Believe it or not, the tripod is the best image stabiliser on the market. So why haven’t you got one? They come in all shapes and sizes and you’ll easily find one that will suit your travel, studio or video needs.
A tripod will let you shoot in lower light without having to raise the ISO and compromise image quality. Being able to stop down the lens to increase depth of field is another advantage, one that results in slower shutter speeds, too — read Jackie Ranken’s informative article in issue 21 for more on this.
Slotting your camera onto a tripod will also let you keep the horizon level, and in some cases give you higher or lower camera angles than you are used to when shooting hand held.
Most tripods consist of a head, a centre pillar and three telescoping legs. The length of the legs varies from model to model, as does the height of the centre column.
Heads on budget models are mainly fixed to the column, but more expensive tripods have the ability to change heads for different purposes and more than likely have a quick release plate that locks to the bottom of your camera then slides onto the head.
Having a quick release will save you time if you use more than one camera. Instead of needing to transfer plates from one camera to the other you simply have one plate on each camera.
Most heads offer three-way pan tilt action with up to three levers for control. Each lever will twist to lock and unlock the function it is performing. Ball and socket heads are the exception as they generally have only two locking controls. The beauty of these heads is that they are usually compact and fast to use. The leg locks will vary from screw type to cam type locking clasps. If you work in a wet or gritty environment then the clasp type locks will work better than screw ones, which tend to trap tiny particles.
Rigid carbon fibre is a material that offers the best compromise between weight and strength — but at a price. They aren’t always the lightest tripods available but they are definitely the most durable. If you have ever experienced the ˜gentle’ breeze that wafts about the lower North Island then you’ll know a lightweight tripod can be easily blown over. If your kit has medium format cameras then the Velbon Sherpa Pro CF-830 and Slik Grand Pro CF-4 carbon fibre models that can hold cameras up to 10kg and 14kg respectively will be on your wish list.
Now that most of us are using smaller cameras a large tripod isn’t all that necessary, so a more compact portable model will suit better. Manfrotto makes a delicious little unit with the catchy ˜Modo’ moniker.
The Modo 785B has a fantastic pistol grip control with quick release that is ideal for any digital compact or small SLR. The grip has a thumb-activated lock that lets you release and twist the head to the position you want then press the lock closed for your shot. It’s like a video game controller to use.
The Manfrotto Super Clamp is one device that may help you when space is at a premium. It lets you screw a mini ball and socket head to it and then you can clamp it to any pipe or post. This includes turning everyday items like the tubes on your mountain bike or the tow ball on your car into a tripod.
Travel tripods are big at the moment. They are little compacts with flexi legs or short telescoping ones that give you a little elevation above the barbeque table you are using and afford you some extra height. The Gorilla Pod is in this category and comes in different sizes for bigger or smaller cameras. The larger models let you attach a separate head for more adjustment and will happily hold a small SLR. The Gorilla is designed to be wrapped around a branch or fence post to allow you to take your shot.
Photographic projects such copying old photos or macro photography — where you have to be as close to your subject as possible — means tripods can be of real benefit, even if your prey is on the ground.
For this you’ll need a tripod with a head that can be inverted or moved as close to the subject as possible. Some centre columns come out of the middle of the tripod and then flip over and can be inserted from the bottom, allowing the head and camera to be slung underneath. Manfrotto makes self-levelling models such as the 058B Triaut that releases the legs and can be quickly levelled (thanks to the inbuilt bubble level) with just one locking mechanism.
You’ve gone to the beach and left the tripod by the door of the garage, so how do you shoot that sunset? Think outside the square. If it’s warm enough, ball up your jersey and cradle your camera in the middle of it then trip the shutter by using your self-timer. This ensures your hands are free of the camera to reduce camera movement. If you have a car, make use of the windows by putting the camera on the outside of the vehicle with the strap through the window. Wind the window up so the camera strap is firmly stuck — hey presto, instant tripod. It is a little hit and miss and it might take two people to operate, but it’s better than having no tripod at all. You could even use a garden fork. Thrust the fork into firm ground, tie the strap to the handle and then make your shots using the self-timer.
What if I own a video camera?
The thread is the same on all tripods, but video tripods have a shorter screw and usually a locating pin so the camera won’t spin when you pan. A surprising number of tripods cater for both types of camera with a three-way head that pans and tilts, as well as a spring-loaded retracting pin that ducks back into the head when a still camera is fastened to it. Sony has some cool models with remote controls built into the handle, which allows you to zoom and, in some cases, pan without having to fiddle with locks. Take a look at the Sony VTC870RM remote control tripod.
Mono el Mono
The monopod is a lightweight tool that shouldn’t be confused as an alternative to the tripod. Rather, a monopod works alongside the tripod, acting as a support when a tripod would be too cumbersome. They’re great for sports photography when using large lenses for extended periods of time.
Should I own one?
Yes. True, a tripod is yet another piece of kit to lug around, so if you spend hours tramping to your shoot location then a heavy tripod is the last thing you will want to carry unless you’ve enlisted a Sherpa as a porter. However, everyone should own this essential photographic tool, you just have to determine what will best suit your needs. I’d advise you to get the best you can afford, but if you only use a tripod occasionally then a budget model may well fit the bill.
It may be that boring bit of kit that you only use every once in a while, but a tripod of some sort is the best image stabilizer on the market. Don’t forget to turn off your electronic image stabilizer when you mount your camera to a tripod, and if you don’t have a remote or cable release then make use of your self-timer for good and steady shooting.
The old Rule about tripods was simple: Buy the heaviest one you could afford, or if money was no object, the heaviest one you could carry.
But who needs a tripod anyway? Answer: Anyone who wants sharper pictures, particularly in low light. It isn’t until you’ve compared the pictures taken with a camera tightly attached to a solid tripod with those taken by a handheld camera, that you fully appreciate the difference.
Although camera manufacturers are economising on some built-in camera accessories, such as cable releases and flash shoes, tripod sockets are so simple that most still build them into the bottom of their products.
Cullman’s 3430 tripod is part of its Stativ-System 3000 range — all nicely finished, heavy-duty jobs.
The 3430 is designed primarily for video cameras, but is perfectly usable with digital or film still cameras. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a tripod designed to hold a slightly larger camera than the one you’re using. And in this case the 3430 will easily cope with the relatively light weight of a digital camera.
The difference between video and still tripods is in the head — video tripods have pan-and-tilt heads, while still tripods (in theory) have ball-and-socket heads. Not that it matters all that much — ball-and-socket heads are slightly easier to set up for a static shot, but I’ve met professional still photographers who won’t use anything but pan-and-tilt heads.
The 3430 exudes quality with its silky-grey finish and positive snap-lock legs. Firmly attached rubber feet seem unlikely to come adrift and are more practical in most circumstances than the spikes found on the ends of some older tripods. A rapid-release plate connects camera to tripod — you attach the plate to the camera with a threaded lock screw, then click the plate into place on the tripod.
If you happen to have more than one camera and extra rapid-release plates, this feature can be a great convenience. However, it’s one that’s more likely to appeal to users of film cameras who need to change film often.
The 3430 tripod also has a hidden secret — its centre post is easily removable for use as a monopod. Obviously a monopod — basically a telescoping aluminium tube with a camera on the top — isn’t nearly as stable as a tripod, but is certainly a lot lighter to carry and a handy extra to have available.
The 3430 easily passed the basic test for tripod rigidity, which is to extend to full height, tighten up all the screws and then try to twist the tripod head. Too many tripods go wobbly, like Bambi the baby deer, but the 3430 stayed solid with no sign of the legs bowing.
All in all, Cullman’s 3430 is an excellent tripod for serious photography and one that’ll last for ages.
Cullman’s 3430 tripod
For: Solid and steady. Extra versatility provided with built-in monopod.
Product supplied by the Photo Warehouse.
Taking better shots without a tripod
If you’re new to photography, a tripod might not be your top priority. In that case, here’s some tips for sharper pictures without a tripod.
Look for solid objects to brace yourself against, such as walls, chairs and tables.
Don’t hold your digital camera at arms length and frame your shots in the LCD preview window. Instead, use the camera’s optical viewfinder, so the camera is pressed against your face.
Support your camera properly by cradling its body in the palm of your hand. If you are standing, you can then push your elbows into your chest for extra bracing.
If your camera doesn’t have a socket for a cable release — most don’t — you can still take long exposures by using the camera’s self timer.