A Tale of Two Tripods
Thursday 13 September 2012 — Category: Equipment
During the previous decade, I used heavy, bulky tripods, like the aluminum Manfrotto 028B with a 501HDV video head, for my video production needs. For stabilizing video cameras they were great, but did I mention that they were quite large and HEAVY?
When I purchased my Sony DSLR system in early 2011, I knew that without a doubt I needed something smaller, lighter, and more suited to still photography. After much research and comparison, I settled on a Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod, paired with a Manfrotto 322RC2 joystick head (assembly pictured right).
I've been using this tripod — the first one I've owned made of carbon fiber — quite a bit for more than a year and a half, and have generally been very pleased with it. Because it was so much smaller and lighter than my previous tripods, I imagined that it would be great to take on the trail too.
The first hike I took it on was to McDowell Creek in July 2011. I didn’t want to attached it to my backpack — because then I would have to take off my backpack every time I wanted to use it — so I carried it in my hand for three-and-a-half hours as I wandered through the park taking photos. After that tiring and annoying experience, I don’t think I took it on anymore hikes for the rest of that summer — shooting hand-held sounded good to me!
About a year later, I strapped the tripod to my backpack for my hike to Abiqua Falls this last June. Because of the length of the tripod, it was sticking up above the top of my backpack. And because the trail was somewhat difficult, with lots of fallen trees to get around, every time I tried to go under a log, the top of the tripod would bang against the tree and stop my progress, forcing me to squat or crawl even lower! Once again, this tripod proved to be too heavy and bulky for the trail — even though it is excellent for non-hiking use.
After that frustrating outing, I decided it was high time to get a different tripod for hiking. More research led me to decided on a Sirui T-025 5-section carbon fiber tripod with C-10 ball head. Once I had used it for a couple of outings, I decided to upgrade the head to a Sirui G-10, which has better controls and a much better quick-release plate. Even though it weighs three and a half ounces more, I am very happy that I moved up to this new head.
As you can see from the above photo, the Sirui tripod is MUCH smaller than the Manfrotto — and correspondingly lighter too. The Manfrotto weighs in at 4.6 pounds and measures 33.5 inches. In contrast, the Sirui weighs only 2.0 pounds and folds up to a tiny 12.5 inches. In summary, the Sirui is 63% shorter when collapsed and 57% lighter! Yet when the legs are fully extended, the Manfrotto is only 6 inches taller. As you can see, the Sirui is much more suited to hiking.
The first time I used the Sirui tripod on the trail was when I went on a hike in the South Coquille River area this last May. I quickly discovered that, although it is small and light, it is perhaps too much so for a camera like the Sony α77 with large zoom lenses. I ran into the same stability issues when taking pictures at Silver Falls in June. During that hike, I realized that I really needed to upgrade to a bit bigger tripod that could cope better with the weight of my Sony camera equipment.
However, as I related in The Great Camera Quandary and My First Step Into a Brand-New (Four Thirds) World, that hike at Silver Falls provoked bigger equipment changes than merely a single tripod. Within six weeks, I had given away my entire Sony camera system and purchased a new Micro Four Thirds (µ4/3) camera as well as a new µ4/3 lens kit.
The smaller and lighter Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with its correspondingly smaller and lighter lenses, is a much better fit for the Sirui tripod (see photo to the right). Replacing the original C-10 head with the better G-10 head (as I already mentioned) made a significant difference too. The first test of this combination was my July hike at Sweet Creek. I used the tripod a lot that day, taking many long-exposure shots of the various waterfalls along the creek.
I was very happy with how the tripod and the camera performed together. This is just the right tripod for a µ4/3-sized camera! And because of how I am now carrying my camera equipment when hiking (more about that in a future article), the tripod is easily accessible rather than being stuck behind me in my backpack. In the end, with the right camera, this tripod is definitely a keeper!
So now I have two tripods: the Sirui for when I’m hiking, and the Manfrotto for all other occasions. Thus my Tale Of Two Tripods comes to a close ... and they lived happily ever after....
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