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As mentioned in the comment on the post, it looks like some grease or lubricant. It has probably come out due to temperature variations over time if it's been in the garage. It's safe to clean it off, but I probably wouldn't use water unless you have to (part of the reason for it being inside the mechanism is to help repel water from the working parts. A ...


Since the top of the column doesn't end in a flange, what is the head tightened against? That part is a nut that (even without the locking screws) can be tighened against the head to lock them in place. Otherwise what is makingnit tight— just the screw bottoming out?


Do you need this for travel or will it be mostly studio? If it's the latter you can probably work something out with a Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp. There's a version that comes with a shorter stud so that the head can sit flush to the clamp. A couple lightstands or 2x2s or ... and there you go.


I have never done this, so this is only a guess. I suspect the problem with the clay is that it will creep slowly over time with steady applied pressure. Granules like sand or beans won't do that. If you plan to use the clay in a bag only to steady the camera while taking hand-held shots, then it should work. If you plan to use the bag to hold the camera ...


Keep in mind that if a tripod is rated to a certain weight, it only means (AFAIK) that you can apply that much load to the tripod without damaging it. It doesn't say much about how stable the tripod will actually be (and I don't even know it there's an objective measurement for that). To make this concrete, I own two tripods, a Vanguard and a MeFoto, that ...


Both of your tripod selections look good to me. If you can live within their limitations, they should work fine for you. However, both of them are large and heavy enough that they cannot be called "convenient." They're not the small but highly limited sort of tripod you can tuck into the corner of a camera bag. I find this sort of middle ground ...


That's not a feature of tripods, generally, but of heads. Geared heads, in particular, such as the Arca C1 Cube and the Manfrotto 4xx series. You would need to separately level your tripod or camera stand in order to make use of the calibrated markings on the head. (You can also get tilt scales on lower-end video-oriented pan/tilt heads, but you usually have ...

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