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Just curious

Discussion in 'General Equipment Chat & Advice' started by Stephen Rundle, May 22, 2020.

  1. ChrisNewman

    ChrisNewman Well-Known Member

    I have a selection of tripod heads that didn’t work well for me in the cupboard; fortunately most of them were fairly cheap. You’ve prompted me to unburden myself on the subject!

    My first proper tripod was a Benbo Trekker, chosen for its versatility for macro but bought for the 1999 solar eclipse when we’d booked a holiday in Cornwall under the line of totality, but that was the only day of the fortnight when the sun never broke through the clouds! The Benbo has a ball head with cork-surfaced disc that screws into the base of the camera.

    When it seemed the future of photography would be digital, I subscribed to AP to find out more about it, with the inducement of a free Velbon CX 440 lightweight budget tripod with integral plastic 3-way head.

    Neither of these gripped the base of the camera well enough to support a sizeable lens, such as a zoom, in portrait orientation. And both were rather short for my 6' + frame.

    With digital came my introduction to autofocus, and great frustration with conventional ball heads. I soon bought a Sigma 150-500mm telephoto lens. During the cold, snowy spell that followed, a flock of redwings and fieldfares came to eat the berries on our pyracantha, and I set up the lens on a tripod to photo the birds through the living room window. But with the ball head on my Trekker it was a struggle to both get the horizon level and place the focal point on a bird’s head. Then when I released the lens the focal point would droop below the target. When I loosened the head to correct for this, I lost the horizon again, and the bird had probably moved. The 3-way head avoided both issues in principle, as a lever is used to adjust the pitch of the lens without touching it directly. But the plastic head of the Velbon was so soft that it would creep up or down with the slightest imbalance of weight. Hence I bought a Giotto’s MH5001 3-way head for the Trekker.

    Then we visited the south-west USA. I took the Velbon because the Trekker was far too big and heavy. One day, with a strong breeze blowing, I stopped at the roadside for a photo of a hill shaped just like a traditional skep beehive, but noticed my camera flapping in the wind on the plastic Velbon head! I decided to shoot with my rather shaky hands, and later buy a quality tripod. I chose the Redged TSC-425. This came with an Arca-Swiss compatible ball head that was better quality than the Trekker’s, but did nothing to avoid my frustration trying to level the horizon while placing the focal point accurately and correcting for droop. The Giotto’s MH5001 3-way head was almost as heavy as the tripod legs, so I visited my local camera shop (SRS, Watford), looking for Giotto’s junior 3-way head, despite realizing that its light weight would be due to cost-cutting, not high-tech materials. But SRS persuaded me to try the Manfrotto 460MG Magnesium Camera Head. This is a 3-way head without the levers, that looks like something a plumber made in his lunch break, soldering together all the spare 90° pipe bends. I assumed that, while separating roll from pitch, it would still suffer from droop. I was delighted that it didn’t (I assumed this was because the camera mounts a couple of inches behind the pivot for pitch, balancing its centre of gravity).

    I was fairly happy with the 460MG until we booked a trip to Australia and New Zealand. The 460MG was too bulky to fit in the Redged’s tripod bag. I bought the UniqBall UBH 35X Ballhead. This has concentric levelling and inner balls, and the inner ball allows pitch and rotation, but not roll. (Leaving the inner ball unlocked also allows a fair imitation of a gimbal head.) I also bought a budget nodal rail, to balance the weight of the camera and lens over the centre of the ball, avoiding droop. I then bought a budget “L” plate, which I find a wonderful help when switching to portrait orientation.

    For landscape-type shots, I’m satisfied with the combination of Redged tripod, UniqBall head, nodal rail and “L” plate. But one year the expert wildlife photographer who gives annual talks at the local camera club brought in his kit, which included the Gitzo Explorer tripod, which combines the versatility of my floppy aluminium Trekker with a rigid carbon fibre construction that’s straightforward to set up. The centre column can be set at almost any angle through fine steps, and the legs at any angle you choose. I thought an Explorer would be ideal for macro photography, but I couldn’t justify Gitzo’s prices. Then AP reviewed the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+, which appeared to match the Explorer in most respects, although its legs only offer 4 angles. I was tempted, and made a Google search to compare their specs. I was shocked to find that Gitzo had discontinued the Explorer. I think that’s a terrible loss for macro photographers, but it was a blessing for me, as my search also picked up that Park Cameras were clearing their stock of Explorers at about 60% of list price, so I ordered one.

    I thought that a geared head would be perfect to complement the Explorer, but the only lightweight one available at a sensible price was the Manfrotto MHXPRO-3WH. I knew this wouldn’t be ideal, as it’s not Arca-Swiss compatible, but I found an American company offering a conversion kit (at close to the price of the head). I thought I’d use the Manfrotto with an Arca-Swiss clamp mounted on the quick-release plate for a year before deciding about the conversion kit. But a few months after buying the MHXPRO-3WH, Benro announced their geared head, which was just what I’d wanted; Arca-Swiss compatible, even lighter than the MHXPRO-3WH, and made of rigid metal, not bouncy plastic. I bought the Benro, and this spring I recovered a little of the cost of the MHXPRO-3WH in part exchange for a Nikkor AF-P 70-300mm lens.

    Since buying a focusing rail for the geared head, to adjust macro focus by moving the camera, I feel I’m close to my Nirvana of camera supports. One occasional frustration is that my camera sometimes twists on the rubber grip of the budget “L” plate. I’ll put up with that for now, but if/when I replace the D800, I’ll look for a dedicated ‘L’ plate that locks the camera into position.

    Congratulations to anyone who’s read all of this!

  2. GeoffR

    GeoffR Well-Known Member

    As with much of my camera kit I have had my Benbo 1 for a very long time, well over 30 years, and for that I have two ball and socket heads (I occasionally use it to mount flashguns) one has a panorama plate. I tend, on the rare occasions when I even use it, to leave the head loose enough for manual manipulation of the camera and lens with the tripod merely taking the weight. It works well enough but is obviously not conducive to HDR or the like but then again, packed the Benbo 1 is something over 1 metre long and not something I want to carry very far. I also have a Trecker monopod with the associated, smaller, ball and socket head, it sometimes make a reasonable trekking pole but as a camera support... let's just say that it resides in the boot of the car, usually under the waterproof over trousers, boots spare wiper blades etc.

    I have a Velbon with a pan and tilt head, the head is plastic, I'll say no more! I think many photographers have a selection of tripods and I have a feeling many of those tripods are gathering dust. I've nothing against tripods, apart from an aversion to carrying them around, setting them up, finding them in the way when trying to pan and packing them away before moving on. Until I am forced to use one, I think mine will stay gathering dust.
  3. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    That's a shame, it works quite well for me. I've used the technique at air shows...

    Team Raven at Dawlish Air Show 5D 9650.JPG

    I've tried several different heads and none. the loose ball head works best for me.
  4. SqueamishOssifrage

    SqueamishOssifrage Well-Known Member

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