Some time ago I bought a fountain pen because I like writing with a fountain pen (pretty old fashioned eh?). But like everything else you have to like something to keep using it, and use it well. Because I didn't really connect with the first pen I bought, I bought another one. That was ok too but I felt there was a pen out there just waiting to be bought that would suit me to the ground. Finally I found one that felt good in the hand and allowed me to write a little better, or so I thought. I paid a lot for that last pen and all the other pens I bought are now somewhere in a drawer, hidden away and not being used. That last pen cost as much as all the other pens together. Do you think I learned my lesson? Not likely. I did exactly the same thing when I picked up photography again after many years and a tripod is a must. I think everyone goes through this phase until at some point it clicks.
I have so many tripods it's unbelievable. I don't think I know a photographer that has only ONE tripod. If there is one out there somewhere, I take my hat off to you. I have actually settled on a number of tripods because they offer different functions and serve me better in different situations. I have tabletop tripods, light tripods, heavy tripods and, believe it or not, tripods that fin in the middle of all that. I have a couple that I take on holiday with me, plus a monopod. Actually I have a couple of those monopods that have little legs on the bottom so you can use it as a tripod.
One is a Manfrotto and the other is a Sirui. Both are excellent but the Sirui is the heavy duty one. Both are quite stable but the Manfrotto is definitely NOT made to hold heavy DSLR bodies mounting an f2.8 lens. For my small Nex or M43 cameras it's fine. The Sirui is really well engineered and built.
Before I go into a little detail about my tripods, let me just get back to that little anecdote at the beginning of this post. I'm sure you've all realised what I wanted to say, but just in case someone hasn't clicked yet, I'll just spell it out. Don't skimp on a tripod! You get what you pay for and that is certainly true with tripods. Just pay the money and you will have a tripod that will last you a lifetime. The same of course goes for the head. I could go on for hours on that alone. You may have guessed I have a ot of those too; most of them just sitting in boxes doing nothing. One thing you have to be careful about if buying the tripod separately from the head and that is size and fit of the head in relation to the tripod.
There's no point buying a tripod that is rated at 10Kgs and buying a head for it that weight 5Kgs on it's own. That's half of your rated capacity gone on the head alone. Mind you, if it weighed 5Kgs I don't think it would fit on the tripod very well. Try carrying that tripod with that head on it. It would be so front heavy I'm certain you'd throw it away after the first mile or so. Another point to think about! What type of head are you looking for. A normal ball head, or do you think you will need a fluid head. Maybe a geared head. There are many points to think about and a head can cost you as much as a good tripod. A Ball head is the most popular because it's very flexible and fast to use. Make sure the ball gets secured when tightening. I've had a head that kept creeping away from where I wanted to compose on. The thing got thrown out of the door. When that happens, either your camera - lens combination is too heavy or the head was badly made. Again try it out if possible. There's no point getting a geared or fluid head when you are trying to photograph fast moving subjects. That just won't work. Those are more for the landscape or product photographer. My choice is also for the ball type. It also keeps the weight and size of the head down to a minimum. When on a treck the last thing I want is for a head that keeps getting in the way. I have to carry the tripods somewhere and it's usually somewhere where size does matter. Another reason for me to move to a mirrorless system.
One option is to buy a kit so to speak. These are sets that are sold together. The head comes with the tripod and should fit pretty well together. What I have found here though is that the head doesn't really live up to my expectations and I stopped buying these sets quite early on. With many of these so called sets, it's not possible to change the head. It's like it's welded on. So if the head doesn't work the way you work, then you have to start from scratch again, and the one you just bought could join mine down in the cellar, never to see the light of day again. One argument for buying a set like that is if you've been somewhere and handled it. You've spent some time with it getting to know it's functions, build, how it works etc. If you've done that then by all means go ahead and buy it. It may be the only one you will ever require. Unfortunately, these bricks and mortar shops are few and far between today and it's not always possible to get to handle these things in person. I must say however, we only have ourselves to blame that these shops are disappearing at an alarmingly fast rate. Everything has to be cheaper and things are cheaper to purchase online. But that's only because the online store doesn't have the overheads a normal bricks & mortar shop does. I have to point the finger at myself here too, I don't like paying over the odds for something either, but that is the price we have to pay. No more photography shops. Real shame.
Be careful not to purchase from some obscure source and manufacturer. If you're planning on using your tripod for some years then wear & tear will factor in at some point in the future. That's why you need that manufacturer to still be there when that point comes. Yes, there are companies that go bust (Kodak is a good example) but there is nothing that you ar I can do about that. All you can do is buy from a reputable company at the time of your purchase.
One last thing before I go a little into the tripods I myself use and that is to tailor your tripod rig for the system you use. I.e. Look at your present kit and weigh your heaviest combination of camera and lens. The tripod you purchase should be rated at least 1.5x your maximum combination. When you've done that, sit down for a minute and look into your future. Are you going to stay with the system you have or are you already planning on moving into a bigger system with heavier cameras and lenses? I know, you can't foresee what's going to come out onto the market tomorrow, but if you know that you're going to keep your present system for the foreseeable future that you're good to go. If you know you're going to be moving up now then maybe you should be buying a tripod and head that's rated higher. I'm just saying....
Here's are a few of my small tabletop tripods:
I think I've tried a lot of manufacturers such as Manfrotto, Sirui, MeFoto, 3 Legged Thing, Bilora, Gitzo and Berlebach. Just to name a few I'm not going to be showing and commenting on all of my tripods and heads, I'd be writing for weeks on end. It would also be a little too embarrassing because I'm not certain where they all are. The aim of this post is to help a beginner make the right choice from the start and to stop him/her from making the same mistakes I did.
Favourite manufacturers. I think we all have those. Some prefer snap locks and other the turn grip style. Personally I have both and I really don't have a preference when it comes to that. I do however prefer Bilora over the other manufacturers with Sirui coming in at a very close second. I would love to get some Novoflex stuff but they've priced me right out. Having said that, I do use a lot of Novoflex heads simply because they are machined to a very high standard and I like using them I get the feeling they'll never let me down when I need them, and that's what it all boils down to in the end.
Here are some of my Novoflex ballheads. They are superb in construction and ergonomics.
From left to right: Ball30,Ball40,Ball40, ClassicBall 2.
On top of the ClassicBall2 and Ball 30 is an MC-MR release.
This is my quick release. Great system.