My tripod: Backup options and XL oversize

Today I would like to share again a technical experience report. It is about my tripod and two tips with which I have had good experiences.


The first point is about safety.


Since I often take photos standing in the water -at the river, lake or sea-, a possible fall of the camera actually always means a total loss. Just in the last three years I have experienced in the circle of friends 5 (!) of such losses -  especially on vacation extremely annoying.


So this is the the problem, the causes are manifold; however, in my eyes it is mostly due to 2 things: 


1. the tripod has tipped over due to external influence (photographer, shaft etc.)

2. some connection between tripod and camera has loosened


Both variants have happened to me in the last 10 years. Particularly painful, by the way, when it happens to you when testing a brand new supertile lens as well as a new camera 🤦.


But what to do? Well, there is no 100% safe solution for the first variant (tripod tips over due to external impact). But one recommendation: as banal as it sounds, do not take/buy an overly top-heavy combo. The trend is towards lightweight travel tripods that weigh around 1 kg. Sure, from a purely technical point of view, that's enough, you can make clean long exposures. But in practice, this is often a fragile combo, especially for nature photographers whose areas of use do not have asphalt floors. I would make sure when choosing a tripod that the weight does not fall below around 1.7-2.0kg. Mine weighs 2.3kg and the difference to 1.7 is again clearly noticeable in terms of stability. Also an (extended) center column shifts the center of gravity unfavorably.

Let's move on to the second variant: the connection comes loose. Where? For example, this can be at the change base of the tripod (not all tripods have this), at the quick release unit of the ball head, at the quick release plate of the camera or at the "foot" of the lens with longer lenses.

Why the connection can loosen has different reasons - from sloppiness over slight carelessness to the material defect.

Over the years it has happened to me from time to time that I have simply flanged the quick-release plate of the camera to the quick-release unit of the ball head in a somewhat careless manner - it sat tightly at first glance, but was actually not properly in the quick release. Most of the time this works well, but if you then walk from spot to spot for hours with the tripod over your shoulder, at some point it doesn't work well.

For this second variant, which covers quite a few causes, I built myself a kind of "safety line". All I need for this on the camera is actually only a small "clip":

It is a strap connector from the company OP-Tech (I am not sponsored 😉), you can easily buy them on the net, in all possible lengths.


The "counterpart" is then on the tripod (see following picture; No.1). It doesn't have to be that long, but since I also use it for my larger telephoto lenses, I need it a little longer.


So as soon as I have the camera on the tripod, I immediately click the leash on it (see picture #2). Takes 2 seconds and is worth it. There are also nice side effects. For example, I can dangle the camera with lens on the tripod set up (see image 3) while I attach, say, a 70-200 on the ball head. Then I loosen the wide angle and flange the camera directly to the tele-lens, practically as if I had a third hand 😉 Especially in dusty areas, such a quick change is favorable.


By the way, so that the "line" does not flap around when I carry the tripod longer without the camera, I have attached a counterpart on the opposite side of the tripod (see picture 4), so that I click the longer line there during transport (picture 5).  

I use this solution now since a Portugal trip in 2015 and in fact it has happened to me twice since then that only the camera dangled from the safety on the tripod - so I've already saved me quite a lot of repair costs. Even for my 600 Supertele I use this, the OPtech strap holds it easily.


Conclusion: I can definitely recommend it for all those who sometimes have an uncomfortable feeling when transporting over the shoulder, according to the motto "does everything really hold there"?

Let's move on to the second recommendation, an oversized tripod.


A little over a year ago I bought the oversize ("XLS") version of my 3 Gitzo, the Gitzo GT3543XLS, because I needed the extreme height in some specific situations. This tripod is already 202cm tall without a center extension. The viewfinder of my camera is thus at 219cm height and when I put the tripod legs together relatively close but still sufficiently stable, it is at 237cm height. For the pictures immediately following, I mostly used a height of 230cm.


On a side note: a center extension option is out of the question for me (I tested with Gitzo for 1 year), because I always want to be able to switch very quickly from very high to close to the ground without having to remove center extensions and screw them back on - that had driven me crazy back then. Especially with my current "Icy Worlds" series, I needed this change several times per hour for each photo session.


In addition, a center extension is always a disadvantage for the stability compared to the alternative of being able to use the same height "natively".


The decision to buy the XLS variant was difficult, however, because I was not sure whether I do not need this excess length perhaps only in 3% of cases and whether the higher weight is then worth it at all. The small difference in the pack size does not matter to me, the main thing is that it fits for the flight in the suitcase and it does.


Well, I have a pretty clear answer to that by now: it is worth it, at least as a crossover nature photographer! You have to learn to use it though, I'll come back to that in a moment.


Of course, there are genre where I have almost no use for the extra length - such as seascapes in landscape photography, macro photography or classic bird photography, where I want to look through the viewfinder myself.


On the other hand, I feel that this is especially important in "intimate landscapes", such as river photography, woodland, moorland, heathland, especially when trees come into play, especially if they can't be photographed from above.


In that one year, I also had to learn how to use it. Because in the first few months I rarely used the maximum height. It picked up from summer and really take off from autumn. Between September and today, March, I used the extra length more and more often.


What does that actually mean? Quite simply, the camera is then really at a height that even I, with 1.91m height, can only reach standing with arms stretched wide. But I can set the focus beforehand and, thanks to the foldable displays, I can also place the exact image section looking up from below. Finally, I can release the shutter with the remote shutter release, which is no longer a problem.


I have made 10-15% of my pictures in the last 7 months in this way.  However, this rate is much higher depending on the area of use. In deep snow, in the forest and in the heath, that was about 25%. Half of these image ideas I could not have implemented at all below 2.30m height.


For this I would like to show you a few examples today, where just half a meter difference to my previous "normal tripod" were absolutely decisive.

Let's start with a very typical situation: only from a very high altitude I was able to eliminate the much too bright sky that starts immediately above the top of the image for this autumn detail. Directly above the edge of the image there was practically a white discordant "hole". For this I stood additionally -somewhat wobbly- on a tree trunk and operated the tripod over head and very narrowly placed on the tree trunk. From below, the scene does not look half as harmonious.

Also the next scene contains a reason, which I had often in the heath. Between my point of view and the tree was a quite inharmonious and also already illuminated by the grazing light green tree. Only from this height, far overhead, I could eliminate it. I could not change the location for various  reasons:

This following view doesn't actually exist. At least for hikers who walk around this Italian mountain lake. Only with the telephoto lens standing on a bench and photographing on it overhead had a clear view of this perspective.

At the following place there is a kind of aisle through which you can walk. On the right and on the left the ferns grow about eye level. Only overhead the camera gave me this free view and already again eliminated unattractive bright parts of the sky.

You could only get this size ratio from some distance to the tree. However, since it was a rising slope, the birch tree on the right was too high for this image idea > so off up high with the camera....and that's how it finally worked.

In the coming picture I could have achieved from normal height only practically a square picture format, besides the dark water place would not have had at all this beautiful form, one saw from below almost only the snow hills. Overhead, however, a proper image composition was possible. 

These branches were quite high and they were still the lowest of the tree, which was on a slope. From normal height I could not have put the sun and the horizon in the background, because they stood below the edge of the picture. So the image effect was much more interesting.

Since I generally prefer landscape formats, I had tried in vain to compose the image. Really harmonious the picture elements were only possible in portrait format with ultra wide angle (14mm full frame). So I built myself some small snow hills and put the tripod legs very close together at full height. I couldn't even reach the camera on tiptoe, but I could just reach the ballhead to align the picture. This perspective is also not possible from normal height, especially since this perspective from above also much better emphasized the great structures:

And last but not least: I used this tripod height particularly often in the deep snow of the high heath. Because you are already practically below the surface. From normal height, the icy small trees in the foreground were virtually on a level with the fir standing in the middle - this image effect would be quite boring in contrast to this one, which I just reached on tiptoe:  

My conclusion: it's similar to smartphones at times when I didn't have one - you don't really miss it - but when you have it, you only become aware of the possibilities and you don't want to give it up. In the last 7 months alone I had certainly 50 of those scenes where I was glad to be able to use it.


I would therefore also make sure with future tripods that the size allows a shooting height with outstretched arms overhead.


I hope for the one and the other was a helpful tip.


Many greetings,