Equipment Discussion > Tripods: How to evaluate and choose

Tripods: How to evaluate and choose
It goes without saying that the primary purpose of a tripod is to hold a camera steady while the shutter is open and exposing the film/sensor. Any motion with the camera during that period will blur the photo.
The question is: Will any tripod work? The simple answer: No, none of them will – completely and absolutely that is. It boils sown to a matter of degree as to what is acceptable.
So, what is acceptable? The simple answer: it depends upon the user’s criterion for sharpness,. Confusing the issue the is the role that the lens and camera play. If one has a mediocre lens/camera/sensor, then perhaps a steady tripod would be an overkill. But, if one has a known sharp lens and a high pixel count camera – or fine grain film – then camera shake becomes much more obvious and the choice of a steady platform is much more important.
How can one easily tell if a tripod is doing an acceptable job? Easy if you have Live View and hard if you don’t. :
First the easy way: (using tethered shooting):
1. Mount camera on tripod
2. Turn off any image (IS) or lens (OS) stabilization
3. Turn off Auto-focus(AF) and manually focus on any sharp object at a moderate distance.
4. Turn on Live View (or tether to computer)
5. Turn on view magnifier (sometimes called image zoom) using the +/- buttons
6. Look carefully at the focused spot and observe any motion if any.
7. Now touch the camera with your finger as if you are going to press the shutter release. If the image appears to shake, get a better tripod.
8. Now fan the camera using a magazine or newspaper to create a slight breeze. If the image shakes, get a better tripod.
9. .Now lightly stomp your feet. If the image shakes, get a better tripod.
For an interesting side test: turn ON IS or OS, and carefully observe the image with no external perturbations. The image will jitter. Why? Because the stability sensors need motion to work and if the camera is not moving it will make its own movements.

Now the hard way:
1. Perform steps 1, 2 and 3 above.
2. Using a cable release or remote control, take a few pictures.
3. Remove camera from tripod
4. Set camera on a bean-bag or sand bag
5. Refocus and take a few pictures
6. Copy the photos to your computer and carefully examine each and every one of them. I am willing to wager that you will find a difference between those taken on a tripod versus those taken on a bean bag. If the difference is only slight and acceptable, then your tripod is okay. If not, I’m afraid that you are due for a new one.
This brings us to the decision point: do I or do I not need a better tripod? If the answer is yes, then go buy one. But which one? The simple answer: it depends. Here are some factors to consider.
1. Height – should be high enough to afford comfortable viewing.
2. Weight – not terribly important. Carbon is lighter for a given stiffness but costs more.
3. Compactness – If you want compact, go with a bean bag. BTW, a bean-bag is even better than a tripod for stability at any time but a bit awkward to use.
4. Stiffness – most important of all! Here is where size really matters: the larger diameter (or cross section) of the tubing used for the legs, the stiffer, and hence more stable the platform. As a minimum for a 6 foot high tripod I would suggest 1-1/8 inch diameter (28mm) tubing which is 1.6 times stiffer than 1 inch (25mm) tubing. Even better would be 1-1/4 (31mm) diameter which is 2- ½ times stiffer than 1 inch diameter.
Some tripods come with a hook mounted on the lower end of the head tube so as to enable the addition of a weight. This sounds good but does this help? It could under some circumstances but not always. At times it can actually cause unwanted movement, for example, in a strong wind. I use the one on my tripod to hold my photo backpack off the ground – particularly nice when setting up in the surf or on a stream.

November 9, 2014 | Registered Commentervccc