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best tripod head for macro photography

Mariellen Romer , Jan 08, 2007; 12:07 a.m.

Fellow photographers, I hope you can advise me.

I am looking for advice on the best tripod head for DSLR macro work. In a leap of faith (I will accept the charge of hope triumphing over prudence until such time as I have made some really good pics from this!!) I have just bought a Canon dslr and for sure I will need a tripod for the next steps. The research I have done so far would point to me needing a macro rack of some kind, i see manfrotto do one for about 55 GBP. (the 405?) Any suggestions other than this? Do I need a fluid head or does this rack do most of the heavy lifting on the macro requirements? Do ball joints work ok, or are they to be avoided? Any alternative suggestions as to make or models?

I already have manfrotto classic tripod legs.

Any inputs, thoughts and particularly gotchas, very gratefully recieved!

Thank you, Mariellen


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Edward Ingold , Jan 08, 2007; 01:09 a.m.

There are a number of tools that make various aspects of macro photography easier.

A particularly useful item is a focusing rail (http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/specialty/index.html). You will notice that the focusing ring on your lens is less effective the closer you are to the subject, and tends to change the magnification significantly. With a focusing rail, you set the magnification ratio and achieve focus by moving the camera back and forth with the rail.

Putting the camera where you want it for composition is another issue. Tripods with tilting columns can help. The ultimate tripod is arguably a Benbo, in which the legs and column can be set to any angle. You hold the camera where you want it, kick the legs into place one one foot and tighten the clamp down. Many tripods, including Gitzo and Bogen, have legs with adjustable angles. This is handy in the field, and they can open to put the camera nearly on the groung (using a stub column).

You can use a three-way head, including a geared head (good for table-top work), but a ball head is generally more useful. The RRS focusing rail fits into an Arca-type clamp on a ball head.

A right-angle viewfinder is handy for working close to the ground or when copying documents. There are a number of devices that attach to the eyepiece for this purpose.

For my own use, I have a Gitzo G-1227 tripod with a stub column and an Arca Swiss B1 ball head. I use a 6 inch, beveled RRS plate with a clamp instead of a geared or screw-drive focusing rail ($$$), which doubles to adjust the pivot point for stitched panoramas.

Mike Earussi , Jan 08, 2007; 01:33 a.m.

Along with a macro focusing rail, a good head is the 410 geared head from Bogen. This enables precision positioning which is necessary when dealing with high magnifications.

yoni perlmutter , Jan 08, 2007; 05:46 a.m.

2nd the Manfrotto Geared Head for macro, tabletop and architectural shooting.

It can basically used for any kind of photography which does not require rapid camera (re)orientation. It is provides high precision in camera placement and is suitable for "reflective" as opposed to "reactive" shooting.

I have heavy 35mm gear and a light 6X6 camera. I loan this head to a friend from time to time for his Linhof 4X5 and it seems to suit him as well.

Jeff Polaski , Jan 08, 2007; 07:11 a.m.

I've been shopping for a focusing rack/rail for some time (budget tight these days). The ReallyRightStuff item is probably very good, but it is also pretty expensive. Adorama lists a Novoflex back-and-forth rack for less money, and they have their store name on a back-and-forth, side-to-side (4-way)rack/rail.

In the meantime, I'm using a Benbo Trekker with the kit ball head, and making teeny little adjustments at the head and legs. I also adjust the focus, although this is anathema to purists.

There's a book by Lester Lefkowitz, Manual of Close-up Photography, pub 1979, that is available on the used market for reasonable prices. He covers "macro" photography as well as anyone else I've read.

You'll find a number of threads on macro work on these forums. My last suggestion is that you use a true macro 1:1 lens, and count on doing the focusing manually -- NO autofocus. That should bring the price of the lens down, especially on the used market.

You'll find a lot of discussion as to whether a 50mm or 100mm macro lens is best. Which ever you get, remember that you've got a focal length factor on a DSLR. This is compensated for by the ability to crank up the ISO rating (unless you make large prints). The main objection to the 50mm lens seems to be that it requires moving really close to the subject, and may impede light. That is ameliorated somewhat by the DSLR focal length factor, and for me personally because I prefer to shoot in the shade or on cloudy days.

The macro work at 1:1 can be done handheld.

Pentax *istDS, Sigma 50mm Macro, grab shot at Acadia, Maine

Ellis Vener , Jan 08, 2007; 09:07 a.m.

The 405 ,combined with an Arca-Swisstype QR clamp makesafine combination for amcr owork. One tool I have recently foundveryvaluable isthe Really Right Stuff MPR-CL II Nodal Slide. I bought this initially for doing panoramic work but since then have put into into service for precise camera positioning for macro work and a few other applications.

Ball heads can work fine but you'll need a hoigh quality one like the Arca-Swiss B1Monoball, the Reallyy Right Stuff BH-55, Foba, or Linhof Profi II or III. I haven't found others Ilike. Avoidany ballhead that uses lubricant as the lubricant will dry out, not be precise enough,and attract dust & grit.

Really Right Stuff has posted a fine tripod and head tutorial at http:// www.reallyrightstuff.com/tutorials/tripods/index.html

Juergen Sattleru , Jan 08, 2007; 09:11 a.m.

I own both an Arca Swiss Ball head and a three way pan head from Bogen. For Macro work I only use the three way head and on top of that I use a focusing rail I bought off eBay for $99 - that combination works very, very well. I hated the ball head for Macro, even though I use it for everything else. The three way head is much easier to position and allows for much finer adjustments. Look for GoShot camera on eBay - they sell the same focusing rail as the Adorama branded one, but for half the price.

Douglas Stemke , Jan 08, 2007; 09:45 a.m.

A VERY useful item is the Bogan Superclamp with the head stud. You can move your ballhead onto the Superclamp+Stud and easily move the camera right down to ground level, if necessary. It also is very reasonably priced too.

Michael DeCorso , Jan 08, 2007; 10:16 a.m.

look at the RRS 192 rail system which is cheaper than the macro rail $180 vs $295...Juergen's advice is solid also although I prefer a ballhead...if you decide to go with a ballhead make sure you get a large one which will hold the camera/lens steadier when tilted...for example get the RRS BH-55 rather than the BH-40 or 25 or the Kirk BH-1 rather than the BH-3 based on my personal experience.

Mariellen Romer , Jan 08, 2007; 11:13 a.m.

Ladies and gents, Thank you all very much for your fast and comprehensive answers. Given me a lot to think about and consider, I very much appreciate your help. Happy New Year to you for 2007, Mariellen

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