GaG – Get a Gitzo!
Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Gitzo; I’m not being paid to advertise for them after all! I have just forked out a reasonable sum for my second Gitzo tripod and ballhead combination though, so as you can see, I AM a little biased. Here are some reasons why you should have a tripod for your SLR, Gitzo or not.
Firstly, you just need one – a good one. Any serious landscape photographer does. The difference in the quality of images taken with a tripod setup is unsurpassable – blurred images can forever be eliminated. Don’t go out now to your local camera store and buy a “consumer” tripod. These ones are usually around a hundred dollars (or maybe less), come with the ballhead already attached, and the legs of the tripod are made stable by pushing down on the attachment linking the legs to the middle section of the tripod. Not only are these extremely inflexible, but they are usually also quite flimsy and will not support a heavy camera kit. More on the inflexibilities later – we are talking about reasons right now.
Secondly, a tripod will allow you to be more creative. Usually those spectacular dawn or sunset shots are not taken hand held, simply because you cannot hold the camera still for long enough. As an example, our image exposures at dawn average about 25 seconds. If you shoot sunsets, you can get some very nice long exposures over several minutes and you can even capture those star trails over longer periods of time. Having a tripod means you also have your hands free, which means you can use those graduated neutral density filters you went out and bought but never really used (speaking from experience here!). Of course, you CAN get filter holders, but sometimes (actually, most times) I hand hold them ( Shh! Don’t tell anyone that!).
Thirdly, a tripod improves your composition. Since it takes some time to set up the tripod, it allows you to assess the scene in front of you a little more carefully. A landscape isn’t going to change much, so you can take your time and make sure that you capture the best image possible.
Let’s talk now about those inflexible consumer tripods, starting with the ballhead. As already mentioned, in most cases, these are attached to the tripod legs and you don’t have much of a choice. If you buy that tripod, you’re stuck with the ballhead that comes with it. They’re not always all that bad, but I’ve found that they are usually quite limited in movement, and the handles and levers tend to get in the way more often than not. I prefer the centre ballheads that don’t come with pan-locking ability (i.e. a single handle allows movement in any direction) but they do take a little getting used to, and sometimes making minor adjustments can mean recomposing if you’re not ready to support the camera before you untighten the handle!
The second issue I found concerns the tripod legs. Have you ever visited a tourist spot and you’re trying to wedge yourself between other tourists whilst battling with the barricade of the platform and your tripod won’t allow you to get close enough to eliminate the ugly man-made barrier from your composition? That’s because to make your tripod stable, you had to fully extend the legs of your tripod with that centre attachment and of course there’s not enough room to do it! A good tripod should have three totally separate manoeuverable legs; easy enough to manipulate, but not so much that they move by themselves. They should also feel solid and not wobble! With three independent legs, it’s possible to position them separately such that you won’t only remove the barricade from your view, but also save other tourists from tripping over your tripod at full extension. You can also get very low to the ground with these tripods, giving a whole new perspective to a scene.
So now you know the reasons, how do you choose the best tripod for you? Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:
What am I using this tripod for? Landscapes, portraits, sports, low light environments, bird photography? In what environment will I be using it? Indoors, outdoors, trekking, climbing, in rivers, in ice, my backyard? How easy will it be to use? How much weight will it need to support? How high/low can it go? How much am I willing to spend on it?
We bought our tripods for the purpose of trekking with them. So for us, they needed to be light, stable, easy to set up and of a short length (to fit inside our hiking packs). I prefer the twist leg locks on a tripod as opposed to the flip locks. I find they are a bit easier to handle when your fingers are cold. Other factors: easy to dissemble and clean, excellent stability vs. weight ratio, G-locking mechanism (where the weight pressing down on the tripod makes it even more stable), removable centre column (allowing super low angles) and a good height range for more creative purposes.
The current tripod kit we lug around with us consists of the GT2531 and GT2541 Mountaineer tripod legs, and the G1178M and G1278M classic centre ballheads. These are not overly heavy and are not suited to long telephoto lenses, but are ideal for landscape photography.
So hopefully now that you realise how important a tripod is, you’ll make more of an effort to use it – especially if it means a higher percentage of keepers from every outing you now embark upon. And if you don’t have one… well maybe it’s about time it made it to the top of your equipment list, because you can have the best camera kit in the world, but without a good tripod, it won’t mean a thing. At least that’s what I think.
Posted on March 10, 2009, in How we..., Photography and tagged dylan toh, equipment, Everlook, everlook photography, gitzo, marianne lim, Photography, technique, tripods. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.