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Surveying tripods?

Ross Hight , Apr 12, 2002; 10:17 p.m.

I drove past some roadwork today. Got curious about the support equipment those guys use for their optics. I looked up some web sites that sell surveying tripods, and my first impressions are very favorable.

Most of them are designed to be used without an extending center column at all, or with one only when absolutely necessary. Most of them have two- or three-sectional legs, and they don't always use concentric sections-- they usually use some other kind of folding or retracting systems. Some of the legs are very broad, I-beam-like designs, totally different from any of the telescoping-tube-legged photo tripods I've seen.

They also come in wood, fiberglass, aluminum, and various composite/poly combinations. The prices are competitive with good photo tripods, but only a few of them have standard camera tripod threads. I think they have many other threaded parts, sockets, and part-mating systems.

I would be interested in hearing from any of you out there who are using surveying equipment for camera support. Are you pleased with the quality and durability? Was it a lot of work to end up with a legs/head set that worked together well and fit your camera? Do columns and heads by other manufacturers work together with surveying legsets? Would you recommend surveying support for photography?


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Paul Fisher , Apr 13, 2002; 12:16 a.m.


My information may be well out of date here, but when I did a bit of surveying as a side-line many years ago, the tripod was very different from a photographic tripod. Basically there is no facility at all for pan or tilt. The top of the tripod is a flat plate with a large diameter hole and a captive bolt on a hinged bracket. The bolt goes into the tri-brach of the instrument which sits down flat on the plate. By loosening the bolt you have some lateral movement, which is used to position the instrument dead centre over a survey mark (the bolt is hollow, so you can use a right-angle finder built into the instrument to sight through it). The instrument's tri-brach has three levelling screws.

Trying to convert this system to photography would not be a trivial task. However the leg sets are built to last and take a real hammering on construction sites etc. Most of the ones I've seen use a two-part upper leg with a solid lower leg that slides up between the two upper parts. There is a clamp at the lower end of the upper leg which allows the lower leg to be locked in place at any extension. (Got that?)

Hope this helps


Ole Tjugen , Apr 13, 2002; 06:53 a.m.

You mean something like this? Here's a 5x7 Linhof Technika mounted on a Swedish "Stabil" tripod; the construction is vey similar to surveying tripods. And it ts extremely stable...

Big heavy thing on Big Stabil tripod

Steve Bingham , Apr 13, 2002; 10:08 a.m.

The conversion would take A LOT of work. The surveyor's transit screws onto the top of the tripod. It has a 4-5" base with threads. I have never seen a surveyor's tripod with a standard camera thread. They do, however, make wooden camera tripods that look similiar but are lighter. Yes, a surveyor's tripod is very heavy! Bad idea. Go with a large wooden camera tripod if that's the way you want to go. They are heavier than most tripods but offer good protection from vibrations.

Lucas Griego , Apr 13, 2002; 10:35 a.m.

Ross, Not exactly an answer to your question - but several other photographers and myself had a similar conversation the other day...

On of 'em knew a guy (always like that ain't it!) that had picked up a surveyors tripod very cheaply - the reason he did is that it had some kind of 'fluid' head mounted on it... (maybe something similar to what they use in video or motion picture?)

Anyhow - the guy picked it up and then modified it to fit his video camera... apparently happy as a clam and it works brilliantly.

ha ha.. like I said - a friend of a friend new a guy - but might be worth looking into first hand. Though I dunno what the advantage of a 'fluid' head would be for a still photographer.

Scott Blair , Apr 13, 2002; 11:34 a.m.

I thought about that not long ago. One company makes this adapter that looks like it would take a ballhead.<P>http://www.mytoolstore.com/checkpnt/access2.html

David Haynes , Apr 13, 2002; 11:34 a.m.


I'd recommend looking at the Ries tripods. They're the best.

You don't say what format you're using, but I use my Ries for everything up to 8x10 and it weighs less and is more comfortable to carry than my 3-series Gitzo, which I kept for its maximum 8' plus extension.

The real advantage of a (good) wooden tripod comes from vibration dampening. I often photograph in and around whitewater streams and it's not uncommon for me to have one or more tripod legs in a shoal or rapid. My Ries will amazingly eliminate the vibrations from water rushing around the legs, allowing multiple second exposures with no problems.

BTW, I also have several metal tripods that are fine for camera support when using shorter exposure times.

Hope this helps.

David Goldfarb , Apr 13, 2002; 12:28 p.m.

Check out this thread on the LF forum, and you might also hunt through the other threads over there on tripods:


I think there was a certain time when it was very cheap to get a used wooden surveyor's tripod, because surveyors were switching to fiberglass or some such, and the old legs were painted blaze orange, hence unpopular for other uses.

Also take a look at www.clydebutcher.com. I think he's adapted a fiberglass surveyor's tripod for use in swamps.

Aaron van de Sande , Apr 13, 2002; 01:31 p.m.

If you are worried primarily about cost, look into davis and sanford tripods on ebay. I got mine for $80 and it was strong enough for a 30 view camera.

Bruce McElhaney , Apr 13, 2002; 02:00 p.m.

Why would you want to use one, unless it free? They seem to work OK for large view cameras, but I can't see them being very flexible for other cameras. Why not use the best tool for the job? A camera tripod is made for cameras.

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