I quite frequently encounter very old (1920s-1960s) tripods at yard sales, fleamarkets, estate sales... that have no leg spread limiting mechanism at all. These commonly have sharp-tipped feet also. While the sharp tipped feet will keep the tripod standing if a) not loaded heavily and b) if set up on dirt or other malleable surfaces, it is hard to keep these from collapsing on smooth tile or laminate floors. The only (weak) reason to build them like that seems to be that some are reversible, allowing use of either a 1/4" or 3/8" bolt on either side of the hub piece. While the screws can be tightened somewhat to cause more friction at the leg joins, usually not enough friction can be achieved to keep the whole setup sturdy without risking stripped screws.

Were these intended to be used only on semi-soft ground or with a wheel dolly or some other spread limiting accessory attached? What is the rationale here?

  • \$\begingroup\$ So the legs can completely invert? Are you sure there's no stop built into the top where the legs attach? \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 22:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is often something. But it could be lost, broke, or have rotten away (string, leather...). \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 23:55
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Certainly gives me ideas... brass chains and a brass central hub would certainly look uber-steampunk on an old brass tube tripod :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 0:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not all tripods are for cameras, many are for surveying equipment and the spikes are for use on soil or grass or such. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 16:34

1 Answer 1


Tripods with leg-spread stops (braces) are best on flat surfaces.

Tripods without them can be better (and MUCH faster) set-up on un-even surfaces such as a grade or hill-side.

Movie tripods for field work rarely have leg braces. After the legs have been planted, a chain is used to brace the legs from splaying if necessary.

Cups are made to fit onto spikes or they can be put into the appropriate corners of a wheeled tripod dolly (moveable) or a three-legged spider (unmovable). Alternately, a sheet of cardboard or plywood can be used to protect the floor surface and hold the leg spikes.

The technique for setting them up is the secret. The grip carries the tripod on a shoulder and when needed for a location places one leg on the up-hill slope. The grip then holds the remaining two legs in each hand and plants them on either side of the fall-line equidistant to level the head.

Using this technique, it is possible to plant the tripod and level the head in two movements in about 5 seconds.

Wood tripods are also best in snow, swamp, and wet soil for field photography. There's nothing to jam or cross-thread since there's few sliding parts with tight tolerances to get fugged-up.

Disclaimer: I was a grip for several years on a camera crew in the wild for film and video. After you learn the technique, there's nothing faster or more solid under any circumstances.

They're still manufactured and used today. I preferred one for my 8"x 10" Deardorff for pure ease of use and speed.


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