Tripod Purchasing Advice Requested - With a Twist (AKA, Not the Normal Kind!)

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by astrostu, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    Okay, I will admit I slightly mislead you with the title, but that's because there are so many "tripod help" threads out there I needed something catchy so that the people who are sick of them actually will read this ...

    My situation is the following: I have some great gear, and up this year for improvement is my tripod. I'm probably one of the only folks who's shot a wedding with $10k of equipment on a $35 tripod (last Sept.). My needs in a tripod are several:

    (1) Light and Short (when collapsed): I travel a fair amount and want to be able to pack this in my carry-on or walk around with it on my backpack.

    (2) Sturdy: This should be a no-brainer, but, yeah sturdy, especially given ...

    (3) Needs to Work for Astrophotography: I'm in the mood for 2°-60°+ wide-field astrophotography these days, THIS IS NOT FOR A TELESCOPE.

    (4) Needs to Be Good, General-Purpose

    Yes, I have read the article that everyone links to by Thom Hogan.

    For (1), I'm looking at two different legs, the Gitzo GT-2531 and the GT-2541. I'm leaning towards the 2531 because of price, max. height, and stability with 3 leg segments instead of 4, but the 2541 collapses to more than 3.5" shorter. Both are carbon fiber. Anything I haven't thought of there in the difference between the two? Anything comparable in other brands that I didn't look at due to Thom's article?

    For (3), I'm going to be purchasing the AstroTrac TT320X which is about the cheapest good tracking system I can get that's actually portable and has periodic errors of just a few arcsec over the course of 10+ minutes. I don't expect advice from folks here to this end, it's more of a statement so that you know my situation.

    Because of the tracking system, I will need to purchase two heads :(. At least one will be a ball head, and I would like to avoid creep (that's what it's called - right? - where you position the camera and then you tighten the head and it moves slightly?). I'm looking at a few. One is the Kirk BH-3, and another is the Arca-Swiss Z1 sp. But then I need another head, and due to the way you set up a tracking mount, a 3-way panning head would probably be easier to use. On the AstroTrac site, they happen to use the Manfrotto 410, though I noted that the Manfrotto 808RC4 is $80 cheaper and can support 3 kg more.

    In terms of weight, I have at least my 7D body, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens, a second head, and the AstroTrac that the first head needs to support. From my math, that's 0.8+1.6+0.5+1.1 = 4kg at least. Hence, getting a head that's rated at 5kg is kinda pushing it. Note that both of the legs I listed above support 12kg.

    Now, as for budget ... The AstroTrac system is going to cost nearly $1k alone (£600 because they trick you and say the system is £500 but when you put in your order, you automatically order the polar alignment 'scope for £100 more which is required to use it). I was really hoping to get in at under $1600 total, but I don't think that's going to happen. The AstroTrac plus tripod legs alone already are just $50 shy of that and I need two heads in addition. That said, I really am looking to not spend a whole heck of a lot more.

    So ... any advice here on yet another "tripod help" thread?
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2010
  2. Phranquey

    Phranquey TPF Noob!

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    No offense, but that AstroTrac looks really cheesy for what they are asking. If you shop wisely.....for a $1600 budget, you could get a nice tripod/head combo and have enough left over to get something like a Celestron NexStar 8SE with an equatorial wedge and either a T-ring for your camera or a basic CCD setup.
     
  3. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    No offense, but you don't exactly know what you're talking about here. I have (1) read over a half dozen independent reviews of the AstroTrac, and in NONE of them have I found anything negative. Plus, I (2) have actually used one before for 3 nights when I was an astrophotography consultant for a photography company that was sub-sub-sub-contracting me for Microsoft.

    (3) I am in search of high-accuracy tracking, and most Orion and Celestron mounts are not good enough. (4) They are not easily portable and my stated purpose is to be able to easily take this on trips and set up on the side of a deserted road.

    (5) I am not looking for a telescope, I already have access to a 16", 18", 24" and 8" with two CCD chips. My purpose is wide-field at the moment. (6) I already have a T-ring.

    (7) I have never seen someone recommend for a pro-level tripod spending anything under $600 or so. The Celestron NexStar 8SE is $1200. (8) I also asked for advice in an astronomy forum when I was considering purchasing the Losmandy GM-8 but was really thrown off by the weight. The AstroTrac was what was recommended.
     
  4. Phranquey

    Phranquey TPF Noob!

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    No offense taken, just an amatuer with a Dob. Got a few friends with Schmidts/CCD's who just piggyback SLR's for beautiful wide fields.

    Just an opinion on that AstroTrac. It still seems like a heck of a lot of money for a few arms with a screw drive, but it's a small market, so a profit has to be made.
     
  5. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    Sorry, Phranquey, I think I was in a bad mood when I wrote my reply. I agree that it looks el-cheapo, but, as I said, after using it and reading reviews, it seems to be about the best thing out there for my needs - mostly highly accurate and portable.

    And, for the rest ... *bump*!
     
  6. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    :lol:
    I'm thinking about upgrading my Dob, now that Orion is offering some larger truss tube versions: Truss Tube Dobsonian Telescopes | Orion Telescopes & Binoculars

    I'm liking the 50" but having the eye piece 16 feet in the air at the zenith is a bit daunting. I'll have to work on an observatory design before I get it. I figure I can lease time on it to the NOAO to help defray the costs.
     
  7. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    My first thought is that both of the Gitzos you are considering are far too lightweight for stability with the amount of weight you wish to put on them; we're talking about three-pound tripods here.

    Thom's emphasis is on tripods for backpacking, where weight savings are of huge importance, but I think I would be tempted to go with a much heavier base, on a much bigger tripod used at substantially LESS extension. Specifically, this tripod from Manfrotto Manfrotto | 161MK2B Super Pro Tripod Legs (Black) | 161MK2B

    We're talking here about a tripod that is priced somewhat less than the Gitzos, but which is roughly a little bit over five times heavier, and which will not be used extended 100 percent of the way, but much less-extended and with a truly ample amount of weight and mass. I personally use this style of tripod,and for me, it's a good fit, but then I want the tripod for stability,and not for "packability". I myself find a lot of comfort in the old-style idea that a heavy, large tripod is a very simple way to achieve stability. Of course, many people are put off by the idea of "overkill", but that is basically what the Arca Swiss ballhead is--its stated capacity is 59 pounds, which leads to greater steadiness with larger,heavier loads, and so when used with significanntly lighter camera/lens/optics setups one is gaining the benefit of an "overkill" type of setup.
     
  8. Phranquey

    Phranquey TPF Noob!

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    As I said... not a problem. I shoulda' checked your profile before replying as I did. I'm guessing that as an astronomy grad student, you're going to know a little more than I...:blushing:



    :drool: Yeah, a 50" would be the hit of the star parties. You'd need to have it built into it's own trailer, and then tow it around with a bucket truck.... ride the bucket around to view through the eyepiece without having to constantly climb up and down a ladder. :lol:
     
  9. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    Thanks, Derrel, for actually addressing my question. ;) I'll note that while astrophotography will be an important part of the purpose for this tripod, it's definitely not even at a 50% usage level - perhaps more like 10-20%. Most of the time when I have my tripod, it's when I'm moving around on trips or hikes or a gallery, or just in my apartment photographing coins or stuff in my lightbox (I'm also a coin collector). So, an actual portable tripod is important, and something that weighs 17.5 lbs (8 kg) is NOT going to be something that I can hike half a mile into the Grand Canyon easily and set up to use.
     
  10. Dominantly

    Dominantly TPF Noob!

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    If you're such and expert with such strong opinions on the subject, why are you even asking a forum for a tripod suggestion to fit YOUR needs?
     
  11. astrostu

    astrostu I shoot for the stars

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    Dominantly, thank you for your thoughtful contribution. I am not an expert. But obviously I would use it for MY needs - why would I ask for a tripod for myself to fit someone else's needs? While I appreciate Derrel's advice, it seemed as though he was more focused on the astrophotography part (which ideally I would have a 100-lb base anchored 6-ft below-ground) which I think I may have emphasized a little too much in my original post. Hence, I clarified my actual needs/usage of the system, pointing out that such a heavy tripod would not be the best thing overall for me.

    There are literally hundreds of different tripods out there, and I lack the time and expertise to go through them all, in addition to the hundreds of different heads, so I was hoping that by explaining exactly what I need, people would be able to point me in the right direction.
     
  12. usayit

    usayit No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    There are ways to weigh down a tripod for extra stability... Just as long as the tripod itself is sturdy.

    Hang a bag underneath the center between the legs and fill them with whatever you find locally (rocks?). Very common for those who hike long distances with sturdy but lightweight tripods.
     

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