Camera on tripod in downtown Houston.

Tripods

I just received my fourth tripod and third ball head. It’s my second tripod in as many months. Finding the right setup for my use has been an adventure. Like so many before me, my tripod journey started with a cheap tripod, then lead to an upgrade, then a serious upgrade, then the best fit, hopefully. 

The Cheap Tripod

Cheap Tripod

The plastic and aluminum abomination you see here is what I started with. I was just starting, and to me a successful tripod was one that would hold the camera, and this tripod did that. I had issues with soft images. At first, I thought I was just struggling with focus. The whole plane of focus concept eluded me then. Turns out, in many cases, I got the focus correct, the image was just soft because of movement in the tripod. If I’m being honest, I was also using the center column which didn’t help. When I got back into photography, I knew I needed an upgrade.

Upgrade Tripod

3 Legged Thing Travis Tripod
3 Legged Thing Travis Tripod

Enter the 3 Legged Thing Travis tripod. This was from their punks lineup, which is their entry level line. When I was looking at the specs, though, it was the strongest (greatest amount of supported weight) for the price. I read reviews online and they were favorable, so I pulled the trigger. 

This was a considerable upgrade from the aforementioned abomination of a tripod. It was significantly more stable, easier to adjust, and much better made. At the time, however, I was living in a coastal Florida town, and taking it out around the weather still yielded the soft results. 

Research

I then started to try to find ways to weigh it down, but I didn’t pull the trigger on anything. I then turned to the internet to try to find a solution. I considered buying a new tripod, too. I started checking reviews for which tripod I should get. This is where the frustrations started mounting. All of the reviews I read and/or watched were just opinions, no one had anything concrete to contribute. I found most reviews favored brands, not specific products and that drove me crazy, too. 

I then found Photography Online on YouTube. I just happened to stumble across a video where they were showing people how to use a tripod. I know that sounds trivial, but it was brilliant. This video is the first one I saw. In it, Marcus speaks about the sturdiness of the tripod and testing the sturdiness by putting your fingers on the camera and trying to wiggle it. I did this test on my Travis and even on solid ground there was way more movement then I would have like. They also have this video that you would enjoy when considering a tripod. 

Serious Upgrade Tripod

I thoroughly enjoyed Photography Online so much I then began to watch their entire library on YouTube, and in many episodes Marcus touts how the Kingjoy Tripod is the best he’s ever used. He also specifically cites the expensive Gitzo’s he’s had that have broken. I tried to find the tripod state side, but was unable to, so I purchased through their online store. 

Kingjoy A86
Kingjoy A86

The first thing I did when it came in was set it up and try the two finger test. I know this isn’t definitive, but it was infinitely better than the 3 Legged Thing Travis. I felt complete, I had my serious carbon fiber tripod and it was sturdy. It also came with the tripod feet spikes. I took it out in the weather, and it was great. 

Ball Heads

A new problem presented itself when I got my 100-400mm lens. At 400mm, even with everything tightened, I could see quite a bit of movement when interacting with the camera. I had the realization that my ball head was now the weakest link. Once again, the maddening and time-wasting research began. Things did not look good for my wallet when I found this website. The Center Column was everything I wanted. Their about us page spoke to me. David has applied a very scientific approach to the measurement and rating of tripods. Unfortunately, his last post was in 2021. Fortunately, he had completed a good number of reviews during the 3 years this was active. 

I had seriously been considering the 3 Legged Thing Airhed, but after seeing the reviews on the center column, I realized 3 Legged Thing really didn’t make great products. In reviewing the results, it became apparent that the size of the ball had a direct impact on the sturdiness of the head. 

Really Right Stuff was what I wanted. American company, American made, quality hardware. I thought about the BH-40, but they say for 400mm and greater, go 55. At this point, I was tired of purchasing and repurchasing equipment, so I was going to go big and be done. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to move the camera into portrait orientation, so I also needed a bracket. 

Really Right Stuff talks about their arca-compatible standard, so I didn’t want any L-bracket, I wanted one that would fit nicely in the clamp style lock and keep the camera in place. 

Best Fit Tripod

The only downside to my Kingjoy is the size.  It’s fine for when I’m home and around town, but if I’m traveling, especially if I’m flying, I would not be able to take it with me. I really liked Really Right Stuff’s Ultralight line. With the fixed apex, it was much tighter fit. I wanted the three series to handle my gear, and fortunately, the TFC-34 mkII had a collapsed length of under 20” Not small, but manageable. 

I have a few trips coming up, the tripod was out of stock on RRS’ site, but B&H had it, I decided to bite the bullet and buy it all now.

I took the new setup out this past weekend for a test run, and it was brilliant. The smaller tripod was much easier to wield around, it felt great, I had much less movement with my telephoto on. I am obligated to say, in regards to the RRS BH-55, it is built like a tank. Since that requirement is now satisfied, I’ll just add that the attention to detail, the feel, the movements, every aspect of this equipment is the best I’ve experienced.


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