said. That is not to say that getting something on sale or second hand isn’t a good way to go, BUT …
We are always amazed that people will spend thousands of dollars on a high-end camera and lenses but skimp on their tripod and head. Having a substandard system for your camera and lenses is worse than having no tripod at all. We have seen cameras fall on rocks, head for the drink or briny deep, teeter off porches, and a host of other mishaps. Fortunately for our students, the cameras were caught or rescued in the nick of time, but — and this is a BIG BUT — they were really lucky!
And then, there have been those who were not so lucky. Fortunately, they were in the minority.
Photo used with permission © 2011 Laura Adler Palka. All Rights Reserved.
“OK,” you ask, “what should I buy?”
The first answer is, “Get the best you can afford.” That is obviously a simplistic answer, so we’ll delve further.
First, weigh your camera and your heaviest lens. Add a few pounds in case you want to buy an even heavier lens later on. Both your tripod and head should be rated to handle that weight with a margin of safety of at least another couple of pounds!
We generally recommend looking for something with a load capacity of an absolute minimum of 14 pounds — 18 is much better — for a dSLR camera, and considerably more if you have a medium-format or larger camera.
In the long run, it is cheaper to buy a good system than an entry-level one. So many of our participants have skimped and ended up more than frustrated with their equipment. They ultimately buy something better, and guess what? They wasted their money on that first system. Realistically, however, budgets are budgets, and each person has to weigh those decisions.
Carbon-fiber tripods are lighter, but they are more expensive than the standard metal ones. That said, the prices are coming down every time you turn around. Wait for a sale.
There are features we like to see in a tripod, to wit: Continue reading