NEXT MEETING …    7:30pm Thurs 13th September 2018:

Our first evening of the new 2018-19 Season

We hope to welcome back existing members as well as some new members.  Remember potential members can come along to two meetings free of charge before deciding to join but please note you must join before entering competitions.  If you register your interest by email, we’ll keep you updated on all this summer events and news.

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Member Western Counties Photographic Federation   §  Affiliated to Photographic Alliance of GB

by Brian Tarling

Tripods can be infuriating, cumbersome, heavy, slow to set up, not up to the job and expensive to buy in the first place.

They can vary in size from as small as your hand to over 2.6 metres tall when extended before any centre column is used. They can vary in weight from 50 grams to over 10 kilograms! They can be made of materials such as Aluminium, Basalt, Carbon fibre, Magnesium, Plastic, Steel and Titanium. They can be designed to carry a maximum weight from 250 grams to 20 Kilograms! Each leg can have anything from 6 sections to one flexible prehensile length. They can be used with the camera held at a height, from touching the ground to over 2.6 Metres high. Tripods can vary in price from free ( with a subscription to a Photography magazine, with another purchase) to over £1000.00 without even a head!

You then have further choices with:-

  • Fixed or independently adjustable legs which are gutter shaped or round and can be bigger going down or up.
  • Legs adjusted by bending, levers, twist grip or rapid pull / push button mechanism.
  • No head, 2-way, 3-way pan and tilt head, fluid head, ball head, joystick head or gimbal-type head.
  • No centre column, height adjustable centre column, centre column can be set horizontally or up side down?
  • Tripod to head and or camera fittings of a quarter inch, three eights inch or quick release plates.

With so many choices it is not surprising that picking the correct tripod for yourself is so hard.

So for some people they don’t bother with tripods at all. I think this is a mistake. First thing is to think long term about what type of photography you want to do and what type of equipment are you likely to get in the future. I have read several stories of photographers buying several tripod over the years and they have come to the conclusion that the last ( and sometimes also the most expensive ) tripod that they bought is the best and that they should have bought only that one and bought it first time round.

The right tripod used intelligently and correctly can produce shots that are just not possible to capture without them.

So here are the things to think about before you buy one.  The three main requirements of a tripod are: – Stability, portability and usability.

Stability  – The whole reason to buy a tripod is to hold your camera stable during an exposure.

You want the tripod to be strong and stable enough to support your camera and lens ( and camera bag ) on a windy day.

Most tripods and heads will have a suggested maximum weight that they can support. Always buy a tripod and head that will easily exceed any combination of camera, lens, flash, filters etc. that you might get. My test is to see if it will take my weight of 60Kg without giving way. Don’t try this with a tripod in a shop as if it fails the shop will want you to pay for it. Check for flexing and or movement in any joints. Can the levers be adjusted up if the get loose? Can you get spare parts if you lose or break anything?

Portability – You have to transport the tripod around.

How heavy is the tripod and head? Does it come with a carrying handle or carrying bag or do you hold the cold metal legs? Can you attach it to a camera bag? Will it fit inside a suitcase? If it is so heavy that you don’t bother to take it with you then there is no point in buying it? But tripods can become weaker and less stable the lighter they are. So a balance has to be made between weight and strength. Some tripods are made of a stronger but lighter material. The catch here is that the material is more expensive and therefore so is the tripod.

Usability – Is it able to be used in the position and conditions that you want?

 You want the tripod to be easy to set up and use. If it is so awkward, fiddly and slow to set up you might not bother to use it, again you come back to, there’s no point in buying it. How easy and quick are all the levers, twist grips and buttons to operate – in the field with gloves on? How quick and easy is it to attach your camera to it? Can you use a quick release system with the tripod / head? And lastly, what about packing it all away again after you have taken that winning shot.

A well picked tripod and head that is cleaned, oiled, checked for anything coming loose and maintained regularly will reward you with years of faithful service. Ask other photographers for their experiences and thoughts. Some might even let you borrow their tripod to try out. Reading customer website reviews and magazine test reports will also help you with your choice.

I have one that is over 15 years old and still being used and works fine, but maybe it has a few scratches on it. This has travelled extensively to several continents including the lowest and hottest place in North America and the highest and coldest place in Australia. Several times it has been in the wettest, muddiest and dampest places in the UK.

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