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Professional Photography

The Gear... the Tripod

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The Gear... the Tripod

The Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and Pentax 645Z in action on top of Bubble Mountain

The Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod and Pentax 645Z in action on top of Bubble Mountain

This is the second in a new series about the gear I use to make my images. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the photographer makes the image, not the camera, or lenses, or any other gear. It starts in the mind and it takes experience and knowledge to translate an image into a photograph.

But having said that, the gear I use is certainly an important aspect of my image making.

I bought my first tripod in the early 1980’s- a Slik Gazelle. It was a good, lightweight tripod that held my small Canon AE-1 Program and my little Super-8 movie camera, but it didn’t take long for the head to fall apart and it wasn’t able to handle my small telephoto lens very well, so I eventually bought a Bogen (Manfrotto) tripod, which could handle my heavier lenses. But being made of steel, it weighed a ton. I carried it around on trips road the world for almost twenty years, but I finally bought a carbon fiber tripod in 2008 and have never looked back.

Carbon fiber, if you’re not familiar with it, is very lightweight yet strong enough to hold some very heavy cameras and lenses. It’s the ideal landscape tripod if you’re going to be trekking in the wilds for hours and hours and are trying to minimize the weight you’re carrying.

I chose the Manfrotto CX190PRO3 because I liked its small size, but also its flexibility and ability to get my camera very low to the ground with its spreading legs. It also has a center column that extends parallel to the ground and allows me to shoot straight down without getting the legs in the picture… in this configuration, I learned early to use my camera bag as a counterweight after breaking an expensive lens when the whole rig tipped over one day. Lesson learned.

Center column extended out while photographing chains at Northeast Harbor, with camera bag as counterweight

Center column extended out while photographing chains at Northeast Harbor, with camera bag as counterweight

The tripod also has a built in bubble level which often comes in handy when I’m setting up to do panoramas and want to not only level the camera (with its electronic level), but level the tripod too. The Manfrotto CX190PRO3 has three leg sections and extends to about five feet- too low for some applications. I don’t like extending the center column for added height (the whole rig becomes too unstable), but I often need to. I’ve considered buying a taller tripod but then I’d have to deal with the additional weight, so I’m sticking with this one for now.

The tripod has a rated weight limit of about 15lbs but I’ve put far more weight on it without a problem. I’ve got an Arca Swiss monoball head which has a load capacity of 132lbs- I’ll never come near to testing its limits! But the tripod has handled my 400mm f/2.8 lens (about 15 lbs) with a 1DXM2 camera (another 4lbs) plus the 1.5lb ball head without a problem.

This is the only tripod I use in Acadia, but I also use it for all my commercial shoots, as well as many video shoots (with a video fluid head), so it gets a lot of use.

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with a 400mm f/2.8 super telephoto lens, photographing a solar eclipse

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with a 400mm f/2.8 super telephoto lens, photographing a solar eclipse

Manfrotto CX190PRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod

Uses: Everything- I almost never take a photo with a tripod

My Rating: 8/10

Cost: this tripod is not sold anymore, but the newer CX190PRO4 is $350 without a head

P.S. Just to be clear, I’m not sponsored by Manfrotto or any other manufacturer- these are just my honest opinions, from a professional photographer who uses this gear, day in and day out.

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The Gear... the Camera

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The Gear... the Camera

The Pentax 645Z in action at Jordan Pond

The Pentax 645Z in action at Jordan Pond

This is the first of a new series about the gear I use to make my images. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the photographer makes the image, not the camera, or lenses, or any other gear. It starts in the mind and it takes experience and knowledge to translate an image into a photograph.

But having said that, the gear I use is certainly an important aspect of my image making. I’ve been a professional photographer for almost thirty years and I spent many years honing my craft with film cameras (all of which I still own, about fifteen all together). Since 2002, I’ve been using a succession of better and better digital cameras (only six at last count). But the camera I use now for my fine art and landscape photography is the best I’ve ever owned.

In the 1990s, I used two Pentax 645 medium format (referring to a film format that’s about four times larger than 35mm film) cameras for weddings. Then digital came along and for several years, I didn’t use the cameras much, though I knew the lenses were incredibly sharp- much better than my Canons. Then in 2014, Pentax introduced the 645Z, 51-megapixel digital camera and I jumped in and bought it.

It’s a very different beast from my Canons, but I’ve enjoyed getting used to the camera’s layout, and love the sharp, big files, as well as the wide dynamic range of the images (the ability to show details in the shadows and highlights). I used to make a lot of HDR (high dynamic range) photos, where I’d combine 3-8 images of varying exposures together to make one image with good details in the highlights and shadows, but with the 645Z, I’ve stopped making HDR images– I can do it in one image rather than several now. I’m not going to try to do a camera review here; there are plenty of other websites doing that, but I’ll just say that this is the only camera I bring on my trips to Acadia now.

Just don’t ask how much it costs. Seriously, I get that question all the time- how much did your camera (or lens) cost? The bigger the item, the more people want to know. It’s a bit like walking up to someone in a swanky sports car and asking about the price tag. Or walking over to your neighbor and asking how much she paid for her house. If you really want to know, look it up, then add 25% (I did buy it when it came out and the price tag was higher, after all). :)

Pentax 645Z Camera

Uses: landscape, fine art, architecture, any time I’ll need to make a big enlargement

My Rating: 9/10

Cost: $$$$

P.S. Just to be clear, I’m not sponsored by Pentax or any other camera manufacturer- these are just my honest opinions, from a professional photographer who uses the camera. Hey Pentax, if you’re reading this, how about making me one of your brand ambassadors? ;)

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