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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gadget Bag: Carbon-Fiber Tripods

They’re lightweight, rock-solid tools that are guaranteed to make an immediate improvement in your images

Labels: Gadget BagTripods

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Admit it: You know you should use a tripod more often, but you can find more excuses than a ninth-grader who forgot his homework assignment. In your heart, you understand that a tripod is the only accessory that will improve nearly 100% of your images. And if you do any shooting after sunset, a tripod is a requirement, not an option. But tripods can be heavy and sluggish to operate, and you already have a camera system with image stabilization. Sound familiar?

Induro Carbon 8X
Even if your camera or lens has built-in anti-shake technology, it’s no substitute for a rock-solid tripod. Modern tripods spring into action faster than ever before, so time-consuming deployment is a thing of the past. That leaves just one complaint: weight.

Carbon-fiber tripods are 20% to 30% lighter than their conventional metal cousins and offer many advantages compared to other types. As is the case with expensive graphite golf club shafts, carbon fiber is said to dampen vibration better than metal. To be honest, I distrusted that assertion until one morning when I was shooting a street scene before sunrise. Exposures ran as long as four seconds, and everything went fine until a sanitation truck rumbled by. I shook, but the tripod absorbed the tremor, and the image created during that long exposure was undisturbed.

Most carbon-fiber tripods feature center columns and leg tubes that are hollow and range from 0.9mm to 1.5mm in wall thickness. Like all high-tech tripods, the legs typically are sold without a head, which means that you may select the best model head to suit your specific needs as opposed to being saddled with the included style. Note that every tripod featured here is described as legs only, but may be bundled with a tripod head by some retailers.

Benro Travel Angel
Because carbon-fiber tripods are lighter, they can become more top-heavy than aluminum types, especially when supporting a four- or five-pound DSLR. To shift the center of balance downward, many models include a hook at the base of the center column. The hook will hold a “rock bag” or other weight (try hanging your camera bag or even a gallon jug of water with a rope loop that can be consumed later if needed).

Carbon-fiber tripods cost a bit more than conventional models, but not that much more if you compare apples with apples. When shopping for any tripod, consider the following specs. I suggest that photographers make a chart to record the info for each model on their wish list. Top consideration for carbon-fiber tripods is total weight or “pack weight,” then maximum load capacity, i.e., the heaviest allowable weight of the mounted camera-plus-lens combination. Lighter tripods bear lighter loads in general. Remember that load capacity is an average, so err to the conservative side.

Next is the size collapsed (also called “pack length”), which goes hand-in-hand with the maximum extended height. Your height is a factor to consider, too. If you’re 6’ 8” don’t buy a tripod that’s 5’ 9” unless you enjoy hunching over to peer into the viewfinder.


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