I joked at the beginning of this week’s On Taking Pictures podcast that tripods are for wussies. Obviously I was joking, mostly. To be honest I don’t use a tripod very often. I’ve got a old big aluminum Gitzo that I bought used a few years ago. It’s big and fairly heavy, but that doesn’t really matter because it never really leaves home. Almost exclusively it’s supporting my Cambo 4×5 camera if it’s out of the closet at all. I’m glad I have it, but with smaller cameras I’m more of a handheld, ‘move around with it to my eye’ kind of shooter.
I know there are a lot of people that swear by tripods, people like my friend Gary Yost who called me out on my wussies comment from the show. He uses tripods to great effect when shooting time-lapse and long-exposure kind of work, and I would imagine for that kind of thing a solid tripod would be an absolute requirement.
A few weeks ago while on a job I borrowed a nice tripod off of another photographer. Carbon Manfrotto legs and a Really Right Stuff ball head. It was a beautiful setup as such stuff goes. That head was one of the nicer machined objects I’ve ever seen. But have you guys gone and looked at how much gear like this costs? The RRS ball head alone is $400. Worth is based on the craftsmanship to be sure, but I can’t afford to spend $700-800 on a tripod that I rarely use. I want to play, but I don’t want to pay, that much.
Back in 2004 I went on a trip with my father out west for 15 days. We drove over 4000 miles in a white Impalla rental, through 12 states and 10 National Parks. It was a marathon and I knew I wanted to get a tripod for the trip. So I went and bought a nice Manfrotto pistol grip ball head and a cheap set of aluminum legs by Slik. It was a crazy mismatch of gear as the legs were not and are not up to the challenge. They were light and cheap, I think I spent $90 on them, but they’re shaky and flex in a way that’s undesirable for a tripod. So now Heather and I are taking a trip out to California in a few weeks and I had been thinking that I wanted something a bit more solid, but also light, so that I could quickly set it up on a trail and take a self-portrait of the two of us. Some nice night shots of the stars when visible would be fun as well. My attempt in Utah last year with the camera propped on the back hood of the car wasn’t really up to snuff.
So I went shopping for carbon fiber tripods that are well built and relatively inexpensive because again, I don’t know how much I’ll actually use the thing outside travelling. A search on B&H came up with something odd. Apparently a few years ago, Polaroid of all people had someone OEM them a carbon trip and ball head. The price had come down since their downfall and the latest price was $150 for the 65″ version. That’s a crazy good deal if it’s any good. Reviews on Amazon.com were very favorable and so I took a ride into town to the B&H Superstore and had them get me one from the bowels of wherever they call them up from. It was nice, and felt solid for the price, but for some reason I couldn’t pull the trigger.
Fast forward a few weeks and the trip is quickly approaching, so I took another look on Amazon and one of their ‘market’ sellers had 6 of the Polaroid tripods for $89. Only catch was that it was a 57″ version that I didn’t know existed. The height was enough for me and the price was right so I pounced on the deal. UPS delivered it a couple days ago and low and behold it was the 65″ version I had looked at in the store. Apparently the seller had a typo in their description.
So far I’m very happy with the purchase. It’s light, stiff, and comes with a ball head which I think might be enough for the trip, though I’d consider upgrading to something a bit more solid in the future. Though the camera plate that came with it requires a screwdriver, the plate itself is a knock-off of the Manfrotto quick-release plates I’ve been using for years. The legs have a very Gitzo-esque look to them as well. It’s a knock-off for sure, but a knock-off is fine for me. The only downside that I’ve found so far is that the leg extender clips are plastic and therefore might not last forever, but for $90 with shipping I can hardly complain. Crazy good deal. Now I can say goodbye to those old Slik legs.