The use of Tripods
The quality of photos and videos is determined mainly by three factors: a good eye, the camera, and stabilization. The eye can be trained, the choice of cameras is wide, and stabilization leads us to the tripod.
The basic requirement for high image and video quality is a stabilized camera, which is why the tripod plays a key role in camera equipment for photo and film. Cameras can be placed stably in various ways, but tripod technology - especially with three legs - offers clear advantages: the ground can be uneven, the height is variable, and the camera can be precisely aligned.
Even the first photo camera in 1837 needed a solid support. The tripod offered the best prerequisite for this. Thus, the tripod was with us from the very beginning of photography. However, while photographic technology continued to develop in decisive steps, the basic design of the tripod remained unchanged: each leg continuously extendable and a tripod head as the connection between tripod and camera.
The tripod solves some crucial problems: Long focal lengths are prone to blurred images and therefore need to be stabilized. A closed aperture produces more depth of field, but increases the exposure time. Poor lighting conditions also require long exposure times. Heavy cameras must be supported. Long waits in stand-by, fixing on a specific point, also require solid support. Filming must be steady, panning and tilting the camera must remain smooth and fluid. For all these factors, the tripod is essential.
Tripods should stabilize and be transportable at the same time. To reduce their volume to transport size, their legs are extendable over several segments of different sizes. The segments are connected to each other via a locking mechanism. For the stepless extension and locking of the individual elements, there are different techniques via clamping or rotating constructions. The last element, usually the one that touches the ground, has at its lowest end either a metal spike or a rubber pad for the different types of ground. Some tripods have a small bubble level integrated at the head as an aid to align the camera as parallel as possible to the horizon.
Size is always a criterion for tripods. They should be small for transport, but as tall as possible in use. Maximum height and minimum shortness are only possible if you use several shorter extendable elements. The more there are, the more unstable the tripod becomes. The locking systems also play an important role here, as they must be reliable and tight and as easy to operate as possible. There are clamping and turning techniques, both have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to operation: clamping locks are fast, but can lose their effect and then have to be readjusted, turning locks are a little slower, but always tight, depending on the operation. Clamp closures are mostly made of plastic.
An exception in the extension and clamping technology is an originally Japanese patent, which is now offered by many Chinese manufacturers. Here, the aluminum elements of the tripod leg are not round, but conically shaped. This enables to be clamped together with a slight twist and allows extremely fast, stepless extension and central locking with a single turn. This technique is particularly suitable for small and medium-heavy tripods.
Extended tripods can also further be lengthened by a single, additional center column, which is also continuously adjustable. In most cases, it reduces overall stability when extended. Mounted the other way around, it allows camera placement close to the ground. Many tripod legs can also be spread extremely far apart, which also makes it possible to shoot close to the ground.
For particularly heavy cameras and lenses, especially in the film and video sector, the stability of a tripod can be reinforced with additional crossbars between the tripod legs and the center of the tripod. In addition, the lower ends of the tripod legs can also be connected to each other via a so- called spider, but for this the floor must be flat without elevations.
For a little mobility, wheels can also be attached under the tripod legs or to the spider, which must then be lockable for a firm stand.
The different tripod systems have corresponding designations:
small, short and handy, for small cameras and smartphones. It is clearly limited in length and stability, and its range of use is correspondingly narrow.
designed in size and weight for smaller luggage, for small to medium-sized cameras and lenses. It can be especially helpful when traveling, but for high demands it could mean a compromise. Travel tripods made of carbon are particularly lightweight.
for professional demands, robust, for cameras of all sizes. It doesn't get more solid than this, nor heavier. It is still mobile, because it can stand on wheels that can be locked.
with ball head. Mainly suitable for photo cameras, especially due to the characteristics of the ball head.
FILM OR VIDEO TRIPOD
with tilt head for movie cameras, often with additional struts between the tripod legs for more stability. Films and videos need stability especially for smooth pans, this also includes a special tilt head for flawless vertical and horizontal camera movements.
for studios and heavy cameras. Solid single column, optionally on wheels, adjustable for any heights. Popular for film and video in the studio, where its wheels make it easy to move on smooth surfaces. The single column makes the design slightly slimmer than a tripod.
This is the closest relative to the tripod, but with significantly reduced stability. It has never really caught on in photography and film, but has made way for the monopod with its significantly reduced volume and weight. The bipod is used more often in hunting and surveying.
The difference from bipods and tripods is the reduction to a single tripod leg, while the functions of extension and locking are identical. Naturally, the monopod does not offer the stability of the tripod, but it is smaller, lighter and more mobile. It is therefore popular in sports, event and outdoor applications, where flexibility is often more important than total stability.
A special variant of the monopod has conquered the world market with surprising dynamism: the selfie stick for handheld self-portraits. It was designed specifically for smartphone photography and video and is correspondingly light and simple. The lower end has a handle, while the smartphone holder sits on a small ball head at the upper end. A somewhat more elaborate variant allows the smartphone to be operated from the handle.
small, with clamping device for tables, poles, etc., only for small, light cameras. An alternative to the table tripod, only with even more limited applications.
SUCTION CUP TRIPOD
for amazingly stable attachment to smooth surfaces. Different sizes for many camera systems. Works well for unusual shooting angles on vehicles, for example, and is therefore popular for photo and film shoots with cars.
for filming with a larger action radius. It is placed on a tripod, with the camera attached at one end, a weight at the opposite end provides the balance. With the Jibarm, smooth camera movements are possible in all directions, horizontally and vertically - the basic prerequisite for sovereign films.
for cameras of all sizes, allows more mobility, ideal for documentaries. While its rear part rests on the shoulder, the front is held by the cameraman on two handles.
similar to the shoulder tripod, here the camera is pressed against the chest, at the same time it is supported from below. Suitable for cameras of all sizes, allows great freedom of movement.
Monopod support technology from the hip, total mobility in any conditions, causes near weightlessness of the camera. Also allows jibarm movements for video cameras.
for video cameras. Detached from the ground, it allows smooth, gliding camera movements. However, reacts sensitively to air movements.
corresponding to the float tripod, but much more stable due to electronic control over 2, 3 or 4 axes for movements in all directions, for small to medium weight video cameras.
was at the beginning of all later techniques, suitable for all camera sizes. Elaborate cushioned levitation system on the body, has revolutionized the action film.
When the camera is rigidly connected to the tripod, it will have a firm hold, but can only be aligned in different shooting directions to a very limited extent. Camera movements for filming are therefore not possible. This task is solved by the tripod head. Without it, the tripod is very limited in it's possibilities. As a flexible connection between tripod and camera, it is the most important element in the interaction of all components under the most varied conditions and requirements. Therefore, its quality is also important, it should never be lower than that of the tripod. It is determined by size - important for stability -, the bearing of the movable elements - important for smooth movements -, and by bubble levels as an aid for vertical and horizontal camera alignments.
There are two different systems of tripod head: the tilt head and the ball head. The former is very suitable for motion picture shooting because camera tilts always remain on the same plane due to the axis design. For still cameras, the classic solution is the ball head; it moves freely in any direction without the guidance of an axis.
The tilt head
The tilt head has two axes for horizontal and vertical movements respectively. For panoramic panning, the head sits on a vertical axis around which the entire head can be rotated and locked. For precise horizontal alignment of the head, the tripod legs can be adjusted to different lengths to adapt to ground conditions, but there is an easier solution: mounting the tripod head in a dish or on a ball. A built-in bubble level facilitates alignment.
For high-quality filming, camera movements must be absolutely shake-free and perfectly smooth. That is why the axes of the tilt head are soft-mounted. Fluid heads are the ideal solution here. Their mechanics rest in a stiff fluid and produce absolutely smooth camera pans. In addition, the strength of the movements must be variable for different requirements, e.g. for fast or slow movements. A long guide arm, via which all camera movements are controlled, supports uniformity. Here, the length of the arm determines the effect, based on the law of levers.
The ball head
The ball head consists of a housing with a lockable ball. As a somewhat more elaborate variant of the simple ball head, there is the additional panorama technique, which allows the ball head to be rotated and locked evenly horizontally around its own axis. While the ball head is ideal for photography, it is not so well suited for filming because the ball lacks constant guidance in a strictly horizontal orientation. Only when it can be locked horizontally using an appropriate technique is it suitable for film.
The load capacity and guidance of the ball head is determined by the size of the ball. The fineness and softness of handling depends on its bearing. In addition, the locking of the ball by a lever or a knurled knob must be reliable and sufficiently firm. These details determine the true quality of the ball head and thus its price.
Both tripod head systems have a lower thread (e.g. 3/4 or 1⁄4 inch) for placing on the tripod and an upper thread (e.g. 1/4 inch) for screwing on the camera.
To make it easier to attach the camera to the tripod head, there are various quick-release systems.Their principle consists of a plate that is screwed under the camera and secured in a matchingcounterpart on the tripod head. Since the plate remains permanently attached to the camera, it can bemounted and removed quickly and easily. The quick-release plate is secured in such a way that thecamera cannot fall off even if it is loosely fastened.
The stabilization properties of a tripod determine its quality. In addition to the design, the materials are therefore also decisive. The heavier the camera, the stronger all the elements must be to prevent camera shake during operation and in turbulent weather.
In the childhood days of photography, tripod legs were made of wood. The elements could be slid into each other and locked with clamping screws. The special stability of the material is still appreciated by a small community today. Over time, however, the wood has been replaced by steel, aluminum or plastics. Nevertheless, there are still manufacturers today who produce wooden tripods for a small target group. Besides their nostalgic look, they offer respectable stability with very simple but reliable locking. They are well suited for use in any terrain because they are extremely stable and sturdy with little vulnerability. The tripod head is made of metal and, depending on the claim, high quality.
Tripods made of steel give the impression of maximum rigidity and robustness. However, they are heavy, and that can be a hindrance on some trips. Here, aluminum and carbon tripods are the more attractive choice. The latter are extremely stiff and very light at the same time, but also more expensive and sensitive to shocks.
The Pros and Cons of Tripods
There is no universal solution for camera stability without compromise. Depending on the tasks, different properties result.
Stationary tripods stand on the ground and therefore offer the highest possible stability. This makes them predestined for long exposures in photography, for long focal lengths, for film work under difficult weather conditions, for long waiting times with unchanged camera settings, and for particularly heavy equipment. Here, the tripod is king. On many occasions, a stabilized camera may be necessary, but not necessarily a heavy stationary tripod. Lightweight and mobile solutions would be quite sufficient for optimal results.
Mobile systems are ideal for rapidly changing scenarios because they enable spontaneous action. When traveling, at sports and events, at sea, in the air or off-road, they combine stability with flexibility and compensate for the weight of the camera and lens. Mobile supports save many an opportunity that would otherwise quickly be over.
Stationary tripods take up space in your luggage and are a hassle to transport, in many situations this can be a disadvantage. Set up might take too long for some short-lived situations. In fast or unexpectedly changing scenarios, the tripod can be too immobile and slow, sometimes even rather obstructive.
Mobile systems offer less stability, but this can be quite sufficient for many situations.
Camera stabilization through the ages
The first tripods almost two centuries ago have changed little in principle. New materials contributed to the fact that they became lighter and also more stable, moreover, more effective in handling. The tripod heads were also improved again and again. However, further outstanding developments in tripod technology are probably not to be expected any time soon.
However, there is a difference between tripod technology and stabilization technology. And here, modern times have indeed produced innovations that are more helpful in many situations than the traditional tripod technique. The digitization of photography and film has dramatically changed cameras in the last decade: they have become smaller and lighter, have monitors with freer image control, compensate for unsteadiness, and offer top-notch image resolution and short exposure times even in low light. All of this has given new opportunities to developments in support technology. Examples: STEADIFY for photo and video, floating systems and gimbals for video.
Steadify - tradition vs modernity
Here, the tried-and-tested functional elements of the tripod - extension and ball head - are combined with other components to create a very efficient system. The principle uses not the ground, but one's own body for stability, thus opening up new freedoms in photography and filming. Arms, body and monopod form a solid triangle of high stability, independent of terrain and circumstances. The method offers more stability than a conventional monopod and more mobility than a tripod or shoulder tripod.
The advantages of the system lie in the combination of stability with mobility at significantly less weight and volume. Because it is spontaneously activated, some opportunities can be seized, especially in documentary, action, event, sports and nature, that are otherwise easily lost. For videos, lively, smooth camera movements are possible as with a much more elaborate jib arm. Combined with an electronic gimbal, the system becomes a professional, completely fatigue-free tool for any high- level video camera action.
In addition to stabilizing cameras, Steadify has another helpful function: camera and lens become weightless, the weight is completely compensated by a flexible base plate on the belt. This gives a whole new, confident feeling when photographing and filming.
In film, video is the dominant medium, with cameras ranging from smartphones to TV studio cameras. Lack of stability in photo causes blurry images and in video causes choppy, distracting scene sequences. Stabilization techniques have been developed specifically for video cameras to make camera movements smooth and fluid via hovering techniques, which are particularly useful in action scenes.
The float tripod was developed for small to medium-sized cameras. The camera is suspended in a floating manner and receives stability from a counterweight below its anchor point. The system is guided with one or two hands and allows smooth video movements while running, jumping, climbing stairs. Its distinct disadvantage is that it is quite sensitive to wind, which limits its capabilities.
Similar to the float tripod, the normal gimbal in the consumer range is suitable for small and medium- sized video cameras. The main difference lies in the technology, it is electronic and controls camera movements over two, three or even four axes. The results are balanced, smooth camera movements. The system is held one or two-handed, with all controls on the handle. The disadvantage is the weight when filming, so longer shots are tiring. In combination with a Steadify, however, the gimbal becomes completely weightless.
Gimbals en miniature are also used to stabilize drone cameras.
In the 1970s, Garret Brown, a Californian cinematographer, developed a then completely new type of camera handling that revolutionized action films in particular. He even received a technical Oscar for it. Since then, the Steadicam has been part of the equipment of many demanding film productions. The lighter float tripods, by the way, are based on the same balance principle of the center of gravity being shifted downward.
The Steadicam was developed for heavy cameras, and its construction is correspondingly complex: the camera is suspended on an arm flexibly designed with steel springs or rubber bands and held in suspension by a counterweight. The Steadicam is worn on the body via a robust special vest and allows the cameraman an extremely high degree of freedom of movement. Many famous feature films owe their entrancing action scenes to the skill of the cameraman with his Steadicam.
Tripods are often the key to successful photos and films. There are different systems, each of which has its particular suitability. High quality provided, traditional tripods offer maximum stability. The disadvantages due to weight, volume and expense are a problem for some. Modern stabilization systems take advantage of new camera developments and are more in line with the zeitgeist of mobility and speed, but are less suitable for extremely poor lighting conditions and in long-term photography.