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The great tripod & head thread!

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Now about tripod heads (the Ries came with something large, industrial, and obviously meant for a 4x5 or larger) - I've never been a fan of ball heads. I value level. The Arca Cube has been my heavy-weight go to since forever. To my surprise, I find (thecentercolumn.com again) that ball heads are a good deal stiffer than the geared or pan/tilt heads. There is an outlier - the Acratech panoramic head, which is stiffer than anything else, but that's because it only tilts one way. It requires a leveling base to be a fully functional tripod head (or a lot of time leveling the tripod).

My question (not yet addressed by the above mentioned website) is: How much does a leveling base decrease stiffness? Does it matter if it's the "replace the top plate" kind (Gitzo, RRS) or the "sit on the top plate" kind like Acratech's own?
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Tripod Head Tests

Disclaimer: I use the word "stiffness" when I should be talking about damping. A very stiff spring can vibrate forever. I'm measuring how fast the vibrations damp down.

Some interestin seismometer results. I mounted the Fuji X-H1 with 100-400 zoom for rotational inertia. The sturdiest support I had on hand was a Gitzo 3 series with no legs extended. To make sure I wasn't just measuring the tripod, I tried a BH-30, BH-55, and a Cube. If the two RRS heads measured the same, I'd know that THEY weren't the limiting factor. In each case, I recorded there wiggly line after hitting the lens, downloaded the data, computed RMS and fit the exponential decay. The decay rates were amazingly consistent for each head. When hitting from the side, the Cube and BH-55 both showed decay rates of 3.3 to 3.5, or about a damping factor of ~3000x per second. The BH-30 had a decay rate of 1.78, a reduction of less than 100x per second! So we're not just getting the tripod.

I'll spare you all the data, but this is a typical plot of Log(RMS) over time:

Untitled by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

Here's the strange bit. The Cube was slightly stiffer. This puzzled me, as thecentercolumn showed the BH-55 as much stiffer than the Cube. Then I tried hitting the top of the lens. The gears in the cube control up and down motions, not rotational about the vertical axis. And indeed! The Cube came in at 2.25 and the BH-55 at over 4! (Thats 10,000x per second damping) So in the first "hit the lens on the side" test, I was seeing the best of the Cube and the worst of the BH-55 (rotation about the vertical post, I suppose). Vertically it was the other way, and the total score would put the BH-55 ahead of the Cube.

I'm still curious about what happens when the Acratech is mounted on a leveling base. Unlike the geared Arca L60 and L75, the Acratech leveling base is a ball design, and so "should" be better. We'll see!
 
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Shashin

Well-known member
Matt, that is really interesting. I guess my only question is how real-world hitting a tripod is? For example, wind is more like fluid dynamics than classic Newtonian physics. Wobbly floors would be creating momentum in the tripod as it shifts. But I am really enjoying your posts (no pun intended).
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Will,
I agree about tripods. That's why I only judge them by images from mounted cameras. But measuring the properties of a tripod HEAD sounds like a candidate for lab equipment (i.e., an iPhone). Come to think of it I'm not really measuring stiffness, that would be the frequency of the vibrations, but the damping effect of any induced vibration. (Previous post edited). WHATEVER happens to the head, you want it to be thousands of times smaller very quickly. I dunno. I'm just messing around. I could, of course, look at the frequency of the oscillations. It's in the data. Another time.
 

jng

Well-known member
Tripod Head Tests

Disclaimer: I use the word "stiffness" when I should be talking about damping. A very stiff spring can vibrate forever. I'm measuring how fast the vibrations damp down.

Some interestin seismometer results. I mounted the Fuji X-H1 with 100-400 zoom for rotational inertia. The sturdiest support I had on hand was a Gitzo 3 series with no legs extended. To make sure I wasn't just measuring the tripod, I tried a BH-30, BH-55, and a Cube. If the two RRS heads measured the same, I'd know that THEY weren't the limiting factor. In each case, I recorded there wiggly line after hitting the lens, downloaded the data, computed RMS and fit the exponential decay. The decay rates were amazingly consistent for each head. When hitting from the side, the Cube and BH-55 both showed decay rates of 3.3 to 3.5, or about a damping factor of ~3000x per second. The BH-30 had a decay rate of 1.78, a reduction of less than 100x per second! So we're not just getting the tripod.

I'll spare you all the data, but this is a typical plot of Log(RMS) over time:

Untitled by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

Here's the strange bit. The Cube was slightly stiffer. This puzzled me, as thecentercolumn showed the BH-55 as much stiffer than the Cube. Then I tried hitting the top of the lens. The gears in the cube control up and down motions, not rotational about the vertical axis. And indeed! The Cube came in at 2.25 and the BH-55 at over 4! (Thats 10,000x per second damping) So in the first "hit the lens on the side" test, I was seeing the best of the Cube and the worst of the BH-55 (rotation about the vertical post, I suppose). Vertically it was the other way, and the total score would put the BH-55 ahead of the Cube.

I'm still curious about what happens when the Acratech is mounted on a leveling base. Unlike the geared Arca L60 and L75, the Acratech leveling base is a ball design, and so "should" be better. We'll see!
Hi Matt,

Thanks for sharing the results of your analysis. Quick question: in the vertical test on the Cube, did you find the decay to be dependent on how tight or loose the friction was set on the adjustment wheels?

John
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Hi Matt,

Thanks for sharing the results of your analysis. Quick question: in the vertical test on the Cube, did you find the decay to be dependent on how tight or loose the friction was set on the adjustment wheels?

John
John,
That is an excellent question, and no I did not. It has been so long since I adjusted those that I forgot they existed! I'll do the test now.

Well! Keep repeating experiments and who knows what you'll get? I set everything up again. Here's the BH55. Everything is computed with 1/8 second windows or 10 data points. The plateaus in the Log RMS are because those windows contain the big kick. Once past that, we see the real decay. Slopes of the decay are then computed and plotted below. Because of noise and windowing, the real decay rates

Untitled by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

Here's the Cube with the tension knobs all the way loose:

Untitled by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

What's going on? The maximum decay rates are fine, but there's a bounce. That occurs around the tripod's decay rate (computed off-screen).

Compare that with the tension set as tight as I could force it.

by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

Now we see that no weirdness, and the RMS decays smoothly to its floor. The peaks (well, troughs, since the slope is negative) are also bigger.

So what happened to the BH55 vs. Cube? I suspect that it really matters how much you tighten all the little panning knobs and how hard you screw the head onto the tripod. And the lens to foot ring and.... Sigh. I'll have to do this several times to get good error bars.

Yep. I tightened the various knobs on the BH55 (which was still on the tripod with camera and lens in the same position, so ALL that changed was knob tightening. The tripod damping rate and the noise floor itself are both evident (I'mm guessing that's the flattening and eventually bottoming out of the Log RMS curve and the resulting lessening of the decay rate. The peaks, though, are much better.

Untitled by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

Which begs the question (yes, I know that's not what begging the question "really" means, but I'm a descriptivist, so I'm using it the way everyone does) What did thecentercolumn guys do when they tested head stiffness (I'll check their website), and how much did they crank on the knobs? It appears to matter!

The answer is that they measure frequency (actual stiffness) and not damping rate. Why am I focusing on damping rate? I have a piano where a note will sound for a VERY long time. I don't want a system where small vibrations may oscillate quickly (and are therefore smaller in the first place), but which don't go away. In a long exposure, which is more important? I dunno. I'll go look at my frequencies, but not in THIS post. It's long enough.

:eek:

Matt
 
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Shashin

Well-known member
Why am I focusing on damping rate? I have a piano where a note will sound for a VERY long time. I don't want a system where small vibrations may oscillate quickly (and are therefore smaller in the first place), but which don't go away. In a long exposure, which is more important? I dunno. I'll go look at my frequencies...
What is your target criteria? A 400mm lens on a APS-C camera is very different from a 30mm on an MFD one. Vibration is easy to measure, but how are you going to corelate that to image sharpness? Just curious how you would model that.
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
In order to measure frequencies, I needed more moment of inertia. Behold!

Untitled by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

Yes, that's a BH-40 on one end and a L60 on the other - comparable weights.

This gave oscillations slow enough that I could measure their frequencies. Yes, the BH55 is stiffer than the Cube, and there is a minor difference between tight and loose knobs on the Cube. when I used no head, the frequency was too high to measure (stiff tripod with no leg extensions FTW!), so I attribute everything to the heads themselves.

I still think damping is important and under appreciated. 👿

Matt
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
What is your target criteria? A 400mm lens on a APS-C camera is very different from a 30mm on an MFD one. Vibration is easy to measure, but how are you going to corelate that to image sharpness? Just curious how you would model that.
Oh, I make no claims as to what matters in the field. Photography is a mechanical art as well as an aesthetic one. (See, e.g., musical instruments). This is like measuring the decay of piano strings. Interesting, but what matters is how the pianist uses them. I mean, we can calculate the expected blur size, but I'd look at what good photographers actually DO. Those who use wooden tripods have obviously learned how to use them! John, unless I am much mistaken, uses long lenses, long exposures, and a cube to stunning effect.

I'm just having fun!

Matt
 
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Ed Hurst

Well-known member
After using a Cube for many years, during which time its performance radically diminished, I have recently replaced it with a FLM CB-58FTRii ballhead. Obviously I lose the convenience of gears but it's just soooooooooooo steady in my not very scientific experience.
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
After using a Cube for many years, during which time its performance radically diminished, I have recently replaced it with a FLM CB-58FTRii ballhead. Obviously I lose the convenience of gears but it's just soooooooooooo steady in my not very scientific experience.
Ed,
My cube is ancient. It was Jack's *first* cube. OTOH, you probably use a tripod head more in a month than I will in my lifetime, so I can understand why your cube wore out. :cool:
Matt
(That FLM looks great. Too many heads already. Has it ever stopped me? .....)
 

Ed Hurst

Well-known member
It's not just the frequency of use - I subject my gear to hard use! Sand/salt in the gears, as I live by the coast. Hanging huge weights off the head. Making the rig rattle around in the back of the car with my young kids' bikes and various assorted other items. Oh, and I also need the gear to remain absolutely still for a couple of hours while I do star trails. So, in the end, I decided long-term robustness was more important than gears - though I do miss the ease of set-up with the Cube.
 

Abstraction

Active member
In order to measure frequencies, I needed more moment of inertia. Behold!

Untitled by Matthew Grayson, on Flickr

Yes, that's a BH-40 on one end and a L60 on the other - comparable weights.

This gave oscillations slow enough that I could measure their frequencies. Yes, the BH55 is stiffer than the Cube, and there is a minor difference between tight and loose knobs on the Cube. when I used no head, the frequency was too high to measure (stiff tripod with no leg extensions FTW!), so I attribute everything to the heads themselves.

I still think damping is important and under appreciated. 👿

Matt
I love that rug. It really ties the room together.
 

Shashin

Well-known member
Oh, I make no claims as to what matters in the field. Photography is a mechanical art as well as an aesthetic one. (See, e.g., musical instruments). This is like measuring the decay of piano strings. Interesting, but what matters is how the pianist uses them. I mean, we can calculate the expected blur size, but I'd look at what good photographers actually DO. Those who use wooden tripods have obviously learned how to use them! John, unless I am much mistaken, uses long lenses, long exposures, and a cube to stunning effect.

I'm just having fun!

Matt
Nothing wrong with having fun, even with something as serious as photography! ;)

I was just wondering where you would be going with this, if you actually had a destination. I have used such a variety of tripods and tripod heads in the field and I have gotten a variety of results out of them--both good and bad from the good and bad. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them: love them when they hold my camera steady, hate carrying them. I am always erring on light and compact (which has varied so much as to what I think is light and compact (every tripod I have has met that criteria at one time until the criteria is updated)).

Still, what is the point of photography if what we bought was perfect from the get-go?
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Nothing wrong with having fun, even with something as serious as photography! ;)

I was just wondering where you would be going with this, if you actually had a destination. I have used such a variety of tripods and tripod heads in the field and I have gotten a variety of results out of them--both good and bad from the good and bad. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them: love them when they hold my camera steady, hate carrying them. I am always erring on light and compact (which has varied so much as to what I think is light and compact (every tripod I have has met that criteria at one time until the criteria is updated)).

Still, what is the point of photography if what we bought was perfect from the get-go?
Oh yes. I go too light and too compact. And neither will work for MF and long lenses. Even the 180mm is hard to handle. Magnified focusing without IS is an adventure in frustration. I'm now getting a 300mm to go on the S and that will NEED a good set of sticks.

To answer your question - what's the goal - there are a few lenses whose look just makes me happy. The Leica S system has a lot of that. It's a smooth detail - I don't know how better to put it. I've seen that from a few other lenses, some on tech cameras. But the 350 Superachromat has caught my eye and won't let it go. But that's serious money for a completely manual lens (like Leica lenses aren't?), and I need to be sure that I'm willing to put up with the frustrations of using it with its proper equipment. The aforementioned Hasselblad 300 is the modern AF lens that is much cheaper on the used market, and is my trial balloon. Of course, if i like its look (and it *does* autofocus on the S), then I'm done.

The Cube always makes me think of a murder mystery. Those corners are *dangerous*. The solution will be that it was an accident, and that the tripod just fell over on the photog. :LOL:
 
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jng

Well-known member
Ed,
My cube is ancient. It was Jack's *first* cube. OTOH, you probably use a tripod head more in a month than I will in my lifetime, so I can understand why your cube wore out. :cool:
Matt
(That FLM looks great. Too many heads already. Has it ever stopped me? .....)
Hi Matt,

Thanks for repeating the tests. And apologies for sending you back down this rabbit hole (the seemingly bottomless rabbit hole I went down this afternoon was figuring out how to add my wife to the Nest account I had just set up to control our home's newfangled thermostat, but that's off topic...).

If I am reading your data correctly, it seems that once you've tightened things down the BH-55 and Cube show similar rates of decay (damping). True?

Whatever the case, as with any precision instrument, these gizmos need periodic maintenance to keep them working optimally. I'm not too surprised that a beat up Cube might get a little sloppy in terms of holding steady and damping vibrations. A sandstorm in Monument Valley notwithstanding, my otherwise lightly used Cube is still in pretty good shape. I've done OK when using my Cambo/IQ4 150 + 350 Tele-Superachromat on exposures up to 1-2 minutes with automated frame averaging (and sometimes with the APO 1.4XE teleconverter => 490mm). But it takes some attention to detail and I'm not always successful. Whether I'd get good results more consistently with another head, I don't know. However I do know that using a geared head is absolutely essential for me to keep my sanity while framing the shot, so ballheads are simply not an option for me. And when the wind is really blowing even welding the rig to a nearby boulder may not be enough.

John
 

jng

Well-known member
Oh yes. I go too light and too compact. And neither will work for MF and long lenses. Even the 180mm is hard to handle. Magnified focusing without IS is an adventure in frustration. I'm now getting a 300mm to go on the S and that will NEED a good set of sticks.

To answer your question - what's the goal - there are a few lenses whose look just makes me happy. The Leica S system has a lot of that. It's a smooth detail - I don't know how better to put it. I've seen that from a few other lenses, some on tech cameras. But the 350 Superachromat has caught my eye and won't let it go. But that's serious money for a completely manual lens (like Leica lenses aren't?), and I need to be sure that I'm willing to put up with the frustrations of using it with its proper equipment. The aforementioned Hasselblad 300 is the modern AF lens that is much cheaper on the used market, and is my trial balloon. Of course, if i like its look (and it *does* autofocus on the S), then I'm done.

The Cube always makes me think of a murder mystery. Those corners are *dangerous*. The solution will be that it was an accident, and that the tripod just fell over on the photog. :LOL:
Matt, go for the 350 Tele-Superachromat. It rivals the 250 SA as my favorite lens in the kit. That and the SK 120ASPH. Dante will love you for it.
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Hi Matt,

Thanks for repeating the tests. And apologies for sending you back down this rabbit hole (the seemingly bottomless rabbit hole I went down this afternoon was figuring out how to add my wife to the Nest account I had just set up to control our home's newfangled thermostat, but that's off topic...).

If I am reading your data correctly, it seems that once you've tightened things down the BH-55 and Cube show similar rates of decay (damping). True?

Whatever the case, as with any precision instrument, these gizmos need periodic maintenance to keep them working optimally. I'm not too surprised that a beat up Cube might get a little sloppy in terms of holding steady and damping vibrations. A sandstorm in Monument Valley notwithstanding, my otherwise lightly used Cube is still in pretty good shape. I've done OK when using my Cambo/IQ4 150 + 350 Tele-Superachromat on exposures up to 1-2 minutes with automated frame averaging (and sometimes with the APO 1.4XE teleconverter => 490mm). But it takes some attention to detail and I'm not always successful. Whether I'd get good results more consistently with another head, I don't know. However I do know that using a geared head is absolutely essential for me to keep my sanity while framing the shot, so ballheads are simply not an option for me. And when the wind is really blowing even welding the rig to a nearby boulder may not be enough.

John
John,

It's definitely your fault that I'm thinking 350/5.6. :eek:

Yes, I found similar damping on both heads, and not a *lot* of stiffness difference when everything was tightened down. Both heads need that, btw. I hear you on geared heads and composition - especially at longer focal lengths. When I get the S back and can go outside and do tests by taking actual pictures (gasp!), I'll see what's important.
 
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dj may

Well-known member
[/QUOTE]
Hi Matt,

And when the wind is really blowing even welding the rig to a nearby boulder may not be enough.

John
John,
As I have mentioned before, I have been using a wooden tripod for over 15 years, the last 5 with digital cameras. Also, I use a RRS ballhead. The tripod has an integral leveling ball. Even with Leica S with 180mm lens, I have not had problems with high winds. I photograph in the alps, Iceland, Ireland, etc. in conditions up to where I cannot stand, but have to sit.

I have considered geared head, however, Matt’s test results might delay that choice.

Thanks @MGrayson
 
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MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
John,
As I have mentioned before, I have been using a wooden tripod for over 15 years, the last 5 with digital cameras. Also, I use a RRS ballhead. The tripod has an integral leveling ball. Even with Leica S with 180mm lens, I have not had problems with high winds. I photograph in the alps, Iceland, Ireland, etc. in conditions up to where I cannot stand, but have to sit.

I have considered geared head, however, Matt’s test results might delay that choice.

Thanks @MGrayson
Jesse,

The only takeaway from my tests (so far) is that HOW you set up and use your equipment is more important than WHAT equipment you have (to within obvious limits). My problems with ball heads has always been keeping the horizon level while adjusting. So I've used the Cube, L60, and L75 pretty exclusively. But now the FLM and the Acratech leveler/pan head combination both solve that problem. (Uniqball did it, too, but their fit and finish wasn't up to the RRS/Arca level). I'm not sure if the FLM needs to be leveled first itself, which means either a leveling base or careful tripod adjustment. (Leveling a tripod isn't that hard. Adjust one leg until the bubble is in line with another leg and then adjust that one. Done! Of course, with a lot of camera/lens on top, it's not as easy as turning a knob on a geared head.)

I was going to throw a large wooden tripod (I have a precursor to the Ries J600 - about as small as they get) into the mix, but it arrived too broken to use and I sent it back. I'm not sure whether I'll try for another one. They get to Gitzo 5 series prices. What model do you use?

Matt
 
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