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When I say "full size" I mean what I think most people consider a standard tripod: not something like a gorillapod or super-specialized for portability.

I want to purchase a serious tripod and I'm debating whether to go with a compact model (like the tqc-14) or something less compact (like the tvc-24L or tvc-33).

I expect the non-compact models will offer greater quality. I honestly am not sure how much I will notice the difference though, but being able to be at a better working height (I'm ~6 ft tall) without the need for a center column seems desirable. However, I'm not sure 4 sections vs 3 sections makes that much of a difference with tripods of this quality. For the forseeable future I don't plan on using anything bigger than a 70-200mm f/2.8 on a full frame body. I plan to use this for long exposures and bracketing for hdr.

While I'd like to hear about any pros/cons and personal experience with this stuff, I'm really asking this question to find out what the logistical pros and cons are of actually traveling with a full size tripod.

  • Are you typically able to carry them on a plane? I know of people that have brought the tvc-33 (folds to 26'' without a head!) on planes and not had problem. But both the tvc-24L and tvc-33 are greater than 22'' folded and therefore should not fit in carry-on bags and could be problem. (I do like to carry on all luggage when possible, and I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to have to start getting comfortable with checking luggage if I want to bring a tripod).
  • Have you ever been asked to check the tripod after you're already on the plane or after you've already checked bags? If so, how do you check the tripod? Would you be worried about it getting damaged? (I'd probably feel uneasy about just slapping a tag on it and letting it drop onto the carousel at the destination :-/)
  • Should I be concerned with how the tripod is handled when it's checked (i.e. - is the quality compromised from being knocked around)? What's the best way to check the tripod? In a standalone bag? With clothing?

I think understanding how to travel with the tripod will help me decide if I'm willing to compromise certain aspects for a more compact model. All I know is that right now my current tripod is way too bulky and the ball head is terrible too and slumps/moves when I don't want it to. All of these tripods I'm looking at seem like they would be a significant improvement but I want to get the right one on the first try.

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On a recent trip to China one of my friends brought a tripod. He was asked to check it after getting to security on one of five flights. It got tagged and dumped on the carousel. –  Phil Sep 4 '12 at 21:07
    
@Phil: China is actually exactly where I'm headed in ~1 week. How did that go? :-/. –  Tom Sep 4 '12 at 21:18
    
The trip was great. We only visited major cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou. I had no trouble carrying my D7000 with a 24-70 f2.8 anywhere we went. I left it at the hotel when I went out at night- but I would not take that camera out to a bar district in America either. As for the tripod- I did not bring one, my friend's was fine, but it was only about a hundred bucks. I would not want to check a quality tripod without a bag around it. –  Phil Sep 5 '12 at 0:42
    
There are no logicstical pros to travelling with a tripod except that it can be used as a seat in an emergency. –  Matt Grum Sep 5 '12 at 10:30
    
On an internal flight in China (Guilin to Guangzho) I had an inkjet refilling system confiscated by airport security because it had 3 small needles for puncturing the printer cartridge it was made to refill. [I ended up yelling at them - only time I've ever been silly enough to do that :-). They still took it.] ie IF somebody decides your tripod is a weapons grade object (which it is) they you have no comeback or grounds for complaint. –  Russell McMahon Sep 5 '12 at 12:45

7 Answers 7

I think the "con" is just loss of weight. Carrying my Manfrotto 190X Pro B with its bag I lose 3kg of luggage allowance. (there is no space limit thankfully and I have a big bag.)

I know some people like carbon fibre tripods because they are a lot lighter than aluminium, however there have been reports of those being fragile.

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In my experience, yes you are able to carry a tripod on a plane. I typically remove the ballhead, which reduces the weight more than anything. I have carried the tripod in my hand, as well as attached to my camera bag (which never gets checked).

I have never been asked to check my tripod. I also have never been asked to not bring my aluminum monopod onboard, which is far more 'weapon-like' than the tripod. I personally would not check my carbon fiber tripod, as I do not want to risk possible damage or even just cosmetic damage.

I would be very worried how a tripod is handled, as I suspect it would get no better treatment than your checked luggage. I do have a tripod bag, which is what I would use if somehow forced to check it.

Having a tripod that folds to less than 22" is really the way to go here, as you can pack in nearly any rollaboard. More importantly, having one that you feel free to take with you (onboard or in luggage) is far better than a tripod that stays at home useless. If you have such concerns enough to write a question, I suggest you get a model capable of folding into your luggage, then worry less and shoot more.

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Some questions about your answer: Which tripod do you use that you are removing the ballhead from? Do you tend to check some luggage? Is the tripod bag with you in case you do have to check it and does it actually offer padding? –  Tom Sep 4 '12 at 22:31
    
I use a Benro Carbon Fiber C-158 M8. I attach ball head on tripod mount, not lug screws. I do not tend to check luggage, and NEVER check camera gear (theft). Tripod bag is rarely with me. I have never had a problem, ever. Never once asked to check it. (20+ times now) –  cmason Sep 5 '12 at 2:38
    
I also always carry on my (full-sized CF) tripod and have never been asked to check it, even though it has rubber covered metal spiked feet :) –  Shizam Mar 19 at 16:56

I think it depends on a few things.

  • Where are you primary travel destinations?
  • Would you rather own two tripods and use one when you have the option to carry it on and one when you have to check it?
  • How often are you planning to travel with a tripod, once per year, weekly for work, etc?

For example when traveling in the US, I have not run into any issues in the past few years with a check bag that slightly exceeds 22", but internationally you could be in a different situation, especially a few years down the road.

If you are specifically getting a tripod for travel, I would get something that can collapse to below 22" or even 20" if possible.

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Contrarily to everyone here, I always check my tripod. It's too big even though it collapses to 42cm since it's almost 60cm long with the ball-head and leveling base. I do carry a Gorillapd SLR-Zoom in my carry-on for backup. I know someone who carries the head on their carry-on but its too much of a hassle for me.

To make it easy, I shopped for a hard-sided suitcase with my tripod and bought the smallest one which fits the tripod straight (diagonally fitting would mean a huge hassle for other things). The tripod is packed in a tripod bag in the hard suitcase. It was never damaged after visiting 25 countries which includes over 100 flights (I do not keep count of flights but on a single trip to 7 countries I took 39 flights). All continents except Antartica and Oceania (Australia) included.

This is a carbon fiber tripod and it was never damaged during any flight. Flying through the US though I usually find a note in the suitcase from the TSA saying they inspected the suitcase. Not one thing ever went missing either. This reminds me: Get TSA locks!

One odd thing happened while driving 3400km around Iceland in rough terrain this year, after about 3200km actually: The tripod bolts were shaken loose. The hotel lent me a tool to tighten them but in retrospect, I would have liked to have a lightweight tool the exact size for this just in case.

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Sounds like you do quite a bit of traveling and have no problem with checking luggage :-). Maybe I just need to get over it and resign myself to doing that. I'm actually in the market for a new suitcase as well and figured I would wait to figure out my tripod situation :-). What tripod do you use? –  Tom Sep 5 '12 at 1:20
    
TSA locks, locks in general really, only keep honest people honest. If someone wants your stuff TSA locks are some of the easiest to tamper with. And if you use zippers then the lock is the least of your problems. –  tenmiles Sep 5 '12 at 1:26
    
That's why the tripod is the only gear I check in. Locks also serve as a deterrent when someone is looking for random bags to open since they open the ones without locks first :) If they want to go through my stuff, then they easily can as you say. –  Itai Sep 5 '12 at 2:56
    
@Itai Did you really mean 60cm long? It sounds like your tripod barely folds up and is just very small? That's just shy of 2 ft open. That's why I'm wondering what you use :-). –  Tom Sep 5 '12 at 3:44
    
60cm long WHEN FOLDED! It reaches 165cm and has no center column. –  Itai Sep 5 '12 at 12:32

I have a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 with MH054Q2-M0 ballhead and have taken it to various countries around the world. Each time, I remove the ballhead and then the legs are of sufficient size to fit diagonally in my suitcase. I always make sure to "pad" it well, for example, my towel underneath it, t-shirts etc on top to cushion against knocks. The ballhead I also put in the suitcase separately, but equally cushioned. The screwdriver required to tighten/untighten it also in the suitcase, in the little pocket bit at the bottom (ie not with me on the plane).

As I say, I have travelled to many places like this - including around Europe, the USA, and Canada, and never had a problem.

The camera and lenses mind -- oh they don't leave my side! They are cabin luggage every time!

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I have a Feisol 3441SB, which they class as a travel tripod, and is a very capable carbon-fibre tripod. I've taken it travelling a few times. It's full-size (130-180cm max height), but only weighs about 1.4kg (3lb) so doesn't make a huge dent in my luggage weight allowance. They claim it supports 7kg, and I've used it with maybe 2kg of camera + lens, and it's generally OK except in strong winds or with the centre column up.

On planes I keep it in my checked luggage (in a sturdy + full bag, so not worried about damage) and have never tried to take it as carry-on. I doubt I would either, but if I was going to I'd be sure to put any of the spikes (the feet) in checked luggage first. It attaches neatly to my camera backpack when I need it to, but it would stay in my luggage most of the trip.

Despite the very light weight, I tend not to take it many places as a tourist, but usually bring it along for specific shoots, or if I know I'll be going to see some 'serious' landscapes or clear night skies.

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I travel constantly with my 4-section CF Manfrotto. The 4-section legs are the critical element. With the head rotated 90 degrees, it fits perfectly into my carry-on sized luggage. I've traveled across the US and to multiple countries this way, and have never checked it. I've never been questioned as it went through the X-Ray machine either, though it did get rescanned at one point, but there is no way to know why it was rescanned.

The trick is to protect your tripod during travel. To do that, I wrap my nice work clothes around it :-P

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