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The tricky job of searching for tripods

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Old Wednesday 25th April 2018, 13:21   #1
paddy7
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The tricky job of searching for tripods

I was looking for some CF tripod legs to cover pleasant weather and overseas trips/travel, when a light rig is preferable - and what a task it's been, for the following reasons:
1. manufacturers changing their ranges seemingly extremely regularly
2. Very confusing and very long serial numbers for products
3. Inconsistent specification sheets ('folded length' supplied, but not weight? For a travel tripod? C'mon!!)
4. Online retailers supplying all the information until the order page, when they say 'we don't know when we are expecting further stock'
5. Tripods that only seem to be able to be purchased with a ball-head, but not as legs (when you don't need another head - although I feel like I might now...)
6. Absolutely no reference to birding or scopes in publicity - all seems to be photography/videography
7. Reviews of tripods that spend the entire time talking about the ball-head

There are probably more, but -as I have negotiated this jungle and put an order in - I don't want to think about it anymore.

I thought what I wanted was quite simple. Lightweight, three-section, clip locks, small folded size, removable centre column, capable of holding around 4kg. Simple it has not been.
However, it is done, and I never want to go through it again.
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Old Wednesday 25th April 2018, 18:51   #2
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I've calmed down now. Thanks for listening.
Another rant coming soon though, for those who like reading rants.
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Old Wednesday 25th April 2018, 22:33   #3
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Don't know what scope you are using but I have found that scopes are as, if not more, demanding on tripods than even the longest lenses that Canon/Nikon currently make.

Assuming that you use a scope with reasonably high magnification then I would suggest a minimum of something like a 2 series Gitzo (fortunately it has twist locks not flip/clip ones) if you want decent viewing. A 3 series from Benro/Feisol/Induro/Gitzo would be my preferred choice though.

Trawl the used market, good tripods can often be found at sensible prices, and avoid flip/clip locks.

Happy hunting!
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 08:28   #4
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Thanks John - I was being very specific about the search, and was surprised to find it difficult, as what I was after seemed pretty standard - however, as it won't be the 'everyday' tripod (mainly for travel and good calm days in the UK) I didn't want to get silly about the money. This was to mount a Manfrotto RC700 head and Swaro ATS 65, so we're not talking about much weight demand. Whole lot is probably only just over 1.5kg.
Went with the Benro TAD 18C, which was pretty much what I was after; light, three section, clip locks, just about right for folded length. With the birding market so large, I was really surprised at how little reference there was in marketing material to spotting scopes or birding in general.
I'd ruled out certain makes, admittedly, as I wasn't going up to 300+, but was getting a bit tired of websites advertising gear they actually didn't have in stock, but not telling you until you tried to order.
Even Benro's EU site allows you to select from 'video' or 'photo' on its home page - then look at the catchy titles they give their products! Several letters and about 4 numbers.
I think some of these manufacturers are missing a trick here, not directing any of the marketing towards the birding market.
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 08:48   #5
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Well, if you want catchy names, Three-Legged Thing is a UK company with exotic names. IIRC the tripods themselves are made in China, alas.

Carbon fiber and tonewoods absorb vibration best. Manfrotto has the 190Go and Element in CF, with twist-locks instead of the ghastly finger-mangling flip locks they traditionally use.
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 09:12   #6
Hauksen
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Hi,

Quote:
Originally Posted by fazalmajid View Post
Carbon fiber and tonewoods absorb vibration best.
I wonder if there's a rule of thumb telling me how much weight my tripod needs to have to support a certain weight of scope without undue vibration.

Regards,

Henning
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 14:30   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fazalmajid View Post
Well, if you want catchy names, Three-Legged Thing is a UK company with exotic names. IIRC the tripods themselves are made in China, alas.

Carbon fiber and tonewoods absorb vibration best. Manfrotto has the 190Go and Element in CF, with twist-locks instead of the ghastly finger-mangling flip locks they traditionally use.
i've always preferred clips myself. Seem less subject to 'creep' than twists, and easier to operate when your hands are cold or gloved. I've never damaged myself using them - i just undo all three at once, let gravity drop the leg and close them. I suppose it's what you're used to though...
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 14:33   #8
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Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post
Hi,



I wonder if there's a rule of thumb telling me how much weight my tripod needs to have to support a certain weight of scope without undue vibration.

Regards,

Henning
I usually look for double the safe working load to the actual loading. I suspect the diameter of the bottom section and the nature of the foot may have more to do with it though. Some of the 'travel' tripods have ridiculously spindly lower sections.
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 15:50   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fazalmajid View Post
...with twist-locks instead of the ghastly finger-mangling flip locks they traditionally use.
I have top-end tripods with twist locks, such as from RRS, but I haven't been threatened by modern flip locks. I've been using a Bogen Carbon One https://luminous-landscape.com/carbon-one/ at least once a week since about 2003 and have never come close to mangling my fingers, nor can I imagine how to accomplish it even if I wanted to. Flip locks are fast and effective when properly designed.

--AP
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 16:07   #10
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The other thing of course is the visual cue when you've left clips unlocked!
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 19:32   #11
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The velbon sherpa series are reliable. although you may not like the PH157Q head supplied. I have had a Sherpa 200 for over 12 years. The head was the only thing that has gone faulty ( windblown sand! ).
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Velbon-200R.../dp/B000NDBDN2
This is one where the centre post can be removed and used on a hide clamp. There is a model with a geared post.
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 22:16   #12
paddy7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alan_rymer View Post
The velbon sherpa series are reliable. although you may not like the PH157Q head supplied. I have had a Sherpa 200 for over 12 years. The head was the only thing that has gone faulty ( windblown sand! ).
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Velbon-200R.../dp/B000NDBDN2
This is one where the centre post can be removed and used on a hide clamp. There is a model with a geared post.
It's actually a Velbon aluminium set (although not the Sherpa, i think, but very similar) that i wanted to replace with a CF set. I have a PH157Q in the cupboard; not bad, but was let down badly by the retaining clip snapping in half while on a birding trip in Armenia. I suspect years of UV light broke the plastic down, and i would recommend anyone to buy a spare clip if they're using one of these heads more than 5 years old. It has the advantage of one-handle control of pan and tilt, but is a little jerky at times, particularly when operating at extreme angles (panning up/down mountainsides for instance).
Anyway, picking up the Benro tomorrow morning, so i'll see how it goes at hte weekend.
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Old Thursday 26th April 2018, 22:59   #13
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Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post
Hi,



I wonder if there's a rule of thumb telling me how much weight my tripod needs to have to support a certain weight of scope without undue vibration.

Regards,

Henning
Unfortunately the weight rating is meaningless for photography as well as scope use!

I used to have a Manfrotto 055 XB Pro that was rated at 8 kilos yet it wasn't too difficult to collapse and put away without bothering to undo the leg locks. On the other hand I also used to have a used Gitzo G1329 Mk2 (cost a fair bit less) that was rated at 12 kilos yet my 100 + kilo weight failed to stress it! Weight ratings??

Gitzo used to (may still do) have a rating for focal length for their tripods. This was far more useful even though it was a little conservative.

Ideally I would suggest a tripod that has as few leg sections as is practical and be made of carbon fiber - size? 2 Series as a minimum but 3 series is much better. No center column is a significant advantage too. Scopes are light and offer high magnification = very difficult to get nice and steady!
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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 09:33   #14
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Hi John,

Quote:
Originally Posted by johnf3f View Post
Unfortunately the weight rating is meaningless for photography as well as scope use!
I fully agree, and in fact I was thinking along slightly different lines: My idea was that with generally well-designed tripods, there'd typically be a ratio between tripod weight and payload weight that shouldn't be too small to ensure proper stiffness.

I thought maybe there'd be a rule of thumb based on birders' collective experience.

To illustrate, here's the actual data for my setup:

- Kowa TSN-883 with stay-on-case and quick release plate: 2165 g
- Velbon D-600 aluminium tripod including head: 2050 g
- Velbon PH-368 head (manufacturer's data): 640 g

Useful load:
- Scope with head: 2805 g

Tripod structure:
- 1410 g

I'd say that this combination is "fairly stiff", which unfortunately is not based on any measured data.

In terms of the hypothetical rule of thumb I hoped for, the data point would be:

- Aluminium tripod: Structural weight 50% of useful load for good stiffness.

Looking for a carbon fibre tripod to replace the aluminium one, I'm hoping for a weight reduction. However, what I don't know is how much of a weight reduction I can reasonably hope for without sacrificing stiffness.

Regards,

Henning
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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 12:19   #15
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Hi,

I have my TSN-3 on an old set of Velbon legs which are the predecessor to the current GEO N535 (3 piece twist lock legs, 1.4kg, max weight 8kg, recommend 3kg) and an Manfrotto 500AH (0.9 kg, max weight 5kg, recommended/counterweighted weight 2.4 kg). This is carried with a mulepack which makes the total bulk of 5.5kg or so with a spare EP, guide and some water quite easy to manage.

The setup is very stable and has a damping time of half a second. It would be fine for an 883 too. I got legs and head used for 150€ total but it took a bit of patience and luck.

Joachim

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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 12:59   #16
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I feel there is a horses-for-courses approach required. I generally use a Viking TR100 Plus and Manfrotto 500 head for an Kowa 883, which needs to cope with an east coast winter and a lot of seawatching. This, however, is not the rig I want to go to Morocco with (or anywhere warm/hot, or uphill, or requiring air travel). Fortunately, I couldn't bring myself to sell the ATS 65HD when I bought the Kowa (too many good memories!), so stuck it on my old aluminium Velbon legs. It's this rig that I've been trying to cut some weight out of and reduce the pack size for travelling. 3-section legs pack better than 2, assuming the height is the same.
The stability issue, I hope, would not be such an issue in the Algarve in September as the Suffolk coast in January (or i'll want my money back...)
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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 14:39   #17
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Hi,

Quote:
Originally Posted by paddy7 View Post
I feel there is a horses-for-courses approach required.
I'm totally with you there, and was thinking of North Sea coast conditions, too.

I also agree that it is very difficult to systematically compare tripods of different brands when weight is a concern.

Just to point out a parameter that hasn't been mentioned yet: My girlfriend recently bought a light tripod that only had a leg opening angle of around 21 degrees, instead of the more typical 25 degrees. She replaced it pretty quickly because she felt it was always much too close to toppling under North Sea coast conditions.

That parameter had escaped her attention when she was systematically comparing the tripods that fell into the range she was interested in ...

Regards,

Henning
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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 14:45   #18
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Hi Joachim,

Quote:
Originally Posted by jring View Post
The setup is very stable and has a damping time of half a second.
Interesting observation! How do you measure that?

My girlfriend uses a light tripod that, as I'm convinced, I can feel vibrating in the wind at what I'd guess would be in the 5 - 20 Hz range, but I have no idea how I'd measure that.

Regards,

Henning
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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 15:07   #19
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Hi,

the damping time is usually used with astro mounts and heavy and long scopes. It tends to be several seconds there and is the time from when you bump the tripod (or instrument) until the image is steady again... this obviously depends a lot on the strength of the bump and the magnification used too...

It is not the period of the eigenfrequency of the tripod...

The half second is a guess - it is certainly a lot less than a second.

Joachim
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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 15:54   #20
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It would be interesting to build a device that measured that! Intensity of bump, time to settle to original position..could be disasterous too.

The leg angle is something that did come into consideration while I was searching. Many of the Benro (and other) scopes can be set in one of three positions, with usually the minimum being 24 degrees. I also like a centre column that comes out entirely, with the head still attached, as in the case of legs that will completely invert, the column/head often stops them closing in the bag.
As I said at the top, I didn't imagine my parameters were particularly demanding, but finding the right thing at a non-ridiculous price was very time-consuming.
Why can't tripods have a name like 'John' or 'Betty' rather than CF10345NO62 or something?
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Old Friday 27th April 2018, 16:53   #21
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i've always preferred clips myself. Seem less subject to 'creep' than twists, and easier to operate when your hands are cold or gloved. I've never damaged myself using them - i just undo all three at once, let gravity drop the leg and close them. I suppose it's what you're used to though...
My preference is for lever locks over collar locks. That said, I think that a lot of that is a Coke vs Pepsi / Ford vs Chevy / Nikon vs Canon thing.

To your main point, just the other evening my brother and I were in an e-mail exchange. He's looking for a new CF tripod and got into exactly the same death spiral. I happened to mention two of my Manfrotto CFs and he realized that he was comparing prices at two different sellers -- but was also comparing a two different series.
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Old Saturday 28th April 2018, 07:58   #22
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Yup - i went through that particular unpleasantness. The overall series name, then the model number (which often relates to the previous series, but with a 2 instead of a 1 at the front of the serial, but with some fundamental differences).
Anyhow - it's over. I picked up the Benro TAD 18C (which i think is probably discontinued now) and it is everything it is supposed to be, so it was worth the three nights of frustration and probably about 10 hours of comparisons.
However, while changing the gear over, i 'accidentally' managed to disassemble the Manfrotto fluid head, resulting in a further three hours of working out what did what, and how it went together again. Surprised to find the pan lock is bascially like a bicycle's brake block, and the central bolt that holds the thing together has a bearing on whether the pan releases or not, and you're not supposed to completely tighten it.
Every day's a school day....
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Old Saturday 28th April 2018, 22:55   #23
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Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post
Hi John,



I fully agree, and in fact I was thinking along slightly different lines: My idea was that with generally well-designed tripods, there'd typically be a ratio between tripod weight and payload weight that shouldn't be too small to ensure proper stiffness.

I thought maybe there'd be a rule of thumb based on birders' collective experience.

To illustrate, here's the actual data for my setup:

- Kowa TSN-883 with stay-on-case and quick release plate: 2165 g
- Velbon D-600 aluminium tripod including head: 2050 g
- Velbon PH-368 head (manufacturer's data): 640 g

Useful load:
- Scope with head: 2805 g

Tripod structure:
- 1410 g

I'd say that this combination is "fairly stiff", which unfortunately is not based on any measured data.

In terms of the hypothetical rule of thumb I hoped for, the data point would be:

- Aluminium tripod: Structural weight 50% of useful load for good stiffness.

Looking for a carbon fibre tripod to replace the aluminium one, I'm hoping for a weight reduction. However, what I don't know is how much of a weight reduction I can reasonably hope for without sacrificing stiffness.

Regards,

Henning
If you could find a used Gitzo GT3530LS (or similar) at reasonable money then that would be my personal choice for scope use. They do crop up occasionally - but you will need to be patient! The newer incarnations are "better" (3532/3533) but they are more expensive and heavier. The 3530LS is claimed to weight 1.8 Kilo - mine tipped my scales at 1.7 Kilo and they will support pretty much anything - including you. They damp down vibration extremely well too. The larger models are better but also heavier, I found this tripod to be my personal favorite for scope use.

These days I use a Gitzo GT4542LS (well it was going cheap) and like it very much but it is 2.3 Kilo and only marginally better for scope use.
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Old Sunday 29th April 2018, 09:32   #24
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Too much is made about damping of CF IMO. The joints and locks and # of sections of a tripod make much more of a difference than tube materials.

Good tripods like Gitzo and their better knock-offs have bronze bushings and a very tight fit in their hinges. They also have twist locks which lock the legs together better and certainly stiffer than flip locks. Twist locks make for a more compact folded tripod and don't get caught/hung up on things as well.

Of course if you have one of the more robust Gitzo or good clone with carbon tubes, all the better.

I agree with John that many people are under tripod'd (my word), if that's what he's saying. A high power scope is a demanding situation for a light tripod because one is looking through it in real time. The (usually) short duration of exposure with a camera and long lens photographing nature, being lower magnifications as well, makes for less demand on the tripod as compared to a scope.

To the OP,
I agree, it does take a while to compare specs of tripods. Millimeters, centimeters, inches, inconsistent info between manufacturers and sellers.

Reviews are pretty much worthless IMO as there are too many variables as to how people use them and the weight to be placed on things like stiffness and stability in wind, and so on.

One more thing, I don't think one has to spend serious money as in Gitzo or RRS to get top performance. One of the very good clones, Induro or Benro for example, along with a Markins or Arca ballhead, for instance, are damn hard to better.

For fluid head requirements I've modified two Manfrotto #3130s with Arca clamps to get rid of that miserable Manfrotto system of plates and receptacles.

My two bits. Cheers.
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Old Sunday 29th April 2018, 10:43   #25
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Hi John,

Quote:
Originally Posted by johnf3f View Post
If you could find a used Gitzo GT3530LS (or similar) at reasonable money then that would be my personal choice for scope use. They do crop up occasionally - but you will need to be patient!
Thanks a lot for the recommendation!

Does the GT3530LS have grub screws to positively lock the tripod head into place?

That seems to be another parameter that's hard to find on the manufacturer's web sites.

Regards,

Henning
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