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The great tripod & head thread!

dj may

Well-known member
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
Matt, I use a discontinued Berlebach Report 8043. It is similar to the current Report 823.

I have the 50cm center column, however, it usually stays home.
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
One factor that gets well, not ignored, but not enough attention, is the intended application. Will asked me what mine was above. The uses for a tripod I can think of are 1) set up and wait for the light. 2) hold a heavy camera and shoot short exposure or wide angle. 3) shoot long exposure wide angle. 4) shoot very long focal length action. 4) shoot long focal length long exposure. There are no doubt others or finer distinctions. I'm fairly sure that the "best" equipment in each case is different. Not to say that there aren't combinations that would excel in each or all of them, but that if one's use case is only one of the above, then the best choice may be different than the generalist.

Matt "Overthinking as a way of life"
 

dchew

Well-known member
One factor that gets well, not ignored, but not enough attention, is the intended application. Will asked me what mine was above. The uses for a tripod I can think of are 1) set up and wait for the light. 2) hold a heavy camera and shoot short exposure or wide angle. 3) shoot long exposure wide angle. 4) shoot very long focal length action. 4) shoot long focal length long exposure. There are no doubt others or finer distinctions. I'm fairly sure that the "best" equipment in each case is different. Not to say that there aren't combinations that would excel in each or all of them, but that if one's use case is only one of the above, then the best choice may be different than the generalist.

Matt "Overthinking as a way of life"
Hi Matt,
I have been lurking with interest. Thank you for the efforts. I think of tripods as tools used to satisfy one of three needs we may have:
  1. To stabilize equipment in order to maximize detail / minimize blur in some part of the image
  2. To help support equipment / Take the Load Off Fanny
  3. Assist with precise framing
That third one is important because it gets to the heart of the primary advantage of geared heads. It is sort of reflected in your #1. Some don't want or need precise framing, some do.

Dave "Overthinking..."
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Hi Dave,
The funny thing about precise framing is that, unless the subject is close or you're using a zoom lens, you're severely limited in your control of the edges. This, of course, is at odds with the necessity to "see the whole picture, not the things in it". And yet, when I used a tech camera, I almost never cropped. Now, I make slight perspective corrections in almost every shot - even if it's just trees, and not always to get verticals vertical. So framing becomes less relevant.

Matt "God, I need to get outside with a camera and stop typing!"
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
More interesting (or pointless, you decide!) results.

Heavy Duty Tripod Heads (I did not include the Large Format head that came with the Ries J600) - From back to front,
Arca Cube, RRS BH55, FLM CB-58 FT II, Acratech Paning Head, Acratech Leveling Base, and a special Guest Star, a Novoflex ... nothing.



Also visible is a Gitzo GT5533LS. We're going all in on stability here.

The question that most users ask is "how quickly and/or well can I frame my shot when the slightest movement of the camera causes the image to jump halfway across the screen?" So I chose a target image and timed how long it would take me to frame the shot with each setup. Now I am least familiar with the FLM head - it's complex. Very complex. But with no further excuses...

Head followed by seconds to frame:

Acratech Pan w/Level 28
Cube 31
BH55 40
Acratech Pan 44
FLM 49
Novy 107

So we have three clear ranges.

The Cube and Acratech Pan with Level Base are both fast to level, and, since my Cube doesn't have geared panning, both need panning manipulation by hand. The difference is in the vertical motion, and there the cube is slower, if more accurate. The Acratech moved smoothly enough that I did not have to overshoot many times to get the right height.

The next range has two ballheads and a panning base. The panning base, though, needs leveling, and that can only be done with the tripod legs. The head itself has a very sensitive bubble level, so that isn't very difficult - just time consuming. The ball heads have no separate leveling function, although the FLM has a way of locking tilt to a single axis. The problem is that this has to be the RIGHT axis, and setting that takes some time. That being said, the BH55 and FLM were the only heads to give noticeably non-vertical final images. Very close, but noticeable.

The Novy, of course, could only be done by picking up the tripod and adjusting its leg lengths. This took ... a while. Not recommended. OTOH, it is by far the lightest head in the group. And the stiffest. :p



What does it all mean? Well, until I get the heavier camera for long exposures, and some real-world tests, we have the Cube and the Acra Pan Lvl. The latter, unfortunately, is the least stiff of the group. Only real world tests will show if that matters (for me, anyway). See the following post for data on stiffness.

The Cube, of course, remains quick, accurate, and strong. The FLM might get faster if I practice getting its tilt axis level enough - did I mention that it's complicated?

Now for panoramas, leveling the base only has to be done once, so that may change the calculations significantly. My BH55, for instance, has a panning head, and once it is leveled, you can snap away merrily. The FLM and Acratech have panning bases, and the Cube has both a panning base and a panning head. To do multi row stitching, both the Cube and the Acratech need leveled bases, and that's one place where the Acratech combo excels.

Notably absent: Wimberly...

Until next time,

Matt
 
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Shashin

Well-known member
The FLM might get faster if I practice getting its tilt axis level enough...
I think that is going to be the secret sauce, no matter which head you go with. It is a matter of averages and variance, which both get better with practice. It is also anticipating the shot in order to give time for the process of framing.

I have just taken up target archery. I have a really nice bow. My scores, well, did I mention practice? But I also understand my scores reflect the average and variance of the system, only part of which is the bow.

That does not mean I need a better bow... ;)
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Resonant Frequency and Stiffness

My first set of numbers were bizarrely inconclusive. Then I realized that what I was measuring was the frequency of my iPhone vibrating on the apparatus. So I fastened it with a special shock absorber (a rubber band) and measured again. The vibrational frequency came from taking an FFT, and the stiffness is a (scaled) square of the frequency, as that's the way second order linear ODE's work. In short, stiffness tells you how much force is required to move the system some fixed amount. Simplifications galore, but these measurements agree pretty well with thecentercolumn's, so I'm not complaining. The Novy is just the Tripod itself, and a Gitzo 5 series with no legs extended is pretttty stiff. (50Hz is my Nyquist frequency, so I can't measure anything faster than that with my primitive equipment.) Now these are one, or at most two data points, so take them accordingly. Oh, the scale on stiffness is to make the numbers sort-of comparable to thecentercolumn's. The frequency is for the vibration of something with a lot more inertia than I think most systems would have. I'll measure with real world stuff later.

Frequency Stiffness
Novy >50 > 62750
FLM 18.4 8452
BH55 15.7 6143
Cube 15.6 6058
Acra Pan 11.2 3164
Acra Pan Lvl 10.1 2541
 
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MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
I think that is going to be the secret sauce, no matter which head you go with. It is a matter of averages and variance, which both get better with practice. It is also anticipating the shot in order to give time for the process of framing.

I have just taken up target archery. I have a really nice bow. My scores, well, did I mention practice? But I also understand my scores reflect the average and variance of the system, only part of which is the bow.

That does not mean I need a better bow... ;)
My first time with the FLM was twice my second time, so you are no doubt correct. I'm not sending it back!

I did target archery in the unlimited category. Compound bow, long stabilizer, telescopic sight, trigger release. Great fun. The people with simple wooden bows amaze me. I have one Robin Hood to my credit (arrow splitting arrow already in bullseye, for you civilians), but that's high tech for you. :cool:
 

Shashin

Well-known member
I did target archery in the unlimited category. Compound bow, long stabilizer, telescopic sight, trigger release. Great fun. The people with simple wooden bows amaze me. I have one Robin Hood to my credit (arrow splitting arrow already in bullseye, for you civilians), but that's high tech for you. :cool:
Compound bows are amazing. Every time I see a tournament in that category, it always comes down to someone making an error--like getting 599 out of 600! (For those not familiar with archery, the bulls eye is a ten and the 600 round is 60 arrows, meaning the archer shot one 9 and 59 tens. (both 9s and 10s are in the gold)

I am shooting (World Archery) barebow--basically a stripped down Olympic Recurve with no sight, stabilizers, or clicker. I got hooked after watching a few European field archery championships. The good news is I have a outdoor public range near where I live. The bad news is COVID, so I have been a bit cautious turning up to tournaments. Still, waiting a bit is probably a good idea--did I mention averages and variance?

Fortunately, I have not had my Robin Hood moment (although I have broken a nock on an arrow in a target). Arrows are expensive and Robin Hoods are just annoying in that regard.

But back to the regular programming...
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
Compound bows are amazing. Every time I see a tournament in that category, it always comes down to someone making an error--like getting 599 out of 600! (For those not familiar with archery, the bulls eye is a ten and the 600 round is 60 arrows, meaning the archer shot one 9 and 59 tens. (both 9s and 10s are in the gold)

I am shooting (World Archery) barebow--basically a stripped down Olympic Recurve with no sight, stabilizers, or clicker. I got hooked after watching a few European field archery championships. The good news is I have a outdoor public range near where I live. The bad news is COVID, so I have been a bit cautious turning up to tournaments. Still, waiting a bit is probably a good idea--did I mention averages and variance?

Fortunately, I have not had my Robin Hood moment (although I have broken a nock on an arrow in a target). Arrows are expensive and Robin Hoods are just annoying in that regard.

But back to the regular programming...
It's also a lot easier with aluminum arrows. I don't know if it's even possible with carbon... Oh yes, OT indeed!
 

Ai_Print

Active member
I have quite a tripod museum at home but I gotta say I am loving my new Gitzo Traveler GT2545T with the add ons of short spike and long spike feet in the Faroe Islands. I only brought one of the long spikes with me and created an anchor system for working on steep slopes in windy conditions. I am using it with my Hassselblad V system and it is rock solid but yet still light.
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
I have quite a tripod museum at home but I gotta say I am loving my new Gitzo Traveler GT2545T with the add ons of short spike and long spike feet in the Faroe Islands. I only brought one of the long spikes with me and created an anchor system for working on steep slopes in windy conditions. I am using it with my Hassselblad V system and it is rock solid but yet still light.
Oh yes. The real world may show me that, except under extraordinary usage, a Gitzo 2 or RRS 1 with an 8 oz. head may be fine.

I did discover a way to turn the FLM reasonably quickly into a pan/tilt head. The base of the FLM has to be level to start. Now, with the tilt lock knob engaged, the ball can only rotate towards and away from the notch. So far, so good. But if the clamp is not also aligned with the notch, then the camera will twist as it is tilted. "If", and here's the big "if", the clamp is arranged so that the plate slides left/right, i.e., the tightening knob is facing towards you,



then tilting the head all the way into the notch (having loosened the main lock and the tilt lock knobs first) we see a bubble level set into the end of the clamp knob.



Once THAT is leveled, the tilt lock (the small knob that seems to skewer the ball - because it does) can be engaged, the pan lock loosened, and the system will now tilt and rotate freely, keeping the horizon level.

What's the problem? The problem is that long lens feet and nodal rails slide fore/aft and not left/right.



There is no analogous method (that I have thought of) for this clamp orientation to guarantee a level horizon. With a level built into the camera, which most digital cameras have, nowadays, the correct clamp angle can be found by trial and error. But a set-it-once algorithm would be nice.

Matt
 
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MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
How to turn the FLM into a pan/tilt head with a fore/aft lens foot:
This is the best I could come up with. As it actually works, I don't mind.
We start with the head in some random position. If we locked the tilt knob now, we'd have chaos.



We have a bubble level, so let's get it centered.



But you see that the clamp, while level, is at an angle to the tilt axis. If we locked the tilt knob now, we'd get twisting of the horizon as we tilted the camera.



So the final step is to keep the bubble centered, but twist until the clamp knob is parallel to the knobs below it (tilt lock and pano lock).



At THIS point, we can engage the tilt lock, and we have an extremely stable pan/tilt head for long lenses. Any other methods most welcome!

Matt
 
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MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
One problem when explaining things to a silent audience is that you can't tell if they a) don't care, b) are totally lost, or c) got the point in the first 10 seconds and are now bored. Of course, an actual class usually has all three.

In the event that it's not clear what is special about the FLM head, and the difficulty of making use of that specialty, I will start from the top. The reviews I've seen seem to miss the point. They recognize the unique features, but don't talk about how to use them. Obvious? Confused? I don't know. There's no real documentation with the thing, so I had to figure it out.

One nice feature is a panning lock. Ever have trouble getting your cube off the tripod because the panning friction is weaker than the tripod/head friction? The FLM has a button that LOCKS the panning so that you can twist it off. Nice. It also has a knob to dial in how much 15-degree click you want for panning. So far so good. Nice, but not confusing.

Heads like the Arca Cube have axes of rotation predetermined. You can pan (rotate about z), tilt x, and tilt y. The x- and y- axes are ALWAYS orthogonal. Panning changes the locations of the x- and y- axes, but they don't change their perpendicularity. This, as much as the gearing, is what makes it easy to frame an image on the Cube. The Cube also makes it easy to level the clamp for horizontal panning. A nice feature if one wants to do one-row stitching.

Then there are heads with only two axes. The Acratech panning head mentioned earlier. Once it is leveled, the horizon HAS to stay level, as there is no rotation axis that can tilt it.

Then there are ball heads. A sphere can rotate about ANY axis. This is a blessing and a curse. Most ball heads have a panning base so a) once the head is level and b) the ball is locked down with a level horizon, then the whole apparatus can be rotated. But that's IT. Change the ball in any way and you lose control of the orientation in all three axes!

The FLM has this weird (but not completely unique) tilt lock. It eliminates two of the ball's axes, leaving only a horizontal axis. The panning base gives us a vertical axis, so we're the same as a pan/tilt head, right? No such luck. The tilt lock axis is horizontal with respect to the head, but is random with respect to the ball, and the clamp and camera are attached to the ball. So the missing (and essential) step is - how do we make the tilt axis agree with the axis we want the ball to rotate around. There is only one line through the ball that works, and you have to find it. Since the only way to change the line through the ball is to rotate it (duh), and the only way to rotate it is by moving the clamp, all the discussion above has been "how do I position the clamp so that the tilt axis skewers the ball in the one correct place?" The reason for TWO solutions to this problem is that it matters which way the camera is mounted with respect to the clamp - fore/aft or left/right.

Ok, enough dead horse beating. I'm borrowing a camera tonight and will go out and take actual pictures with all this junk tomorrow or die trying.

Matt
 
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Abstraction

Active member
The whole idea of a ball head is sacrificing precision for speed. If you need the type of precision you describe, you'd be much better off with a geared or a pan and tilt head, rather than a ball head. Trying to get a ball head to work with precision is essentially trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I could be done, but it's not pretty.
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
The whole idea of a ball head is sacrificing precision for speed. If you need the type of precision you describe, you'd be much better off with a geared or a pan and tilt head, rather than a ball head. Trying to get a ball head to work with precision is essentially trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I could be done, but it's not pretty.
Agreed. But what the ball heads DO have is a level of stability that no other design can match. The FLM is primarily a ball head - there is no mistaking that. I admire their attempt to extend its functionality. It is actually useful. I think.

If I were to design a new head, it would have a ball with two sets of internal clamps (I don't know the correct term for the mechanism that holds the ball stable) - one geared for positioning, and then a second set of fixed clamps that hold the ball and takes the stress off of the gears themselves.
 
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Shashin

Well-known member
I would just walk over to B&H, slap down your credit card, and ask them to give you something expensive that will do what you want.

I think you are going to have to try it with the camera and lens you want this for. I have found in practice, the rest of the world does not work like my living room or my wonderful ideas (I read something about quantum mechanics, where the universe is frothy and the physical properties can change in different places, like my living room). The weight and balance of the camera, unlevel ground, the environmental conditions all contribute to whether things work. I have always taken a Japanese approach to things: master the system you have, no matter if there might be something better. I have found I make very different choices, usually toward lighter more compact systems.

My biggest metric is if I stick with a particular setup. I have had all kinds of gear, but some just click better. I am getting better at identifying that, but I don't get it right all the time. When I got my Pentax 645D, I really had to work hard with the camera and start to learn to love a tripod. Once I hit a certain volume of images with it, it just started to work. It was really me adjusting to the system and learning how to make it work. Once I got there, I really enjoyed the camera and did some good work.

I really can't say what you are describing is a great solution or not. Or at least, it will work. But like I said, there is always B&H...
 

MGrayson

Subscriber and Workshop Member
I would just walk over to B&H, slap down your credit card, and ask them to give you something expensive that will do what you want.

I think you are going to have to try it with the camera and lens you want this for. I have found in practice, the rest of the world does not work like my living room or my wonderful ideas (I read something about quantum mechanics, where the universe is frothy and the physical properties can change in different places, like my living room). The weight and balance of the camera, unlevel ground, the environmental conditions all contribute to whether things work. I have always taken a Japanese approach to things: master the system you have, no matter if there might be something better. I have found I make very different choices, usually toward lighter more compact systems.

My biggest metric is if I stick with a particular setup. I have had all kinds of gear, but some just click better. I am getting better at identifying that, but I don't get it right all the time. When I got my Pentax 645D, I really had to work hard with the camera and start to learn to love a tripod. Once I hit a certain volume of images with it, it just started to work. It was really me adjusting to the system and learning how to make it work. Once I got there, I really enjoyed the camera and did some good work.

I really can't say what you are describing is a great solution or not. Or at least, it will work. But like I said, there is always B&H...
Oh, completely agree. I continue to use the equipment I do because I like using it and I like the results. The only reason I've been doing living-room stuff is that my camera is doing the season in Wetzlar. But just this evening, a friend dropped off his S(007), and so tomorrow it's "drag all this junk to the photo I had in mind and see if any of it matters." I really have no idea what I'll find.

Bear in mind that I am not trying to change what I'm using. I'm trying to expand into a longer focal length than I have used in the past. That means using a tripod for stability and not just for placement. Twenty seconds with a tech cam and a 40mm lens is different from twenty seconds with a Medium Format DSLR and a 300mm lens. This is new to me, despite the gear collection (B&H and I are well acquainted).

We'll see...
 
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