Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tripod Recommendations–2013 (Updated Aug 13, 2013)

Gitzo GT3530LS, Silk 700DX, Gitzo GT2531EX & GT1541 Tripods
Recommended Tripods From Left to Right:
Gitzo GT3530LS (replaced by Gitzo GT3532LS
), Slik 700DX, Gitzo GT2531EX & GT1541
Photo by Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved

Thom Hogan back in 2003 wrote the definitive article on tripods where he states that he can save you at least $700 if you by the right stuff the first time, but I didn’t listen. I followed the exact path he says most consumers follow and guess what – he was right. I ended up wasting about $700!

As great as Thom’s article is, it’s woefully out of date which is no surprise giving the dizzying array of tripod choices. In this article I hope to offer some selections based on my conversations with experts at B&H as well as a non-scientific poll of pro photographers and club members.

My objective was to find at least 4 excellent tripods that met the needs of most photographers, and I’ve accomplished that goal. I think all of the tripods I’ll mention are an excellent investment and worth owning, but which one depends on your needs. Like most things in photography, there is no good “one-size fits all” solution. I REALLY wish there was, but there isn’t.

Like you, I face the dilemma of needing to purchase a new tripod myself and as much as I wish to win the lottery, I haven’t. As a result, I must decide where to spend my limited resources for my next tripod so I invite you to join me as I go in-depth on my research on each of these tripods.

My needs may not be the same as yours, so you can purchase any of these with confidence that you aren’t getting a piece of junk that you’ll replace in a few months. However, there are tradeoffs for each one so consider your needs carefully before making the right choice. Going for the cheapest, the most expensive, the lightest, or the most flexible could be a critical mistake if you don’t really give thought to how you’ll actually use your tripod.

My 2013 Tripod Recommendations

Thanks to the great people at B&H,I have had the pleasure of reviewing some of the coolest Gitzo tripods on the market right now as well as a excellent value tripod by Slik & Induro.

The models featured in this multi-part series are:

You will notice that there are no Bogen Manfrotto legs in this list. This is because the legs I replace are Bogen Manfrotto and they have really let me down. I’ve had some serious problems with Manfrotto products over the last year, and my current Bogen Manfrotto legs are falling apart (see my Induro CT014 review for details). As a result, I went to the brand that everyone seems to trust the most – Gitzo for what is arguably the best legs in the business. To learn more about Gitzo, visit http://www.gitzo.com/.

What about Heads & Kits?

In August 2011, I did a tripod head comparison where you can learn more about some of the great products on the market. My recommendations are still the same in 2013.

Here’s what I used before switching to the Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 sp (Single Pan):

Really Right Stuff BH-55 - Photo by Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved
Really Right Stuff BH-55 - Photo by Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved

When it comes to heads my favorite used to be the BH-55 made by Really Right Stuff (RRS), but after having the knobs come unscrewed on me a couple times while I was teaching workshops, I switched to the Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 sp (Single Pan). I still use and enjoy the BH-55 because it’s a nice head, but I just prefer the Arca Swiss when I can’t afford a failure in the field.

Yes, good heads are insane expensive. I hate the price and I resisted them for years because I thought it was nuts to spend that much money on a stupid head. I still feel that way, but the BH-55 is the head that many people will tell you to get. It’s flexible and works extremely well.

Yes, RRS does nickel and dime you to death. Yes, their web site leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, they shouldn’t cost that much. Yes, there are Acratech, Gitzo, Induro, Kirk, Markins, etc… that people will swear on the Internet that are just as good or better. I encourage you to read my tripod head comparison article to see how they stack up against this head and make an informed decision about which head is right for you.

But what about the BH-40?

Don’t buy a BH-40 new, instead search for one used. You’ll find plenty. It’s a great head, but you’ll find that most end up needing the added support of the BH-55, so this becomes a frequent buyers remorse purchase that ends up on the used market so that the person in question can get the BH-55. You can also get a lighter head that works well for hiking by getting one of the less expensive alternatives in my tripod head comparison.

What about Monopods?

Click here to see my monopod recommendations article.

Will you be doing any other tripod reviews?

Yes. Like many of you out there, I have limited funds and would love a tripod that met more of my needs than any of the offerings in this series. I love them all, but all have trade-offs that cause me to pause when spending this kind of money (excluding the Slik & Induro). If in the future I find a better tripod, I will update this article to include a link to my review.

Aug 2013 Update: Send me your favorites and I’ll consider them for the next update

Links to Tripod Reviews

I am doing in-depth reviews of EACH of the tripods mentioned at the top of this article. Come back to this page and click the links below (when they become live) to see my reviews and photos of my 2011 tripod recommendations:

Disclosure

B&H has provided me with the tripods featured in this series on a loaner basis. I do not get to keep them and will be returning them back to B&H if I choose not to buy them. I will probably purchase one using my own money with no special discount from B&H or the maker. Induro, Gitzo and Slik had nothing to do with this article and as of this point and time I’ve never spoken to anyone from either company.

The selections made from this article were purely based on popularity recommendations from a variety of sources. I make no guarantees of any type, but all products that I am considering to purchase for my own needs. I am simply sharing my shopping experience with you.

If you purchase using the links in the article from B&H, I may get a commission. Thank you for supporting this blog by using my links when you make your purchase.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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12 comments:

Ryan Sexton said...

Ron, since I am interested in purchasing a RRS head, I have a question for you.

You say "most end up needing the added support" of the BH-55. The spec page of the BH-40 say is the BH-40 has a Load Capacity: of 18 lb., and the BH-30 Load capacity: 15 lb. This more than you should ever need. In addition if I was pushing this weight You would want a gimbal. So what do mean by your statement of "most end up needing the added support"? Plus the 55 weighs in at a whopping 1.9 lbs, compared to 1.1 and 10oz.
I'm just trying to understand the advantages of going with 55 considering the extra price and weight. What makes it better?

Ron Martinsen said...

If you have a 70-200 2.8 you'll find that with bodies like a D700 or 5DM2 that you get more drift from the head after you lock down with the smaller ball heads.

The BH-55 is bulky, but I prefer stability over weight reduction.

Like I said, if u want to try a 40, then pick one up used to save some money and minimize your losses if u later upgrade. I wouldn't pay full price for the 40.

Mike said...

I agree with Ron's comment. As a long time owner of the BH-40, I am well aware of the initial 'drift' that occurs when locking down the head. I've learned to compensate for this, but I've never been particularly satisfied. Having just recently 'upgraded' to the BH-55, I can report that this head is rock-solid and stable and, once locked down, it does not move. The only penalty is that it is heavy and now my Gitzo 2531 feels a bit top-heavy. I will still use the BH-40 when traveling overseas and weight is an issue.

Mark Olwick said...

Hi Ron,

I was looking for that elusive combination of light weight, compact and still sturdy. I compared the Gitzo to the Induro CT014 side by side and actually liked the Induro better. The fact that it was less than half the price of the Gitzo was a bonus, but honestly I bought it on features and quality alone. You may want to check them out next time.

itissteveinmn said...

I bought the Slik 700 a few years ago and paired it with an Acratech head. It's been very solid for me. The weight doesn't bother me either -- I'm already toting pounds of me and gear anyway. I care about results, not name badges.

David Rafinski said...

Any recommendation for a good travel tripod for mirrorless systems?

Nate Parker said...

Interesting- gonna go read this again now. I read this when it came out a couple weeks back and that ended up with me getting the Gitzo 2531ex. I'm psyched for the rapid head bit as I have a 100 2.8 is for portraits but neglect good macros- so not anymore. Anyways- the thing is is that after having it delivered last week I began to hear people saying that you ought not to use it in sea water. And I do a lot of work with the legs deep. Did consider the Gitzo Ocean series, but only for a second as that stainless steel kit is prohibitively expensive: like 2500 bucks! So I figure I'll just not worry about it and use it in the ocean then clean it and relube with white lithium grease. This is replaceing an old Manfrotto who's steel hardware always rusts out on their leg locks and after trying to replace them (Manfrotto customer service is the World's Worst, Ever!!) I gave up. Shame I had to scrap a perfectly good set of legs in that Manfrotto, would have lasted another 50 years. It's a model 055 by the way. Very common.

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi David,

Sorry for the delayed reply but I have been on vacation.

Yes, for mirrorless a tabletop tripod like the Leica Tabletop Tripod is a great choice. However, I just use my Gitzo GT1541 when testing mirrorless cameras. You can get away with a lightweight ballhead like this with a mirrorless to help save weight, but I still have that smaller head on my wish list.

Bob said...

Ron, Thanks for the great information on your blog. I'm a photo enthusiast focusing mostly on landscapes. I'm looking for a tripod that will bring my viewfinder to about eye level without raising the center column. Eye level for me is about 66" (I'm 73" tall). I figure that the camera on a head will raise the viewfinder about 6". So I'm looking for a tripod height of about 60" without raising the center column. All of the tripods you recommend are at least 5" short of that height. I'm willing to raise the center column when necessary, but I would prefer not to raise it (at least when I'm on level ground). I also realize that I won't always want to compose the frame at that height (perspective). That said, can you recommend a tripod, preferably under $500, that is at least 60" high without raising the center column?

Kirk said...

Ron,

You have reviewed RRS ball heads but nothing about their tripods. Not having a tripod or ball head yet I have been doing my homework for a future purchase. Keep thinking that it might be smarter to buy a tripod and head combination from RRS because customer service for repairs or parts might be quicker if ever needed. Would enjoy hearing your opinion about RRS legs in the future.

Ron Martinsen said...

Kirk,

RRS makes a fine tripod, but I think it's overpriced and more bulky than what most people really need. People coming from bad tripods tend to overcompensate, but the reality is that a GT1541 with a good head is going to more than meet the needs of anyone using lenses under 400mm f/2.8 and doing exposures for 30 seconds or less.

Ron

Kirk said...



Thanks for the follow up comment and your efforts to help others.