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Tripod for night photography

Ilya L , Feb 18, 2006; 04:58 a.m.

I am looking for a recommendation for a tripod/head combo for night- and astro-photography. I have a Nikon D50/Nikon 18-200 combo which weighs 2 lb 6 oz. I have been using Velbon MAXI-343E tripod. Although this tripod is rated at 4.5 lb, the support proved inadequate for 30 second exposures as many of the images come out blurry. As a result I am considering getting a new/tripod combo. The weight is not an issue because I am not planning on hiking with it. I also do not need a ballhead that I can track subjects with -- will be shooting stills. I'd like to keep the the price of the combo to $200. I also realize that there additional techniques for damping camera vibration with weights or by holding the tripod with the hand. Any pointers to such techniques would be appreciated as well.

Thanks,

Ilya


Attachment: Blurry.jpg

Responses

Lex Jenkins , Feb 18, 2006; 06:27 a.m.

If you don't need a specialized tripod and head, the best buy in a sturdy tripod is either the Slik 300DX or 700DX. Both legsets are excellent and both include the same tilt/pan head with a simple quick release that is suitable for lightweight camera/lens combinations.

The 300DX is smaller, lighter and shorter but very rigid. For maximum stability I don't fully extend the leg sections. I'll extend the leg angle to the middle or maximum angle. Sometimes I'll adjust the centerpost so that it's lightly in contact with the ground.

While this isn't the most comfortable position for night sky photography it is very stable. There shouldn't be any need for weights or other tricks to dampen vibration.

The 700DX is heavier, can extend to a greater height without resorting to elevating the centerpost (great for taller shooters), but still is of reasonable size and weight. The 300DX legset is comparable to the Bogen/Manfrotto 3001 (which I also own - the Slik is better). The 700DX is comparable to the Bogen/Manfrotto 3021. It's a tossup between the latter two, tho' the Slik is a better buy since it includes a pretty decent head. Heads cost extra with most Bogen/Manfrotto legsets.

BTW, while holding the tripod itself or camera while mounted on a tripod may sometimes be useful for certain situations, such as photographing sports or wildlife, it's not usually the best way to dampen vibration if there's no need to track moving subjects.

William Wright , Feb 18, 2006; 08:43 a.m.

I use the Manfrotto 055 with a manfrotto 488 RC4 Ball head for all my astro photography and all my landscape stills, a 30 second exposure may produce star trails, any blurring will be caused by the camera or tripod or even lens moving during the exposure, I also shoot with the D50 and often use a Sigma 170-500 mm lens without any problems, any vibration, even moving around on soft ground, nudging the tripod by accident or our worst enemy during such exposures being wind, even a light breeze can move the lens slightly causing blur. Firstly ensure all components are tightened up sufficiently, secondly try to not move close to the set up to avoid bumps/vibrations, thirdly weight the tripod, I usually use my Lowepro bag full of kit for this by hooking it on to the centre column to keep it sturdy a bucket of water will do and this can then be thrown in the garden afterwards, and not least try finding a relatively level and sheltered location. Reagards Bill.

Frank Uhlig , Feb 18, 2006; 10:52 a.m.

I doubt that astrophotography with any tripod at 30 sec exposures would be any more sharp if you used a better tripod.

The trouble is that the sky turns *Galilei says we do, well, sorry*; the earth turns a significant amount in 30 secs. If you want to get the moon sharp you need to stay under about 1/50 of a sec exposures for example.

Now in windy conditions with long exposures, and without a geared rotation camera mount, you will always have troubles in the sky unless you want star trails. Of which you get the first smudges on your pics, I am sure, and you call these blurry by mistaking astrophysics for a tripod.

Matthew Currie , Feb 18, 2006; 11:02 a.m.

Another Slik possibility is the 400DX, which is about the size of the 300DX, but a little fancier. It has quick-release leg clamps, independent leg spread, a two section center column (you can shorten it for low-leg use), and the same head as the 300, I think. I like mine. It's a good compromise between weight and portability, weighing 5 pounds, and quite adequate for holding my F and any lens up to 200mm. or so, for long time exposures on reasonably still nights. The top grade Sliks are pretty nicely made. The head is smooth and strong, but a little small for bigger lenses. Although the head can be replaced, the top flange of the column is not very large, so it isn't a good candidate for a bigger head.

For heavier stuff I just recently got a cheap used Bogen/Manfrotto 3211 (same as a 3011 except black)legset. This is about as sturdy as the more expensive 3021 or 3221 but has simple thumbscrews for leg extension and no independent leg spread. Much less versatile for everyday work than the Slik, but more suitable for putting a big head on.

Michael Meyer , Feb 18, 2006; 01:41 p.m.

I've got the 3021 Bogen legset and use various heads on it. I put a 4x5 monorail on mine and it stays still even for long exposures. Even with my smallest head, a Novoflex Minimagic ballhead, I have used 4x5 cameras at close to 1:1 and had no issues with steadiness.

-m

Ilya L , Feb 19, 2006; 12:26 a.m.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful responses.

Ilya

Chan Wei Jian , Feb 19, 2006; 12:29 a.m.

Sling your camera bag over the tripod and spread the legs where possible. Use the tripod with minimal leg extension.

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