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What tripod & head combo seems best?

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Old Monday 29th December 2008, 19:03   #1
neil calabro
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What tripod & head combo seems best?

Hi everyone,
I am an American birder & new to the forum. Hello all! I am seeking the recommendations of the group in regard to my transition to a new & lighter tripod & head. I am hoping to obtain a tripod & head pairing suitable for long nature walks. I am strongly considering purchasing either a Manfrotto B0190CX Pro 4 Tripod and Manfrotto B0501HOV Head or Gitzo Mountaineer GIGT0541 and Gitzo GIG2180 Head. I might also buy the Manfrotto tripod & mount the Gitzo head on it. What experiences have members of the group had with these heads & tripods?

My decision has two complicating factors: I am seeking to buy the tripod & head now, then save up to buy a new lightweight spotting scope next year. My current scope is a heavy, lengthy 90 mm model that may present stability problems for the above tripods & heads. Would it be best for me to wait until next year & buy a lightweight tripod, head, & scope all at once?

Thanks,
Neil
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Old Monday 29th December 2008, 20:15   #2
4John
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Neil,

Welcome !

The answer to your question depends to some extent on how much lighter your new scope will be compared with your heavy 90mm scope. Are you looking at a 50mm, 60mm or 80mm new scope ?

Regards

Mark
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 01:34   #3
neil calabro
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Hi Mark,
Thanks for your kind welcome. I am likely to go for a Kowa 77 mm Prominar TSN, which weighs 1,330 g (47 oz). (I think that weight is without an eyepiece).
Best wishes,
Neil.

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Neil,

Welcome !

The answer to your question depends to some extent on how much lighter your new scope will be compared with your heavy 90mm scope. Are you looking at a 50mm, 60mm or 80mm new scope ?

Regards

Mark
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 02:05   #4
Kevin Conville
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Hi Neil,
Welcome to BF.

Is the Kowa 77 to be an angled body or straight? If you are going for a straight scope neither of the tripods you mention are tall enough IMO. You have to consider where the eyepiece will be positioned when looking up, as in trees or following a flying bird. Larger straight scopes like the Kowa 77 exacerbate the problem as they are relatively long therefore the teeter-totter motion is greater.

For an angled body the heights of the tripods you mention should be OK if you are of normal height, though the particular Gitzo you are considering is a little puny for that size scope I think.
Tip: don't put too much stock in manufacturer's weight ratings.

A larger Gitzo Mountaneer would be great as would several of the carbon Manfrottos. The G2180 head on a Gitzo 2540 (rapid column, not geared) strikes me as deluxe, price no barrier setup for an angled scope of that size, and should handle your existing scope fine. If you're going with a straight scope I suggest looking at something approaching 70".

As an aside, are you aware that if you opt for the 88mm Prominar you pick up a true fluorite objective? Just fanning the fire!

Last edited by Kevin Conville : Tuesday 30th December 2008 at 02:24.
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 02:35   #5
neil calabro
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What tripod & head combo seems best?

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for your reply & recommendations. I want an angled lens for my telescope & am of average height so it sounds like these tripods should fit me in terms of height. When you say the Gitzo GIGT0541 seems "puny" do you mean it does not seem sturdy enough to hold the 77 mm scope?

I am sure the 88mm Kowa has a great lens but I am really looking to cut weight wherever possible (thus my willingness to consider the frightening cost of Gitzo equipment).
Best wishes,
Neil

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Conville View Post
Hi Neil,
Welcome to BF.

Is the Kowa 77 to be an angled body or straight? If you are going for a straight scope neither of the tripods you mention are tall enough IMO. You have to consider where the eyepiece will be positioned when looking up, as in trees or following a flying bird. Larger straight scopes like the Kowa 77 exacerbate the problem as they are relatively long therefore the teeter-totter motion is greater.

For an angled body the heights of the tripods you mention should be OK if you are of normal height, though the particular Gitzo you are considering is a little puny for that size scope I think.
Tip: don't put too much stock in manufacturer's weight ratings.

A larger Gitzo Mountaneer would be great as would several of the carbon Manfrottos. The G2180 head on a Gitzo 2540 (rapid column, not geared) strikes me as deluxe, price no barrier setup for an angled scope of that size, and should handle your existing scope fine. If you're going with a straight scope I suggest looking at something approaching 70".

As an aside, are you aware that if you opt for the 88mm Prominar you pick up a true fluorite objective? Just fanning the fire!
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 03:48   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by neil calabro View Post
Hi Kevin,
Thanks for your reply & recommendations. I want an angled lens for my telescope & am of average height so it sounds like these tripods should fit me in terms of height. When you say the Gitzo GIGT0541 seems "puny" do you mean it does not seem sturdy enough to hold the 77 mm scope?
Yes.
Oh it'll hold it fine, but it'll be a bit of the tail wagging the dog. That tripod weighs 1.7 lbs. and has a 46" height w/o the column extended which means... you'll be extending the column. Besides not having adequate mass, small tripods have small footprints and on a breezy day the physics won't be in your favor.
Don't get me wrong, I like small, light tripods...when used with small, light scopes. I can see a Nikon ED50 or a Kowa TSN603 on that 'pod, and then you'll really be saving some weight.


Quote:
Originally Posted by neil calabro View Post
I am sure the 88mm Kowa has a great lens but I am really looking to cut weight wherever possible (thus my willingness to consider the frightening cost of Gitzo equipment).
Look at Benro to save money. Very good Chinese knock-offs of Gitzo.

Editorial: I've been through a number of tripods over the years and have made the same mistake I think you are about to make. It is my opinion that marginal tripods are a false economy. When spending that amount of money one can get better utility overall by upping the weight and size ante a bit. There is no free ride in that something has to give. In this case, stability.

Last edited by Kevin Conville : Tuesday 30th December 2008 at 04:04.
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 16:34   #7
neil calabro
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What tripod & head combo seems best?

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for your ongoing feedback. My plan had been to keep my current very heavy tripod for windy conditions. I do not want to get an objective lens below 70 mm - too small for me! But to be clear, do you think a 77 mm scope mounted on the Gitzo we have been discussing (in 0-5 mph winds) would suffer wobble issues? If yes, which Gitzo tripod (I am wary of Benros) or Manfrotto tripod would be both very light-weight & have the minimum level of sturdiness to carry a 77 mm scope in low wind conditions?
Best wishes,
Neil.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Conville View Post
Yes.
Oh it'll hold it fine, but it'll be a bit of the tail wagging the dog. That tripod weighs 1.7 lbs. and has a 46" height w/o the column extended which means... you'll be extending the column. Besides not having adequate mass, small tripods have small footprints and on a breezy day the physics won't be in your favor.
Don't get me wrong, I like small, light tripods...when used with small, light scopes. I can see a Nikon ED50 or a Kowa TSN603 on that 'pod, and then you'll really be saving some weight.




Look at Benro to save money. Very good Chinese knock-offs of Gitzo.

Editorial: I've been through a number of tripods over the years and have made the same mistake I think you are about to make. It is my opinion that marginal tripods are a false economy. When spending that amount of money one can get better utility overall by upping the weight and size ante a bit. There is no free ride in that something has to give. In this case, stability.
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 19:52   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by neil calabro View Post
Hi Kevin,
Thanks for your ongoing feedback. My plan had been to keep my current very heavy tripod for windy conditions. I do not want to get an objective lens below 70 mm - too small for me! But to be clear, do you think a 77 mm scope mounted on the Gitzo we have been discussing (in 0-5 mph winds) would suffer wobble issues? If yes, which Gitzo tripod (I am wary of Benros) or Manfrotto tripod would be both very light-weight & have the minimum level of sturdiness to carry a 77 mm scope in low wind conditions?
Best wishes,
Neil.
Let me reverse the the questions on you for a moment.
What got you thinking that a tripod of that size is suitable for a 77mm scope?
What do you know that others don't in this regard?
Have you ever seen/used a setup like you are describing?

Here's what I predict with that setup...
You'll end up with the column extended about half way most of the time.
You'll find the tripod is very "alive" when you adjust and focus the scope, vibrating a lot.
At high power you'll see movement through the eyepiece in anything but dead calm and without touching either the scope or the tripod.
Focusing generally will seem slow and awkward and the overall handling and ability to "get on" a bird will be compromised as compared when on a sturdy tripod.
On irregular ground you'll end up splaying one or more of the legs for stability and this reduces the working height even more causing you to want to extend the column, probably all the way.


The things that work for you with a scope of that size with what, the 20-60x zoom?, are:
A minimum amount of height without extending the column much.
A certain amount of mass, both to lower the center of gravity and reduce vibration.
A footprint (stance) similar to a full size tripod, again for stability.
Rigid construction.

The specific Gitzo you like has rigid construction.

In general I'd say give up on "very lightweight" for that size scope and start looking at tripods in the 3 - 4 1/2 lb. range.

If it helps at all, I have an ED50 and a Pentax PF80. The ED50 is mounted on a Benro C-028 with a Benro KB-0 ballhead. The ballhead uses an Arca-Swiss type plate which is kept mounted to the scope for quick attachment. The tripod and head assembly weight right at 3 lbs. This setup works brilliantly for the little scope. The entire rig weighs 4 1/2 lbs. going down the trail.

My PF80 is carried on a Manfrotto 055MF4 with the venerable Manfrotto 3130 head (now 128RC) and that rig weighs 11 lbs. ready to go.

I suggest you source more info on this before you buy anything. Don't take my word on any of this. I'm betting you'll buy a larger tripod.

Cheers,
Kevin
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 20:54   #9
neil calabro
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What tripod & head combo seems best?

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for your good information. With a better sense of the hazards of an ultra-light tripod & heavier scope, I will look for a tripod in the 3.0 - 4.5 pound range. In regard to whether I have seen anyone else use an ultralight tripod with a heavier scope, I have not. Most birders I have seen have invested heavily in the scope but little in the tripod. I selected my possible tripod, head, & scope combinations after visiting a well-known, very large optics dealer in Manhattan. At that store, the tripod & scopes were sold in separate departments & the sales staffs in each department were not familiar with each others products. Each department was only able to offer partial advice. Thus, I decided to seek the advice of this forum.
Best,
Neil.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Conville View Post
Let me reverse the the questions on you for a moment.
What got you thinking that a tripod of that size is suitable for a 77mm scope?
What do you know that others don't in this regard?
Have you ever seen/used a setup like you are describing?

Here's what I predict with that setup...
You'll end up with the column extended about half way most of the time.
You'll find the tripod is very "alive" when you adjust and focus the scope, vibrating a lot.
At high power you'll see movement through the eyepiece in anything but dead calm and without touching either the scope or the tripod.
Focusing generally will seem slow and awkward and the overall handling and ability to "get on" a bird will be compromised as compared when on a sturdy tripod.
On irregular ground you'll end up splaying one or more of the legs for stability and this reduces the working height even more causing you to want to extend the column, probably all the way.


The things that work for you with a scope of that size with what, the 20-60x zoom?, are:
A minimum amount of height without extending the column much.
A certain amount of mass, both to lower the center of gravity and reduce vibration.
A footprint (stance) similar to a full size tripod, again for stability.
Rigid construction.

The specific Gitzo you like has rigid construction.

In general I'd say give up on "very lightweight" for that size scope and start looking at tripods in the 3 - 4 1/2 lb. range.

If it helps at all, I have an ED50 and a Pentax PF80. The ED50 is mounted on a Benro C-028 with a Benro KB-0 ballhead. The ballhead uses an Arca-Swiss type plate which is kept mounted to the scope for quick attachment. The tripod and head assembly weight right at 3 lbs. This setup works brilliantly for the little scope. The entire rig weighs 4 1/2 lbs. going down the trail.

My PF80 is carried on a Manfrotto 055MF4 with the venerable Manfrotto 3130 head (now 128RC) and that rig weighs 11 lbs. ready to go.

I suggest you source more info on this before you buy anything. Don't take my word on any of this. I'm betting you'll buy a larger tripod.

Cheers,
Kevin
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Old Tuesday 30th December 2008, 22:09   #10
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Neil,
email sent

Kevin

Last edited by Kevin Conville : Tuesday 30th December 2008 at 22:12.
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Old Wednesday 31st December 2008, 15:01   #11
4John
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Neil,

Kevin has offered a lot of useful advice based on your choice of a 77mm scope.

However, I see in your original post that you wanted something lighter for long nature walks. I wouldn't take a 77mm scope on a long nature walk - but I realise that one person's long nature walk is another persons quick stroll !

What do you class as 'long' (i.e. length of time) and what sort of terrain would you expect to cover (e.g. level firm ground or clambering over rocks) ? Do you take your 90mm scope on these long nature walks ? How often do you actually use the scope during a long nature walk ? One of the reasons I bought an ED50 was because I was sick and tired of lugging my 80mm Swarovski around some habitats 'just-in-case' - and it hardly ever got used. An ED50 is a much better 'just-in-case' scope.

I see that you think anythng smaller than 77mm is too small. Whilst a 77mm scope and tripod will be lighter than a 90mm scope and tripod, I don't think it will be a lot lighter. To make any significant dffererence you will need a 60 or 65mm scope, and you can use a a correspondingly lighter tripod. Have you had a chance to look through a good 60mm scope ? Some of them are very good. Something like the current Swarovski, Zeiss or Kowa 65s will give an 80mm a good run for its money. The Nikon EDIII 63 is also good. Not sure if the Leica 62 is currently available.

However, if I was going on a long nature walk it would be more than 4 hours, and I would either take my ED50 and a lightweight tripod, or just take binoculars ! Have you had a chance to look through an ED50 ?

Regards

Mark

Last edited by 4John : Wednesday 31st December 2008 at 15:01. Reason: spelling
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Old Thursday 1st January 2009, 16:06   #12
neil calabro
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What tripod & head combo seems best?

Hi Mark,
Thanks for your response. Kevin has gone above & beyond in providing information. Please let me answer some of your questions.
1) I class a long walk by the distance - I have very bad joints & they are sensitive to weight so I try to be careful with weight for any walk over a half mile one way!
2) I share your concern about the weight of a 77 mm scope over any distance.
3) I have tried out Swarovski & Kowa scopes in the 66 mm range. They are nice but do not seem to have much more power than my Nikon 16X50 binoculars. I would be concerned about looking at ducks & shorebirds. In light of my concerns over the ongoing decline of my joints, I may have to make some concessions to power.
4)I tried out a Kowa 77 this weekend (in a store) & it seemed like a good compromise of size & weight but I might feel differently if I were lugging a field guide, water bottle, note book, food, etc.
Anyway I am open to further recommendations for a tripod & head. right now I am looking hard at the Swarovski FH 101 head & Bogen Manfrotto 055CXPRO4 Convertible Carbon Fiber Black Tripod Legs as a compromise between lightweight & stability.
Happy New Year,
Neil.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 4John View Post
Neil,

Kevin has offered a lot of useful advice based on your choice of a 77mm scope.

However, I see in your original post that you wanted something lighter for long nature walks. I wouldn't take a 77mm scope on a long nature walk - but I realise that one person's long nature walk is another persons quick stroll !

What do you class as 'long' (i.e. length of time) and what sort of terrain would you expect to cover (e.g. level firm ground or clambering over rocks) ? Do you take your 90mm scope on these long nature walks ? How often do you actually use the scope during a long nature walk ? One of the reasons I bought an ED50 was because I was sick and tired of lugging my 80mm Swarovski around some habitats 'just-in-case' - and it hardly ever got used. An ED50 is a much better 'just-in-case' scope.

I see that you think anythng smaller than 77mm is too small. Whilst a 77mm scope and tripod will be lighter than a 90mm scope and tripod, I don't think it will be a lot lighter. To make any significant dffererence you will need a 60 or 65mm scope, and you can use a a correspondingly lighter tripod. Have you had a chance to look through a good 60mm scope ? Some of them are very good. Something like the current Swarovski, Zeiss or Kowa 65s will give an 80mm a good run for its money. The Nikon EDIII 63 is also good. Not sure if the Leica 62 is currently available.

However, if I was going on a long nature walk it would be more than 4 hours, and I would either take my ED50 and a lightweight tripod, or just take binoculars ! Have you had a chance to look through an ED50 ?

Regards

Mark
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