The Perfect Tripod - Legs

Tripods are interesting.  There's probably more opinions about tripods than many other aspects of photography. Most statements made in photography can evolve into rules. 

  • Science and interpretation gave us the Sunny 16 Rule
  • Rules of Thirds and so forth. 
  • But when we get into tripods, theories and opinions formed on the rules of success, failure, personal trials and even economics morph into the written word and get adopted as rules.  
  • Sort of like politics, you get all the good stuff  till you vote and then you find out what you really got.
  • To further complicate things, a good tripod to one individual differs because of almost fifty factors such as the quality of the part tested, size of the individual, demands on the gear, the fluidity of the head, surface (sand as in the beach, pavement, dirt, tile, concrete, marsh or wetlands) the feet ends have to work on and on and on. 
  • One rule I will impose is “ You don't build a tripod for a day". We all want the best for ourselves and we all have a different version of best.  For "Best" really means best suited. In my case I needed a new tripod since all of my system involved around one type of Quick Release which fails miserably with the Nikon long glass rotating tripod collars. 
  • I wanted to kick it up a notch. I was not happy with the performance of a particular setup with two new acquisitions in lenses and bodies. I was using the Nikon's with some longer heavier lenses.
  • I  guess that there's always something that can be done to something to improve things. That's called an upgrade, the act of taking something to a higher level from a moderately acceptable or feloniously faulty level. Bringing sub level products to a higher level is why the aftermarket does so well in the photography business. 
  • Eventually the conversation gets around to tripods.  It is both the most respected piece of equipment and at times the most hated.  In its simplistic version it serves one purpose. It extends the ability of the camera to record the image under diminishing conditions. It gets a bad rap as it snags on things, gets caught in the door and when not properly set up causes severe damage to your camera and your car door if you happen to close it on the tripod.


  • You look up and notice the sun has gone down.  Looking down you see lots of dark. (a true clue night is coming).
  • You are using very slow shutter speeds to accentuate something in the picture like a waterfall.
  • You are using very long lenses.
  • You don't have fast lenses.
  •  You wish to avoid camera shake especially for large prints where "bad" is bigger.
  • Your entire rig is too top heavy to stand for long periods of time on that inferior (OK CHEAP) tripod you found as a great deal at K-MART.  Unfortunately "you are one with the camera" extolling the virtues of frugality and listening to the sounds of metal, plastic and glass meeting the road.  SPLATT!
  • A good tripod, light, balanced, easy to use, fast changes and rock steady.
  • Carbon Fibre was lighter but twice the cost. I choose Aluminum, I can weld and repair aluminum.
  • Upgraded and better performing Quick Releases for the critical speed in setup, safety and performance.

Legs - Bogen-Manfrotto  No Compromise Here:

  • I am a dedicated Bogen Manfrotto user. Have been for thirty years. My selection for the best popular basic tripod from a good family heritage of tripods is a Bogen/Manfrotto 3021PRO.   I love it for it' simplicity.  It's also reasonably priced.  When a pair of legs cost more than a lens , I draw the line.  Just call it unreasonably priced and we have a real trade deal with that country of origin.
  • I don't need the all little bells and whistles from some manufacturers that promise incredible results, lighter models made from state of the art alchemy, with fancier footwork, lots of hype and it still wobbles like a drunk. 
  • I don't trust many of the heads and releases especially those of plastic. You may quote my colorful English, "I don't care what they call their plastic, even if it's called Titanium Plastic, the stuff is still crap when it comes to tripods". 
    I boil when I see 4000 dollars plus worth of metal and glass perched on a dime store pod.  
  • The one thing about a good tripod is that it will last forever if taken care of. Rarely do they suffer the indignation of destruction unless wanted a nice head on shot of a smoking train, standing on the tracks as shown in the picture below. 
  • Yes,  that's my 3021 done as a gag shot for one of my classes.  There was a real train coming at me.  
  • It was about the need for a pod with the longer glass and depth of field. If you look carefully you can read the guys mind starring at me in the distance.
  • In the background my cellphone was play Johnny Cash’s hit song  ‘ The Folsom Prison Blues’  that starts with -“ Oh I hear that train coming”…
  • Since my backpacking days are limited and I have a cart I use for seminars, a few ounces here or there don't phase me.  
  • As far as quality, I'll never knock a Gitzo, that's Bogen's sister high line from France.  If you can afford one and if you get usage out of it. 
  • Some people truly appreciate the pride of ownership in fine things till it gets knocked over and gets the first scratch, after that it's simply their tripod.   Scratches are a badge of honor for a tripod. You got to have some or you look like a newbie.  
  • It just hurts more when you scratch the 650 dollar tripod or dent it with the car door.   Worse if the tripod scratches the car door, especially if it is a Mercedes 400 series….Average cost of a small dent is 700 dollars…
  • But if I balance cost vs. features/ benefits, Bogen's line is a winner. In construction, pricing, attachments, flexibility and service.  That's it simply put. I call it "bang for the buck”.  Better bang with a few component change.
  •  I gave little thought for the hand warmers for those frigid Florida winters for the legs BUT those hand warmers are nice when you shoulder the tripod with camera attached.  So I went Aluminum with three leg sections and ordered the super short center head support as an option.   It was that or hack the center support down and that's stupid for studio work where you need it.
  • Basically it is steady as a rock even with a fairly heavy camera aboard, carry’s well, very well made, easy to maintain, does vertical and horizontal, (two legs on ground, one against a wall) you can adjust for wear and REASONABLY priced.  
  • The 3021 (Aluminum) legs series splay outward, lower to the ground, also have four steps or positions  you can select, and rises to six feet.  Both versions are light BUT there are two quirks. 
  • Yes, Bogens with the clamp fitting will  pincer your finger till you learn how to open and close them properly. Once you get in the habit of doing it right it is faster than a speeding bullet.  But the tab release type lock to me is better for the long run than the round collets when they jam or inject sand and you really want to call the collet type names.  
  • The EL-Carbone (055) is stiff and closes stiff.  I am used to the aluminum model. I would take the aluminum legs, invert the pod, open the locks and it close in a milli-second. Not so with the carbon fiber.  Hopefully it's just new and needs to wear a little.  I chose aluminum.
  • NOW as you all know I never leave anything alone as we call in KIRK ENTERPRISES for the other half.

The Perfect TRIPOD - The Head  —  HEAD - 486 R2 BOGEN BALL HEAD combined with KIRK Plate.
I had on hand a Bogen Compact Ball Head  Part 486RC from a previous order so I decided to use it  I put the package together and grabbed my Nikon 70-200 VR and headed out for Busch Gardens. To achieve this, You need to attach the plate (3157N) to the removable foot of the Nikon lens.  

Observation and panic: The lower phenolic ball head of the 486RC works fine. For an economy head the product is great. BUT the Quick Release did not impress me and this was the reason for the upgrade in the first place. It, the plate part, will swivel, mucho el bado. It will work loose. And you can lose a 1460.00 lens. Twice the price today for the good one. Out, out damn spot…  Off to sell on eBay.

The bigger lenses have too much leverage for the head of the RC2 release. I tried anti-seize bike tube rubber, nope, I made an intermediary plate, nope,  and milled out the RC2, but it raised the whole thing too high. The only option was to upsize. BUT lets say I didn't want a fat head. Now let me make this clear. I like the 486 

Solution  —  

I stripped off the plate top of the 486, it unscrews leaving a nice 3/8 screw thread.  I ordered from  KIRK ENTERPRISES  a new Quick Release  bottom plate with SWISS-ARCA type mount, 3/8 inch threads, a little Locktite blue and I'm in business.   Cost 85.00.  It works on the Bogen-Manfrotto ball head like that glove worked at the O.J. Simpson trial. 
The problem with Bogens mount and the Nikon foot is too many components. The combo creates a series of parts that can come loose at:  the tripod collar, the foot that connects to the tripod collar,  the  plate that connects to the foot, the same plate that now connects to the head.  

All in all, four connections.  I couldn't live with this. As the sworn Guru of Gadgeteering, all my instincts turned to full alert and the quest (and my Paypal account) was on.  Graphically, it looks like this and the Kirk solution removes two problems. Too many connections that can loosen and drop the gear. The Kirk Plate eliminates one complete plate and head assembly from the "stack", thus you get more stability and less top weight and wobbles. It does lower the profile. The Kirk foot is heavier and more robust than the Nikon foot which with one touch can send the lens slipping off.

Kirk  Enterprises — KIRK is a system of components that you tailor to your needs. Custom-designed, 6061 aluminum and hard anodized. And they deal direct via the internet. To go really top end on this we have to spend a few dollars for the upgrade because you just don't change one part. Once you get started in a system, you have to stick with that system. 

Now all the lenses with tripod collars and all my bodies will work the same.  I will now convert the Monopods I have to the same head plate.

Once you go and use them, you will become a believer. They are addictive. Till I personally started using one, I too took the frugal way out. Couple of close calls changed my mind. 

1) Kirks QRC 2.5 (2 1/2 inch) Standard Quick Release. I used the 486RC Ball head and unscrewed the RC2 leaving the correct thread for the Kirk plate to fit. NO WORK.
Two drops of Blue  (NOT RED)  on the
 Manfrotto 055 Carbon Fiber and it mated beautifully. 

2) Kirks LP-45, which is a QR Plate Replaces the Nikon Foot at $70.00. This is a must have.
3) Kirks NK-70-200.  See picture. This is a must have modified Knob for the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR AFS lens.  It costs $15.00 and is easy to install, machined 6061T6 aluminum. It adds half an inch, in an easy to grip knurled pattern. 1/2 ounce to this heavy lens so the additional weight is irrelevant. You save that by removing the dead weight of the Nikon foot.0.5 ounces.