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Size matters?

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Old Wednesday 15th October 2008, 13:06   #1
rjberner
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Size matters?

As a potential newbie to the sport of bird spotting, I’m struggling to understand a few things about tripods and maybe you pros out there can help.

I chose three angled scopes that fit our budget and initial requirements, including the Nikon Fieldscope 60mm ED (3lb / 1.4kg), the Pentax 65mm ED (3.6lb / 1.6kg), and the Pentax 80mm ED (4.75lb / 2.1kg). Digiscoping may be in our future, which makes the 80mm scope a much better initial package. I have pretty much eliminated the Nikon as being too limited a package. We aren’t inclined to keep upgrading our equipment.

Then I find out that I need a $300, 6lb tripod and head to adequately hold the instrument. And regardless of the chosen scope, I don’t think it would be wise to skimp on the sturdiness of the tripod to save 1 - 2 lb of weight.

The boys at BVD extol the virtues of smaller, lighter scopes for general birding. But I struggle to see how a difference of 1.2lb (550gm) could make any difference -- unless the bigger scopes just can’t be adequately supported by a reasonably priced tripod in moderately gusting winds such as found here on our Lake Michigan shores.

Years ago I put clunky old 6 – 10lb brass surveying instruments on a bulky old wooden tripod and surveyed with reasonable precision in gusting winds with no problem. Granted, those old 10 – 12lb tripods were heavy, clumsy, and without a center rising column, but we carted them everywhere and they got the job done.

So, apparently (tripod) size and construction matters a great deal. Why?

What is it about the bigger scopes that make them more sensitive to movement on a tripod? Is it their greater exposed cross-sections exerting greater moments or torsion on an extended center stalk? If so, why use the stalk in adverse conditions?

Neglecting wilderness trekking which we don't do, we can get to most spotting sites around here with less than a ½ mile walk. I can rig a decent head on a $100, 10lb aluminum surveying tripod and be done with it, or maybe not? The cost might be the same and four to five lb of additional weight aren’t going to make any appreciable difference – especially if I have a very stable stand for my scope. Or am I trying to hit a tack with a sledge hammer, as I am want to do. Your wise counsel would be appreciated.
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Old Wednesday 15th October 2008, 14:48   #2
mark22c
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the higher the magnification the more you notice the wobble. weight is only half of the problem...
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Old Wednesday 15th October 2008, 20:59   #3
SteveClifton
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Quote:
So, apparently (tripod) size and construction matters a great deal. Why?
There is a saying about tripods. Of the 3 most desireable properties of a good tripod (low weight, sturdiness & cheap), you can have any 2 of these, but not all 3 together in the same one. You generally get what you pay for with most things, and this is especially true of tripods. You might pay 2,3 or 4 times the price for a top quality carbon fibre tripod such as a Gitzo, compared to a slightly less sturdy but much cheaper aluminium one from a decent manufacturer like Velbon or Manfrotto. Of course, it won't be 2, 3 or 4 times better! It's just that small and light is fashionable at the moment and many people are prepared to pay a premium for this.

Your old sturdy wooden tripod will probably knock spots off even the most expensive CF tripods, which is fine if you don't mind lugging the extra weight, it's just that most people don't want to carry it (and even a Kg of extra weight spread over your combined scope & tripod rig does make quite a difference on a long walk).

As for scopes, BVD are correct up to a point, that for many people a smaller scope will be adequate for most needs, especially if you are prepared to pay for a top quality one. For example, the 65mm Swarovskis lose very little to their 80mm counterparts for 95% of situations. But note that, if you intend to digiscope, a camera will 'see' the difference more acutely than the human eye which tends to be able to adjust better to the reduced light. Your camera will just respond with slower shutter speeds which can be critical in high mag photography.

Note too that BVD are a little behind the times in that there is now a trend for 'bigger is better' in spotting scopes. The newest Kowas are almost 90mm, and are widely thought to have the best resolution of any of their competitors. As for the increased sensitivity to movement of bigger scopes. Well they aren't really, it's just that there is a direct relationship between high power and the need for greater stability, and many of the bigger scopes are more than capable of powers of well over 60x, whereas many less expensive 60-65mm scopes top out in performance at around 45x (there are of course a few exceptions here, as I said before). The little extra weight of a big scope will also make a small contribution to the extra wobble, but as mark22c says, it's really the increased powers that cause the problems for cheaper tripods.

You'd be amazed at how many birders will pay over £1000 for a decent scope, only to have it wobble all over the place in the slightest breeze on a cheap flimsy tripod. This is just a pointless false economy.

Steve

Last edited by SteveClifton : Wednesday 15th October 2008 at 21:09.
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Old Wednesday 15th October 2008, 22:21   #4
RJM
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Hi and welcome to Birdforum,

I just happen to own all three of the scopes you are considering (and all for sale too BTW). You can see their relative sizes in the pic. The Pentax 65ED is very small for its aperture. The Pentax 80ED on the other hand is relatively LONGER than other 80mm class fieldscopes.

For visual use, you could probably get by with typical cheaper/lighter aluminum fluid video head combo tripods in the $50-60 range. It really depends on how tall you are and your prefered viewing stance....if you choose a straight or angled scope...if you will regularly share views, and if you are serious about taking pics or just a casual digiscoper.

I am 6'2" (187cm) but generally prefer to sit when observing/photographing if possible. So it is important to me that tripod legs can spread far enough to get the eyepiece down to ~2ft from the ground while also still being able to reach my full height when I must stand. Tripods that have this range tend to be a little more expensive.

Like others have said, overtaxing the mount will only show faults at 30x+ powers visually but may also evenutually lead to a bearing failure in the mount. Mount heads are load rated for cameras with relative short lens. The extra tork caused by the fieldscope's longer moment arm causes added mount stress when balanced. You really should choose a head that has a load rating 1.5x your heaviest configuration.

And while everyone's tolerance for "pain" varies considerably, a pound or two of extra weight will make a difference on your shoulders during long treks.

Finally, when digiscoping even minor shake caused by pressing the shutter release can lead to blurry pics due to the insane focal lengths you will typically shoot at. The extra stiffness of carbon fiber is a more important feature than its light weight in this regard.

hope this helps,
Rick
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Last edited by RJM : Wednesday 15th October 2008 at 22:23.
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Old Thursday 16th October 2008, 13:27   #5
Hermann
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Originally Posted by rjberner View Post
I chose three angled scopes that fit our budget and initial requirements, including the Nikon Fieldscope 60mm ED (3lb / 1.4kg), the Pentax 65mm ED (3.6lb / 1.6kg), and the Pentax 80mm ED (4.75lb / 2.1kg). Digiscoping may be in our future, which makes the 80mm scope a much better initial package. I have pretty much eliminated the Nikon as being too limited a package. We aren’t inclined to keep upgrading our equipment.
Well, if you don't carry your scope around a lot and/or use high magnifications regularly and/or want to get serious about digiscoping a large scope makes a lot of sense. I personally wouldn't really get the Pentax, I'd rather go for the Nikon ED82 or possibly the Kowa 883/884, but that's to some extent a personal choice. I wouldn't call the Nikon EDIII "a limited package" by the way, I think it still one of the best smallish scopes on the market with a remarkably even quality. The differences between different specimens of the EDIII seem to me to be somewhat smaller than the variation you get in some of the larger scopes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rjberner View Post
Years ago I put clunky old 6 – 10lb brass surveying instruments on a bulky old wooden tripod and surveyed with reasonable precision in gusting winds with no problem. Granted, those old 10 – 12lb tripods were heavy, clumsy, and without a center rising column, but we carted them everywhere and they got the job done.
Those old, heavy wooden tripods provide *more* stability than most modern tripods, high-tech tripods like those made from carbon fibre included. My foul weather tripod is one of those old-fashioned wooden monsters - spiked feet, weight without the tripod head well over 12lb, no centre column. No use at all when travelling or on long hikes, but it's got to be blowing real hard to make that thing wobble. In stormy weather my head moves more in the gusts than that tripod ... :-)

By the way, centre columns are almost always wobbly. I did some extensive testing of that many years ago, and the difference is really quite large. I prefer using my tripods without raising the centre column at all. I'm 6'4'', so that limits my choice of tripod somewhat.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rjberner View Post
What is it about the bigger scopes that make them more sensitive to movement on a tripod? Is it their greater exposed cross-sections exerting greater moments or torsion on an extended center stalk? If so, why use the stalk in adverse conditions?
Because many people use tripods that are really too short for them? Because quite few people feel that all that matters is the scope and don't really worry about their tripods all that much?

Large scopes make the whole setup vibrate more in any kind of wind, especially with a raised centre column. That's probably partly due to the weight, partly due to the fact that the wind has got a larger area to exert its forces on. By the way, I find it almost funny when people use their scopes in windy weather with all the lens covers flapping in the wind ... Stay-on cases are nice, but you've got to take off anything that may move around in the wind if you're after a steady image.

Also, when you touch the scope (which happens all the time when you focus the scope) it takes longer for the vibrations to die down, especially when the scope is on a raised centre column. That's another thing I looked at years ago: Two identical Gitzos set up side by side, a Leica Apo 77 on one of them, my Nikon EDIII on the other. There was a rather clear difference in the steadiness of the image when both scopes were at the same magnification.

By the way, the very best tripod I've ever seen in the field was one of the large Sachtlers with a Sachtler head. However, the price is so high I wouldn't really want to buy one ...

Hermann

Last edited by Hermann : Thursday 16th October 2008 at 21:35.
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Old Thursday 16th October 2008, 21:14   #6
4John
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I agree with Hermann that the Nikon 63 ED111 is by no means a limited package. Have a look at what Stephen Ingraham has to say about it on www.betterviewdesired.com (BVD). It was for many years his day in day out scope, and was only narrowly beaten by the new Swarovski and Zeiss 65s. It is still a cracking good scope.

However, on the tripod issue, can I suggest (as politely as I can) that what you were prepared to carry around because you were presumably paid to do so is possibly a lot more that you would be prepared to carry around for several hours for fun (insert smilie !) I find my scope and tripod too heavy after several hours, and it's nowhere near the 11lb tripods that you mention.

I am 6ft and I have a straight Swarovski 80HD which weighs about 1.6kg (3.6lb) on a 2.2kg (5lb) carbon fibre tripod and head, giving a total of 3.8kg(8.4lb). I find that suits me most of the time. Looking around at what other birders use I think it pretty much suits most birders most of the time. A $300 (£176) 6lb tripod is therefore probably not far out - although a carbon fibre one will cost more in the UK. However, if you are going to bird in exposed locations (like Hermann above) you will probably need your heavy surveyor's tripod, although a bag of rocks hung on the bottom of the centre column can do wonders for the stability of a lot of tripods. Alternatively if you are not as tall as I am, and you prefer an angled scope you may find a lighter and cheaper tripod is adequate most of the time because the column doesn't have to be raised so high.

I suggest you find a dealer with the scopes you are interested in and then try them on some tripods. I think you would then pretty quickly get a feel for issues that have been comprehensively addressed by others above, including the trade off between tripod weight, height, rigidity and scope magnification.
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