Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I was shooting stars the other night. Mounted my DSLR on the tripod, which I have used many times. This time I particularly looked under the camera to make sure the camera is properly mounted. Satisfied, I moved away and bingo the camera slipped right to the floor.Luckily I was able to place my sandal underneath the floor to minimize impact. My camera is saved with a little bruise on the lens. I was using 55-300mm lens this time with my Nikon D5100. Just binging that if weight was an issue here. I was using Revilli Tripod ~$40. The mount looks like this on my tripod.

enter image description here

I am considering buying a different stand with a different mount (the one that has a lever), thinking that may be safer and also easier to operate. Can someone answer these questions

  1. Was my slip because of incorrect mounting or the tripod malfunctioned, which I don't know if they do malfunction like that?

  2. Are one type of mounts more secure than the other, let say for beginners.

Thanks

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How much are you willing to spend? A cheap, consumer, tripod isn't going to have the stability and a good tripod/head combination can cost hundreds. If you're serious about it, eventually you'll pay that price. Doing it now can save you a lot in the long run... –  John Cavan Nov 10 '13 at 13:16
    
Actually the one I looked at today is also cheap (it is made in china) but at least the head is different. I have lost confidence in my tripod and thinking of going for different head which might be more secure. The one I look at today has clip (not slide in) to lock the camera. –  photo101 Nov 10 '13 at 13:31
    
To be honest, I would never trust my camera to a cheap tripod... It's not just the head, it's also the tripod to be wary of. Also cheap ones will more readily vibrate in wind or ground movements, and that's counter-productive to long exposure photography such as astrophotography. –  John Cavan Nov 10 '13 at 15:15
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Just to clarify, as my answer depends on it and I had some doubts, what got undone was the attachment mechanism? –  Itai Nov 11 '13 at 2:51
    
The single thing that's saved me more times than any other is a quick-mount plate for the camera and matching one on the tripod head. The plates slide together and it has a large retaining pin that has to be pressed to let the camera on and off. In this case it can't malfunction because even if the locking lever isn't tightened, the restraining pin keeps the plates from sliding all the way apart. –  Patrick Hughes Nov 11 '13 at 17:22
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3 Answers 3

Most tripod heads have ratings for how much weight they are able to support. If you place 10 pounds of camera/lens on a head designed for four pounds, it doesn't matter how well made it is, it will eventually fail. The same is true of the tripod 'legs' themselves. They all have a maximum weight rating.

From your question it is unclear if your camera fell off the tripod head or if the entire tripod fell over with your camera still attached. In either case, I would be reluctant to trust a D5100 and a 55-300 lens on the tripod you linked to. It just looks a little too flimsy for my taste. I own a different Ravelli tripod that I use often, but it is a much heavier duty model and I have a heavier duty head on top of it.

Even when you have a set of legs and a head that are rated to handle the weight of your camera and lens, you still need to be sure everything is in proper adjustment. Depending on the design, the locks on each leg section need to be tightened periodically if they are the lever type locks. The amount of tension on the head needs to be adjusted for the amount the camera and lens weigh as well as the angle at which you want them to be held. Various quick release systems need to be either tightened or locked in, again depending on the specific design. A single loose adjustment anywhere could be enough to cause a failure that could result in damage to your camera. Designs that provide a form of positive feedback, such as the Manfrotto RC2 or RC4 quick release systems that click into place, might be better for a novice. But even the Manfrotto design can be 'clicked' into place without the other side of the camera plate wedged securely under the edge of the receiving plate. I've caught my camera + 70-200 f/2.8 headed to the ground with my left hand on a couple of such occasions.

Regardless of what design you use, it it never a bad practice to "test" things a little after mounting a camera and lens on a tripod or other support. Grip the camera and gently try to rock it back and forth or pull it away. You will discover quickly when you have failed to secure everything correctly.

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+1 for a lot of good info. My camera slipped from the head. The tripod itself was sturdy. This tripod looks pretty sturdy.heavy to me. –  photo101 Nov 11 '13 at 5:14
    
In that case it sounds like you just didn't make sure the camera and QR plate were attached properly. That isn't the fault of the design as much as it is user error. Having said that, some designs are easier to use than others. –  Michael Clark Nov 11 '13 at 5:33
    
Interestingly at this particularly time, I did look at camera plate with flash light and it was properly secured and I always tight the screw. May be I forgot to screw it tighter this because I was more concerned at that time that the camera is in its right place. I am now researching this type of head, and how it can fail. –  photo101 Nov 11 '13 at 5:40
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There different types of tripod heads. For photography, the most popular is a ball-head. These ball-heads come with different type of connection. The most secure probably is the head with only a 1/4" screw which mounts directly onto the camera.

Now, if you want to be able to get your camera on-and-off the tripod fast, you need a quick release system on the head. There are several of them and the connection obviously differ. Some claim that a friction-based system like Arca-Swiss provides the best hold. This sounds possible but if you do not apply enough friction the camera will slip out.

There are also quick-lock systems. My favorite is the Manfrotto RC4 which is very fast and secure. The best part is that it is auto-locking. When you push the camera down on the plate, it locks and there is an audible click as the lever snaps into the locked position. The RC4 is available on several of Manfrotto's ballheads.

Now if you are concerned about camera drifting to the side while it remains attached to the head, you need a high-quality model with good friction. Some have a separate friction control knob for this purpose.

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The tripod that I saw the other day has this time of head 'RC4' but the frame itself was china made and not that sturdy. My revilli is otherwise very sturdy. It does have the Arca-Swiss type mechanism. While it does 'click in its place', you have to apply friction to hold the camera. From your answer, looks like the friction perhaps failed since I was using a bigger lens. I will have to investigate in it more. –  photo101 Nov 11 '13 at 5:20
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Tripods are actually a much more complex device than most people realize. There are three main things I can think of that will make a tripod cost more money (that are worth paying for), materials, weight rating and head type.

The material mostly contributes to the weight of the tripod. Materials like carbon fiber are super light, but make the tripod much more expensive. If you need portability though, it may be worth it.

Weight rating is how much weight the tripod and/or head can support. Also be sure to note that while your camera may only weight x amount, when you have it tilted at an extreme angle, there is going to be additional force on the head due to the lever action of the tilt. You need to have sufficient weight rating for your camera and lens and associated gear. Note that the weight of the head must be factored in when calculating the weight that you need the legs to hold (most high end tripods are purchased as a separate set of legs and a separate head that you put together).

Type of head is the actual technique used to lock the tripod down. The simplest of all would be a fixed head which wouldn't allow movement. There are then ball heads which are simply a ball in a socket that can squeeze the ball to grip it. These don't provide independent control of axis, but for photography are often sufficient since freedom of movement in setting up the shot is key, but you don't need to follow with a locked axis. Fluid heads are one of the more elaborate heads and involve different axis of motion that are designed to glide on plates in the head. These allow for smooth motion on multiple fixed axis and you can lock those axis down if you only need to control the pan or the tilt (or have varying degrees of resistance. These are some of the strongest heads, but also much MUCH more expensive than ball heads. (In the $100+ range even for a basic model, with $200+ being likely for something that can hold 7 or 8 pounds and that's just for the head.)

To the second part of the question, are they worth it? Absolutely. They are far more secure and will allow better control, more stability and smoother motion if you do any video. It's tricky to decide exactly what your needs are, but certainly start by weighing your tripod and deciding if you want to be able to use it for video. Then decide how much mobility you want and buy accordingly. Sites like B&H also offer really nice filters for helping you narrow in on a tripod that will fit your needs. Personally, I'm a big fan of Bogen and Manfrotto, but there are many other great manufacturers as well.

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