Big Bend Chat

Random Bits from the Outside World => Photography Gear and Tips => Topic started by: Homer Wilson on March 05, 2014, 03:54:55 PM

Title: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Homer Wilson on March 05, 2014, 03:54:55 PM
Has anyone found what they consider to be the perfect tripod for backpacking?  I have a mefoto (2lbs, 12" packed, 48"+ extended). This is about as bulky as I want to go, and it is also a bit of a pain to set up. I also have a gorillapod dslr tripod that I've never used. I'm a bit skeptical I can readily find good mounting locations for it. I use an slr or equivalently weighted camera. Exposures may be a minute to an hour.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: steelfrog on March 05, 2014, 04:30:37 PM
Lance has one that weighs about 57 pounds.  He can carry it tho cause he a man
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Lance on March 05, 2014, 05:55:51 PM
I'd be interested in a solid, but very light weight tripod.  Haven't found the perfect one yet.  Got a gorilla pod, but it's not stable enough for me doing long exposures.  hate carrying my heavy manfrotto, but it's solid and I like the adjustable/spreadable legs.  Got a cheaper dolica that's lighter, but it doesn't have spreadable legs like the manfrotto.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: badknees on March 05, 2014, 05:56:51 PM
I have a gorilla pod, and you can mount it anywhere.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: mule ears on March 05, 2014, 06:17:16 PM
sounds like we need some input from TJ Avery.   :crossedfingers:
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: steelfrog on March 05, 2014, 07:25:06 PM
Lance likes his tripods like he likes his women...
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Casa Grande on March 05, 2014, 07:50:20 PM
Well, what a great question! And I'm gonna answer.

Several years ago, when I started virtual big Bend, I had to carry a tremendous amount of heavy gear up into the Chisos.

I spent the next 8 years trying to find the ultimate compact, lightweight, AND STURDY tripod.

I tried them all.  But none of them were STURDY. I finally found (and splurged) on the Benro A0691T. 
                                           
It's absolutely perfect. Got mine from BH Photo.   But they don't sell             
                                               
Here it is from Amazon:

 http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B004DGNO78/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1394070362&sr=8-1

www.VirtualBigBend. com - now mobile friendly!

Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Casa Grande on March 05, 2014, 07:51:34 PM
Here's a pic of mine. Love it.

www.VirtualBigBend. com - now mobile friendly!

Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: kevint on March 05, 2014, 08:36:23 PM
I've been drooling over the Benro Travel Angel II for a while. Much lighter than my 7 lb Bogen. I like the idea of using one leg for a monopod when I want to drop even more weight. Glad to see CG likes his Travel Angel.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Casa Grande on March 05, 2014, 08:49:22 PM
Highly recommend. Worth every penny.

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Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: TexasAggieHiker on March 05, 2014, 10:54:57 PM
My gorillapod works great with my P&S!
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: badknees on March 06, 2014, 05:05:03 AM
I have the Gorilla Pod with a ballhead. It is spec'd for 6 lbs. It will support my SLR + a fairly heavy wide angle lens. It can be wrapped around tree branches and will level anywhere. It has limitations, but meets my backcountry needs.

BHPhoto sells them for $55 including the ball head, with 2 quick release plates and leveling bubble.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/633362-REG/Joby_GP3_BHEN_Gorillapod_SLR_Zoom_Flexible_Mini.html (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/633362-REG/Joby_GP3_BHEN_Gorillapod_SLR_Zoom_Flexible_Mini.html)

(http://static.bhphoto.com/images/images150x150/633362.jpg)

I also use it to mount a 32X spotting scope when I'm checking out birds way out in the marsh, or shooting bench rest rifle at 300 yds so I can see the target impacts.

What it doesn't have is height...so you need a place to put it like the hood of a car, big rocks, or do a wrap around somewhere.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: tjavery on March 06, 2014, 08:06:59 AM
sounds like we need some input from TJ Avery.   :crossedfingers:

Okay :icon_lol:

I've hauled several different "platforms" into the wilds over the years. Started with an ancient tripod inherited from my grandfather. I nearly broke it in half in Pine Canyon on my very first trip to the park (partly out of frustration and partly because of the abuse it was getting).

... Fast forward to today (well, actually late 2007) ... I spent the money (i.e. it was EXPENSIVE) and got a good quality carbon fiber tripod and aluminum ball head. I'm still using it today.

Things to consider:

- You get what you pay for. Seriously. Cheaper gear is cheaper for a reason. It may have the right specs, but it's probably going to not work as well and/or break down in the field. And you will be putting your gear through its paces in the Big Bend - i.e. you WILL find out how well it's made!

- Carbon fiber legs vs. aluminum. Typical CF legs are a pound or two lighter (when you compare CF models vs. cheaper aluminum models). Those few pounds of savings are definitely worth it, especially on long hikes. My advice would be that if you can afford CF, then go with CF.

- Heads. (specifically pan-and-tilt heads vs. ball heads) This comes down to personal preference. Each type of head does the same thing on a basic level. Pan-and-tilts (or "3-ways") are sometimes heavier and occupy more space than a ball head. Adjusting them takes more time than a ball head. Given the smaller size and ease of use, I would highly recommend a ball head.

- Strength ratings. Tripod legs and heads usually have a rated carrying capacity. These ratings are somewhat useless. They might indicate the ultimate load the tripod or head can carry. But the reason why these ratings are not very useful is because what you're really after is stability. Sure, you can probably put a heavy camera on a 10-lb. rated tripod and it will hold up, but when the legs are fully extended it may vibrate like crazy in the wind. My advice would be to look for a weight capacity that is 2-3 times greater than the actual weight of your camera+lens.

- Leg splay. Look for tripod legs that will allow you to splay the legs independently and lock them in place. This is highly recommended especially when using on uneven surfaces.

- Size. This all depends on what you need and your preferences. My tripod, when fully extended, will get the viewfinder about two inches above eye-level (I'm 6'-2"). There are so many different versions out there, you can probably find one at just about any height. You have to consider what shooting height you want (do you need it tall, or can you go shorter and just stoop over a bit when you shoot?) and also how small it packs up.

Basically look at two things: how many sections do the legs have and does it have a center column? More leg sections usually means it folds down smaller, but the con is that it takes a little longer to adjust and is probably more flexible (the leg tube diameters get pretty small in the third and fourth leg sections). A center column will add height while keeping the legs shorter.

- Leg section locks. Typically you'll find two types: 1) flip levers and 2) twist locks. The flip lever types are easier to use but sometimes come on heavier models. Twist locks are more streamlined and sometimes lighter. Either works fine as long as you use it right. Twist locks take some getting used to. The lefty-loosy, righty-tighty rule is reversed when you're looking at your tripod from the top-down.

Bogen-Manfrotto makes a set of legs that can be pulled out without having to undo any locks, and then the legs automatically lock into position. To retract, you simply press a button at the top and push the leg sections in to retract them. It's very fast - you can even press all three buttons at once and compact the legs in one motion. The huge con to this is that the legs are very heavy. I've seen a lot of students in my workshops use these legs, and they work well. But they are heavy.

- Quick release system. You definitely want some sort of plate-and-receptacle, "quick release" type system. This is a system where you attach a metal plate to your camera. It will have beveled edges that dovetail into a receptacle on the tripod head. The idea is for you to be able to very quickly attach and then remove your camera from the tripod. Highly recommended.

So what do I use?

My tripod legs are a carbon fiber model by Gitzo. I cannot recall the model number, but it's been so long (6+ years) that Gitzo has replaced it with newer models. It was a middle-range model that offered the right balance of capacity and size. The legs have 3 sections and it does have a center column.

Gitzo is not the cheapest, but their products are well made and durable. The legs that I use have seen a lot of action in Big Bend and other places, and the only issue I've had is the leg hinges loosening up over time. Be sure to keep the special wrench handy to tighten them up when needed.

The ballhead that I use is the Really Right Stuff RH-40. They still produce this model: http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/s.nl/sc.26/category.568/it.C/.f (http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/s.nl/sc.26/category.568/it.C/.f) I bought mine with the "LR" receptacle (lever release).

The Really Right Stuff quick release system is based on the Arca-Swiss standard. So I have Arca-Swiss type plates that attach to my cameras.

I HIGHLY recommend Really Right Stuff products. They are expensive but extremely well made. And I can say that truthfully. I've been using their products in the field since 2007.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: tjavery on March 06, 2014, 08:43:52 AM
Just to follow up on this ('cause now you have me thinking)... :icon_lol:

This is why independent leg splay can be important:
(http://thomasjavery.com/bb_oct13/tripod6767.jpg)

Of course that is an extreme example. But when you're setting up on uneven ground, especially sloped, hard rock, being able to manipulate your legs such that the overall tripod set-up is balanced and won't tip over is important.

In the past several years, the high ISO capabilities of digital cameras and image stabilization technology have gotten so much better that it's possible to shoot relatively clean, steady images without a tripod.

Here's an example. This is a scene with a very wide dynamic range. I hand-held (no tripod) several shots at different exposures. I used Photoshop to align the shots (on different layers) and then blended them together.
(http://thomasjavery.com/bb_oct10/4523-24.jpg)

Of course to get the best quality images possible, you'll still need a tripod. Your camera will produce the lowest noise and best dynamic range at the lowest, native ISO setting. Also, your lens will be sharpest at middle apertures (and you get better depth of field). Those two aspects generally mean that your shutter speeds become fairly long, especially in low light conditions.

And you most definitely still need a tripod for shots like this:

(http://thomasjavery.com/bb_oct13/6546.jpg)
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Homer Wilson on March 06, 2014, 10:06:34 AM
Thanks everyone!  There's some great info here. For those of you who usually bring tripods, how do you pack them or attach them to your pack? The couple of times I've tried to take one, it's been buried in my pack or lashed to my pack in a way that makes it hard to access. Either way resulted in me very rarely using it because it was too much trouble to unpack.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: tjavery on March 06, 2014, 10:58:23 AM
Thanks everyone!  There's some great info here. For those of you who usually bring tripods, how do you pack them or attach them to your pack? The couple of times I've tried to take one, it's been buried in my pack or lashed to my pack in a way that makes it hard to access. Either way resulted in me very rarely using it because it was too much trouble to unpack.

Good question. In the past, I've tried two methods:

1) attachment to outside of my pack basically by a home-made connector made of a small length of rope and little non-load bearing carabiner. You tie the rope securely to the tripod near the top (by the head or to the head itself). The carabiner clips onto something near the top of the pack (pick a strap, any strap). Then, you let the tripod hang vertically and slip one or more legs into one of the many straps that's sure to exist near the bottom of your pack.

This works, but if it's not secure enough, the tripod may slip around a bit.

2) slide the folded tripod through the straps at the very top of your pack (the tripod sits horizontally like a rolled up mat). This also works, but the tripod always has a habit of slipping out sideways and falling to the ground. If you do this, you may want to find some method of securely clipping it to your pack.

Or, you can always just hand-carry the thing. I often do this when I'm in a mode of stopping often to take photos.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Lance on March 06, 2014, 11:28:26 AM
Thanks guys for the great explanations! Bookmarking this one for later..
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Buck on March 06, 2014, 03:28:26 PM
I use rocks.  Sometimes I'll use a couple of sticks. 

I've also been hauling this guy around for around ten years and it keeps on keeping on.  I have no idea where i picked it up, though.

(http://i671.photobucket.com/albums/vv76/duffelpud/Big%20Bend%20Stuff/20140306_151236_zpsb1245114.jpg)

(http://i671.photobucket.com/albums/vv76/duffelpud/Big%20Bend%20Stuff/20140306_151305_zps44a497b8.jpg)

(http://i671.photobucket.com/albums/vv76/duffelpud/Big%20Bend%20Stuff/20140306_151354_zps6d38fa45.jpg)
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Casa Grande on March 06, 2014, 03:42:18 PM
Regarding the carry question, I simply put one of my legs in between my belt for my pack and my hip. This way I can grab it quickly and without taking my pack off. 

Incidentally, I had a guy send me a hiking stick/ tripod combo to try out in exchange for a review. He didn't like my review and I think I gave it to someone.  Way too flimsy for my needs.

www.VirtualBigBend. com - now mobile friendly!

Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Andreas on March 06, 2014, 04:25:36 PM
NOVOFLEX MINI TRIPODS (see pdf)

Besides my 'regular' tripod, I have been using something similar to what Buck has suggested, if weight/size is of the essence.

MICROPOD (see photos)/approx. $ 50:
It holds a camera up to 6.6 lbs. I have used this pocket tripod with a zoom lens attached to my Olympus PEN LITE (E-PL3) with no problems whatsoever, even in windy conditions. Tiny measurements, easy and fast setup. Mainly designed for macro shots, it also works for landscape photography/selfies etc. if you can place it on a rock or something similar. Great quality, have used it extensively for almost 3 years now.

Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: tjavery on March 07, 2014, 08:02:46 AM
I use rocks.  Sometimes I'll use a couple of sticks.

Right-on!

If you've ever read the books by Galen Rowell (http://www.mountainlight.com/rowellg.html), his approach was to go light as possible and make do with what was available to him. When he couldn't tolerate carrying a tripod, he'd use rocks, fence posts, or brace his body up against something sturdy like a tree or large rock. He did a lot of shooting while rock climbing, so nearly all of that work was hand held.

You can grab a stick or old Sotol stalk and use it as a makeshift monopod. It helps to cancel the up-and-down movement as you hand-hold the camera. You can even grab 2 or 3 sticks and make a quick bipod or tripod. Just hold the sticks bunched-up in your left hand, and then hold the camera on top with your right hand.

If hand-holding with no support:

Use the viewfinder (optical or electronic) if your camera has one (so that the camera is pressed against your face). If you use the LCD screen to compose, then try to get the camera as close to you as possible. Holding it out at arms length makes it difficult to hold steady.

Draw your elbows in and spread your feet out just a bit. Exhale and hold briefly while you gently squeeze the shutter. It's very much like target shooting or hunting with a gun.

Take several shots to better your chances of getting a sharp photo. If your camera has a burst mode, then take 3 - 4. Often the first and last images will be slightly blurred due to you pressing and then releasing the shutter button.

The right technique can greatly improve your camera steadiness.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Hayduke on March 07, 2014, 10:41:03 AM
Back when I was more focused on photography I remember reading that a tripod should weigh about 7 lbs. or so, something I would never carry on a backpack (though I did pack a backup camera body). I always thought that the ideal tripod would be a hollowed-out model capable of holding a gallon of water, preferable with a spigot attachment.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Homer Wilson on March 07, 2014, 12:01:16 PM
Do monopods work? I tried using one once, but didn't notice much improvement. Of course, I'm sure I wasn't using it correctly. Is it possible to get a sharp picture off a one second exposure with one?
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: dillomaster on March 09, 2014, 02:42:23 PM
Ok, so it is not a tripod.  But this guy has been with me on trips for over 20 years and is responsible for countless group shots and low light landscapes. Granted, it is not as flexible as a tripod and I have to improvise to get any elevation by using a post, rock, etc.
On the plus side it cost less than a buck to make, it fits easily in a pocket, it works with any size or style of camera, it is unbreakable, there is no reason not to have it with you, and in a pinch I guess you could probably make an improvised meal out of the guts if you were in a desperate situation.  Try that with a conventional tripod! (Although after 20 years the beans may not be that tasty...)
Anyway, I always have this guy with me and it has come in handy on countless occasions when I would not have even thought to bring a tripod.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Andreas on March 09, 2014, 02:52:00 PM
Ok, so it is not a tripod. Granted, it is not as flexible as a tripod and I have to improvise to get any elevation by using a post, rock, etc.
On the plus side it cost less than a buck to make, it fits easily in a pocket, it works with any size or style of camera, it is unbreakable, there is no reason not to have it with you.
Anyway, I always have this guy with me and it has come in handy on countless occasions when I would not have even thought to bring a tripod.

I can only 2nd dillomaster's comments. Usually I take a pocket tripod and a bean bag on any hike. But if I had to choose just one item, it would be the bean bag.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: iCe on March 09, 2014, 05:21:45 PM
I've used rocks before... and all kinds of other things... whatever it takes.


This is a shot from when I didn't use the right rock with my brand new 1DsMKIII. The sound the lens hood made when it hit the dirt was worse than the end result. No damage other than a nick in my Really Right Stuff right angle bracket



(http://wildlightimagingstudio.com/img/s2/v1/p914865027.jpg)


Tripod / ball head: Depends... What kind of gear are you carrying? How serious are you?


for me, I'm 100% in TJ's camp. I've got a pair of Gitzo carbon fiber tripods. I don't use center posts. Not counting my Wimberly my ball heads are RRS heads with the quick release lever. BH 50, 40, and 20 (I think). I also have an old Arca Swiss that has been around since the 80's. It's never let me down. I put an RRS quick release plate on it a few years ago. Some of the heads are on time lapse rails but it's easy to move them. I have one on a little RRS ground pod. The ground pod is heavy but it's small and with a little BH-20 ball head it's lighter than either Gitzo (but not by much). I've hauled it up to the South Rim a few times.


Pack- I have one of these


http://www.mindshiftgear.com/products/rotation180-professional


but I have yet to use it. I think it's going to be just what I need and hopefully not a closet queen. It has a pouch for tripod legs, hydration bladder, and room for stuff.


I've heard good things about Tenba's


The Photobackpacker system is great for Large and Medium format but full of gear it's not light. I hauled my Linhoff out into the Dunes at Death Valley (plus a DSLR) and by the time I got back to the car I was glad that I had a good pack





Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: kevint on March 11, 2014, 12:26:47 AM

Do monopods work? I tried using one once, but didn't notice much improvement. Of course, I'm sure I wasn't using it correctly. Is it possible to get a sharp picture off a one second exposure with one?

Monopods do help but you'll never pull off a sharp one second exposure. They minimize vertical shake but do less for horizontal. Combine a monopod with bracing yourself against something vertical and they'll do even better.

Somewhere on the internet there are probably some suggestions on monopod technique.

I use a monopod for some things like shooting my kids' performances when I need to recompose quickly but they are not a substitute for a tripod.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: tjavery on March 21, 2014, 08:57:49 AM
1) attachment to outside of my pack basically by a home-made connector made of a small length of rope and little non-load bearing carabiner. You tie the rope securely to the tripod near the top (by the head or to the head itself). The carabiner clips onto something near the top of the pack (pick a strap, any strap). Then, you let the tripod hang vertically and slip one or more legs into one of the many straps that's sure to exist near the bottom of your pack.

Just to follow up with some recent experience...

Last week in BiBe I did exactly what I described above. Here's the tripod strapped on to my pack:

(http://thomasjavery.com/bb_mar14/d8849.jpg)

I tied two loops of rope around the top of the tripod legs (just below the ballhead) and also tied on a carabiner. I wrapped the carabiner with Gorilla tape so that it would minimize the scraping against the ballhead as I hiked.

The carabiner attached to a small loop that's part of my pack near the very top but slightly on the side. The weight of the tripod hung from this attachment.

(http://thomasjavery.com/bb_mar14/d8850.jpg)

I extended one leg of the tripod a few inches and passed it through a loop near the bottom, and on the side of, my pack. This kept the tripod from flopping around as I hiked.

(http://thomasjavery.com/bb_mar14/d8851.jpg)

This worked pretty well. The tripod stayed put and I had no issues with it bouncing around where it would be annoying. Access was easy - to remove the tripod, just pull up and unclip (provided my pack was off).
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: steelfrog on March 21, 2014, 09:09:50 AM
Looks like a great rig
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: iCe on March 21, 2014, 09:38:10 AM
Nice!
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: steelfrog on March 21, 2014, 12:39:31 PM
I just ordered a new camie with a big zoom (a "bridge" camera) so I may need one of these light tripods
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Lance on March 21, 2014, 03:05:25 PM
I just ordered a new camie with a big zoom (a "bridge" camera) so I may need one of these light tripods

Big $$$$
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: steelfrog on March 21, 2014, 04:04:10 PM
I rich!
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: tjavery on March 31, 2014, 07:21:26 AM
Saw this article in my feed. Thought it would make a good addition in this thread.

http://petapixel.com/2014/03/30/small-diy-camera-stabilizer-doesnt-hurt-your-pocket-literally-and-metaphorically/ (http://petapixel.com/2014/03/30/small-diy-camera-stabilizer-doesnt-hurt-your-pocket-literally-and-metaphorically/)
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Buck on March 31, 2014, 09:30:27 AM
If you want a rock-solid tripod for long exposures, and have the physique of Special Forces active duty, this may be the tripod for you...

(http://www.ghgcollectibles.com/Survey_Tripod.jpg)
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: iCe on March 31, 2014, 09:34:44 AM
And it can double as a spear  :shock:
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: trtlrock on March 31, 2014, 09:51:45 AM
And it can double as a spear  :shock:

Or a zombie-impaler!  :great:
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: Homer Wilson on March 31, 2014, 10:09:56 AM
If you want a rock-solid tripod for long exposures, and have the physique of Special Forces active duty, this may be the tripod for you...

I used to set up tripods like that for survey crews as a summer job. They're actually a lot lighter than you might think, and incredibly sturdy. They're also easy to set perfectly level. Downside, I'm not sure you can attach a ball head to it.
Title: Re: Backpacking tripods
Post by: tjavery on March 31, 2014, 03:00:56 PM
If you want a rock-solid tripod for long exposures, and have the physique of Special Forces active duty, this may be the tripod for you...

(http://www.ghgcollectibles.com/Survey_Tripod.jpg)

Is that for a camera or an anti-aircraft cannon mount?  :icon_lol: