Steady as She Goes…

This first day after a long Memorial weekend, things are a little slow out of the starting gate, but as luck would have it, slow and steady is the theme for today, because my gear review that I postponed from yesterday is none other than the trusty tripod!

The tripod is probably one of the most basic and easy-to-understand pieces of equipment in a photographer’s gear bag – yet likely one of the least used.  I can’t tell you the number of times (myself included) I have heard someone utter “Argh!  I left my tripod back in my car!”  We’ve all done it, so the question becomes one of how to ensure you take the tripod with you.  The answer lies in making the right investment the first time.

FOr me, the first investment (because we all invariably try this route first), was a cheap an economical one from Wal-Mart for roughly $20.  I was quickly disavowed of its ability to support even a Canon XT with a 70-200 lens on it.  I went so far as to weigh down the plastic center column with my gear bag to little avail.  It was just not built for my gear.  Perhaps such a tripod would be good for the P&S crowd, because I would rather not disparage any gear intended to provide an increase in stability.

Anyone who goes to any length to increase their camera stability recognizes the benefit of a tripod.  So many pictures out there can benefit from increased stability – yet they continue to pepper the internet in perpetuity.  So, if you really are strapped for cash – something is better than nothing.  But, if you would like to invest a little in “some legs” (parlance for a tripod among photog-types apparently), then take a look at Bogen/Manfrotto.

Bogen/Manfrotto gear is recognized as one of the industry leaders in tripods, monopods, and camera equipment.  Another serious name in the game is Gitzo, and I’ve heard good things about them too – but for my money, I went with Bogen a few years back in my pursuit of stability.  My choice?  The Bogen 3021BPro:


This set is really sturdy – made of aluminum and an extended eight of nearly 70″ (69.29 technically), this was a great investment for me.  I stand at 6’1″ (73″)  so the height appeal was a major contributing factor.  Cost-wise, it also came in within my range at roughly $150-$200 new.  With quick-clamp leg extensions, and the ability to set up at varying ranges of 25°,  43°, 73° and  90° it was a great investment for me.

With the stability and low price though, came a downside – weight.  The legs themselves weigh in at a little over 5 lbs, but I did not plan on being very mobile with the set.  So, it was a great starter set for me.  The reason why I said “set” though is because any good tripod also needs a good head.  You’ll notice from the inserted image that the legs have a lonely screwmount at the top.  This does not give you much mobility for the camera when attached, so you really need to also invest in a head.

The head attaches to the tripod, and then in turn attaches to your camera and allows you a little more flexibility in moving the camera position around to get the right angle on your shot.  There are many types of heads including trigger mounts, ball heads, and pan-and-tilt heads.  Rather than get into an extensive discussion of the various heads as well, here it’s sufficient to say I chose the ballhead route.  Specifically, I went with the Bogen 488RC2.


This is super nice because it allows you to pivot your camera around very easy and go from landscape to portrait mode in a snap.  Also nice is the fact that the head comes with a quick-release plate, basically allowing you to go mobile from your stationary tripod in a snap.  I’ll go into the various heads and how they work in some future post.  For here though, I got the ehad at about $120, so for less than $300 total, I had a pretty decent workhorse for a tripod/head set.   Here again, the only downside I can think of is weight.  The head also weighs in at 1.5 lbs so I am getting near 7 lbs of tripod weight total.  It doesn’t sound like much, but if you’ve tried lugging a tripod/head combo around on a photowalk, it can get pretty heavy pretty quick if you don’t have some strapped method for carrying it while walking or traveling.  For the most part though, it’s lasted me well and worked gloriously – when I remember to take it out of my car!

Eventually I will probably either upgrade this set of legs to the more lightweight, yet also sturdy, carbon fiber material that is becoming more cost effective.  At the time when I got this set, carbon fiber was very new on the scene, and thus very expensive.  As we see the presence of carbon fiber increase in the market place, the price has also come down some.  Not a lot, but enough for me to start considering it.  In all likelihood, I could see myself hanging on to this set for studio or location work while also adding to the gear bag with the more lightweight carbon fiber legs for on-the-go types of photography.

All in all though – if you don’t have a set of legs, this would be an excellent starter set.  For under $300 your pictures will undoubtedly see marked improvement – that’s assuming of course you don’t forget the gear in your car!  Happy shooting all and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

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3 comments for “Steady as She Goes…

  1. May 27, 2009 at 4:18 am

    I chose the same tripod and head after careful evaluation and have been very pleased with the gain in IQ and versatility.
    I did not and two years later still don’t feel the weight savings offsets the cost of carbon fiber rig.
    This tripod and head provide a versatilty that goes from garden to beach, construction site to fire academy and has not yet left me wishing for additional features
    Yes, the weight is a bit much after a few hours, but I have a customized shoulder strap to ease that and also a good quality 10″ mini tripod for lazy days.

  2. May 27, 2009 at 9:19 am

    great review…anything Bogen is dependable and sturdy…my light stands are Bogen.

  3. Tony Murphy
    May 27, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I just picked up a Manfrotto 190XDb and 486RC2 brand new in the UK for £85 ($137) which was an absolute bargain for such a well made piece of kit.

    Already forgot it once! but it’s now strapped up to my backpack so “touch wood” I will not be leaving it at home again.

    It easily supports my 40D+Sigma 120-400.


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