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Fell for the 128RC2 trap!

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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 02:16   #1
mskb
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Fell for the 128RC2 trap!

Hello Everyone,

I soo wish I had read these forum posts more carefully and some of the issues our members had raised around the 128RC!

We fell in love with the fluidity of the 128RC in store. So much so that without thinking/actually trying, purchased it for use with a Kowa 663M + 20-60. Super bad decision! The scope is back heavy, sags due to imbalance unless I tighten the tilt knob quite a bit. By the end of the exercise, I am fighting against the head quite a bit for moving the scope.

Checking the forum, I came across several posts that indicated how having a longer plate helps with balancing an optic (e.g., @jring's favorite 500AH) and how 128LP eliminates the need of "getting stuck" within the Manfrotto QR system. Of course, there are work-arounds like fitting a longer Arca-Swiss plate via an appropriate clamp screwed to the 128RC's QR plate. But ... the more I think about it, I am left wondering if the 128RC/128LP and all the extra bells and whistles might be serious overkill for the 663M.

Back to the drawing board, I have two questions:

1. We continue to much prefer a pan/tilt head over a ballhead. Any advice on a smooth pan/tilt head for <$150? Apart from the budget, I have two requirements: (a) the counterbalance etc., needs to work well with a relatively lightweight scope like the Kowa 663M. This experience with the 128RC has realllly left me with a bad taste for working against the head. And (b) the head needs to travel light.

For one, I recall really liking one of those Velbon heads in store -- I forget which one, perhaps the PH157Q? It felt really light! One of those handles that can be loosened, readjusted for pan or tilt, tightened back again. Not sure how well it would work with the 663M though, and its performance in field while tilting/panning with birds in flight/moving wildlife. Apart from this, there is the Sirui VA-5, that I know @Marc really likes! Any thoughts?

2. I don't want to make a similar mistake with the tripod legs too. I would greatly appreciate any tripod suggestions you might have. I was looking at the Feisol CT3442 Tournament CF tripod because of its ~2.55lb weight and the glowing recommendations it had from the photography community, but I am just not sure if it is worth spending ~$400 on a tripod for a lightweight scope like the 663M. I did come across a few threads recommending ~$300-$350 Benro CF tripods at ~3.1-3.5lb, but for an extra $50-$100, I would gladly go the Feisol route. Similarly, Manfrotto 055* are all >=4lb. Manfrotto 190Go! Carbon comes in at ~3lb at ~$400.

So I guess what I am asking is: is there a good lightweight tripod that costs <=$250, which has been known to work well with whatever head you might recommend for question (1)?

Any help is much appreciated!

Thank you,
Kumar

Last edited by mskb : Wednesday 18th September 2019 at 02:27.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 05:34   #2
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Hi,

the PH157Q is NOT a fluid head! The Sirui VA-5 looks good on paper for a light load up to 1kg (which is what it is compensated for). Your 663 will be slightly overweight - might still work ok. Best take it to a store and try on site, if you can.

As for legs my ticklist is: 3 sections, max load at least twice of what you want to put on there, high enough to work with center column down (or mostly so). I got some old Velbon legs off ebay for cheap (GEO N535 predecessor) - those work great for me.

Joachim
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 05:43   #3
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The Sirui T-2204SK T-S Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod is $292 after rebate. It is a "travel tripod" meaning the legs fold backwards with the center column extended to minimize the packed length. It's 15.7" folded. One of the legs also detaches to work as a monopod, though it's a little work to take apart and put back together, so not something you'd change often. But for travel it's nice as you get both for the weight of one. The Sirui 2xxx series has decent sized legs for the size and weight. It weighs 3.5 lb. I use the previous version the T2205X (5 section legs, no monopod, but folds a little shorter).

On the tripod, the main thing is to not cheap out on the leg diameter. The smallest / lightest tripods have too small of legs in my opinion. Also, try to get a tripod that is tall enough without a center column or at least with the center column fully down. Raising the center column will start to introduce unsteadiness. And get something with a hook on it so you can weigh it down with your backpack.

The Sirui VA-5 works ok for my tiny MM4 and would likely be ok for the 663. It has a decent sized top plate. And it's an arca clamp, so there's a wide variety of top plates. And it's pretty compact. I don't have experience with many other fluid heads, so cannot compare it. But it's ok for me. My main gripe is the MM4 rides so low it interferes with two of the knobs on the VA-5 enough to be annoying, but not enough to make it unworkable. The 663 rides a bit higher I think and you might not have any issues. It weighs 1.3lb.

The 500AH a fair bit larger and weighs in at 2lb. I've never used it.

Marc
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 11:56   #4
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Hello Kumar,

Specified load capacities for scopes and heads are recommendations and, I think, fairly arbitrary ones at that. My Sirui M-3204 is specified at 18 kg but I saw a video of a guy doing pull-ups on one! On the other hand, I'm sure a Manfrotto 190 would easily support a Swarovski ATX95. However, touching the focusser at higher magnifications would set off vibrations making sharp focus unobtainable.

You can't have too much stability, but stability is to a large extent associated with weight, so you have to make a compromise somewhere. Although I think the often expressed misgivings about extended centre columns are a little exaggerated, there is another aspect to stability. An extended centre column raises the centre of gravity without enlarging the base, so there is an increased risk of the whole caboodle getting knocked over or blown over. The Sirui tripod Marc mentioned only extends to 107 cm without centre column, so I think you have to look elsewhere. For the 663 you will need something like your own height minus 50 cm.

I need another tripod like a hole in the head but have been toying with getting a Novoflex Triopod. It's a modular system and with 3-section carbon fibre legs costs about 450 - not cheap but not excessive either. It would save some weight compared to my Sirui and hopefully not sacrifice much stability. Novoflex' stuff is superbly made and if I were starting afresh, I would not consider anything else.

I have no experience with the Sirui VA-5 but think it would be a good choice. Sirui's long Arca plates lack an anti-rotation pin but have a lip at one end, which serves the same purpose. Some users apparently have no problem doing without a safety retention but I am fearful that a loosened clamp could let the scope crash to the ground. I know of at least five Arca safety retention systems but they are not always compatible with one another. A Sirui plate for example can be safely retained on a Novoflex or Berlebach clamp but the Berlebach plate is not safe on Sirui or Novoflex clamps.

Good luck with your shopping!

John
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 12:48   #5
slingworks
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Hello,

Surprising you have these issues with your head.

I recently purchased a 128rc /tripod combination second hand and it works great. Been using a variety of heavy 80mm optics on it. (Including a very nose heavy B&L Elite 77). I also tried all of my Kowas on it.

In fact, I had no idea they were so large/well built. (I got a deal online). I really wish there was a lighter model scaled down 40% for 60mm scopes!

Maybe you're unlucky to receive a bad example? Happens allot more than it used to these days on just about everything. I think a plate to shift the center of gravity on your optic is not really an overkill? There are lots of inexpensive plates online. Probably a very simple, inexpensive fix?
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 12:55   #6
Jim M.
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For one, I recall really liking one of those Velbon heads in store -- I forget which one, perhaps the PH157Q? It felt really light! One of those handles that can be loosened, readjusted for pan or tilt, tightened back again. Not sure how well it would work with the 663M though, and its performance in field while tilting/panning with birds in flight/moving wildlife.
I use the PH157Q with a Kowa 883 and it works great. I tried two Manfrotto heads before them, and much prefer being able to tighten/untighten both pan and tilt with a single twist. Makes it much faster to get on or off birds. And it is both light and inexpensive to boot!
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 14:07   #7
mskb
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Thank you very much for the quick responses everyone!

*Re: the head*: It is great to know @slingworks has had great success with all of his Kowas on the 128RC. That certainly gives me more confidence. I should go to the store and check if mine is a bad copy. I do greatly prefer the 128's pan/tilt fluidity for both (a) scope-based nature observation/digiscoping/video (b) DSLR-based video with a ~2.1Kg 150-600mm Tamron G2 lens, which by itself hosts an Arca Swiss tripod collar. So if I can make sure my 128 is indeed a bad copy (i.e., "light" setting, and "hard" setting with no real "medium"-ish setting), then plainly adapting a better copy with an Arca-Swiss clamp & a longer plate would allow me to realize both the options (a) and (b) with no problems! Now, going the Sirui VA-5 route means buying another head for the Tammy because of load constraints, which could potentially mean carrying two heads, especially for cross-country wildlife/bird watching trips. That said, I do want to check the VA-5 before making a final decision, especially given @Marc's & @Joachim's recommendations. I have never gone wrong with their advice!

Similarly, @Jim. M, that the PH157Q works great with an 883 Kowa is extremely good to know! Like @Joachim cautions, it is not a fluid head. I really liked its ergonomics though, so I do wonder how it does when it comes with smooth continuous pan/tilt when observing wildlife/video-ing. Any thoughts here? I will try it out in store, and if it works out, we might pick it up for cheap used for the excellent ergonomics and its lightweight. :)

*Re:tripod legs* : Thank you @John for the excellent advice on tripod shopping and +1 for the VA-5 - your sticky thread was useful as well! :) I can definitely relate to high magnification vibrations. With the Kowa663M, we have been using the rather heavy InduroCLT303 that we had purchased for photography. Even with that, the vibrations at high magnifications is still noticeable, although it dampens down quickly. I will check out Novoflex!

@Marc's T2204's rebate pricing of ~$300 relative to the Feisol, along with their rather significant differences in weight, and rankings for stiffness (thecentercolumn.com/rankings), does make me wonder if Feisol might be a better route for a $100 extra. At the moment, I feel it might just be the case. Exactly similar thoughts on the 3.1-3.6lb, $350-$400 @Joachim's Velbon tripods.

I will continue to mull over the above.

Thank you everyone,
Kumar

Last edited by mskb : Wednesday 18th September 2019 at 14:17.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 14:56   #8
Alexis Powell
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The 128RC has good fluid action but it doesn't have a spring counter-balance and it doesn't take sliding plates so it is not a good choice when used with a scope that doesn't balance on its tripod foot. It uses the 200PL plates which are not my favorite for a variety of reasons. I think the Sirui VA-5 is a nice choice for a small and lightweight head that is Arca compatible, but you could adapt your 128RC to achieve something more robust. I like the simple way that Kevin Conville modified his 128RC in this thread, which does away with the 200PL
https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=249059
and in post #6 in this thread.
https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=376615

Cheap Arca-type clamps are available. You'll have to drill another hole through a recessed area to add a second bolt to make it totally solid on the head.
https://www.amazon.com/Neewer-Alumin...02EV5CZNHYPW5Z

Then you need a good solid and non-rotating long-plate. Desmond has a variety of good inexpensive ones in various lengths, for example this 150 mm version:
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produ...long_lens.html

To one of your other questions, I do like the twist-and-point-twist-to-lock non-fluid heads for small scopes and ultralight rigs, but fluid is nicer for most situations.

--AP

Last edited by Alexis Powell : Wednesday 18th September 2019 at 16:03.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 15:24   #9
Jim M.
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Similarly, @Jim. M, that the PH157Q works great with an 883 Kowa is extremely good to know! Like @Joachim cautions, it is not a fluid head. I really liked its ergonomics though, so I do wonder how it does when it comes with smooth continuous pan/tilt when observing wildlife/video-ing. Any thoughts here? I will try it out in store, and if it works out, we might pick it up for cheap used for the excellent ergonomics and its lightweight. :)
Kumar--I only use my scope for observation, not photography. For observation I like it better than separate pan/tilt functions, though there might be a few situations where separate would be better.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 16:28   #10
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In regards to the VA-5 not having the anti-rotation pin, all you need to do is buy a 2nd 1/4-20 screw and use that on the Kowa. It does have 2x 1/4-20 threads on the foot, right? That is way more secure than the anti-rotation pin.

Are you able to try out the VA-5 from your store? Like I said, the position of the two release levers (one for the clamp and one for the rotation) are in awkward positions, but usable. It's a little annoying. It's an ergonomic thing and maybe you'd be ok with it or maybe it will annoy you to death.

In regard to tripod height & specs. A 3 section taller tripod would be better than that 4-section Sirui. But the Sirui folds up pretty small and can pack into a carry bag easily. My carryon has about 17" (44cm) length inside. I think the thing to do is use any tripod you have and get it to the heights that work for you and your girlfriend and see what you need. Once you know the height, it narrows your choices a lot.

Marc
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 17:10   #11
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For my one nose heavy scope, I had given thought to making a short plate out of 1/4" x 1" aluminum stock. Drilling 4 holes and bolting the scope and QD plate on it. Would be an easy way to push the center of gravity a bit. You'd just have to figure out the center of gravity.

I believe I saw some ready made Chinese plates like this on ebay?

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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 20:00   #12
marcsantacurz
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For my one nose heavy scope, I had given thought to making a short plate out of 1/4" x 1" aluminum stock. Drilling 4 holes and bolting the scope and QD plate on it. Would be an easy way to push the center of gravity a bit. You'd just have to figure out the center of gravity.

I believe I saw some ready made Chinese plates like this on ebay?
You can just buy long arca plates. For example, Oben has a 5.3" plate for $12 (Oben QR-53). The Desmond DPL-169 is 6.7" for $15.

Marc
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 20:26   #13
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I use the PH157Q with a Kowa 883 and it works great. I tried two Manfrotto heads before them, and much prefer being able to tighten/untighten both pan and tilt with a single twist. Makes it much faster to get on or off birds. And it is both light and inexpensive to boot!
The PH157Q is indeed a great value, a mid sized head that punches above its weight.
However, Velbon chose to use a custom plate, not even close to Arca compatibility. sold both with as well as without anti rotation pins.
The plate is convenient and has a quick release, but is fairly small, so no chance of adjusting for CoG balance.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 23:34   #14
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Thanks @etudiant and @Jim for your thoughts on the Velbon, especially with respect to that quick release.

Thank you @Alexis, I had noticed that thread from Kevin sometime ago. So thanks for reminding! Drilling holes and bolting eh? Although I feel slightly apprehensive about that for now, if I make up my mind about going the 128RC route, drilling & bolting is probably what I would do! Oh, that reminds me:
(a) I came across this $100 (!!!) trickery from Kirk (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produ...k.html/reviews).
(b) Another alternative is this "adapter" ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...A117K1DEQYNJIS ) and an arca-swiss plate. This latter approach, I think was pointed out in an 128LP thread.

I for one would be very interested in what you all think on these alternative approaches relative to the drill & bolt approach.

Okay everyone, so I think the decision on the tripod is mostly clear. Feisol it is likely going to be. For the head though, the options are VA-5, 128, or sell/return the 128 if possible, replace with the 500AH and deal with an extra ~150g! I have some serious thinking to do.

Cheers,
Kumar

Last edited by mskb : Wednesday 18th September 2019 at 23:46.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 23:49   #15
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I have the VA-5 and it works well with my Swarovski ATS 65 which is also a rear heavy scope.
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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 12:28   #16
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I have the VA-5 and it works well with my Swarovski ATS 65 which is also a rear heavy scope.
i'd second that. I've been through several lightweight fluid heads, looking for something smooth and reliable. I've had the VA-5 for a year or so, and it's been the best of the bunch, and used in both cold and hot weather.
I always found the Velbon a bit juddery if panning on an upward tilt, and no longer trust the retaining clip, having had one shear on a foreign trip with no possibility of fixing/replacing.
The only drawback on the VA5 is that - if tilted on an extreme - the pan screw is a little hard to get to. As with all these heads, you might find you want to cut the length of the pan handle too. Most of these are designed for video i think.
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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 15:21   #17
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Thank you @paddy7, @josika for the VA-5 +1s. If I hadn't bought the 128 from our local store, I would likely return it and purchase the VA-5 for the 663M. Our store has been around for 25 years! Unfortunately, it doesn't stock Sirui/the Feisol I quoted, so that's a good bit of business I am already taking away from them. They are in general unable to offer discounts compared to online stores or bigger shops, so I do want to support them in some ways, at the very least when the price difference is not $$$ significant. Hence the reluctance in returning the 128 back to the store. I am still thinking about it, let's see. Thank you all for the advice!
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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 15:33   #18
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Thank you @paddy7, @josika for the VA-5 +1s. If I hadn't bought the 128 from our local store, I would likely return it and purchase the VA-5 for the 663M. Our store has been around for 25 years! Unfortunately, it doesn't stock Sirui/the Feisol I quoted, so that's a good bit of business I am already taking away from them. They are in general unable to offer discounts compared to online stores or bigger shops, so I do want to support them in some ways, at the very least when the price difference is not $$$ significant. Hence the reluctance in returning the 128 back to the store. I am still thinking about it, let's see. Thank you all for the advice!
Well, that just leaves returning to the local store and buying a bigger scope for the 128!
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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 15:46   #19
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Well, that just leaves returning to the local store and buying a bigger scope for the 128!
Lol.
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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 17:30   #20
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...Thank you @Alexis, I had noticed that thread from Kevin sometime ago. So thanks for reminding! Drilling holes and bolting eh? Although I feel slightly apprehensive about that for now, if I make up my mind about going the 128RC route, drilling & bolting is probably what I would do! Oh, that reminds me:
(a) I came across this $100 (!!!) trickery from Kirk (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produ...k.html/reviews).
(b) Another alternative is this "adapter" ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...A117K1DEQYNJIS ) and an arca-swiss plate. This latter approach, I think was pointed out in an 128LP thread.

I for one would be very interested in what you all think on these alternative approaches relative to the drill & bolt approach...
If I were you, I'd drill and bolt, or go even further and hack off the unnecessary bits like Kevin Conville did in the second thread. That would be the cheapest, and arguably most elegant solution.

The Kirk product is, like everything from Kirk, very nicely designed. The price isn't bad relative to other products from Kirk or RRS and might be well worth it for someone who owns and uses a lot of different heads that use different QR systems. I say "might" because it isn't very efficient. I would have been tempted in the past, but at this point I've already implemented other solutions that are just as good or better. In your case, it would be a costly and bulky alternative to drilling and bolting.

The Sunwayfoto adapter doesn't solve your problem. You'd have to attach it by drilling and bolting, and then it would accept either Arca-type or Manfrotto 200PL plates. Your head already accepts 200PL plates, so the only reason to use it would be to have the option of continuing to use 200PL plates but also be able to using Arca plates. I don't like the 200PL plates, so I don't see much advantage in continuing to use them. I'd commit to the Arca standard and instead use the much cheaper Arca type clamp and non-rotating Desmond plate (or similar) that I linked to earlier.

--AP
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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 17:53   #21
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Smallrig has a variety of plate-to-arca-clamp adapters from $40 - $100.

https://www.smallrig.com/plates/arca-swiss.html

I'd personally go with this one. You can put 2 1/4-20 screws into it (or other combos) so the bottom plate will not twist. The clamp uses a side release which is good for bulky things so the release does not get caught on the object.

https://www.smallrig.com/smallrig-qu...ible-2144.html

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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 19:18   #22
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Smallrig has a variety of plate-to-arca-clamp adapters from $40 - $100.

https://www.smallrig.com/plates/arca-swiss.html

I'd personally go with this one. You can put 2 1/4-20 screws into it (or other combos) so the bottom plate will not twist. The clamp uses a side release which is good for bulky things so the release does not get caught on the object.

https://www.smallrig.com/smallrig-qu...ible-2144.html

Marc
I caution against a lever release. The disadvantage of a lever release (whether this cheap one from SmallRig or a top-end one from Really Right Stuff) is that it may not securely lock all Arca-style plates. Unfortunately, there are very small differences between some of the manufacturers. These differences are insignificant for screw knob clamps but can pose problems for the narrow tolerances of lever-release clamps.

I'll also point out that the plate that is supplied with this clamp is not suitable for the OP because it is not of the long sliding type needed to find the scope's balance point. In fact, it isn't a very good plate in general--it lacks any anti-rotation features and the rubber parts make for a sloppy fit. Good plates from e.g. Kirk, RRS, Desmond don't have a rubber interface.

--AP
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Old Friday 20th September 2019, 15:51   #23
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I caution against a lever release. The disadvantage of a lever release (whether this cheap one from SmallRig or a top-end one from Really Right Stuff) is that it may not securely lock all Arca-style plates. Unfortunately, there are very small differences between some of the manufacturers. These differences are insignificant for screw knob clamps but can pose problems for the narrow tolerances of lever-release clamps.

I'll also point out that the plate that is supplied with this clamp is not suitable for the OP because it is not of the long sliding type needed to find the scope's balance point. In fact, it isn't a very good plate in general--it lacks any anti-rotation features and the rubber parts make for a sloppy fit. Good plates from e.g. Kirk, RRS, Desmond don't have a rubber interface.

--AP
I was assuming he'd use two 1/4-20 screws not an anti-rotation pin. I'm pretty sure the 663 has two threaded holes, not one thread and one pin. But I could be wrong about that.

Yes, longer plate is necessary. I guess I've only used the lever on a Kirk ball head. Never had a problem with it, but you are correct it might be an issue without trying the exact plate in the clamp.
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