Tripods and Heads

To me, tripods are a bit like bags; I have had lots of them over the years and always seem to be on the lookout for a definitive model at camera shows that will collapse down to ten centimetres, extend to two meters, be very sturdy, weigh next to nothing and support a tiny well-made ball head that, in turn, supports a couple of kilos of camera. Oh, and it should never, ever move even when windy.

We all know that amalgams of such specifications are an impossibility, but it does not stop me searching. Our studio tripods are like most others used in this environment; large and heavy as they do not need to be moved far to carry out the tasks required. We also have two mid-range tripods that are a bit more transportable, therefore good for location work. And then there is my favourite for personal use, a tiny Velbon Ultra Maxi Mini model that finds its way into rucksacks whenever I go out walking or on holiday. All get used, depending on what we are photographing and where.

One of our sheds has become a bit of a dumping ground for all sorts of bits and pieces. I was recently rummaging about in search of some timber and found a couple of really old tripods that go way back to when I and subsequently, my Son, started out in photography. Covered in spiders webs and going rusty I found ‘bitey’, a small but heavy tripod that earned its nickname due to the dangerous sharp edged leg joints that nipped my fingers countless times when setting it up. My hands were constantly getting nipped by the damn thing, especially when working in a hurry. Bitey does seem very crudely made, and the sliding legs gave up their ability to extend and retract a long time ago. Given it has quite a bit if rust on it, I would say that corrosion sounded the death knell. Resting next to it was another decrepit knock-kneed aluminium and plastic example. This was my Son’s first tripod, cheaply purchased and feeling every bit so now the years have taken their toll.  It still works inasmuch as it can be set up with nothing falling off, but has joints far looser than any of mine. Even the head has a nasty wobble to it. My guess is that using this as a means of support would be worse than hand holding the camera. As a rule I tend to not hoard stuff that I will not need, but these two ageing inmates from the dark corner of my shed will remain in cobwebbed stasis for now.

Now I really like those sort of tripod heads that have a quick release trigger action. Back in the days when bitey and I were a lot younger, I often lusted after the Slik AF2500 Pistol Grip head. It seemed a little expensive at the time and, as I was not making money from photography, was not justifiable. Since this time many other manufacturers have released similar models but when I finally was in the market for one, I returned to the AF2500. It is a well made piece of kit, despite liberal use of plastic in its construction. We have attached heavy focus rails, bloated EOS cameras with macro lenses and macro flash heads with no problems. In fact, I was so impressed that I purchased a second for permanent fixture to one of our mid-range tripods.

But there is always something new that tempts me; recently I have been taking a look at some of the Manfrotto offerings, particularly their pistol grip 322RC model which is fundamentally the same thing as the Slik, but presented a bit differently. I have no use for another head like this unless one of my existing ones breaks, but am magnetised to fine engineering. And this allure will draw me to further examples of heads and tripods at the next show we attend. And maybe this will result in another older model joining bitey and the knock-need one in their creosote infested underworld while I enjoy the latest shiny shiny.