Monthly Archives: February 2005

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I bought a new tripod! OK, I know that’s not really that exciting, but it signifies the culmination of hours of research, so it’s all good. I got the Manfrotto MF0553, which is made of magnesium and carbon fiber (some blend they call “Magfiber”). It’s a little heavier than a carbon fiber tripod, but still lighter than aluminum with the stiffness and strength of cf and priced somewhere in between. $650 for a tripod? I don’t think so! So here’s the skinny: If you’re looking for an OK tripod that’s light and will hold your SLR and most lenses and won’t break the bank, the Velbon EF-3 is a pretty good bet. It weighs under 4 pounds, you can get it with a pan head (or no head at all), is reasonably tall, has three-piece legs that will splay out to three different angles and will only set you back less than $100. If I were to buy one for myself (and didn’t have a wife in the photography business), that’s the one I would have gotten. There’s also an EFL-4 that has 4-piece legs if you need something that packs down to a shorter package, but it also doesn’t extend quite as far. There’s a pretty good synopsis of the Velbon here. As it is, a good tripod is an investment that you should be able to use pretty much indefinitely, so I decided to scale up to the Manfrotto. It’s a highly respected brand and has a build quality that’s obviously better than the Velbon. It’s also rated to carry significantly more weight than the Velbon, so if you want to slap that new 600mm lens on your camera, this tripod can deal. It has a cool, though questionably useful, feature that allows you to mount the center column horizontally – which is supposed to be good for macro photography so you can point your camera downward. It also has three-piece legs that adjust to three different angles and extends to a very good height (eye level for me without extending the center column). It will, however, set you back $300 and then you still need to get a ballhead for it. If all you have is a point and shoot that you’d like a more stable platform for, you have the option of getting one of the ultra-lightweight tripods like Manfrotto’s Digi line (something like the 728B) or the Velbon MAXi343E . These things are under 2 lbs., which is pretty remarkable. The problem is that they’re pretty flimsy and almost too light – you need a little weight in a tripod to keep it stable. So yes, it will hold your camera steady, but might be susceptible to wind and vibrations. I’d probably still opt for the EFL-3/4 – they seems to have a great balance between weight and stability. If you really want a lightweight travel tripod, you can check out this report. It’s a little outdated, but not much has changed and it’s the single most comprehensive compilation of specs I’ve seen on this class of tripod. Or you can take my word for it and just buy the Velbon (which is what the article says to do).

As far as using a tripod, there are a couple of tricks that are good to know. First, make sure that you can do the majority of shooting without the center column extended – consider it an emergency feature only. Raising the center column introduces a much higher chance that flex and vibration with affect stability. Also, with some of these lightweight tripods, it’s sometimes a good idea to hang your camera bag from the center column to provide more weight and therefore more stability. And even with the stability of a tripod, you can introduce shake with something as minor as pushing the shutter release, so I would recommend either getting an external shutter release (wired or wireless) or using your camera’s self timer mode to take the shot. Alot of current cameras even have a 2 sec. self timer mode specifically for this.