Origins

Image result for wooden tripod

The Center Column is my attempt to document the search for the ideal tripod.  The internet is alive with well documented testing of cameras and lenses, but there is not a cohesive set of information on the performance of tripods and heads.  In fact, I couldn’t find any set of repeatable measurements on the stiffness and damping characteristics of the currently available set of camera support equipment.  In the mottled set of reviews across the web, reviewers give a qualitative impression of performance or state that vibration dies off in a certain number of seconds.  While this has generally been good enough to figure out that carbon fiber is better than aluminum, it hasn’t been enough to challenge the claims of manufacturers or help photographers get the most out their equipment and budgets.  My aim in this blog is to develop a set of tests that are quantitative, repeatable, comparative, and directly relates to the real world performance of the tripod.  I hope you enjoy.

 

-David

5 thoughts on “Origins

  1. a few comments (if possible, do not
    post to your website. Just wanted to
    dialog with you)
    I’m currently looking for a tripod.
    Biggest problem – no quantitative
    test data available to make an
    informed decision. 99% of tripod
    reviews are mostly subjective. If
    they make any kind of test, they
    don’t give very quantitative,
    numerical data. If there is any,
    unless they have tested an enormous
    number of tripods including the
    latest ones(not a chance on either
    count) there is no way to compare one
    tripod to another where they both
    underwent the same tests under the
    same conditions. It’s incredible to
    me, how few attempts there have been
    to remedy this situation. I thought
    about doing something about this
    myself. However, since I am not rich,
    and not famous, I don’t know how I
    could collect all the tripods for
    testing without winding up in jail
    for bankruptcy.

    Thanks for at least making a start on
    this. I would like to see tests on
    bigger Sirui tripods (R series),
    leofoto tripods (10x layer carbon
    legs) and Promediagear tripods.

    Seems like if the legs are on ground
    that grip the feet tightly so that
    they can’t slide around, the spider
    or apex is not strained that much.
    But if the ground is too loose for
    that (deep, loose sand for example),
    then spikes won’t help and it is the
    strength of the spider that keeps the
    legs from spreading out.

    I have found that I can feel
    differences between some tripods by
    pulling the legs open and applying
    pressure strongly against the notched
    stops on the spider. Another telling
    subjective test is to put the legs on
    a smooth linoleum floor, and place a
    sheet of paper under each rubber
    foot. Then apply downward pressure to
    the apex. The paper prevents the
    rubber from gripping the floor, thus
    shifting more of the strain of
    stabilizing the legs to the spider.

    To me, Promediagear looks like they
    have the burliest looking spiders of
    all. In other respects, they look
    similar or better than RRS. So, I’d
    like to see some test data on them.
    However, I believe they sell direct,
    so there is no way for me to inspect
    one without buying it first.

    A number people say just get Gitzo or
    RRS and forget the rest. Although
    ruinously expensive, you won’t ever
    have to buy another. Although at
    first I thought $1k or more for a
    tripod was as stupid as spending
    $350k for a Ferrari, I’m starting to
    change my mind. If you have the best
    prime lenses, on a 36-50 MP FF or MF
    dreadnaught, you want to risk
    blurring your meticulously
    photographed to-die-for vista on an
    inferior tripod?

    Between Gitzo/RRS, and cheap garbage,
    there are a number of tripod
    companies fall between the two
    extremes. It is these that I have no
    data on, and that I wonder the most
    about. Are these reasonably close to
    Gitzo/RRS or not? I’ll have to look
    at your database more closely, but a
    quick initial look seems like maybe
    the answer is no.

    To me, the most critical shutter
    speeds are around 1/30 to 1 second or
    so. (Roughly – it depends on the
    focal length) What I am talking about
    is the ratio between the amount of
    time a tripod shakes from the shutter
    fire, to the time it spends “settled
    out”. The longer the exposure, the
    smaller this ratio is. It seems
    logical, then that the quality of the
    tripod might become rather negligible
    during very long exposures. (except
    possibly in windy conditions) It
    would be good to know if this is the
    case or not. The more the exposure is
    faster than 1/30 (roughly), the less
    dependent the results will be on the
    tripod because the faster shutter
    speeds will start to freeze the shot
    more.

    Thus, it seems like it’s in that
    in-between range where the quality of
    the tripod may really make a
    difference. I would also like to see
    some tests that might help people
    determine how long an exposure is
    needed to make the degradation from
    the shake period acceptably small. Or
    maybe this is just over-obsessing
    about nothing. But it would be good
    to know that too, if that is the case.

    The key thing is we either need a
    testing methodology that becomes kind
    of standardized so that if we read
    reviews from different sources,
    everyone is doing the same tests so
    that there is a uniform way of
    comparing the results. Or we need one
    web source that has settled on a
    suite of tests that they use, but
    they would need to be exhaustive
    (test a huge number of tripods) and
    also timely about testing new tripods
    when they become available. If we are
    buying new, we don’t care about older
    tripods that are not available
    anymore. If we are buying used, the
    older data is important. Thus we need
    both.

    Thanks again for getting started on
    this neglected area.

    1. First, thanks for your comments and I am more than happy to start a discussion. The easiest way to do this is just send me an email david@thecentercolumn.com. So, starting at the top:

      Exactly, the goal of this site is to remedy the exact situation regarding tripod reviews. I want to provide repeatable, quantitative tests on as many tripods as possible. This is just a start and many more will follow. Collecting tripods to test is the biggest hurdle. My strategy so far has been to troll Ebay and the used equipment sites for good deals. I test the tripod, and then resell it, sometimes for a small profit, usually for a small loss. This works well financially, but limits the tripods I test. I am hoping to monetize the site at some point to fund tripod purchases, but I’m not there yet.

      This leads into the next question. I haven’t tested the Sirui R series because they are not available in the US, probably due to copyright claims from RRS. The leofotos are only available on ebay, and I have never seen a used one. As you corrected, promediagear is now available through stores, but I’ve never seen a used one to buy. I will certainly get around to them eventually, but it may be awhile. They certainly appear to be good tripods. Another simple test for tripods is to push down on the apex and twist. Most of the flexibility in tripods comes from the legs, not the apex. There are a few companies in the midrange of tripods, most notably Feisol, Manfrotto, and Induro, but they still fall significantly short of RRS, Gitzo, (and presumably PMG). You can get stiff tripods from these companies, be they simply are going to be heavier for the same stiffness than the RRS & Gitzo counterparts.

      You are absolutely right about 1/30 – 1s being the critical range for shutter speed, though it depends on focal length as well. I have had a number of shoots ruined because of wind though, which is part of the initial motivation for this entire site. I have a lot more testing to do in this area, so stay tuned. The stiffness and damping numbers I report are universal. They are intrinsic to the tripod design, and no matter the method used to test, anyone should be able to measure similar results. This is the beauty of this approach. I am measuring the stiffness and damping in the same way that one would measure height, or weight and expect the results to be repeatable.

    2. It looks like I cannot reply without posting the comment. Shoot me an email and I will take the comments down.

  2. I am wondering how much camera type,
    weight and focal length play into the
    stability question. For instance I
    have a tiny little NIkon Coolpix A
    mirrorless camera with a 28mm
    equivalent lens. Do I need as much a
    tripod as a guy with a D800 DSLR and
    a 50mm lens?

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