Even the most beautiful scene, captured with perfect exposure, can be ruined by “camera shake”. In most situations, proper camera stabilization leads to better images.
I have written about this in the past. These days most of the images I capture involve the use of at least a monopod, and often a tripod.
The problem is, when I open the trunk of my car, and grab my camera bag, I have had to decide whether to also grab also one of my fairly heavy duty Gitzo tripods. More often than not I don’t, basically because I’m lazy. Even carbon fiber tripods are bulky and sometimes make a casual hike feel more like an expedition. But big sturdy tripods are necessary for the digital SLRs I have carried for so many years.
This is because DSLRs tend to have more “camera shake” due to their robust shutter mechanisms, and the swinging mirrors. I still use my big Gitzos when shooting my Nikon bodies, particularly the D800E.
But so often now, I head out with a much smaller but still very high quality cameras. Tripods in this setting can be significantly smaller and less robust. Up to now, I really haven’t owned a high quality small “travel tripod”, but several months ago I looked over the market and settled on a Manfrotto tripod/head from their Beefree line. This is a nice tripod with I think, an awkward name.
I acquired for roughly $180US the aluminum version which weighs roughly 3 pounds, and folds to a little over 15 inches in length (there is also a carbon fiber version at 2.4 pounds and 2x the cost.). It comes with a very stylish, if somewhat form-fitted case. This is nicely designed for airline travel, but less useful in the woods.
The reason for this is that in order to fit the tripod in the case, it has to be collapsed to its minimal length which involves extending the center column, and then reversing the legs. Doing this repetitively while hiking and shooting is rather tedious. I ultimately have solved the problem by buying a small Op/Tech tripod strap which allows me to carry the tripod in its operational configuration, and distributing the weight in such a way that it is literally no burden.
The tripod legs extension is locked with flip style levers.. These are plastic, which makes them light in weight, but suspicious in terms of durability. With the legs extended and the column retracted (which is the proper way to use a tripod) the tripod head comes about to my chest. The tripod legs are quite rigid and stable (it is said to support 8.8 pounds). The legs move from the normal in-use position, to a more splayed position, or even reverse themselves by manipulating small lock at the top of each leg.
I chose this tripod in part because of the tripod head. Now I know the Arca Swiss-style heads are in vogue, but over the years I have invested in a variety of Manfrotto heads, which all use the ubiquitous 200pl tripod plate. I now have so many of them in my bags that I am reluctant to switch to another system. Plus, they work fine.
The Befree has a lightweight ballhead which is compatible with my current plates. It is cleverly designed, with cut outs designed to allow the tripod legs to fold completely parallel to each other with the column extended. Though certainly not as robust as some of my other gear, it is more than adequate for my intended uses.
Having a lightweight tripod is wonderful when using mirrorless cameras, such as my Fuji’s, or even my Sony RX100 mark III. All of these cameras fall well within the weight capacity of this little tripod. The combination of this tripod, with the little Sony creates an extremely light and versatile system photo/ video system.
In addition, the Fujifilm “X” line, particularly the X100 series cameras, with their soft leaf shutters and built-in neutral density filters work nicely here. It no issue to grab this tripod, along with a small camera bag, for low light and/ or moving water shooting. Using either the 2-second self-timer, a cable release, or the remote control smart phone app, you can trigger the shutter without causing camera movement and thus obtain sharp images in low light/slow shutter speed situations. I find the tripod able to easily deal with the smaller cameras. Even with multi-second exposures, one can still produce razor-sharp images.
I honestly haven’t tried it yet with my Nikon DSLRs, though given its published weight capacity, it ought to work, at least for less demanding situations.
There are few things missing from my bigger tripods. One is a separate “pan” control for the ball head, an omission which makes adjusting the camera angle slightly fussy. Also absent is a weight hook on the center column which would be useful on this light tripod in windy/unstable conditions. I solved this problem with an “S” style carabiner attached to the tripod strap.
So now when I look in the trunk, grabbing a tripod is now an easy decision.
Photographically, it’s usually a great decision.
As usual these images an others, can be viewed at Henrysmithscottage@smugmug.com