Monday, March 02, 2015

Tripods and Quick-Release Plates Will Make Life Easier

I recently posted this image, and it generated some interesting comments.  First and foremost -- what I did mean by it?

What I meant was that no matter how much you spend on a camera system, if you don't also have a decent tripod, you are not going to have the results that the optics and camera body are capable of.  Now, that may seem obvious to many of you, and yet, I see that some people think that because their camera has built-in stabilization they don't need a tripod.   Here are 4 reasons why a tripod is important:
1. A stable platform
2. Repeatable  exposures
3. Better subject framing
4. Hands-off exposures

A stable platform  is perhaps the most important.  While I am capable of hand-holding some cameras at 1/15 sec, it's not going to fly with a telephoto, long exposure times, and low ISOs.   By tripod, I don't mean that you need to lug a 6 pound aluminum tripod everywhere.  Depending on the size of your camera and the conditions, there are all sorts of mini-tripods, clamps, etc. that provide stability.   Find one or two that give you the most flexibility of shooting.  Often, a mini-tripod with a small P&S will be very much appreciated when you want yourself in the photo, or for long exposures.

Repeatability.  A tripod allows you to bracket your exposures, try different filters, etc., without moving your camera from its position.  Pretty darn important.

Better framing.  A tripod slows you down a bit and allows you to try different angles, positions, lenses, etc. to better gauge the effectiveness of your vision.  Sure, it's not going to work for street photography, but it really helps in most other situations.  In the studio, it allows you to go back and forth between the camera and subject (human or still-life) and make scene adjustments without changing the camera position.

Hands-off.  How else can you do really good selfies?   Really, though, being able to use a remote release of some sort is very liberating and sometimes essential for some photographs.  Second, for long exposures or macro work, or telephoto, you may want to use a remote release to avoid camera motion.

All the above reasons are pretty self-evident, but they bear repeating.  My second comment is that while even a crappy tripod may be better than no tripod at all, there is a good reason to use a good tripod and quick-release mounting system. You will simply use it more.  I have had to use tripods with limited movements, non-secure leg positions, etc., and they are not worth the trouble.  They can be frustrating as hell.  So, do not waste your money on a cheap, poorly built model.  You don't need to spend $300, either.
Two RC2 plates in the front, and the hex plate in the back.

hex Manfrotto plate and holder
A quick-release system makes tripod use much more efficient.  You simply attach a quick-release plate to the base of your camera(s) and set them in place in the tripod's matching mount. Some of them click into place, and others use a small knob to tighten them into place.  I favor the ones made by Bogen/Manfrotto as pictured here.  The RC2 plates are what I use for most of my 35mm and medium-format cameras, and the larger hexagonal mount I use for my Pentax 6x7 and 4x5 cameras with which I also use a heavier-duty tripod.  There are other plate designs made by other manufacturers - but the RC2 system is pretty widespread.

I have over a dozen of the RC2 quick-release plates that are on my various cameras, and I never have to worry about if a camera does not have one.  I also keep a spare loose one in the car just in case.  A quick search on ebay will bring up many clones of the RC2 plates for as little as $4 each.  The current RC2 plate sold by Manfrotto are polymer-resin and not metal.  They weigh less, but I don't have any experience with them.

My choice for a tripod head is a good medium-weight ball head, and second choice would be a 3-D head or 3-way adjustable head.

Ball head with RC2 plate holder
I do not recommend 2-way only heads, as they limit the adjustment of your camera.    Of course, this is for still photography only.  I do not shoot video, which has its own unique array of heads.
RC2 plate on the camera

As far as picking out a good tripod -- it's best to try one out before you buy.  Of course, I have long been a Bogen/Manfrotto user.  I also have a Hakuba carbon-fiber tripod that I recently bought used.  I like it a lot, and it is only a bit lighter than my Manfrotto tripod.    Make sure that your tripod has individually adjustable legs that can angle out from the center column independent of the others.  It should have positive-locking segments that are easy to tighten and loosen, and be sturdy enough for your camera(s).  It should also be able to bring your camera to your eye-level, unless of course, it is a mini-tripod!  There are many very good tripods available, but do try one out before you purchase it.  Some tripods have foam-covered upper leg segments so that they are easier to carry and handle in cold weather.  You can make your own from polyfoam pipe insulation and duct tape.
I hope that this helps.

1 comment:

Hans-3.14 said...

I fully agree with your article. Tripods increase the quality of the image significantly. Unfortunately, more and more tripods are not allowed in public spaces. Some time ago I was expelled by the security forces in a shopping center, as architectural photography are prohibited tripod. Yes, these guys wanted me to even take away the already exposed film!
Same goes for tourist attractions (such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). Tripods are there explicitly prohibited. On the other hand hundreds of people with Selfie rods are walking around. Strange world...