Why tripods…

There’s an interesting discussion on Yahoo’s newspaper group about tripods. Arguments for and against. Biggest (and most valid) arguements against are the weight and time it takes to get set up. Best argument for tripods is they work – they do what they’re meant to do, which is allow the audience to focus on content and not be distracted by shakey video.

Tripods, like all other gear discussed here, come in a wide variety of sizes and prices. And there is no single tripod that works for everyone. (Hope you’re not getting tired of this tirade. I’ll try to give you the information you need to make an informed decision – but I hope I never tell you what to buy.)

At the (very) low end are those teensie little three-leggers that look like a table ornament. I’ve seen them in electronics/camera stores for about ten bucks. After years of lugging “real” tripods around, my first thought was “How cute. And how useless.” Second look made me realize that they have their place with a cheap/lightweight point and shoot camcorder for desktop use in interviews.

Next up the scale are the plastic and sometimes metal consumer tripods. I’ve got one – a Velbon that retails for around $20-30. Yes it’s inexpensive (Hey…look out, here comes the English teacher. Denotation – the actual meaning of a word. Connotation: the emotional response to the word. If I say “cheap,” you think junky. If I say “inexpensive,” you think bargin.” Enough of this frivolity.) but it works. I use this probably 90% of the time for quick work in the field and studio. It is lightweight and easy to carry and set up. The downside is it is light – and there are times I need stability.

There’s a whole bunch of tripods in between my Manfratto and the Velbon…mid weight tripods that are general use and ones that most of you might consider. The Bogen-Manfratto is actually two separate pieces of gear: sticks and a head. The “sticks” are the legs…when you go higher up the food chain you can put your tripod together just the way a still photographer puts their body and lenses together. You choose what you need. So you can choose tripod legs that go higher or are heavier. Then look at the heads…fluid heads that allow smooth tilting and panning and movement. Some heads just attach to the sticks and you level the tripod by adjusting the legs. The better heads have a handle under them so you just twist the handle to level the head – and that is a great timesaver. Tripods in this range start in the hundreds and upwards.

Next up are the pro tripods, which are lighter, sturdier, more specialized and much much higher priced. Thousands of dollars for a tripod. Quite a bit to think about when you may have budgeted that much for your entire production (including camera, computer, software, tripod, etc).

How do you decide which tripod is best for you? I like my heavier tripod for when I’m out in weather or crowds and need the stability to hold the camera steady in adverse conditions. A little plastic/metal tripod just won’t cut it then. The heavier tripod can hold a lightweight camera rock steady in a stiff wind. It also lets the public know I’m serious…not just another granny out with her toy camera (and I do put my ZR60 on the heavier sticks). And because I’m getting older and can’t schlept a 15 pound tripod around all day, the Velbon is perfect for most shooting. It gets the camera up high and holds it steady. Downside is after a year of abuse it is aleady showing signs of age…one of the legs came out of a socket/went back in easily. I’ve lost one of the adjustment screws (gotta go to my local hardware store to find a replacement).

So look at your budget…when/how you plan to use the tripod…and even how you want to be perceived (put this at the bottom of the list most of the time). Once you’re used to using a tripod it only takes seconds to set up…and you can even keep the legs together for a make-shift mono-pod. Look for another posting soon on how/why to properly use a tripod for video.

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