Monday, January 17, 2011

Carbon fiber tripod (updated)

I just got my first light-weight tripod, a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber. Just like with racing bikes, carbon fiber models are a premium product. Maybe that will change.
On the photo below I show it in front of my old one, an steel model I bought in the nineties. The main reason I replaced it are weight and that the controls are stiff and awkward (and I actually have broken off a steel knob when turning a control the wrong way! I must be stronger than I realized).

A few things are notable to me about the new tripod:

  • The carbon legs themselves have a beautiful surface shimmer.
  • It's gum-danged light-weight for a full-sized tripod.
  • You can tilt the column 90 degrees in a few seconds. 
  • It is not only as rigid as the steel one, it is more rigid! Surprisingly so, in fact. It feels like one solid piece. 

The one in front is the new one

I didn't get the ball head yet, I had to order it separately. If it were me, I would offer a model which came with a ball head, I'd guess the majority of customers would go for that. Unless a panorama head is as popular, that may be the reason, I guess, video is popular these days.
It also doesn't have spiked feet, you must also buy those separately, I didn't realize that. My first tripod, a Velbon I got in the late seventies, had them as standard. And why not, they are not expensive (unlike carbon fibre). People say they are for outdoors work, but I find that a carpet also reduces stability markedly if there are no spikes.

Weight is an issue for stability and for reducing vibrations, for very critical photography work (big prints of landscape or architecture photos and such). So some people who go hiking with a light-weight tripod hang something from it to weigh it down, like a bag they fill with rocks or dirt on the spot, or a big plastic jar they fill with water.

Update: I got the ball head today. I like it. It is half the weight of my old one. Some say it needs to be big and heavy to suck up vibrations, but this fits better with the portability idea. It's also easier to operate, the old one has a lever for rotation and I often grabbed that one when I wanted the lever to unlock the head. And the new one has a knob for adjusting the friction, a good thing (a heavier camera needs more friction not to flop about when you unlock the head).


Jeff R. said...

I have an older model Manfrotto tripod (aluminium legs), but I hate using it because the screw clamps on the legs (height adjust) give me arthritis. I almost have to use a pair of vice-grips on them, if they are to stay fixed.
What method of "leg-locking" does your CF tripod use? Cam-lock or screw-down? Are they easy to use if you don't possess gorilla-like hands?

I may just go shopping this afternoon...


Eolake Stobblehouse said...

It's a snap lock, very easy to use, I guess an eight-year-old could do it.
It was one of the reasons I wanted a new one, the old snap locks too gorilla-hands.

If they lose tension, there's a little tool to tighten them included.

Miserere said...

The reason it doesn't include a ballhead is because people who buy expensive tripods are highly neurotic and if you ask 5 of them what the best head is you'll get 7 different answers. Manfrotto is saving their call center money by simply not including any head at all.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I shouldn't wonder.

Jeff R. said...

Thanks for that.

...and to add to the "head" topic, I use (mainly) a Manfrotto geared head.
Brilliant for fine adjustments when doing astro work. Not much chop for panning, 'though.

Don't like ball heads. They seem to incorporate the disadvantages of other types without introducing any significant advantages.

Still, YMMV.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I *think* that a ball head is faster if you have to adjust more than one axis at once. I also suspect that modern ones lock with more certainty than old ones, we'll see when mine arrives.

But I haven't had another kind of head for a long time. I had a pan head thirty years ago.

Isn't a geared head way more expensive though?

Ray said...

My 190XB came with a 486RC2 ballhead included in the kit. It works very well, but panning requires a hand to apply a "choke-hold" between the ball and the camera, while loosening the clamp on the ball just enough to
allow it to turn, but not enough to allow it to fall sideways. It is quicker to adjust, once you get used to it.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Got the ball head now, the post is updated.

Jeff R. said...

Yes, the geared head is expensive, but worth it.

Have you ever wanted to pan or tilt just a little bit? You unlock your pan/tilt or your ball-head and the big heavy telephoto lens flops down to the ground.
The geared head, however, allows minute adjustments without unlocking or relocking.
I love it.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I can see that, thanks.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

You talked me into it.
It's true that precision is hard with a ball head. And the first review I read said that for him it was also *slower* than a gear head. (Although as a gear head myself I don't always feel very fast.)

TC [Girl] said...

Jeff R said...
"The geared head, however, allows minute adjustments without unlocking or relocking.
I love it."

Good to know! Thanks! I have found the ball to be a PITA! :-/ (just saying!)

Eolake said...
"Although as a gear head myself I don't always feel very fast."

LOL! You! :-D

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

BTW, apparently the Manfrotto geared head I ordered has controls which pulls out for fast adjustment, and when left in gives slow, precise adjustment. A good idea.

Jeff R. said...

Yes, and that works well for rapid, large movements. It's kind'a annoying if you're used to just untwisting the pan/tilt arm (it's fiddly) but you don't choose a geared head if you want to make lots of large movements.
As I said earlier, I got mine mainly for astro shots, where it is indispensable.

If I may be a bit self-indulgent...

Five years ago I wanted a geared-head but couldn't afford it, so I began to make one. Almost finished it, and will do so one day.
A journal-of-sorts is here.

Jeff R. said...

Link doesn't link. :-(

Try here: