Another Tripod Option for Lightweight Backpackers
Despite image stabilization and improved image quality at higher ISOs, there are times when only a tripod will do. Want that silky stream or waterfall photo? How about capturing the subtle light on the landscape at dawn or dusk? Both situations require longer shutter speeds and thus a tripod for a sharp image.
The reason many lightweight backpackers are so reluctant to carry a tripod is the weight and the bulk. Over the years, I’ve tried several store-bought and home made options with varying degrees of success, including my sub-four ounce carbon-fiber tripod and my trekking pole tripod. This season, I decided to try something different. First, I drew up a list of my requirements:
- Very compact. Sometimes I leave a tripod behind, especially on day trips, because strapping a tripod to my pack just isn’t very convenient. I was looking for something compact enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to throw it into my daypack or tuck it into the side pocket of my overnight pack.
- Very light. The best tripod is the one that you happen to have with you. On occasion, I’ve left my two-pound tripod at home because I didn’t want to carry the extra weight up and down hills. My target weight this season was approximately one pound.
- At least waist height. My ideal is a full-sized tripod but I realized that compromises would have to be made to reach my weight and size goals. Waist height would at least get me up over the weeds.
- Adjustable height. In the past, I’ve used the 11 oz. Tamrac Zipshot. Though it can be adjusted to four different heights by folding up the lower legs and holding them in place with rubber bands, the process is rather cumbersome. I was looking for something a little more elegant with more height options.
- Head able to hold my small DSLR with kit lens vertically without slippage. Landscape orientation is pretty easy for most heads because the camera is balanced right over the pivot point. Portrait orientation is more tricky.
- Inexpensive. Some say that all roads to lightweight tripod bliss lead inexorably toward the Gitzo Mountaineer 0531 combined with the Really Right Stuff BH-25 head. That may be true, but since I didn’t have $500 burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to settle for less than bliss with a more modest price point, say a tenth of that: $50. Since I tend to be hard on tripods, I would not cry so hard if I broke it or dropped it off a cliff.
A scan of the online B&H catalog quickly turned up two prospects; the Cullman Alpha 1000 and the Giottos RT 8000. Both weigh slightly more than my one pound limit. After dithering back and forth for a few days, I ordered the Giottos. Because it attains it’s full height without the use of a center column, I figured it would be more stable.
I’ve had a chance to play with the Giottos about a week now, both at home and in the field. Here’s an evaluation of how it meets the criteria listed above.
- Very compact. Scores well here. 11″ (28 cm) long when collapsed. Fits easily into it’s case and tucks away into the side pocket of my Vapor Trail.
- Very Light. Didn’t quite make my goal of one pound, but at 18.3 oz.(519 g), I can’t imagine that I’ll ever leave the Giottos behind because of weight considerations.
- At least waist height. Good. The platform of the head is just over 40″ (102 cm) from the ground. Less than full height is my major compromise to get to this weight. Though I prefer composing with the optical viewfinder of my camera, and can reach it by bending, I can see how the live-view function will come in handy.
- Adjustable height. Only fair, but far better than the Zip-Shot. Each leg is made up of eight telescoping sections of copper tubing held in place by spring-loaded pins. So you get eight different heights, from 40″ (102 cm) down to 11.5″ (28 cm). It deploys more quickly than a traditional tripod, because all sections except the top one lock automatically. To get down to the next level, you have to tap each leg on the ground and lower it section by section. It’s not too bad, but not as easy as traditional flip or twist locks. Maybe I just have to get used to it.
- Head able to hold my camera vertically without slipping. This was my big question mark with this one as it is with any very light head. I’m happy to report that it works with my light DSLR, which weighs 25.3 oz. (717 g) including kit lens and polarizing filter. Giottos rate the RT 8000 as being able to hold 1.8 lbs.(.8 kg) and that seems reasonable to me. My camera is approaching the weight limit but seems stable enough. Most p&s and mirrorless cameras would get enough support.
- Inexpensive. $34 at B&H, including free shipping. That didn’t hurt too much. We’ll see if inexpensive equals cheap as the hiking season goes on. My initial impression, though, it that the Giottos RT 8000 is a solid little tripod for the money. And I promise to treat it gently and not drop it off any cliffs.