Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
I have several tripods, from a 12-pound monster, through a Manfrotto (Bogen in
USA) 190, to three lightweight Sliks. The monster never moves from the lab, the
Manfrotto goes on short hikes, but the Sliks really travel well. I recently
carried a Slik 38T4 around for 2 weeks in Papua New Guinea, taking photos in
The legs are 4 sections, with those damned annoying (but quite firm when
locked) twist collars to lock them open or closed or at any intermediate
position. With legs fully extended but no centre column extension, the camera
platform is 31 inches above the substrate, and the tripod really is *very* solid,
at least with a camera of moderate weight on it-- heavy enough to act as an
anchor, but not so heavy that the head has trouble coping. With the centre column
extended, the camera platform is 38 and 3/4" above the substrate, but less
Its head isn't nearly equal to a Manfrotto or Linhof, but it was cheap, and
it's easy to carry around. It collapses to 13-3/4" long and about 3" across when
folded as compactly as possible. It weighs about 19 ounces. It fits nicely into a
daypack-type backpack or photo backpack.
It held the camera steady for lots of 1/8 to 1 or more second exposures,
set up in the middle of
streams. The camera was a Nikon FE2, BTW, with a 17mm F/3.5 Vivitar lens
dated about 1980.
I have also used the Sliks with a 6 X 9 Crown Graphic, which is pretty
lightweight for a medium format camera, and they'll do in a pinch.
The 38T4 cost me $A45, and I have seen it advertised by New York camera places
for about $US 25. One thing worth noting--the head rotates and tilts back and
forth, but does not tilt from side to side; it is really set up more like a movie
panhead. I haven't found that this is a big problem; I just either loosen the
tripod screw and rotate the camera a bit for fine adjustments, or mount it 90
degrees from the normal direction and tilt if I want to take a vertical shot.
Slik does make similar tripods with heads that allow sideways tilts, using a
mechanism that I have always thought looks a bit weak, but I don't know what the
model numbers are.
If the 38T4 is too large for you, I have seen even smaller ones by Slik of
very similar design and construction, but they are even shorter when fully
extended. I find the more-or-less waist height of the 38T4 to be perfectly usable
for most things, but I don't think I'd want one that was much shorter.
I also have a model 800G FL, which is larger, has flip-locks on its
three-section legs, has centre braces between the legs and the centre column,
weighs about 29 ounces, has the camera platform 45 inches above the ground with
no centre column extension, and 57" with full centre column, which gets the
camera eyepiece to just about my eye level. It is about 22" long by 3" wide when
folded, and has the same sort of head as the 38T4. It is certainly a lot lighter
to carry around than my Manfrotto (which weighs about 6 pounds), but is only a
bit smaller, and I find that if I am going to carry something that large I
usually go for the Manfrotto, which is built like a tank.
If some of your photography, like mine, is done in the field when your primary
reason for travelling is not taking pictures, you often simply cannot manage to
lug along something like a Manfrotto. When that happens, a lightweight Slik in
the backpack is infinitely better than a rock-solid Manfrotto left at home.
Update: January 1998
It looks to me as though the current Slik tripod that is closest to the 38T4
is a new (1/98) model called the Compact. From the description on the web
( http://www.tocad.com/nct ) it appears
nearly identical to the 38T4. The second closest model is the 450G. It is perhaps
a little bit smaller than the 38T4, but not much. It would serve the same
purposes nearly as well.
The next best currently available model is the 500G-FL. This is larger (about
18" long when folded) but almost as light weight and extends to a somewhat
greater height (about 45 inches). I own one of these, too, and like it pretty
well, though it does not fit inside a small backpack as the 38T4 or 450G models
will, so I don't use it as often--if I am going to carry a tripod outside my day
pack, I usually take my Manfrotto 190 (Bogen 3001), which is about 5-1/2 pounds
including ball head, 26" folded including the head, extends to 4'10" tall, and is
rock-solid with anything up to a light 4 X 5 field camera on it.