I have seen a few questions about Tripods and Large Format Lenses but nothing specifically addressing how weight capacity will affect stabilization.

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What tripod heads are ideal to mount a large telephoto or supertelephoto lens on a tripod?
Does tripod's load capacity include the use of stone bag/weight bag too?

I am assuming that I do not want to get legs with a capacity just high enough to barely support the lens that I want to buy (I've not decided between the 500mm F4 and 500mm F4 ISII USM Canon Lens yet) since I read in one of the links I included that the capacity takes into account the extra loading hung on the ring below the legs.

I've been interested in the Gitzo 2542 Mountaineer legs. The load capacity for those is 39.7lbs. The 500mm lens weighs only 7.3 pounds (I am leaning towards the 500). Is this overkill? Will I be happy or more than happy going with that? or would it actually make sense to go with an even stronger tripod like the 2542ls or 3542ls? Essentially ... "Will I gain support by having extra load capacity?" and what is the trade-off (naturally a few hundred bucks is part of it)? My subject of interest is wildlife (mostly birds). I watched a video recently that stated that the 3-series Gitzo tripods are among the most popular for wildlife photography so maybe I should spring for something like the 3542ls.

I realize there are other considerations like the height of the legs (I'm about 5'10") but I'm thinking the max height of 65.7" of the Mountaineer should be more than enough for me. I'll likely also be getting the Wimberly Head (probably the WH200).

  • Where are you going to be placing the center of gravity? If you put the attachment point exactly at the system center of gravity (which is nigh impossible in practice), the force of the weight will be pointed straight down and only maximum load-bearing capacity should ever be a consideration. If you put the camera plus lens far away from the tripod attachment point, load bearing capacity becomes irrelevant because the resulting lever will either break the attachment, break the lever or cause the whole system to tip forward much sooner, all of which are obviously bad outcomes. – a CVn Oct 20 '15 at 20:01
  • A normal situation would obviously be closer to the "center of gravity at tripod attachment point" to the other extreme, but where on the camera+lens combination you attach the camera to the tripod, and the weight to either side of that point, will have an influence on how sturdy a tripod and head you need. – a CVn Oct 20 '15 at 20:03
  • I'm not sure I understand the question from your first comment. I would be attaching the lens to the tripod head and hanging the camera from the back of the lens. From what I've seen Canon does a pretty good job figuring out where the center of gravity will be for those large lenses. – jbchurchill Oct 21 '15 at 17:39
up vote 1 down vote accepted

The answer depends. It depends in part on what you are shooting - pairing it with the Wimberly Head it sounds like you may be shooting moving subjects. With moving subjects you don't expect the tripod to hold your lens perfectly still, you use your tripod to carry the weight of the camera and lens, and you hold the camera body in your hand and press the shutter with your finger. So you will be transmitting movement to the camera and are not relying on the tripod to hold the camera perfectly still as you would if you were using a cable release and not touching the camera at all at the time of exposure. In this situation you may not "need" this much tripod. But….

The weight capacity of the tripod needs to hold not only the weight of the lens. You will also have the tripod head, the camera body, the battery (or batteries and grip, if you have added a grip), the tripod mount bracket on the camera, and for extra stability you may want to hang your camera bag from the center column of the tripod after you have everything else all setup. And if you setup in a situation where you can't perfectly level the head (the legs all at the same angle) then one leg will be straighter, and carrying more of the load.

Most people buy too little tripod (and head) at first, and then find they have to upgrade again soon after. You can save a lot of money in the long run by not making that mistake and getting "enough" or even "more than enough" (which might actually turn out to just be "enough" after all) in the first place. This article is old, but still applies:

http://www.bythom.com/support.htm

  • Thanks for this answer. I will have a look at the article. I'll amend my question though you guessed correctly about moving subjects. Bird photography is my main focus. – jbchurchill Oct 31 '15 at 21:52
  • I think I will go ahead and accept this answer not just because nobody else bothered an attempt, but the statement that "most buy too little and upgrade later" really resonates. I'm also going to go with the taller version. I can always keep one section of the legs closed if I need to be lower but I won't want to be stooping way down to shoot at a bird flying overhead. Thanks for your answer! – jbchurchill Nov 17 '15 at 17:29

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