Solid Support when it's Needed!
I've read numerous opinions over the years regarding the use of a tripod to capture sharper images. The reason is intuitively obvious; a tripod can (usually) hold your camera more still than you can hold it by hand, and this becomes especially important at slower shutter speeds. All of the articles and reviews I've read were consistent with their recommendation to use a tripod, whenever possible, to attain the sharpest possible results.
After stubbornly hand-holding the majority of my shots for many years I finally broke down a few years ago and purchased a quality tripod and ballhead, the Velbon El Carmaigne 540 and Markins Q3 ballhead. Despite this purchase and the excitement, for me, that comes with new photography gear I was still slow to adapt my style of photography to tripod use. More recently, after turning to landscape photography, I've begun to realize, once again, the need for a tripod.
For maximum depth of field when shooting landscape photography I use smaller apertures, and I prefer shooting in overcast conditions for better lighting and to add a bit of drama/dimension to the shot. Both of those aspects typically require the camera to be set at a slower shutter speed, which makes it even harder, if not impossible, to shoot hand-held and still get an acceptable image. I'm also finding that slower shutter speeds and water work well together!
The Velbon tripod and Markins ballhead have worked well in many situations, but the small size of the tripod has its drawbacks. The Velbon is sturdy enough when conditions are calm, but the maximum height is simply lacking for many shots. There are times when I need to shoot higher for composition, or when I need to shoot above a fence, a railing or over bushes to get the shot I'm after, and the maximum height of the Velbon becomes a hindrance on these occasions. The relatively stable foundation crumbles when I have to raise the center column to get the extra height needed for these shots, and this is magnified when there is any sort of breeze.
Having fully realized the need for a good tripod and for the fact that I have been using one much more frequently, I've been searching for a new setup with a greater maximum height and better stability. I also wanted to plan for the future when I eventually get a longer telephoto lens, and the Velbon setup is simply not sturdy enough for a lens larger than my 70-200mm.
My searching over the last year led me to two tripod companies as possible candidates; a Gitzo brand tripod or a tripod from a relative newcomer in the field of tripods via a respected American company named Really Right Stuff (RRS). (This is not to say there aren't countless other excellent tripods out there, many at a price point less than the Gitzo and RRS.) For me personally, I simply wanted a rugged, well-tested setup that I wouldn't have to worry about when my photography takes me to remote, harsh locations. The Gitzo and the RRS seemed to fit that need based on reviews from many respected, professional photographers who have field tested tripods from both brands.
With local high-end camera dealers being a thing of the past in many cities, including mine, there was no store within reasonable driving distance to try out either of my choices , so I relied on reviews, opinions on forums and my experience with products to date. I hhad already purchased some camera plates and other small accessories from RRS so I knew the quality of their products was top notch.
Long story short, I ended up going with an RRS TVC-34 tripod along with a well-respected RRS ballhead designed to carry large lenses, the RRS BH-55LR. I should note that my previous Markins ballhead has and will continue to serve me well when I must travel light, but I was willing to try the RRS brand ballhead in lieu of a larger Markins for my new setup based on the many praises it has received over the years on Internet photography forums.
Last week the RRS TVC-34 and BH-55 arrived on my doorstep, and with cursory use around the house, I can attest to the quality feel and spectacular fit and finish of these products. Operation of both the tripod and ballhead is smooth and easy. I have not had the chance to field test this setup yet to compare it to my lightweight Velbon/Markins combination, but rest assured I will post my experience once I've had the RRS setup out in the field in numerous conditions and situations.
(This image of the RRS TVC-34 and BH-55 was taken with my trusty D70s at ISO 500, handheld. I almost forgot how much I like the color noise at higher ISOs coming out of the D70s. It reminds me of color magazine adds from the 80's!)
My next post on the performance of this setup will include technical details I haven't found on the Internet concerning this tripod and ballhead, and I look forward to giving you an update...............
The Really Right Stuff TVC-34 tripod and BH-55 ballhead details can be found at www.reallyrightstuff.com