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Friday, April 1, 2005

Stop Dreaded Camera Jitters

A steady support or image stabilization will help you capture sharper images

Both types have their advantages. Three-way heads give you separate controls for panning and tilting, as well as for rotating your camera for verticals or leveling the horizon. The separate controls let you make adjustments in one direction without affecting your setup in the other two directions.

Ballheads are faster and more intuitive to use because just one lock releases the head to move in almost any direction you want. You can position the camera as easily as if you were shooting handheld and then quickly lock it in place. The downside is that you could disturb your perfectly aligned horizon if you try to tilt the camera up or down, or vice versa. If you're using a heavy camera and lens combination, it can plunge forward if you're not holding it firmly when you loosen the ballhead.

For fast-moving telephoto subjects like wildlife, a gimbal head or a fluid head provides smooth movements so you can follow moving subjects with ease. They offer steady support for your camera and lens while letting you pan and tilt rapidly when you need to.

Generally, the taller and more stable a tripod, the heavier it will be. If you need to keep your tripod's weight to a minimum, you've got two choices. One is to compromise and get a short, but stable tripod. You also could invest in a full-sized tripod with carbon-fiber legs. These advanced tripods are noticeably more expensive than aluminum tripods, but they weigh up to one-third less than the metal ones while providing superior rigidity. Magnesium heads can help lower the total weight even further.

Tripods' telescoping leg sections allow simple height adjustment. The sections are locked with screw-tight collars, knobs or levers. Many photographers find the knobs or levers easier to work with. Some models provide automatic leg sections, allowing you to shorten or lengthen them at the touch of a button. They provide the quickest setups, but they're more expensive and slightly heavier than tripods with conventional locks.

Some tripods feature legs that can be spread open at different angles to find solid footing on uneven terrain. That's a big advantage because winning shots have a peculiar knack for showing up in the most inconvenient places. I've lost count of how many times I've set my tripod over the top of boulders or in between them, with each tripod leg splayed out at its own individual angle and length. Spreading all three legs far apart lets you get a large tripod closer to the ground.


Imagine a single leg from a tripod with a camera mount on top, and you've got a monopod. Mono-pods are faster and easier to set up than most tripods. They're also lighter, take up less space and are much less obtrusive than tripods, which can be essential for travel shots.

Although monopods can't match a tripod's stability, they still allow you to get sharp images at slower speeds than you could shoot handheld. Monopods can be moved quickly from place to place, and they're easy to use for panning, so you can track a moving subject on a safari or at the wildlife refuge.


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