Tripod, isn’t it?

Kia ora tatou:

It’s time to talk about that photographic add-on that so many of us take for granted, that rather ugly accessory that most of us buy last, perhaps as an afterthought, maybe even with a touch of guilt, the contraption which often rattles around in the boot of the car gathering dust. Yes, you guessed it-the tripod.

I don’t know about you but tripods irritate me immensely. They are clumsy, awkward to put up, and frustrating to use. An ergonomic tripod is an oxymoron. I would frankly be happier if I never had to use one again. I bet a few of you feel the same way. I tried really hard to avoid using one.
That is until I “went digital”. However I confess to having had a bit of an epiphany on the subject. So herewith may I read from the Gospel according to St. Tripod the Microfine Resolver.

Tripods have their place. They are as the birds in the trees and the flowers in the meadow. In another words highly necessary. If you are going to shoot landscape, nature or similar, you need one.

Those who have taken the Digital Path need one even more. Here is why. Digital cameras are able to resolve such fine detail that the slightest shake will disturb your ability to capture those microfine contrasts like the texture in a bird’s feathers. Fine detail in a landscape or subtleties of texture in a subject’s hair require precision of technique and as rigid a support as possible. There are times when even the Mighty Image Stabiliser is not up to the task. Try it for yourself. Make an image with lots of detail in it. Aim for a slower shutter speed. Then make the same image, but this time, as it exposes, tap the end of the lens barrel. Enlarge both images to 100% and look at the fine detail. Note which one renders finer detail.

The sharpness of your images will be in direct proportion to the sturdiness of your tripod. As ye purchase, so shall ye reap. Those cute little things that look like a bunch of car aerials having a gossip session will not cut it, even with a point-and-shoot. Choose one that is as heavy as you need. Now choose one that is heavier again. If you are digital, you need all the tripod you can carry ( or a paid slave).

Note well that the Inverse Shutterspeed Rule does not apply with digital photography. The old rule about the slowest shutterspeed being 1/focal length does not apply for digitals 6 Mp and above. For really Big Boys Toys, you should work on 1/2x focal length. That is, if you want to shoot with a 200mm lens handheld, then aim for a shutterspeed of 1/400 or better. A rider to this; if you only make A5 prints, then disregard all of this. If you are in to A3 or larger printing, then you may want to go higher still. Again do some comparison tests.

Bridge’s First Law of Tripod Usefulness states that the value of the tripod is inversely proportional to the beauty of the scene and the prevailing weather. The more appealing the image the more likely a wind will come to shake your equipment and disturb that fine detail, restricting you to an A4-if you are lucky. Buy a tripod with the worst possible conditions in mind. Of course, if photographing arrangements of chocolates and fruit in the privacy of your boudoir is your thing, disregard all of this. No, we don’t want to hear any more!

Bridge’s Second Law of Tripod Usefulness states that the build quality of your tripod is proportional to the amount you are ready to spend and usually inversely proportional to the amount you have to spend/the balance left on your credit card. There is a truth here. You get what you pay for. Buy once, buy right. And there is a reason why so many pros buy Gitzos and Manfrottos. They last. There are plenty of people using Gitzos more than 20 years old. And not a lot using Sliks and Kamakuza brand tripods that old. Also you can get spares when things do wear out-and they do. By the way, did you know Manfrotto own Gitzo? As an aside, there is an exception to this. I have been using a Benro A357 tripod, a Chinese Knockoff of a Gitzo, for the last few months and I have to say that I am amazed. My expectations that it would fall to bits have been misplaced. Hell, it can even take the beating that US baggage handlers give it!

Bridge’s Third Law of Tripod Usefulness states that you should buy a tripod that comes up to eye height without the center column extended. You should not have to bend double to get down to the viewfinder. Choosing a tripod like this will be good for your back and bad for your chiropractor’s cashflow.
So they went forth and bought a quality tripod. And hid the actual price from their spouse/de facto/partner.
Then they sallied out into the wilderness and made photographs. And the results were pleasing, even at A3+.

One Response

  1. Yes, right on the mark, Tony. I was going to use the cliche about a love/hate relationship with tripods but I think it’s just hate. Still, I do use tripods, and when I do, it’s often with the camera’s mirror locked up and the self-timer employed.

    Does anywhere here sell the Arca-Swiss QR plates? They’re just little bits of dovetailed metal, but are obscenely expensive to buy overseas and when you add the cost of the shipping… I’m thinking of getting one of my mates with good metalworking skills to make me a couple; maybe an L-plate, too.

    Oh, lastly, should your First Law read “directly proportional”? As in, “…the value of the tripod is directly proportional to the beauty of the scene and the ugliness of the weather…”? Or has my brain been addled by too much tripod rage?

    Good to see you back, Tony.

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