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Why this equipment for panoramas?

Posted 11-30-2007 at 09:01 AM by Frank Lopes

When I shoot panoramas, the camera sits on top of a Bogen - Manfrotto 055XB tripod with a Bogen-Manfrotto 488RC4 Midi Ball Head using the RC4 Rapid Connect System.

Why did I chose this tripod combination?

The ideal tripod is light, solid and cheap. Unfortunately, and to paraphrase a local expression, that is "pie in the sky": a virtual impossibility. You can have 2 out of 3, but you will never get all of them.

For me money is always an issue, so I had to compromise in other areas when it was time to buy my tripod and head.

Vibration control

Any vibrations that a tripod is subject to, will be transmitted to the camera. If these vibrations take place while the camera is taking the shot, it will cause the image not to be as sharp as it would if there were no vibrations. During daylight shooting or when using fast shutter speeds, this problem can be negligible. However night shots will suffer if the camera detects these vibrations. High wind, bumping the equipment or pressing the shutter release, are all sources of potential vibrations. Basalt fiber tripods tend to do a slightly better job at absorbing those vibrations than metal tripods. Others claim the best solution is to have as heavy a tripod as you can carry. Ironically the best material to combat this problem is wood.
Compromise: I can live with metal.


Since I almost never walk, but drive, to shooting locations, as much as I would love to pack a featherweight tripod, I can live with a couple extra pounds. This logic eliminated immediately all carbon fiber, basalt fiber or magnesium tripods. This in essence brings down the price of the tripod by about US$250
Compromise: no need for exotic materials.

Minimum Height

A tripod that is capable of shooting very close to the ground, is extremely useful if you like to photograph flowers, insects etc. A tripod capable of being setup as low as 6 or 8 inches from the ground, needs to have some serious engineering built into it so the legs can spread wide enough apart and still present a solid platform to the camera. That means an expensive tripod. I don't shoot macro photography and rarely flowers, so minimum height is not an issue for me.
Compromise: minimum height is irrelevant.

Center column tricks

Most if not all tripods have a center column that can be raised or lowered helping increase the overall height of the shooting platform. However the best tripods allow the column to be removed, reversed (useful for upside down photography... not a joke...) and installed parallel to the ground. This last trick is useful for close ups. Which I don't do.
Compromise: no center column gimmicks required.

Height without center column

A camera sitting on top of the tripod legs directly, is on a much more solid base than if it sat on top of an extended center column. A fully extended tripod center column is nothing more than a glorified monopod. Not a good thing when you are trying to get the most stable platform. That was the whole point of getting a tripod in the first place. For me, the tripod needed to be tall enough so that its height without the center column + the height of the tripod head + the camera, would bring the camera viewfinder almost to my eye level, but not above obviously.
Compromise: none allowed here.

Maximum weight rating

All tripods and heads have a maximum weight that they are capable of handling. Needless to say if you shoot primarily with very long telephoto lenses (400mm and above), you are dealing with very heavy glass. Some of these lenses weight as much as 20 or more pounds.
If you, instead of using a DSLR or a point-and-shoot camera, you use a so called "large format" camera, you off course are dealing with very heavy equipment. That is not the case for me: I tend not to shoot with telephotos and medium format photography just doesn't appeal to me. This logic meant that I needed a tripod capable of handling an average size DSLR with room to grow in case of upgraded equipment ( heavier camera ).
Compromise: max weight rating of around 15 pounds

Number of leg sections

The more sections, the smaller the tripod will collapse into. Which is a good thing: easier to carry, easier to pack etc. All other variables being the same (very rare that is the case), a tripod with more sections is more expensive. It requires more time for manufacturing, more parts and bigger potential for things going wrong in the field. This means extra care is required from the manufacturers perspective to make sure the tripod is as solid as a 3 section tripod.
Compromise: 3 section legs is fine.

Leg locks

Very expensive tripods use locks that snap on an off to lock the legs in place. Slightly less expensive solutions, use thumb screws to tighten the sections. Snaps are faster and thumb screws can be lost. I'm willing to pay a penalty in setup time if I can save $40 in the price of the tripods.
Compromise: thumb screws are fine

Leg protectors

Some tripods have the upper leg sections wrapped in foam, rubber or neoprene. The logic is that, specially in the winter while using a metal tripod, is easier to make adjustments without having your fingers frozen to the legs.
Compromise: I'll take gloves with me when shooting outdoors in the winter

Coming later: why did I select the 488RC4 Head
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