Tripod Theory

Tri means three. Pod is support. Three-point contact with the world is always simplest and best. That contact with the world should also be solid, not spongy such as on a rug, snow, sand, a flimsy spreader/triangle, tripod dolly, or springy piece of car metal. Note that each Mitchell tripod leg has a triangle design. Straight tubes are not as strong per pound.

Tripod legs have to be stronger than the average pan and tilt dampening available on the tripod head. You don't want the legs to move and change the framing when you put pan or tilt pressure against the head friction or dampening.

Braced center post designs are very strong, but are harder to adjust on uneven ground or tight spaces. For smaller jib arms and long lenses the old TV braced aluminum legs are great. Be careful with them because the aluminum castings, though strong, they are brittle and can break if abused. Arms or overhung devices on regular tripods can be dangerous. Attaching the tripod down to a solid base makes a regular tripod safer. A plywood strip spreader with chain tie-downs on each leg is one solution. If you use 1" x 4" wood make sure the tripod spikes or hold-down screws can't split it. These spreaders should be rigid and not folding at the center.

Getting a solid contact point in a vehicle is often difficult. Curved parts of cars and the corners of pickup beds are better than flat surfaces. Double thick 3/4" or 1"plywood is useful to fit into areas with too much flex. Tying down the bottom of each leg is better than one strap to the top casting. A ball-leveling head is very helpful, as the legs tips are rarely symmetrical.

When moving a tripod, leave the leg furthest from you longer so you can let it rest on the ground first at the new position then pull the other legs freely toward you into position.

The most stable angle of tripod legs is 60 degrees to level ground. If the legs are too steep it can tip over. If too wide the legs can slip on dirt or surfaces. A piece of rug can help in many situations. Some newer strap triangles look promising. A loop of rope tied at each leg will work too. The best contact is the tripod spikes directly with the support. Raised cups in metal triangles are not the best.

For working on hillsides, replacing one leg with the leg from a shorter tripod is helpful. Use a leveling head tripod if possible.

Risers and leveling device between the tripod top and the head make the system very unstable and dangerous. Raise each leg if you need more height. Risers are OK on dollies and cranes where there is a stable base that can't tip easily.

Extensions that clamp on to each leg can be made and are worth the effort if you often want to get higher than your tall legs allow. The same extensions can make baby legs taller. Design the extension to that you can stand on them to operate.

Leveling heads are more convenient, especially in the field, but can be more easily set up in an unstable position. Leveling heads should not be used with heavy cameras.

Ubangis, cranes, job arms and extensions are dangerous on regular tripods.

Get a feel of how tight a leg lever or knob has to be tightened to securely hold a position. Over tightening will cause unnecessary wear.

Check bolts, nuts, pins and knobs for correct tightness. Carry the right adjustment wrenches.

Some tripods can pinch fingers between the legs at the top casting!

Wash tripods in fresh water and dry them if they have been in saltwater. See manufacturer's recommendations.

For speed in setting when working out of a van, a plywood shelf for camera equipment above and the tripod with head attached below is helpful. Use a rug underneath. Assembled cameras can rest on a seat, special padded box or in someone's lap.

Wrapping a tripod in a furniture blanket is not enough padding for shipping.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.