When evaluating tripods I found out purely from a writers viewpoint, there's probably as many opinions about tripods than there are Wildebeest during the annual migration.  Some I laugh like a Hyena at.

And some of the things I hear could make a laughing Hyena cry.  As with many, the Crocs are waiting at the Zambezi river crossing. Like the Wildebeest and the Crocs, the sounds of a Nikon D3 and a 400mm lens hitting pavement bears a similarity of a neck crunching shot from the Croc.

Most statements you read on forums have a familiar ring.  They are carefully cut and paste  "points of light" statements made by the manufacturer and then repeated as gospel;  epitaphs depicting and justifying how much money the writer blew on his new kick stand reminding you get what you pay for.

When I hear this in a class, I ask the most poignant question."Do you own one of these"… Most of the time their opinion was based on someone else's opinion. Theories and opinions should be formed on the basis of their personal trials, success or failure, and even economics, all based on logic. 


Photography is the study of light and the tripod is the natural extension of the camera to capture natural light. It is both the most respected piece of equipment and at times the most hated. In it's simplistic version it serves one purpose. The tripod has a purpose here. 

It extends the ability of the camera to record the image under diminishing conditions. It gets a bad rap as it snags on things, gets caught in doors and when not properly set up cause’s severe damage to your camera and your car door if you happen to close it on the tripod. What exactly does the tripod do? It increases the range of the camera in terms of lighting and distance in diminishing conditions. 

It is also a badly needed third hand for the photographer and the tripod also has a way of denoting authority in those squeaky situations you might encounter especially when photographing groups at an event or wedding.

No tripod is perfect, it hasn't been invented yet. For they are all either under built, or over built and worse over priced and under-built. Rarely does the right one come out of the box unless you really think money buys perfection. I have seen the legs locked up on many a 800 dollar leg-set XXXXX.


• You are at a wedding or event and you talk using your hands or have to pose people.
•  You are a user of long heavy lenses based on the subject matter; 
•  Anything over 200 mm long and or using a converter;
•  The sun is going down and you can't see your feet.
•  You are using very slow shutter speeds to accentuate something in the picture like the motion in a waterfall.
•  You wish to avoid camera shake especially for large prints where "bad" is bigger.
•  You want to be in the picture.
• You are doing studio work and either a lot of composition or reframing is needed.
 • And the most important reason of all...


Tripods are great for long lenses when what you are is "edible". Lets take the late MAX for example, Max was old, about 12-14 or so, thats ancient for male lions, 10 is well into social security in the wild. He tipped the scales at 360-380 lb. and was the Lord and Master of his domain. Cute…he smiled a lot. 


A zookeeper whose arm was bitten off  at Busch Gardens had been feeding meat to the animal as part of a training exercise minutes before the attack, park officials said Monday.

Surgeons were unable to reattach 21-year-old Amanda Bourassa's arm following Sunday's attack, which occurred as she took her parents and boyfriend on a behind-the-scenes tour of the animal's sleeping quarters.

State wildlife investigators said witnesses indicated Bourassa may have poked part of her hand or a finger through a 1.5-inch opening between the bars when the 364-pound lion grabbed her. Her right arm was severed near the elbow.

The attack occurred outside the view of tourists as Bourassa was giving a private tour available only to zookeepers' family members. The theme park suspended such tours Monday, said Glenn Young, the park's vice president of zoological operations.  

Busch Gardens officials said the 12-year-old lion named Max would not be destroyed, but said the amusement park's safety policies would be reviewed.  

A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said an initial probe found no violations in how the lion was being caged.  The story of biting the hand that feeds you is alive and well.  I had briefly spoken with her a couple weeks before it happened. Even with fourteen - fifteen years of human encounter, Max just did his thing. Unfortunately Max passed on in 2009. 

NOTE:  Basics: Nothing fancy, Nikon D200/300 with 70-200 VR with 1.7 converter and Tripod.  About 50 yards late in the day. Caught the light coming thru the enclosure.

The PERFECT TRIPOD - Manfrotto 055 Carbon Fiber Legs

In my case I needed a tripod strong enough to support in wind and crowd conditions a setup including but not limited to Nikon or Canon long glass w/rotating tripod collars.  For bigger cameras and lenses, most of the time like Nikon D3's/D300 or canon Mark II series with added battery base, and a weak tripod create the perfect storm.  Here are my final selections:

We all want the best for ourselves and we all have a different version of best.  For "Best" really means best suited at the time, best suited for your budget, and best suited to support and integrate with your gear. Obviously as your gear changes so does the tripod. 


I went Carbon fiber with three leg sections because it was the trend. Trekkers like four and some even five sections on a backpack.  Understandable! But not for me!  I believe less is more, as each joint gives a little.  Three sections is less twist in, more stability, and a much stronger stout base for heavy gear. Big glass, three sections.

The significant savings in weight with Carbon Fiber over aluminum is not that much. Negligible, like I said unless you are a trekker and weigh grams.  It's more of a selling point.  

Frankly I found the aluminum faster to set up and collapse. But carbon fiber has the ability to absorb shock which aluminum doesn't do and theres a clue there especially with really slow shutter settings or windy days. Its a game of advantage and disadvantage. I now have one of each as I shoot video now.

HAND WARMERS - Leg Cover in Foam.
I gave little thought for the hand warmers on a carbon fiber tripod for those frigid Florida winters. BUT those hand warmers are nice when you shoulder the tripod with camera attached and the legs don't dig into your shoulder.  They possibly also may aid in cutting down vibration so my scientific friend explained to me.

Basically it is steady as a rock even with a fairly heavy camera aboard, works well, very well made, easy to maintain, does vertical and horizontal, you can adjust for wear and REASONABLY priced. 

At one of his classes, Al shows you how to get great train pictures.  And this photo, taken by one of his students shows you how to get great pre-accident pictures.  The only thing Al remembers, he had turned away when one of the students yelling out, what F-stop are you using?




I had a Bogen Heavy duty Ball Head Part 486-RC.  Now replaced by the much better 498RC2, I decided to use it on my new carbon fiber leg package together with my D2H and Nikon 70-200 VR, converter, and headed out for Busch Gardens. It was almost a disaster.  The Phenolic Ball Head of the 486RC works fine. a great head at a great price and virtually indestructible.  BUT… 

It, the plate part, will swivel, and it can work loose. You can lose a $2300.00 lens. many of the bigger lenses have too much leverage for the head of the RC2 release. The ball part is OK. I tried anti-seize bike tube rubber to prevent slipping and actually made an intermediary plate and milled out the RC2 platform and the BOTTOM LINE - Too many connections to make this work.  NOTE: The newer versions of the 3157 are improved and both the head and the release are more secure.

I stripped off the quick release plate that sits top of the Ball-Head 486.  It unscrews after a few seconds of hot hair dryer if it is stuck to release the locktite.

With the plate removed you have nice 3/8 screw thread which is the standard of the industry. I ordered from KIRK ENTERPRISES a new Quick Release bottom plate with SWISS-ARCA type mount, 3/8 inch threads, a little Locktite blue and I'm in business. 

The cost was $85.00 and you may order it direct from KIRK on the web and it works on the Bogen - Manfrotto ball head like that glove worked at the O.J. Simpson trial. 

So now we have the best legs for the buck, a good working head with the 486 and an ARCA SWISS mount for flexibility and strength. The specialty plates I ordered from KIRK for the cameras and lenses will eliminate two other parts and compress the whole rig. 

In other words: The problem with Bogens Quick Release Mount and the Nikon foot is too many components stacked in a column. The combo creates a series of parts that can come loose at: 

a) The tripod collar foot that connects to the tripod collar
b) The plate that connects to the foot;  
c) The same plate that now connects to the head.   


First: The Kirk Plate shown eliminates one complete plate and head assembly from the stack thus you get more stability, and less top weight and wobbles. This plate connects the 70-200 direct to the ARCA swiss head on the tripod. One connection, VOILA!

Second: It does lower the profile. VOILA!

Third:  The Kirk foot is heavier and more robust than the Nikon foot which with one touch can send the lens slipping off.  A more secure lock. VOILA!


Nikons screw for the rotating collar on the 70-200 VR is abysmally small. Again KIRK comes up with a solution and it works great because you eliminate the need for a rotating bracket. Just loosen and turn the lens comfortably. it gives you leverage. Less parts more fun. Incredibly, simple solutions from Kirk.


Here is what we do with leftover plastic one inch wide strips.  We make hangers for the tripods, monopods and light stands. 

Just bevel the edges with a file, add a screw connector and a 1/4 x 20 loop at the top and a carabiner from Home-us Deport-us.

In my studio/workshop all tripods, lightstands, monopods and booms hang from these devices and variants in a closet.  Your gear lasts longer and I hate putting stuff in bags. No warping.

 © copyright aljacobs Stardate 10-18-2012