Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

 

Uwe's Tripods, Heads, Clamps, Rails and Plates


field report by Uwe Steinmueller

 

 
 

Updated 12/23/2006

Here is an overview on tripods, heads, clamps, Rails and plates we use.

Most people think of a tripod as a device to stabilize longer exposures. This might be the main reason to buy a tripod.

A tripod is also a very important composition device!

 

Why that? You have your hands free and have all the time to do a proper framing. And you probably agree that photography is about framing, right? This makes a good tripod one of the most important device for a photographer.

A good tripod system is composed of these basic parts:

  • Tripod legs
  • Head
  • Clamps
  • Rails
  • Plates

All these parts have to be sturdy while not too heavy. Ultra lightweight is most likely not sturdy. The stabilty is determined by the weakest link of these components.

Arca Swiss Standard

We settled a couple of years ago on usung only Arca Swiss style clamps and plates. We are very, very happy with this decision. All our head have Arca style clamps, all of our tele lenses matching plates and the cameras mostly L-Bracket plates.

It is an irony that the original generic Arca plates are not really to recommend. We use mostly plates, heads and clamps from Really Right Stuff (RRS) and are very pleased with them.

 

 
Our Tripods
 

Gitzo 1548 (no photo)

 

We like strong sturdy tripods. With our new Burzynski head (see below) we wanted to add a second very strong tripod to our stable (we are two photographers). That is why we did not want to get a second 1325 and bought the more heavy and sturdy 1548.

As a head we use a Burzynski Ball Head (see below).

We will be using this tripod mainly if we are closer to our car.


 

 
Gitzo 1325
 


Gitzo 1325

The main tripod is our Gitzo 1325. For stability we would like to use it without a center column but to get higher from a step ladder we have now a center collum installed. I am not very emotional about most of our equipment but we love to use the Gitzo 1325.

As a head we use now a RRS BH-55 with a PCL-1 panning clamp (see below).


 

The Gitzo Explorer Tripod (carbon, 3 legs - we extend only 2)


Gitzo Explorer Tripod

 

We very often photograph rock structures like shown in the photo. Freehand gives the most flexibility but we have to stay at high shutter speeds and the means high ISO and shallow depths of field for f-stops like f/5.6 or even f/8. Our normal Gitzo 1325 is far to inflexible to be useful here. This is where the Gitzo Explorer fits in. The main features are:

  • Not centric center collum
  • Center collum can be horizontal
  • The legs can be spread in any arbitrary angle, that means lowering/heightening the tripod is fast and allows great control

The Explorer did exactly what we hoped for. The fact that the 10D/5D/400D are very light is an extra plus as this is a lightweight tripod.

This tripod is now equipped with an Acratech V2 Ballhead (see below).


Our Tripod Heads

All of of our heads have one thing in common. They all use the Arca Swiss style clamp. We find it the most rigid quick release system available. Custom plates make it even better.

Burzynski Ball Head

This is our latest heavy duty ball head.


we now use a PCL-1 panning clamp

The Burzynski head is unique that it replaces the top plate of the Gitzo 1325 and 1548 (with an adapter). This way the head is tightly integrated with the tripod. The head has a very low profile (75mm).

Unfortunately the Arca clamp is not integrated with the head. We don't feel any problems using a third party Arca clamp.

What are the main benefits?

  • Tripod integration
  • Low profile
  • Can carry very heavy cameras
  • Last not least: Locks in position without any change in your frame.

Most heads we used have a tendency to move the frame just so slightly when we lock the ball. This is not the case with the Burzynski head. We feel this a very important properly. Locking is also very smooth.

There are two downsides:

  • The Burzynski head can only be tilted +/- 45 degrees (not a problem for portrait shots as we use an L-Bracket anyway.
  • We only know one source in Germany Isarfoto. The price of the head is not cheap but in the normal range (332 Euro). Unfortunately the cost for mailing can be very expensive (we paid 119 Euro for shipping).

We also talked to the German developer a couple of times and he only sells direct in Germany. All foreign sales are handled via Isarfoto.

Don't miss to read Bjørn Rørslett's review.


 

Reall Right Stuff BH55

RRS BH55

 

This is an excellent head. For a more detailed review read Paul Caldwell's article.

Note: we use the BH-55 now with the PCL-1 clamp (see below).


Reall Right Stuff BH40


RRS BH-40

This small head is with only about one pound weight a really nice performer. We can easily use it with a camera like the Nikon D2x and the 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens attached. Excellent light weight head.

For more details check out the Really Right Stuff website.


Acratech V2 Ballhead


Acratech V2 Ballhead with Arca style clamp

The Acratech V2 Ballhead is a light ballhead (450 gr) but can still hold up to 25 pounds / 11 kg (data from the manufacturer). We like that the Acratech V2 head can hardly collect dirt inside the ball housing because the ball is mostly open from all sides. Also its design allows easy vertical movements. Excellent light weight head.

For more details check out the Acratech website.


     

Arca Swiss B1G Ball Head


B1G Ball Head

    This nice ballhead gets hardly used anymore. It is bit on the heavy side. Today we would prefer the lighter heads from Really Right Stuff or Acratech

 

 
Our Clamps
 

Just recently we found the RRS PCL-1 plate:

This clamp adds a bit of weight but is very universal and now our standard clamp on the bigger tripods:

  • Can be leveled (bubble level)
  • Can be used for panoramic images (see also below)
  • panning works fine
 
Our Plates
 

All our cameras and longer lenses with tripod collar have custom plates for the Arca Swiss clamp mount.

One specialty of Really Right Stuff is their L-Brackets:


L-Bracket

The L-Brackets allow you to quickly switch the camera form a horizontal to a vertical position. Our friend Jim Collum stitches a lot of vertical shots and could not live without a L-Bracket.

We have L-Bracket on:

  • Canon 1Ds Mk. II / 400D / 40D / 5D
  • Fuji S5

Specialty Rails

For panoramics we use the RRS MPR CL II rail (with clamps). This rail allows us to set the precise nodal point. Used with the PCL-1 clamp you have a great panoramic outfit.


All RRS: BH-55, PCL-1 and MPR CL II in action

The GoPod

Since about 2 weeks we added the GoPod to our set of pods.


GoPod with Canon 1D Mark II and 400mm f/4 DO IS lens

The GoPod (invented by Cory Shubert) does a very nice job to ease the carrying of middle long lenses (400mm f/4, 300mm f/2.8). In our opinion the GoPod also allows better help with composition than even a monopod. We have used the GoPod now for nearly 800 shots and don't want to miss it for our bird and wildlife work. We just bought a Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS lens and the GoPod seems for us the perfect match. We consider the GoPod a major improvement for our work as handheld composition was never as good as with the GoPod and longer lenses.

We asked a couple of friends to try the GoPod and all liked about the GoPod:

  • Ease of use
  • Build quality looks excellent
  • Allows very good movement
  • Helps with stable framing a lot


GoPod with standard setup (Photo Phil Lindsay, we mounted our own Arca clamp)

The GoPod works fine in its normal setup. But in some cases you may want to get the optional gimbal head that allows easier movement up and down.


GoPod with optional gimbal head (Photo Phil Lindsay)

You have to decide whether you need this better way of moving the lens up/down (otherwise you mainly move the lens up and down by bending your body) or whether you like the more firm feeling using the standard setup (e.g. if you have few movements up/down).

We show here two recent shots that were made using the GoPod


Brown Pelican (1D Mark II & 400mm f/4 DO IS)


Night Heron (1D Mark II & 300mm f/4 + 1.4x)

For more detailed information visit the GoPod web page.

Conclusion

If you are serious about photography then invest into a good tripod, good head and use the Arca Swiss mounting system. All this equipment is not cheap. But it lasts and is great pleasure to use.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   

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