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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.

Tripod Accessories

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.

Image 1 - Three-way Head

Image 1 – Three-way Head

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

Image 2 - BallHead-1

Image 2 – BallHead-1

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-

Image 3 - BallHead-2

Image 3 – BallHead-2

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

Image 4 - L Bracket-1

Image 4 – L Bracket-1

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.

Image 5 - L Bracket-2

Image 5 – L Bracket-2

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. 

Gimbal

Image 6 – Gimbal

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.

Image 7 - Feet

Image 7 – Feet

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.  

24 Comments
  1. I just love your photography! Gorgeous!

    March 13, 2015
  2. Nice post Viktor! I wouldn’t be without my Manfrotto geared head. The precise movement and framing this type of head allows makes it my favourite and for macro work especially, I’d suggest it’s the only way to go. For a long time I was using a ball head. I’d frame my shot and tighten the screw and no matter how hard I tried, I’d let go and the camera would drop slightly. Very annoying so I invested in the geared head and haven’t looked back!

    March 13, 2015
    • Thanks. I agree the gear head is a joy to work with. I only use it in special cases, most of my close-up work can be done hand held. For the 8mm insects, like the bugs here, the tripod is essential.

      Victor

      March 13, 2015
  3. Amy #

    Thank you for sharing! Love the egret an bee especially. 🙂

    March 13, 2015
    • Sharing has opened up a whole new world for me, one that I am enjoying very much. Thanks

      March 13, 2015
  4. Very informative post, Victor…. I have to travel light these days, so have a little Slik travel tripod which suits me fine as I have mirrorless cameras. Each camera has a Q plate on the bottom, and I’m set! But there are times when I think I should maybe have something a little more robust! For long exposures…

    March 13, 2015
    • Weight is always an issue. A long time ago I bought a Gitzo traveler, great steady tripod, now there are more brands that have great light weight carbon fibre and solid tripods. Worth shopping around.

      March 13, 2015
      • Indeed

        March 13, 2015
  5. Thanks Victor!

    March 13, 2015
    • Robert,

      I am a long time fan of your work, so i appreciate your commenting!

      March 13, 2015
      • Great information for everyone. Thanks again.

        March 13, 2015
  6. Useful.

    March 13, 2015
  7. I am so gearless. I do have a tripod, but like he said, I hate it. Lots of reasons. 🙂 And yes, my camera did fall off just after I got a new lens for it, and amazingly it didn’t break. 🙂

    March 13, 2015
  8. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez #

    Reblogged this on The Artistic Spider's Web and commented:
    Tripod Accessories

    March 13, 2015
  9. Interesting

    March 13, 2015
  10. I just use the connection that came with my tripod, I didn’t know you could get any of this stuff separately. Considering what I paid for my tripod I don’t think I want to know the price of all this stuff lol. My bank balance can only go so far. But good read

    March 13, 2015
  11. Love my 3-way head, that is the standard fit to the pod, great for precision settings on interiors and the like. But still retain a heavy duty traditional ball head. As with all things photographic it is down to your own whim and fancy. With my really long and heavy lens I often feel that a Gimbal would be just great but price seems high for the limited use I would make of it. Having made a simplistic statement about heads I would just add that it is important to invest in a good head as the investment you make in the tripod itself…both are equally as important.

    March 13, 2015
  12. I use a Gitzo GT1540 carbon tripod with a Gitzo 2180 head for my scope and for my Nikon D750 with 80-400mm lens. That model has bushings the prevent dirt getting into the legs. It is strong a sturdy and light weight. The use of blue non permenant lock tight threadlocking keeps the head on the tripod. Gitzos are great for nature phtographers. Worth the expense because they stand up to wind.

    March 14, 2015
  13. Very informative article, Victor. Beautiful images, too.

    March 14, 2015
  14. I need a good tripod too!! Thanks for the post!

    March 14, 2015
  15. Thank you for some very good information as well as pictures ranging from very practical which definitely reinforce your points as well as some wonderful nature shots.

    March 16, 2015

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