Tripods: my take= middle of the road=better.

September 24, 2013  •  3 Comments

NYC, Lower East Side Shutter Mural of an anthropomorphic 'Tripod'?

Here we go. This summer where I've actually been making a fairly respectable income vs. the last several years, I upgraded my camera's legs. Here's the dealio: I've been shooting off an old Manfrotto tripod that my colleague from Atlantic Art Glass http://www.atlanticartglass.com lent to me about 8 years ago- thanks Ken! And here's an aside- is that a case of lending or just me keeping it for what turned out to be a little bit of forever? Anyway, the only weakness of that rugged old model #055 is it's steel hardware on the twisting leg locks- they rust out in the saltwater that I want to plunge my feet into almost always when I make an 'important' photo, and there is no amount of local metal working trickery that I know of which can replace the rusted factory embedded toggles that bind to the bolts. 

I did everything I could to replace the hardware. I called B+H trying to get the parts and got the Manfrotto service number last fall- called the number to speak with a tech who quoted me the part numbers of replacement leg locks that wouldn't be the originals as they didn't make those anymore, but a suitable newer version which would do the trick. 14.95 cents or whatever for the lower locks and 15.65 cents for the uppers- x3 and x3 more= something like $90.00= sweet! But I didn't have it then- so I rolled through the rest of last fall with electrical tape to bind the failing leg locks out in the field until my old timer neighbor across the street offered to loan me his gigantic Manfrotto Studio tripod similar to this one:  

                                                                                   

-except just in regular old brushed aluminium. And even though it weighs something like 17 pounds-!! Repeat: 17.53 pounds, and I almost died while carrying it through the Pacific Northwest on the way to Shi Shi Beach, I absolutely loved the granite-like rock solidness of that kit. I Actually photographed in a hurricane at the end of October on the cliffs of Acadia with this tripod and was able to make sharp long exposures in 60 mile an hour winds. Awesome! So when Curtis, who is pretty well along in his old-timer-ness, decided to get back into medium format film photography and wanted his tripod back I was pretty crushed. No amount of bribing him in the area of money or else could talk him out of it- he wanted it back, and started calling me and leaving messages, and I was torn, but I had to give it back- that or kill him, and I've never done that before!

Therefore it was time to call Manfrotto Service and order up those replacement leg locks. Here's where it get's ridiculous: Monday, called about 3pm and there was no answer so I left a message. Tuesday, called earlier in the day thinking maybe they have bankers hours- left a message. Wednesday, called again, again no answer so this time I started mashing buttons especially the 0 and got an operator. Explained to her that I've been calling and leaving messages to no avail so she said sorry sorry and would connect me right through at the next open line- about 10 minutes later a fellow answered with a "hello Manfrotto" and I said I just need to order a couple of replacement parts and rattled off the first part number and the line went dead-! Really. I mean like, what are you kidding me! So in throwing up my hands I figured I'd just try to find a different Manfrotto parts retailer on the old interwebs and did find a listing for a place, and they answered their phone when I called- but explained to me that in fact they could order the replacement parts, but would have to get them through the Manfrotto service center that I had been calling, and at 2x the price! Which is to say $185.00 for the 6 leg locks instead of the $90.00 that Manfro guys quoted me. No. So I bit the bullet as it were and called back the # again. Got the operator again, was put through to a service guy who didn't hang up on me this time, made the order and he took my CC#. Told me that there was no way they could verify shipment, I would just have to wait- but eventually about 9 days later the parts showed up. And that whole time I was without legs- and that made me just ache to make photography! Long story short now: the parts didn't fit! Aaaaarg! So, worse than that, I still didn't have a working tripod- I had to again contact the impossible to contact Manfrotto service center to try to find out how to return these useless parts. Like pulling teeth I tell ya! Bottom line= I did all that I could do, and that would have been a perfectly good tripod, the #055- for years and years to come, but unlike Col. Steve Austin (million dollar man), we could not rebuild him.

So- it was time to go on the interwebs and do some shopping! My first thought was to just find that old Manfrotto that Curtis had been lending me over on the Ebay or whatever, but then I remembered a moment when I was teaching at the Canon in the Parks Acadia session last September and a fellow showed up with a beautiful set of Gitzo sticks- the 3532LS if I remember correctly http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/846210-REG/Gitzo_GT3532LS_GT3532LS_6x_3_SECTION_SYSTEMATIC.html

But that turned out to be $929.99, which is a bit too mighty expensive in my book! Did some more internet browsing and remembered a pretty good review of a number of tripod systems over at the Ron Martinson blog here: http://www.ronmartblog.com/2011/05/tripod-recommendations2011-part.html and the Gitzo Explorer series caught my fancy. And I've kind of always coveted the carbon fiber tripods. A particularly interesting feature of that tripod system is the articulating center column that would allow you to swivel the camera right down to the ground- I have the sweet Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS USM that I picked up a few years ago as my portrait lens but rarely if ever use it for actual macro work, the reason being is that it's almost always impossible to lock off a shot using the standard sticks that I used to carry around. So this feature seemed particularly interesting- I actually haven't used it for any macro yet, but just to know that I can is nice! This is it: 

Gitzo GT 2531EX.

And here's what it can look like:

legs out to 90 degrees and center column swiveled horizontical.

here's a close up of the center column:

I did briefly consider the Really Right Stuff line of tripods, but they are the Mercedes of legs and just seem more like Really Right overpriced Stuff. Heheh. Thought on it for a few days and called B+H that Sunday and tacked on a 2 day delivery and the Gitzo sticks were here by Tuesday. Funny this though: whenever I make a 'big' purchase- the "kid in a candy store" feeling starts to take effect- however when the Gitzo arrived I did appreciate the workmanship and cool looking weave of the carbon fiber, but it's about as tool as tool can get. Like a nice new hammer is nice, but not really the kind of thing you would want to bring to bed? And that's where the whole thing kind of breaks down for me. I've been shooting off these legs now for about a month. They are sweet in that they are light and easy to hike with over a day, but what I really want in a tripod is the ability to bang it around and scratch it up and get it all sandy and salty and forget about it and just worry about the compositions. But these Gitzo legs I fear may not be as rugged and abusable as the old Manfrotto aluminum ones, I'm theoretically supposed to take it apart and wash it and regrease the threads after a thorough submergence in the ocean, and that's not really my style! Not to say that I don't want to take care of my stuff- but I neglect my camera enough after a salty day not to mention a deep cleaning of my tripod! Olivier Du' Tre threatened me that I was making an unwise decision, now I have to prove him wrong just to save face, which is a bummer. I still love my Gitzo Explorer, I just hope that it loves me back as much, and for a long time!

So that's the bottom line- your camera is a tool, but it's a sweet machine. Your tripod is a tool, but about as tool as tool can get. Therefore go with something affordable but solid- and forget about those Velbons that the box stores sell- those are about as schwag as can be: don't forget that you're mounting expensive camera gear on the thing to support! Also- no matter how awesome your tripod may be, always stand by the ready in case something bizarre decides to happen- you ever hear the one about Philip Bloom's Panasonic taking a dive connected to his tripod into Sydney Harbor: crazy! 

One last kick in the pants- through the whole elaborate returning parts process to Manfrotto I ended up speaking with this fellow named John (may be spelled differently) at (201)-818-9500 ext. 245 and he had the gall to tell me that if I had just ordered the Explorer from him (both Gitzo and Manfrotto are owned by the same company called Vitec) he said he could have saved me 35 percent off the retail cost! What?! Come on now! So, I hope that helps anyone who may be in the market to save something on a new tripod system. Just call John!

That's all for now- keep on keeping on and have a good day pals. -Nate!    

P.s. what kind of tripods are you guys using? Hmmm?                                                              


Comments

Frederick Claflin(non-registered)
Good article Nate.....I had a very similar problem with my 055WXNB.....had luck using this site to order what I needed. http://www.manfrottospares.com . Some day I might break down for a carbon tripod (maybe) but I think being an Yankee and Scottish might make me too cheap.
David Patterson(non-registered)
Nate... funny read. A while ago I piddled around looking at different exotic and often very expensive tripods, but I eventually ended up back using an old, heavy, black, and rusty favorite Manfrotto. Don't know the model, but I'm pretty sure it isn't made anymore. A little bit of that foam you use on bike handles ductaped to one leg makes it bearable to carry in the winter, and like you said about last fall when Sandy hit Acadia... rock solid in some serious wind. Oh yeah... no-one told me you were supposed to clean your tripod :)
Eyal Oren(non-registered)
Congrats on the new legs Nate!

Those things are always, always an exercise in trade-offs. Shave some weight so you can more easily hike/travel and actually bring the damn things along on a shoot but 'pay' with slightly increased care needed to keep those legs in good condition.

I was using a set of Feisol carbon fiber legs but enough print orders came through this year that I pulled the trigger on the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L and BH-40 head. Compared to the Feisol, they are much better - more solid, robust. Just very well thought out and they drop as low to the ground as I could ever hope. This should be the last set of sticks I ever need but we'll see...

Again, enjoy the new tripod. I have to agree with that feeling of not being able to maintain the kid in a candy store feeling that you get when you pull the trigger. However, that is sort of the point - they are just a tool. I have taken mine to the shores on a number of occasions so far and have yet to clean them by the way.
No comments posted.
Loading...

Archive
January (3) February (2) March April (2) May June July (1) August (1) September October November December (1)
January (1) February March (1) April May June July August (1) September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December