Camera Supports


Eventually you are going to need additional camera support. There are several reasons for needing additional support and there is a support for every reason. 




Monopods:

Monopods are great for when your camera and lens is just too heavy to handhold. They are quick to set up,  easy to reposition, and lightweight to carry. As a rule they are NOT suitable for slower shutter speeds. There are Special Monopod Headsthat can be used with monopods, but they are not really necessary. If you buy a monopod; buy a good one. I still use a Gitzo Reporter monopod I've had since the early 80's.



Tripods:

Tripods are the next step up in support. Tripods are good for when your equipment is just to heavy to hold AND for when you need a slow shutter speed. If you are using it due to slow shutter speeds you will also want a Remote Release for your camera. Tripods require a movable head. Some come with a head and some don't.
IMO, tripods are one of those "lifetime purchases". If you buy a very good one the first time you may never need to buy another.




Camera Stands:

Camera stands are specialty studio items. They are basically a post on wheels. They are large, heavy, and expensive. 



Ground Pod:

This is a flat support for working close to the ground. It could be useful for macro type work or safari type rooftop placement. Shown is the Jobu version.



Window mount:

This is a specialty mount for using your camera from a vehicle window. Part of it can swing down and lock into place against the vehicle door for support. It also works well as a ground pod. I own an earlier version of the Kirk window mount shown.



Bean Bags and Pads

A flexible support for window, vehicle and ground use. Plus they are pretty cheap. The negative is they actually weigh quite a bit. I have a Puffin Pad  which is a lightweight foam version of a beanbag. Of the three types of "window/ground" supports, I use the puffin pad the most, but that's still not very often.



Choosing a Tripod: 

With tripods and monopods you can choose between metal or composite materials. The primary choices are between aluminum and carbon fiber. The main advantage of carbon fiber is that it is lighter for a given weight rating. The main disadvantages are cost and flexing. While carbon fiber has great strength, it has been my experience that it tends to flex laterally (twist) much more easily than aluminum. I seems that by the time I find a carbon fiber tripod stiff enough torsionally it ends up being almost as heavy as an aluminum tripod of sufficient load rating. So I don't consider them a great weight savings.

But carbon fiber has other advantages. It's not as cold in the middle of winter. It seems to be more "weather proof". And the legs don't corrode when submerged repeatedly. Is it worth the cost? That's a personal decision, but for casual use I don't really think so. You are probably better off buying a better quality, and more stable, aluminum model.

Whenever buying a tripod or tripod head I look for one that is rated for at least 50% more weight than I plan on putting on it. I'm not worried about it breaking under the load, I want it to be STABLE in use.




Tripod Heads:

Here you have several choices. Which one you choose will be based upon your needs and personal preference. Many of the heads available require specific mounting plates which are only suitable for use with that manufacturer's products. The most universal system is the "arca swiss" mount.




Fluid Heads:

This is a type of pan-tilt head. A true "Fluid Head" has a fluid dampening system in it. They are meant to allow "fluid movement" of the camera.   These are best suited for video work. 




Pan Tilt Heads:

Pan Heads have three individual controls, one for each movement. This is useful for being able to change one setting (i.e. tilt) without affecting the others. These heads are slower to set, but can be more precise.



Ball Heads:

Ball heads are among the most popular among photographers. These have two controls one for lateral and one for camera tilt and angle. Because of only having one control for tilt and angle they are quicker to position, but positioning may be less precise. I use the Acratech GP-s head shown on my smaller tripod. It is fairly expensive but it can also function as a leveling head and also as a gimbal head for smaller telephoto lenses.




Gimbal Heads:

Gimbal heads are specialty tools for working with the large telephoto lenses. If you have a ten pound 600mm f/4 lens then you are going to want one of these, and a BIG tripod. A gimbal head allows you to mount the camera and get everything perfectly balanced for quick and fluid movements. I use the Induro GHB2 shown when using my 300-800mm Sigma on a tripod. A gimbal head does not make a good general purpose tripod head.

I recommend using a gimbal head on a tripod without a center column.



My own Solution


I don't like tripods. Don't get me wrong, I use them. But I consider them a "necessary evil". They are cumbersome, slow to set up, and weigh a lot. My Gitzo GT1548 with the gimbal head mounted weighs around ten pounds and it's huge. My Sigma 300-800mm with camera attached weighs almost fifteen pounds. That's almost twenty five pounds I'm carrying. And that's not including any other lenses, TC's, flashes, or other stuff. I tend to move around a lot and I find the tripod troublesome.

To increase the amount of times I can handhold the camera with long lenses I invented and the SharpShooter Camera Mount and started a company to manufacture them. With this system I'm able to handhold even the Sigma 300-800mm, and I'm not a big guy. I've been able to handhold the Sigma 300-800 at 800mm with a D7000 body attached and get sharp pictures at 1/125 of a second. That's an effective 1200mm at 1/125th! But that combination still weighs a lot for handholding so I will also use it combined with a monopod, or even with a tripod if I'm going to be primarily stationary.

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