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To compare and contrast with my earlier post about Lightweight Camera Tripods this category of carbon fiber camera tripods is about the high end of the tripod category. These tripods are truly an investment for a photographer, being in a similar price range of some new DSLRs.
What are tripods?
What actually is a tripod and what do you look for in one? The tripod is essentially a three-legged support for something mounted at its apex. Two main purposes are to a) support equipment at a desired height, and b) provide rock-solid stability at that position. That something we are interested in are camera bodies and lenses. But in a broader sense surveyors use tripods to support transits and artists use them (they call them easels) to support the framed canvas on which they paint.
Why such a gap in price compared to aluminum?
This is where most people will see a significant difference in tripods in comparing aluminum versus carbon fiber construction. Methods of manufacture are significantly different, as are the material costs themselves. Carbon fiber reinforced products are more challenging to produce at high quality. This accounts for some of the price differential.
The good news is that the price of carbon fiber tripods has come down in the past five years or so. Today there are even some entry-level tripods made of carbon fiber reinforced materials so that they can be more affordable for new photography enthusiasts.
I mentioned this tripod of mine in a previous post. The photo here is the actual tripod I have owned since 2007. Also discussed in that previous post were other components such as the feet, base, and head – and here I am restricting the discussion to the tripod itself mainly focusing on the materials its made of.
As you can see in the photo despite owning and using this tripod for 13 years now, it remains in absolutely excellent shape. I would consider my usage to be light over those years, and now that I find my carer in transition to doing professional real estate photography it is in more regular use.
After checking my receipt from B&H Photo where I purchased this tripod, I paid $519.95 for it in March, 2007. So to play a little numbers game, it has only cost me about $40 a year to own this tripod – and yet it is still as good as new as far as I’m concerned. This particular model is no longer available new (but you can find used ones out there).
A new successor to the GT2530
If you want a similar new Gitzo, the GT2532 is the even stronger successor, with 8-layered carbon fiber legs and will support 31 pounds of gear (it’s predecessor, the 2530 with 6X carbon fiber legs supports 26.4 pounds). This tripod comes with a limited 6-month warranty, that is extendable to 10 Years with online product registration.
The heaviest load that I have to put on a tripod totals out at about 8 pounds – my D300 with MB-10 battery pack mounted onto a Sigma 50-500 zoom lens. Just for frame of reference, the huge AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens weighs about 10 lbs by itself and has a hefty list price of $16,000. So even a lens like that with a proper lens mount and body attached still would not come close to the load limit on these tripods.
The Really Right Stuff brand has an excellent tripod in the TVC-34 Versa Series. Some consider this the “top of the line” of carbon fiber tripods, and the craftsmanship of the build does show. All of the metal parts of this unit are milled on a CNC machine cut from a solid block of metal – they are not molded parts. A tripod like this is built to last, can take a 50 pound load, be lugged around and shipped and transported. It is an investment, and if your work requires tough and durable equipment like this Really Right Stuff will deliver.
Th Benro Adventure Series tripod on the more affordable end of the spectrum or carbon fiber tripods. It can support nearly 31 pounds of gear maximum, and extends from a minimum height of 25″ up to 63.6″. It weighs only 4 pounds itself and comes with a 3-year warranty.
The Feisol CT-3472LV Elite carbon fiber tripod will support a 66 pound load, itself weighs about 4 pounds and is claimed to dampen vibration very well. This is by all means a heavy-duty tripod. The legs have a unique 3-position locking system, near the apex, to quickly adjust height and stability by changing the leg angle. The twist-lock system by Feisol features comfortable grip material with smooth functioning of the locks. A storage bag is included and it all comes with a 3-year warranty.
The Induro CLT203 No. 2 Stealth Carbon Fiber Tripod was indeed designed with stealth – having very low reflection surfaces. Top sections of the legs have foam padding, and the top plate is machined aluminum. Induro includes: carbon fiber short column, toolkit with spiked feet, wrench and carrying case. PLUS you get a 5-year warranty that extends to 10 years by registering the product.
No matter which tripod you choose to include in your photographic endeavors, the best one is the one you USE to minimize camera shake to make all of your images as sharp and in focus as possible. As you can plainly see in the first photo above of my own 2007-era Gitzo, this class of equipment lasts. Your own sound judgment of what you really need in a tripod given the kind of photography you do, how often you do it, whether you are predominantly indoors or outdoors (and often in bad weather), and what gear you will be mounting to it will lead to your correct choice.