The stable support behind every live production
Whether it is a pedestal in a studio or a tripod in the field, the camera support is not just there to take the weight of the camera and accessories, it is there to provide a smooth, stable and predictable platform for the operator to get the shots on which his or her professional reputation depend.
To the operator, the camera should feel as if it is weightless in space. It should remain stationery at whatever height and angle it is set, until the operator needs to move it. Then it should have the resistance appropriate to the job, and move smoothly under the operator’s touch.
At Vinten we call this Perfect Control: not only is the camera perfectly balanced, but the set-up around it should be tailored to the operator’s preference. Because requirements vary so widely, inevitably there are a number of variants in tripods and pan and tilt heads. Choosing the right one is simply a matter of considering what your key requirements are.
The first and most important point to consider is the payload. What camera will you be using? What accessories? With today’s technology, there are broadcast quality cameras weighing 2kg or less; and there are set-ups with large cameras and prompts which might weigh 20kg or more.
Despite so many tripod and head combinations being available, it is important to choose the right solution for your application and payload. Even if a top-end system can be set for a very lightweight camera, you may be paying more than you need to achieve the results you seek.
Rigidity is always a critical design element in a professional tripod. When you pan the camera, it is important that the twisting forces are not passed to the legs of the tripod. If they flex as you pan, then they will revert to normal when you stop panning, meaning the camera will kick backwards. That will appear on screen as a jerky finish to the movement, and is definitely a failure in the key requirement of remaining motionless with no operator movements.
A big part of this rigidity comes from the pan and tilt head itself. It should manage all the forces within its own resistance and balancing elements, along with allowing the operator to set the preferred feel.
The tripod matches this, by having a high degree of inherent stiffness in the legs. We offer tripods with carbon fibre legs for minimum weight with good rigidity, but if absolute solidity is required, we recommend aluminium leg tripods, which are available in high performance and very heavy duty models.
Is the tripod likely to be set and forget, or will you be carrying it often? Is the requirement for run and gun, news-style shooting where you may have to get in position quickly? If you are going to carry it, and particularly if you are going to move fast, then weight could be the top consideration, again pointing to carbon fibre legs.
On the other hand, if you are in the stands at a sporting event then weight is less a consideration than stability, particularly if the camera is likely to be used with virtual graphics imposed on the pitch. A heavy duty tripod for rigidity, coupled with a coded pan and tilt head sending positional data back to the graphics system would be the right option.
Will the camera be mainly used indoors or outdoors? Outside, a tripod with mid-level spreaders will be easier and quicker to set up. Indoors, the additional stability of a floor-level spreader will be a benefit.
One stage extension or two? A single stage makes the tripod a little lighter and certainly more affordable. On the other hand, you are reducing the range of height since it will neither allow you to set the camera very low nor reach over other people’s heads at the extreme.
Two-stage extending legs give you additional flexibility. This tripod also has the benefit of packing down into a smaller, shorter case. That could be important if you travel a lot and want to fit it into the overhead locker on planes.
Incidentally, if you do plan to travel with your tripod a lot, remember to factor shipping into the lifetime costs. Every time you have to pay excess baggage for the tripod, a kilo saved can be a significant sum. It also reduces your environmental footprint.
The conclusion is that there is no simple answer to choosing the right tripod, and there is certainly no right answer. It largely depends on you, your equipment, your style of shooting and where you tend to work. That will dictate the capabilities of the pan and tilt head, the choice of material and extension for legs, and the way the tripod is supported.
The common factor is that the tripods must be robust, reliable and simple to set up. The adjustments should be intuitive and certain. One day you will find yourself erecting the tripod in the dark, maybe in the jungle at night or at the back of a of a theatre, and you will need to be certain that is the tripod will not going to collapse at a critical moment.
A tripod from a proven manufacturer will have a wealth of detail which you may not even notice. Vinten tripods, for instance, have leg locks which are carefully shaped so that they cannot snag cables, meaning that you will not miss a pan because the cable held it taut, nor lose a leg because the cable unlocked it.
Today, most jobs shoot in HD, but in the near future we may move to 4k Ultra HD. Double the resolution in each direction halves the amount of unwanted movement you can tolerate in a tripod and head. Investment in a good tripod today, with Vinten’s perfect control, will be future-proofed.