Up for Discussion: Tripod Accessories
Today’s post is by Victor Rakmil, who has written previous posts for us. He seemed to know a lot about the heads, so I asked him if he would be interested in doing a guest post for us on them and here is it.
One of my first hobbies was photography. Over the years I came back to it many times only to more recently focus on it fully. I have a daily post on Victor Rakmil Photography and a Website where I post my best work. My photography is a bit eclectic but lately I have focused on nature, with a big and unexpected soft spot for insects. Over the years I learned many things about technique and tools. Certainly my least favorite tool is the tripod. That said when you need one you want it to work. When shooting small relatively sedentary insects, birds at a distance or landscapes at optimum ISO and fstop for HDR etc. a tripod is essential and a few tripod accessories are helpful. I picked up some tools over the years and I use them when I need to. Great photos are taken every day with cellphones and point and shoots. The gear helps buts it is not the answer to great photography.
Leanne wrote an excellent article on tripods. I have taken this a step further to show you a few of the accessories.
There are three types of heads: 1) fluid heads for movies. They have one long arm to enable rapid panning movement in all directions. Not great for photography but usable. 2) Three-way heads have controls that permit pan, tilt and turning 180 degrees. (refer image 1)
These are great for landscape and indoor work, the most precise of heads. 3) Ballheads are a big favorite of pro photographers especially for nature photography; worthwhile models are those with the ability to provide a fluid movement while keeping
the camera from falling. ((refer images 2 and 3) There is a large knob for big adjustments and a small dial within that knob to add tension, it is this part of the head that keeps the camera from tilting over while permitting full and easy movement. With a finger you can move camera and lens but not have the camera fall over. A third knob provides for turning the camera on its axis for panoramas.
All heads are rated for weight, the rating tells you how heavy a camera and lens combination the head will support.
To attach the head to the camera you need a special plate. You can choose to stick with one brand or adopt a cross brand quick release plate. All heads at the high end use quick release systems. Basically you do not screw it onto the camera, you screw a plate onto the camera and the plate attaches to the head in a way that it can be held secure but released fast. No one will argue that the premier cross brand standard is Arca-
Swiss plates and compatible heads. If you buy from RRS, Markins, Wimberley etc. you have the Arca-Swiss option.
L brackets allow you to mount the camera in portrait or landscape while keeping the camera’s center of gravity over the tripod legs. ((refer images 4 and 5) Plates, L brackets and heads are
expensive. Heads can easily cost as much as good carbon fibre tripod legs. It does not pay to go cheap. While all heads will sag to some extent, good heads will sag the least and be more easily adjusted. Some manufactures make an extended base that goes between the head and tripod for added stability.
A special kind of head is a gimbal head for long lenses. ((refer image 6) It enables you to swing the lens up and down and 180 degrees around. The gimbal is great for birding and a very good tool to remain as flexible and stable as possible.
Most of my pictures featured here were taken with a ballhead. except for the Egret and Beaver where a long lens and tele-converter required the Gimbal. The example photographs, except where it is on display were shot with the three-way head.
Tripod legs get cold and while you can buy leggings, which are costly, pipe insulation and pool noodles work just as well, provide better cushioning and are cheaper (you may notice it in some of the photos here).
You can get tripod feet: spiked or rubber. ((refer image 7) Not all tripod legs will take spikes. Spikes are great for out-of-doors and rubber for indoors. Mine are hybrid spike and rubber. Wide feet provide stability in snow or on sand.
Tall, stable tripod legs are best for bird photography, fold up travel tripod legs are best for travel and/or macro, eye level tripod legs for everything else.
A couple of tips: most tripods come with a way to hang something below the mount, this adds to the stability. If you are going to the trouble of carrying a tripod bring a remote release and think about setting your camera to mirror-up for added stability. The purpose of the head and tripod is to keep the camera rock steady, allowing you to use lower shutter speeds, a lower ISO, take long exposure shots and more carefully compose your photos, although usually not all at the same time. When using long lenses, it’s a good idea to place your hand on and hold the lens over the center of the tripod and press down when shooting.
My aluminum tripod with the three way head is from Manfrotto. The three way head is intended for medium format cameras, the head weighs as much as the legs, which is great for indoors and landscape photography. My other two tripods, one for birds, the other for travel and macro are Gitzo from the time when they were the only manufacturers of carbon fibre legs. Now both companies (Manfrotto and Gitzo ) are owned by the same conglomerate. My ballheads are from Markins, a company that has remarkable service standards. My gimbal head is from Jobu. The L bracket is from Really Right Stuff (RRS). My Arca-Swiss plates come from Wimberley, Markins and Kirk Enterprises.
When you decide you need tripod accessories there are some excellent solutions and this is one case where paying more may well increase quality. So shopping around and asking questions is key.
Thanks Victor for the post and explaining all that to us. He has also sent some other photos, so I will put the above ones and his images into a gallery for you.