For the Love of Tripods


In today’s episode we talk all about tripods and why we love to use them. This is Latitude Photography Podcast, Episode 98 for December 11, 2020

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Introduction and Announcements

I am your host, Brent Bergherm. Welcome to Latitude Photography podcast, the place where travel-outdoor photographers come to learn, grow, create and be inspired. And if you’re like me, the experience of the journey is just as important to you as it is to be able to make top notch images from the places you visit. To me, the experience is enhanced by making good images and good images are enhanced by the experience. Thank you so much for being here.

Today I’ve got three of the Latitude Regulars joining me as co-hosts. Kirk Keyes, Drake Dyck and Matt Bishop. Fellas, welcome to the show!

Tell me briefly what you’ve been up to recently. It’s been forever since we’ve talked and I’m just so happy to be back with y’all on this crisp winter eve, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

Matt, let’s start with you.

Drake, You’re next

Kirk, did we save the best for last? 🙂

I’ve got a few things to cover before we get to our main topic which is tripods. That is to state a goal I have for 2021. As many of you know, I have an affiliate link for A week or so ago I had some communications with them and they had stated that I was not doing too bad as an affiliate. I suppose compared to the others. So here’s my plan. I really want to rent a lot of gear and review it here on the show. If you’re willing to click on that link in the show notes a few pennies or dollars will come my way and I’ll be able to put that money largely towards rentals and the cycle will continue. A big thank you to those who’ve used the link in 2020 and I’m just hoping for a good push in 2021 to try and become their #1 affiliate.

Also, during my hiatus this last quarter it seems the audience has grown a lot. I want to particularly thank Alex and Jewlie for leaving 5-star reviews in August, 2020. Alex said “I just started listening to the Latitude Photography Podcast. It’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite podcasts. Brent combines the technical and artistic sides of photography in a wonderful blend. Each episode has been really interesting so I’m working my way back through all the older shows I’ve missed. It’s obvious that Brent is putting a lot of work and time into this. He’s very organized. Love it!”

Thank you Alex. And I might also suggest with my Latitude Regulars, there’s certainly a lot of effort they put into it as well. And they deserve some credit for sure. For example, Kirk spearheaded the show notes for this episode and it was a lot of work!

And then Jewlie also talked about the Master Photography Podcast and our amazing facebook groups we operate with these two shows. Master Photography Podcast certainly being the roundtable show where I’m a partner. But as it relates to the Latitude Photography Podcast fb group. I’m going to make a few changes. Hopefully you agree that it’s for the better. The first change is that I realize that facebook is at least partly what you make it. So to keep me on the right track, I want to make it a better place for all of us. And that means that I’ll be posting more in the group about things that I think you’ll be interested in. It will hopefully be a natural extension to the show. Also, I invite all you listeners out there to submit your own images. As you hear me state when I start the show we’re about learning, growning, creating and inspiring. If you’ve got an image that you’d like to share please do so. I’m also going to experiment with simply allowing posts to be automatically approved. If things get out of hand we’ll go back to needing to approve posts but it’s my hope to make the group a great place to share our photography and our experiences between episodes. And who knows, maybe an image or two will get mentioned on the show from time to time!

OK, enough of the chit chat on those things, let’s get to the main topic. I want to start off by asking each of you how many tripods you own. And secondly, what does the tripod mean to you? Why do you use it, and please give me a more indepth answer besides “to hold my camera.” 🙂 [The fellas respond]

I have two tripods. A larger Induro tripod (CT304 legs with the bowl spider (the current model is the GIT 304)) and a Kirk Enterprises BH-1 ball head. I then have a smaller Manfrotto 190GO Carbon Fiber with a Sirui ball head. For proof on the pronunciation:

Tripod Terms

  • Legs: the things that extend and can be set at different angles. The main body of the tripod.
  • Spider/Yoke/Apex: The central hub that connects all the legs together and provides connection to the head.
  • Head: The unit that the camera mounts to, connects to the Spider/Yoke/Apex
  • Quick Release Plate: The unit that is attached to your camera and that connects to the head. Not all tripod heads use a QR plate, but many do. L brackets would also fit into this category.
  • Center column: Many tripods have a column that sits in the Spider. You can raise it and lower it for added height. It does cost you some stability though.

Tripod Types

  • All-Purpose – Tall enough to get the camera to eye level for most people. More stable than a travel tripod, but they are bulkier and heavier as well. 
  • Travel Tripods – smallest, lightest. Often not as stable as larger.
  • Systematic – Tend to modular with removable base. Often tall, have a large spider/yoke/apex, and thick legs. Thus, they are usually bulky and heavy.

Tripod Options

Leg Material

  • Carbon fiber – usually considered the best weight to strength ratio. But the lightness of a carbon tripod makes them less stable.
  • Interesting to note that, certainly, not all CF is made the same. You have different layers of CF used by different manufacturers, different fiber to resin ratio, different layer thicknesses and direction and “modulus” or build of the fibers themselves. All play a role in determining stiffness of the legs. For aluminum, it’s pretty much a straight correlation, more material makes a stiffer tripod leg.
  • Aluminum still a great option. Not as light as carbon. Aluminum transmits vibrations from the ground more than carbon. Susceptible to corrosion from salt water. Older aluminum tripods can be a great value, especially when bought used.
  • Basalt fiber – not common, but like carbon fiber.
  • Wood – not just for large format! They dampen vibrations best. Exceptionally durable..
  • Size and Weight
  • Number of Leg segments – fewer segments should be stiffer.
  • Leg angle adjustment – pull out/push in tab, thumb lever?
  • Removable center column?
  • Is the center column reversible for low angle views?
  • Feet – are spikes, snow/sand platforms, or rock claw available?
  • Center brace – may add stability, may be a sign of poor overall design.  But also prevent low camera positions.
  • Leg locks – twist, snap, knob
  • Leg quick release?
  • Bag Hook?

Heads – As important as the legs!

Ballhead rankings

  • Ball – versatile and lightweight, but not very precise.
  • 3-Way Tilt – lots of control, but bulkier and heavier than a ball head.
  • Tilt-Head – More precise setup than a ball head as the camera can only move up and down. You may need to combine with a rotator plate. Drawback is there is no 3rd axis of motion to level the camera.
  • 3-Way Geared Head – the ultimate in precision. Each axis is controlled with a geared knob and can be adjusted independently from each other. Works well for studio or night/Milky Way photography.
  • Gimbal – when balanced, the camera and lens become “weightless”. You can Rotate the camera to any direction by just pushing it. However, they are big, bulky, and heavy. Best when using really big lenses. You can somewhat emulate a gimbal with a ball head by putting the ball arm into the side slot, loosen the rotation lock and ball tension, and shoot from the side of the ball head. Make sure your camera is balanced on the ball for this to work best.
  • Panorama Rig – horizontal rail, vertical rail with a tilting stage, and a rotator base. Allows precise camera movements for overlapping panorama images. You do want the tripod support to be level when using a Pano rig.
  • Fluid Head – Allows smooth pan and tilt movements, usually used for video applications.
  • Car Window mount – clamps to a vehicle window, sometimes with a ball head or not.

Head Mounting Locks

Some tripod mounting plates have set screws you can tighten against the bottom of the head to keep the entire head from spinning loose. You do not need to overtighten it, as it may deform the bottom plate of the head.

Mounting Plates on Tripod Heads

  • Arca-Swiss is the de facto standard. They are a dove-tail design and
  • Manfrotto – some are unique to Manfrotto, some are Arca-Swiss.
  • Video/Fluid heads have large mounting plates.

Connecting the Camera

  • Quick release mounting plates
  • L-Bracket – allow easy reorientation for landscape/vertical positioning
  • Make sure you can still access batteries or memory cards.

Other Features and considerations

Tripod Levelling Base

Some mount on the tripod baseplate, some replace the center of the yoke. It allows the head to be quickly leveled, independently from the tripod legs. Great for pano rig setups.

Cheap Not Worth It  

Cheap head are hard to use! The often droop, especially with large lenses. They can also shift the position of the camera when you tighten them. Best to avoid.

Bubble Levels

Some tripods come with bubble levels. They can be on tripod yoke or on the camera mounting plate. You can add one to your camera hot shoe or use one built internally in the camera operating system. Each can location serves a different purpose. Do you need them all? Not necessarily.

Using Your Tripod: Best Practices

In general, the yoke/legs do not need to be perfectly level.

If doing a pano – the head needs to be level so the camera can rotate without angling up or downward.

Keep your camera/lens near the middle of the center of gravity.

Add a “rock/stone bag” – it is a hammock that hangs between the tripod legs. You can add weight to the tripod to make it more stable. Useful in windy conditions, or when you have a lot of weight mounted to the head.

To carry the tripod with your gear attached or not?

Any tips for working quickly or should we just forget it? (Brent: I like to grip multiple twist locks at once and loosen and tighten when opening or collapsing the tripod. It helps me speed things up when I’m in a hurry)

Tripod Testing

There are lots of opinions out there, but little actual scientific testing.

Stiffness, Damping, Leg Angle, Height, Weight, Material – all affect the performance of the tripod.

Check out:

Also check out the Weight Ratings are Meaningless Article. A great read.

  • They have rankings for systematic, all purpose, travel, as well as a volume weighted travel tripod ranking.
  • Their top 13 rated tripod brands are Gitzo, RRS, FLM, ProMedia, Jobu Design, Feisol, Leofoto, Manfrotto, Induro, Colorado Tripod Company, Oben, Peak Design, and Benro.
  • They do not include usability in their ratings, but they do have reviews of many tripods, and they discuss it there.

The bottom line is, weight ratings are essentially useless because they don’t consider real world applications in their ratings. Who cares if a tripod can support 20 pounds or 80 pounds. Will it support your gear that is potentially awkward, heavy or off-balance. Your use of a gimbal tripod head and a monster lens will have different requirements as compared to someone on a mirrorless camera with a fixed 23mm lens.

Tripod care –

  • If you hear grinding noise, parts are stiff or will not lock – it is time to clean!
  • Sand, Deserts, Water, Ocean – salt water is the worst!
    Clean them – take them apart.
  • Take a shower with them.
  • Lubrication – use a weatherproof grease. 
    Gitzo Grease about $30; enough for two cleanings
    Sil-Glyde, Induro Recommended Grease about $9; enough for about 50 cleanings
  • Leg locks, even twist locks need lubrication.
    Do not over lubricate them – it will collect dust and dirt.
    Occasionally disassemble metal parts – leg spikes can corrode and bind. Disassemble them and lubricate on reassembly.
  • Use a small brush like an old toothbrush.
    Do not loose plastic rings on twist-locks. Keep them in order so you can remember how to reassemble them. Legs are like nesting dolls and must go back in a certain order based on size. Some twist-locks have arrows to help you realign the parts.

Other support options –

  • Monopod – combine with a tilt head for a great sports/wildlife setup.
  • Platypod – get low!
  • Beanbag – still low, but less precise than a Platypod
  • Rock or ground – the lowest you can get!
  • Trash cans in the city – Brent has a short story!
  • The PLAMP by Wimberley!  
  • The Worst Tripod – the one you do not carry with you.

Heavier not always better – you may not carry it if it is too heavy.

Lighter not always better – not enough support can lead to soft photos.

Momma Bear, Poppa Bear, Baby Bear – find one that is just right for the job. 

Side Notes:

Do not always need a tripod –

If you are using a fast-enough shutter speed relative to lens focal length.

Consider Image Stabilization in lens / body.

Intentional camera movements.

Shooting handheld
Use your body to brace your camera.
Stand with your feet apart, kneel, or even sit down on something.
Pull against your neck strap.
Hold your breath or press the button in between breaths.
Create a Zen moment.

More than one tripod –

There is not one tripod to rule them all. It is up to you to decide what features are going to work best for your photography. Tripods are like lenses; you will want to match your tripod to your subject.

 May want to turn off IS –

When using a tripod, especially with long exposures. Some have a “tripod detection mode” and automatically turn off the IS.

Quickly releasing Twist Locks –

With practice, you may be able to grab the twist locks on one leg and loosen them all at once. With a quick shake of the tripod, you maybe able to get all the leg segments to extend fully!

Manufacturer Thoughts:

(this is not an exhaustive list)

Gitzo: Distributed by Vitec Group which also distributes Manfrotto and Lowepro among many other recognized brands in the photo industry.
Considered top of the line and very expensive. 
Long history (since the ‘50s) manufacturing tripods
Made in Italy

Promediagear: Small independent company located 30 miles south of Chicago.
High quality, precision design. Rather expensive.
USA made

Really Right Stuff: Manufacturing tripods and more since 2002 (quick release plates since 1990 under previous ownership). Known for excellent customer service and they always go beyond your expectations. Price point is high enough you should consider it an investment.
USA Made (Company based in Lehi, Utah) and proud of it.

Induro: Good variety of products and very good quality, though not to the level of the previously mentioned producers. A striking resemblance to Benro tripods, since they have the same mailing address it’s no surprise. Though the branding does seem to be targeted to different types of photographers.
Made in China.
Distributed by MAC Group which also distributes MeFotoKupoShimodaTenbaX-Rite and several other photography related brands.

Feisol: Started as a carbon fiber tube manufacturer. Full line of products. Made in Taiwan

Sirui: Wide Variety of products for different types of photography and needs. Made In China

Other notes:

Heard a leg crack at Thor’s Well. Still works well.

Do not immediately count out aluminum – it is still good option. Lube the metal parts like knobs.

Seals on Feisol – really well designed. Swipe out much of the dirt.


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It is my goal for 2021 to be the top affiliate. I had some FFsycontact with them recently where I mentioned my brief hiatus and they basically responded saying, hmm, wow, wonder what’ll happen if you kick it into high gear ‘cause you’re already one of our top affiliates. To which I was a bit surprised. But if you’re going to rent something anyway I’d love it if you’d be able to help support me and the show by using my link in the show notes. My goal is to rent a lot of gear in 2021 and I’d love to just turn all these affiliate earnings back in to rentals. So if you’d like me to review more gear on the show this is one way to support that 🙂