(Professional) Tripods and Tripod Heads;

 

Tripods;
         If we would like to categorize the tripods (used in photography), we can separate them in two main groups as; indoor tripods (studio) and outdoor tripods. This categorization depends on the portability of the tripods. There is a false perception for using lightweight tripods, since even a 1 kg of weight feels as 5 kg at the end of the day if you are carrying it, but lightness can not be a criteria for the purpose of the tripod.
         The most important criteria for a tripod is; the stability and the construction enabling that stability. Related to the stability are the other criteria as; strength, carrying capacity, maximum height without extending the legs.

         In studio, the tripods are moved around very often, so very heavy and big tripods (like t-tripods) can be used. These kinds of tripods allow you to work in complicated sets in high and low levels with the ability of easily approaching to the subject because of their t-shaped design. While doing this, they are fully reliable for stability with their weight (more than 100-150 kg). With the lockable wheels at the tripod feet, they can be moved around.

         You can use all kinds of tripods you use outdoors also in studio of course, and there won’t be any problem with their weights regarding their ease of use outside in long distances.

         I think this much of information is enough on studio tripods. You can check out the companies that produce specifically for large format photography in order to get more information on these stands (t-tripods) since they are mostly used with large format cameras. (TOYO, CAMBO, FOBA, MANFROTTO…etc.)

 

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         In this article I will not mention monopods and small tabletop tripods.

Body structure of tripods;

         A tripod can be examined in 4 parts;

         A center column (that can move up and down), body, legs, and leg feet. Main part is the body to which center column and the legs are assembled.

         The structure of the center column and the way legs are attached to the body such as having a constrained angle or an unconstraint angle depends on the design of the tripod. The opening of legs with constrained angles is set by the leg clamps on the attachment point of legs to the body.

         In some designs the body is a flat cylindrical circle in which there is no center column in the structure. But, preferably, the platform on this circle can be changed with a center column afterwards.

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         In some designs, this body is a long cylindrical shape, which makes it possible for the centerpiece to be moved up or down (by hand or a mechanism) and also with the help of the leg bracings, the stability of the tripod can be increased. In the situations where there are no leg bracings (as seen in the attached picture above) center column is replaced with the platform of the body.

         It can be moved up by hand or by a mechanism. Some of the center columns in these structures can be attached upside down from the body and camera is placed downwards within the legs of the tripod.

         Mostly, the body is made of casting or hardened aluminum, legs are made of hardened aluminum or carbon fiber. You can see a carbon fiber texture below.

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Tripods with center column;

         Two examples of the tripod type which have adjustable fixer between center column and legs are below;

         Whereas the tripod on the left is big and has a center column, the design on the right is smaller in size and doesn’t have a center column instead the legs are attached to the body. Both differ from the constrained angled leg tripods with their unconstrained angled legs, which can be adjusted at the desired angle. They are more advantageous than the constrained angled legs.

         The design on the right picture enables an angle of 180 degrees with the legs that can be used on cylindrical holes (such as canalization holes) and from this aspect it is more favorable than the fixed angle leg tripods. (This tripod is one of the best designs in the world with carriage capacity of 60kg and with FOBA combitube system legs that can be lengthened and can be adapted to different places with system parts)

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Tripods with no center column, with constrained angled legs without leg bracings with the body;

         There are two kinds of these tripods. One is with the fixed center platform and other is with convertible center platform. The angle of legs with these kind of tripods are fixed (such as 25, 50, 80 degrees) by the producer company.

 

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         These tripods are both advantageous and disadvantageous in their nature. They are advantageous since they allow you to shoot from a very close level to the ground for not having a center column and with the ability of their legs opening around 160-170 degrees of an angle. The downside here is that the stability of it is lower in this position. The disadvantageous side of all tripods with center column is that they can only lower down to the ground as much as the length of center column allows. The plus side here is if they have leg bracings to the center column, they are much more stable than the others.

Tripods with center column elevator;

         The first design of Manfrotto MA161 model tripod had a column elevator that can rotate around itself. The advantage of this kind of a tripod is that, when you use a head with crank handle, you can make a horizontal round move without moving the crank handle with this system. In following designs, this elevator was produced to elevate up and down with a handle in a fixed angle.

         Column elevators can be divided into 3 groups; Elevation mechanisms operated by handle (left picture), manually operating elevation mechanisms (middle and right picture). In both tripod types (on the left and middle picture), centre column elevates with a fixed angle. The advantage of these systems is being able to elevate the column without changing the adjusted angle. For the tripod, shown in the picture on the right, centre column can elevate up and down with the ability to rotate 360 degrees. (And in this design, since an air operated hydraulic is used which controls the downward movement to be more smooth.

         Of course, a mechanism that enables both fixed and free angle elevation could be designed but, as a universal rule, every advantage brings a disadvantage, so the stability of such a mechanism would be low. In tripods every extra part affects the stability adversely.

 

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Legs:

Fixed and extended legs

Because of the reasons I explained above, the systems with least parts are more ideal. Some companies also produce fixed length legs (that do not extend). But the common system is the extendable legs built as telescopic tubes. In some systems, the leg count can go up to 6.

         The leg angles are adjusted accordingly in tripod bodies with fixed angles. The most stable angle of the legs is the first angle. Afterwards, the vertical bending will increase with the increasing weight on the legs when they are opened more.

Leg feet:

         Leg feet are the parts at the bottom of the legs that touch the ground. Below you can see various designs. There are many designs created for the purpose and conditions of use, like; changeable angled feet, only metal feet, plastic feet, feet with a pointed metal end. The ideal was is the interchangeable feet according to the conditions. Tripod leg designs of some companies allow interchangeability of feet.

Fixed or interchangeable leg feet:

Plastic feet:

         They are suitable for all indoor grounds (including slippery marble or parquet floors) The stability of the leg will increase according to the feet contact on the surface. Circular or angled plastic feet hold the surface more than metal ones but if the shooting is long and layered, the tripod should be stabilized with cupping glass.

         Below you can see a tripod prepared for a layered shooting.

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         Adjustable feet angle (Left to right 1st and 2nd picture) and external parts that can be mounted to the feet (3rd and 4th pictures)

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Metal pointed ends;

         Suitable for outdoors (nature) for soil, rocks, iced grounds. These ends are not suitable for smooth surfaces also because of the damage they can cause to the surface.        

 

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         Feet that can be adjusted as pointed metal or plastic: Ones that are interchangeable as mounted on the leg (on the left) and ones that can be adjusted for both usages (first 3 pictures)

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         If the leg is suitable to mount these feet on, plastic feet seen below can be used.

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Compressing mechanisms:

         The mechanism enabling the extension of the legs is built as compression of the telescopic tubes in certain levels and the difference lies on the design of the compression method. Of course, all have their own disadvantages. Regarding the damage dust can cause, the design on the left is more durable. Some companies also use dust-proof grease and develop dust and water proof designs.

 

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Current standard sizes:

         Tripod head screw sizes are standardized in two sizes: 1/4-20 inch and 3/8-16 inch. 1/4-20 inch screw size defines smaller screw size mostly for amateur and small tripod heads. This size is also the size of the screw socket under the cameras. Screw size can be altered from 1/4-20 inch to 3/8-16 inch with an adapter as seen below. Medium format and large format cameras have the screw socket size 3/8-16 inch

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         Professional large tripods and heads have the screw size 3/8-16 inch. In some tripods, centre circle sizes are the same. This allows us to use different brands compatibly. (Ex: GITZO GS3512S center column is compatible with SIRUI 4203 model tripod.)

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         There are also simple platforms designed for flat surfaces. The purpose of them is to place the camera to the ground level as close as possible. The design on the left needs an absolute flat surface. The design on the right is more functional since its legs can be extended and lighter in weight.

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Basic auxiliary parts for tripods:

         Parts that can be attached to the tripod body or the center column: Parts that can be attached to the body of the tripod with fixed angle or unconstrained angle which enable the camera to stand vertically to the ground or at the same time enabling multiple camera attachments to the tripod.

         In some tripods this part is fixed like a 4th leg  4th leg (left picture below). These are the systems that are used for macro and reproduction purposes in which the lens faces to the ground when the camera is horizontal. They also enable multiple camera attachments to the system.

         They can be used in situations where you need to move the camera closer to the set for the lens depth of field capacity but are restrained because of the tripod mobility. In these usages, the tripod should be balanced with a counter weight since there will be an overload to the tripod screw holding this part.

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         Triangular star shaped parts with wheels or without wheels attached to the legs that enable horizontal movements to the tripod in which legs stand in certain angle, mostly used in video shots. I am not going to get into detail with this part since it is more video related.

         After the technical specifications given above, I would like to explain shortly about their usage.

         Actually, using tripod subject can be very long and detailed if the shooting technique is taken into consideration.

         Why do we use tripods? Why should we use them?

         Tripods are developed with the need for long exposure in earlier years of photography. It is a basic equipment to be used when using long focus lenses, for night shootings, long exposures and layered shootings although there are cameras with improved high ISO performances on the market.

         Especially in analogue film times, the high image quality definition was clear; Contrast lightning, low ISO, large format film and quality lens with proper aperture value. In digital photography today, this formula is not 100% valid anymore. Software is capable of necessary corrections for the problems that occur like noise resulting from high ISO or long exposure.

         Also, lens quality is redefined in digital age. Normally, the sharpness of the lens doesn’t depend on the camera since the camera is only a dark box and nothing else. But, today, the lenses designed for the digital cameras have their very own chips inside that can be updated occasionally with new software. Sometimes lenses are calibrated according to the camera to be used on. This procedure is applied by entering values with correction information to the camera, after certain tests are made with the lens. Digital technology changes most information on the image after the shooting, while writing it on the flash cards and while opening the image in image editing software.

         (An example for the situation explained above can be given as the sub-industry lenses like Sigma or Tamron showing different performances in Nikon or in Canon but in technical cameras lens quality doesn’t depend on the camera itself. This proves that classical (analogue) optic physics are no longer valid.)

What should we pay attention to when buying a tripod?

         Firstly, professional photographers cannot content with one tripod only since they need different tripods according to the nature of the shooting.

         For example, if you shoot still subjects with long focus lenses, your choice of tripod would be the same with the photographers shooting motion but the tripod head choice would differ. Because of the long focus lenses, tripods that are as stable as possible would be the choice, but for still subjects, the head must be the gear system that enables fine-tuning, whereas, when shooting motion with long focus lenses photographers prefer L or U type GIMBAL head and sports reporters prefer the same heads with pan-tilt movements.

         Same way, in studio, you choose different tripods depending whether you shoot stil-life or fashion.

         If you shoot panorama or large landscapes and you make a big image from several shots, your choice of tripod head differs.

         For industrial shootings you prefer a tripod that can be used at any environment under any condition. If you shoot reproduction, you prefer a different type of a tripod. Since tripod is a gear to be used in long term, you should put aside the cost criteria and try to choose the one that you can use at any condition with the maximum specifications. The price you pay afterwards would be much more than your initial investment if you need more specifications and try to buy a new tripod after selling the first one. First specification determining the quality of a tripod is its stability. The body and leg structure and the leg-body attachment provide this stability. Heaviness and lightness are due to the material used in the design of the tripod. Aluminum or carbon fiber tripods must be chosen which have thick legs with minimum extensions. Heavy tripods are always more stable than light ones.

         Some tripod legs can be extended with 5-6 levels and the tripod can exceed 3m of height but make sure to find a place (a durable platform maybe) that corresponds to the same height if you can find any. The tripod wouldn’t supply the demanded performance at this height and every leg would decrease the stability.

         The legs should be extended correspondingly minding the stability within each other.

         The last (thin) level at the end of the leg should be extended lastly.

The load capacity of a tripod:

Assuming that you work with a system consisting of a featured tripod head and a long focus lens and you use a balance weight to increase the stability, the load capacity of your tripod should be 15-20kg at minimum.

Let’s make a simple calculation:

         The backpack containing equipment that you would hang as balance weight to the tripod is 8-12kg.

         Long focus lens (support system for long focus lenses) and a bigger camera are 5-7kg in total.

         A head featured to keep this system stable and enable ease of movement is 1,5-3kg All parts would weight 14,5-25kg, so a tripod with a carriage capacity of around 20kg would be ideal. (These values are calculated according to the possible conditions for the professional shootings with professional camera and lenses.)

         A big tripod can be problematic in small places and you cannot use a small tripod in all conditions but in some cases, by using both of them together, you can get a result that you wouldn’t get with a single tripod.

         Below is the example of a shooting from a very narrow window with large format camera that cannot possibly be done with a single tripod.

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Tripod Heads:

         Tripod heads are the mechanisms that enable the cameras in a stable environment to move in the desired direction.

         Large format cameras that use very long focus lenses can be directly attached to the tripod itself since the camera has the ability to perform the needed movements in itself with the help of its modular design. The structure of the large format cameras allows a very complicated movement ability that exceeds the limits of a tripod head. Companies like Arca Swiss released the main parts of these large format cameras as tripod heads after a few modifications. (For example; Arca Swiss geared tripod head)

         Tripod heads are also chosen according to the purpose of use like the tripods, the criteria of the tripod going to be used also has a significance in this choice.

3 axis heads:

         Heads that 3 axis movements are manually applied: These are the tripod heads that the axis movements for perspective control (vertical, horizontal and pan) are manually done. Although these heads allow adjustments to be made much quicker than the gear heads, gear heads should be chosen for more controlled and precise movements.

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         Heads that 3 axis movements are applied with gear system:
         Several different designs have been implemented for this type of heads. The movement in 3 different axis is maintained by the gear system, directly by movement of the gears (1st and 2nd picture). In basic models, there is a mechanism that releases the gear before the movement like coupler and this mechanism allows you to make as many movements as you like before you the gear movement (3rd picture). In a different model, controlled movement to all directions can be made like a ballhead (4th picture). In another design, the mechanism in large format cameras that makes the basic movement is used (5th picture).

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Monoball (spherical) tripod heads:
        There are mainly 3 control mechanisms in these heads. 1st one is (as seen on the bottom below) clamping and releasing mechanism that enables panoramic movement. 2nd one is the mechanism adjusting the softness and hardness of the movement of the ball head and supports general movement structure. 3rd one is the mechanism allowing the general movement of the head.

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Pistol grip tripod heads:
         Mostly used by amateur photographers. There is a lever added to the system to make the spherical movement controlled. This lever is released before the movement with a crank just like the coupler and the movement is maintained.

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2 axis heads (Pan-tilt) (360 degrees of horizontal movement and front and backwards movements):

         These heads are designed to enable the bending forward to the subject movement with large format cameras in studio. Since these cameras are heavy, the movements made on them, decreases the stability. Today, these heads are mostly preferred in panorama shootings (3rd an 4th head)

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Tripod heads for panoramic purposes:

         These heads are suitable for ultra wide-angle lenses (115 degrees), fisheye lenses (180 degrees) and lenses close to normal angle (35mm) but they are not suitable for angles above normal and long focus lenses. The reason for this is that there are many attachment points and that after a certain amount of load, the head loses its stability.

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Single axis (pan) heads:

         One axis heads below are used for panoramic purposes on a single axis or they can be used under another tripod head.

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         These pan heads can be used in single axis panoramic shootings (or within a system of panoramic purpose)

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         They are heads rotating with pre-defined angles (adjusted rotators)

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Gimbal Heads (L or U shaped):

         Gimbal heads are designed mostly for long focus lenses and their usage in motion subjects. The L shaped heads are less stable than the U shaped ones.

L Shaped Gimbal Heads produced from different materials with different designs:

(The right design is different than the others since the stability is maintained by attaching the lens to a point without a juncture)

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Basic and advanced U shaped Gimbal Head:

         The head on the left is basic model, whereas the picture on the right shows more advanced, durable and stable model.

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         Important auxiliary part for tripod heads: Leveler (with water level) On the left, only leveler is shown. On the right, you can see leveler with a 360 degrees pan movement.

Important notes:

         Water levelers on the tripods and tripod heads are not reliable. You should act according to the water level on the axis part in motion (if there is one) or the mounted water level on the camera in shootings in which vertical axis and horizontal axis are important, like architectural shootings.

         If you are shooting panorama, you can take the last part that camera is mounted on as a reference plane and you can trust the software merging the images in a panoramic image.

         The metal clips on the ends of the tripod designed to carry the tripod outdoors can break down in an unexpected time because of the metal fatigue and the tripod can fall down while you are carrying it. Even if you prevent the falling down, you still would have to hand-carry the tripod. So, you may think of changing the metal pieces on the strap with ridge ropes and carbines.

         If you can, it is better to disassemble some parts of the tripods and tripod heads (legs, arms…etc.) and clean them. But be careful to use the same kind and amount of grease used. The cleaning done without paying attention to the kind and amount of grease used will end up with friction of the parts within each other and cause an irretrievable damage.

Web addresses that you can find the equipment and information;

http://www.acratech.net/

http://www.arca-shop.de/en/

http://www.bencher.com/photo/

http://www.benrousa.com/

https://www.cambo.com/en/

http://www.desphotodist.com/

http://www.feisoleurope.com/

http://www.foba.ch/index.htm

http://www.gitzo.com/

http://www.indurogear.com/

http://www.kirkphoto.com/

http://linhof.com/category/tripods/?lang=en

http://www.jobu-design.com/

https://www.manfrotto.com/

http://www.novoflex.com/en/products

http://www.obensupports.com/

http://www.sliktripod.co.uk/

http://www.sirui.eu/en/home/

http://www.sunwayfoto.com/e_index.aspx

http://www.tripodhead.com/

http://www.vanguardworld.com/

http://www.velbon.co.uk/