Approximating Tripod Stiffness vs Height

In a previous series of posts, I have laid out the models used for fitting stiffness vs height data, tested the Manfrotto MT055 tripods, tested a bunch of tripods, and compared the stiffness vs height for some very similar Really Right Stuff tripods.  In these posts we learned that we could not fit the stiffness vs height data well with a simple power law, but had to throw in another constant that varied significantly between different models.  This extinguished the dream of being able to accurately approximate the stiffness of a tripod over its entire range simply by measuring the stiffness at a single height.  Yet, that is exactly what I aim to do here in this post.  If we cannot get a perfectly accurate approximation, perhaps we can find one that is good enough.

I simply do not have the time to measure the stiffness vs height for each tripod I test.  As we have seen in this series though, tripods perform much better at shorter heights.  For two tripods that are otherwise identical in construction except for height, the taller one will perform worse simply because it is easier to bend a long beam (tripod leg) than a shorter one.  To construct the tripod rankings score, I thus want a simple metric that rewards taller tripods versus shorter ones.  The taller tripod could of course be used at a shorter height, with a corresponding gain in stiffness, and we don’t want to unduly penalize it just for being tall.  In fact, you may want to reward it for its increased versatility, but I don’t want to assign any value judgments.  I just want to level the playing field in the most numerically backed way possible.

In the previous posts, I fit the stiffness vs height data to some simple functions that best approximated the height over the tested range.  I am going to simplify things further.  I am going to force my fit to go through the data point corresponding to the tallest height, and then fit the powerlaw function:

\kappa = \kappa_0 h^p

Now though, $\kappa_0$ is not a free parameter, but fixed the above constraint such that:

\kappa_0 = \frac{Stiffness_{hmax}}{hmax^p}

So we now have one fewer degree of freedom.  The resulting fit looks like:

I have added to the graph five curves corresponding to what the fit would look like for a variety of other possible exponents.  All of the curves pass through the point corresponding to the maximum height, as they are constrained to do.  The exponent that creates the best fit to the data, according to a least squares optimization, is -1.29.  However, we can easily see that for the upper ranges of the tripod height, the exponent of -1.50 provides a much closer fit to the data.  This is important because this is the range in which we are more interested in normalizing the data.  We would never care about comparing this tripod to one that is less than 0.75m in height, where the -1.50 line diverges from the data.  However, in a ranking that involves tripods of wildly differing heights, an exponent of -1.50 may be too generous to tall tripods.

Below is a list of the exponent fitted in the same manner as above, for all of the tripods I have data for stiffness vs height.  I also added the exponent for the fit that I felt best approximated the behavior around the maximum height, but diverged for lower heights.

TripodFitted ExponentEyeballed Exponent
Sirui T2205X-1.11-1.5
Oben CT2491-1.35-1.5
Gitzo GT2542-1.18-1.5
RRS TFC14-1.29-1.5
RRS TVC23-1.13-1.13
RRS TVC24L-1.30-1.5
RRS TVC33-1.13-1.25
RRS TVC34L-1.15-1.25

The behavior of these tripods is pretty similar to one another.  The plot generated for each tripod can be found at the bottom of the post.  These averages present lower and upper bounds for what the exponent used in normalization should be, and fortunately, it is a pretty narrow range.  We aren’t going to see massive swings in the rankings based on what exponent is chosen.  If you have thoughts on where in this range the normalization exponent should be chosen, please say so in the comments.  I will be mulling this over before choosing a value to reconstruct the rankings page.


Appendix:  Data to make your own judgement

6 thoughts on “Approximating Tripod Stiffness vs Height

  1. Nice showing from the Manfrotto, in particular the 055 carbon fiber 3 leg version. RRS appears disappointing
    here for the cost.

    1. The MT055CXPRO3 is a great value. The Really Right Stuff tripods still top the charts in performance in their classes. Whether that performance is worth the cost is up to you.

  2. Dave, What are your thoughts on the RRS damping? The TVC-33 does not appear to have test data that
    supports buying a near $1,000 tripod. The Gitzo 4 series test results are awesome.

    1. The damping on the RRS TVC-33 is poor and yes, thus far the Gitzo systematic tripods do perform better. I have a Gitzo Series 3 in the mail, which should provide a more fair comparison. The TVC-33 I tested is on the old side, and the newer RRS models seem to perform better in terms of damping. Stiffness is king though for most applications, and the TVC-33 results are strong.

  3. Dave, Again thank you for the great site. One suggestion to standardize measurements while not causing you
    too much time to take the measurements is to measure at maximum height and then a “standard” height that
    most all tripods would be able to reach like say 1.0 or 1.2m.

    Some tripods like the TVC-24L and TVC-34L that are very tall suffer in the rankings due to the added height and
    make direct comparison difficult.


    1. That is a pretty reasonable approach, and I have considered it. It wouldn’t be that much additional work. The primary problem is that tripods have somewhat different behavior as a function of height. Thus, using a measurement of the stiffness at some standard height does not accurately reflect the stiffness of the tripod that most people will use it at, which is the maximum height. The current approach does seem to overly penalize tall tripods, but not by much. For example, if we take a look at the TVC 34L and compute the score using the stiffness at the same height as the TVC-33, we find that the score should be 11% lower than the TVC-33 as it isn’t as stiff at the same height, and it weighs more. The score I report using the height^1.25 correction factor is 13% lower. So yes, there is a small penalty, but it is small enough to not matter much. The rankings are simply a guide, not some definitive metric. But the rankings are correctly saying in this case that you should only buy the taller version of the tripod if you need the extra height.

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