The Magic Buttons of Happiness

I hang around several photography forums, and at least once a week there is a thread from a camera owner who is getting ready to pull a lot of hair out in frustration with their DSLR. SOMETHING isn’t working right, and they can’t figure out why they aren’t getting the expected results. Often the person has recently acquired a used camera and is worried that they got ripped off.  It isn’t unusual for someone who has had their camera a while and has enabled some setting and forgotten, and thinks something is broken.

In the increasingly chippy (i.e. rude) world of the internet, this often sparks firefights.  People defend the camera.  People tell the owner that their technique needs to improve.  They’ll say it must be the lens.  Sometimes they’ll poke at the autofocus or other settings, which is a start down the right road.

The problem is that modern Digital SLR cameras are incredibly complex, and there are many metering, autofocus and other settings that can make the camera behave very differently than you expect if some setting is activated and then forgotten.  If you just purchased a used camera it is even worse – you have no idea what settings the previous owner used.

Fortunately for Nikon shooters there is a really easy way to reset almost any Nikon DSLR camera to default settings:  find the two green buttons on the camera and hold them both down for two seconds.  Done.  Now virtually everything not in the “custom” menu will now be set to the factory default…

…and very possibly the problems just disappeared too!  🙂

If you don’t see two green buttons, or want more details, see Nikon’s support site for this topic.  If it doesn’t work, you have other things to think about, but this is always a good first thing to try if you just can’t figure out what else is wrong.

It doesn’t appear that Canon has something quite this easy.  It looks like you have to go into the menus to accomplish the same thing.  If you’re a Canon shooter and I’m wrong, please let me know and I’ll update this post.

Net: If you buy a used camera, the first thing you should do is a full reset, and Nikon makes it easy.  If it seems like your camera has lost its mind, reset it before you lose yours. 🙂

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Sunwayfoto DDH-02 and DT-01 Review

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Quick Report for the impatient:  Pro-grade quality and handling in a very compact package at a very competitive price.  The unique design of the DDH-02 won me over in a hurry.  Almost any monopod shooter will appreciate the usability, quality and value of the DT-01 monopod head, while pano shooters or folks with larger lenses will love the small size but great shooting flexibility and handling offered by the DDH-02.  These two products turned my monopod from something I was dreading to use into an essential element of my kit, enabling some of my favorite shots from my recent trips to Asia and Europe.  Highly recommended.

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If you read my preview, you know my latest gadget is a monopod.  I got it knowing I’d be spending two weeks in Europe in a bunch of very old, very dark buildings, and I really wanted to be able to take photographs without using a flash.  Even if I wasn’t of the opinion that flashes ruin the experience for everyone in these kinds of places, flash is generally frowned upon and most often isn’t allowed at all.  I’m usually an available-light guy anyway.  Unfortunately, tripods are also generally not allowed, either.  Monopods, on the other hand, seem to be acceptable in lots of places, either by policy, indifference or indecision.  The only exceptions to this in my travels were the roof of the Mori building in Tokyo and Versailles in France.  Neither made much sense since I saw lots of folks with canes, walking sticks and other things directly similar to my monopod, but whatever.

When I tried a monopod for the first time, bolting the camera directly to the top of the monopod immediately raised the “fiddly flag” – I had to tilt the whole thing to adjust my field of view, and it was clear right away that this setup wasn’t going to work for me.  I knew I’d be seeing a lot of domed churches and shooting with very wide lenses.  I’m not enough of a contortionist to make that happen with a monopod alone, plus the stability benefit deteriorates quickly as the angles get extreme. The L-bracket on my camera and the foot on my long lens have threaded holes for mounting to a tripod or monopod, but on top of the angle and handling limitations, who wants to deal with screwing and un-screwing them all the time??  I figured my Arca-Swiss plates would give me the same benefit here they do on my tripod – easy and quick mount/un-mount.  Of course I knew about the RRS MH-01 head, but for something I thought would see only occasional use, it seemed like a significant investment.  I’d seen similar, less expensive offerings at CES, including one from Sunwayfoto – the DT-01, so I began investigating.

I had more problems than I knew.  One of my favorite lenses is my vintage Nikon 80-200 f/2.8.  It is a big, heavy lens, and I love using it on my tripod.  I have an RRS plate that allows me to attach it directly to my Sunwayfoto XB-44 head.  Something I’ve never thought much about is the direction the plate faces when I use it…

…until I started looking at the monopod heads.  As opposed to a ball head, a monopod head swivels on a single axis.  This gives you the ability to easily change the angle of the camera relative to the monopod leg (either up/down or a sideways angle), and lock it in for full monopod stability with much greater flexibility.  Adding an Arca-Swiss plate to the mix means you can attach/detach very quickly, but it also means one other thing: you have to pick which direction the mount faces.  This isn’t a problem unless you’re using a lens with a foot, because the plates for the foot run at a perpendicular angle to the plates for the body.  That means if you want the same kind of angle adjustment (usually up/down) for body and lens, you really have only three options.

  1. Just use the camera mount: This is inherently less stable.  The reason the big lenses have feet is to allow you have a balanced setup for better photos.  Hanging a huge lens off the body with this setup is not only going to be less stable, it is very awkward to handle.  This is a possible option, but not really a workable one.
  2. Use a hex key to move the mount 90 degrees when you want to use the long lens: To say this isn’t convenient is an understatement, and it is even worse when you’re on vacation with your lovely and generally patient spouse.  Exploring the boundaries of that patience isn’t something I want to do, especially on vacation.  It takes less than 30 seconds to change the direction of the plate, but that isn’t going to work if you do it a lot, and might cost you the shot if you need to do it fast.
  3. Get a head that pans or rotates: These give you complete flexibility and speed.  The only downsides are price and bulk.

The first two options just weren’t going to work for me.  Then Winnie from Sunwayfoto suggested I look at their new DDH-02 panning clamp.  I’d seen it on their site, but was worried it was too small.  I really thought the larger and more robust DDH-01 was a better choice.  Winnie surprised me by offering to send three options to me for review: the standard clamp (the DT-01 can be purchased with no clamp or a standard screw-type 50mm head), the DDH01 I (thought I) wanted and the DDH-02.  You can read my initial thoughts on all three and see lots of photos in my preview review – let’s get to the review of what I actually took around the world with me – the DT-01 with the DDH-02 on top.

Features

The DT-01 (no clamp)
click for larger view

The DT-01 is a pretty simple product.  A large, all-metal knob with moderate knurling (bumps :)) for grip.  A single beefy swivel rail that allows for 180 degrees of angle. (the RRS and Sirui heads have two rails, which seems more complicated and more likely to get bent to me, but is likely just a design choice).  There are degree markings on the head with major and minor notches, but there are no numeric values, which didn’t bother me at all.  The DT-01 is dovetailed at the base and top mount for compatibility with Arca-Swiss clamps.  This is useful when using the DT-01 in some fairly exotic head setups, but mainly is a big weight-saver for most of us.  There is a DT-02 that is essentially the same head with a panning base, which is great for very large lenses, but too much bulk for me.

The DDH-02 Panning Clamp
click for larger view

The DDH-02 is a unique product in the market today.  The best thing about it is that it is extremely small and light.  As I was hauling around a lot of gear through Beijing, Tokyo, Kamakura and lots of Europe, any reduction in carry-weight was a welcome thing.  It has index marks from 0° to 90° and back around the full circumference of the head.  There is a bubble level integrated into the base plate.  The clamp is a screw-type clamp and the clamp rails themselves are marked on each side with the center and offset markings up to 10mm on each side of center.  The screw-knob is all metal and has deep knurling to ensure easy grip.  The panning function is secured with a metal flip-clamp: turn it left to unlock the very-smooth panning.  Flip it a bit more than 180° to the right to lock the panning motion.  This means you have a very positive “down” push to secure head, and the hold is extremely tight.  Every aspect of the DDH-02 points to thoughtful and original design on the part of Sunwayfoto.

Handling

Smooth, simple and solid come to mind for both products.  Full lock to fully unlocked is about a half-turn on the large knob of the DT-01.  There is no slop in the DT-01 – even when the knob is fully open the head won’t fall under it’s own weight.  The DDH-02 is designed very well.  Since the knobs are generally going to be hidden under the camera while you’re using the clamp, the round knob of the clamp vs. the tear-drop shape of the panning knob are very intuitive.  Switching from the body plate to the big lens and back was almost invisible – it was fast and easy.  Flip the panning knob open, rotate, flip the panning knob to lock, done.

I guess the only thing I can find to criticize at all in either product is I wish the knurling on the knob of the DT-01 was slightly deeper. It is almost exactly the same size as the knob on my XB-44, but the channels are a bit shallower and it lacks the textured surfaces.  This is picking nits, since not once in any of the sweaty old buildings did I slip while handling the DT-01, but I do think it would be a useful improvement.

I was a little worried that the clamp rails on the DDH-02 weren’t beefy enough to securely and stably hold my body with the large 80-200 lens.  This proved to be unfounded – the whole platform is very solid.  If I was using huge lenses, I’d go with the bigger model with the built-in panning base and/or the beefier DDH-01.  But for a 300mm prime, the 70-200 pro zooms or anything smaller, the DDH-02 is easily up to the task.

In combination, these two products carry very well due to their light weight, and handle seamlessly.  They also make very efficient use of space without big knobs sticking out – another big plus in my crowded bag.

Build

What can I say?  Both products are built entirely out of aircraft-grade aluminum, mostly anodized and clear laser engraving for use shooting panoramas.  Movement is smooth, easy and positive, with a nice bit of resistance and no slop.  No plastic anywhere.  Just like my XB-44, I don’t sense any corner-cutting here.  Quality is excellent.

Value

The DT-01 sells for $112 at B&H and Amazon, while the DDH-02 lists for $99. That puts you about $100 less than the comparable RRS panning setup with less weight and arguably better handling.  I handled the DT-01 and the Sirui L-10X head within minutes of each other at CES and came away with “Pro” impressions of Sunwayfoto and “Consumer” impressions of Sirui.  Comparing the models that come with the standard screw clamp, the Sirui comes in about $47 cheaper, but isn’t all-metal, has some exposed bolts and generally just seems more of a consumer-grade RRS knockoff.  That isn’t to say it isn’t a decent product, especially for the occasional users. Of course, Sirui has nothing like the DDH-02, and that is the piece that sells the whole setup for me.  For this Enthusiast Photographer, that makes the choice pretty easy – I like pro-grade at an affordable price.  I noticed several ball heads were now offered bundled with the DDH-02.

Summary

I’ve been very impressed with the products I’ve seen from Sunwayfoto.  They are clearly shooting for RRS quality at a lower price.  They handle well and it is clear they aren’t doing knock-offs – they are designing with real-world use in mind and offering some great features.  I really appreciate that I was offered the opportunity to look at the DDH-01 as well.  It is clearly a product that is better suited to use with some of the more exotic head/gimbal setups as well as traditional ball heads for panoramas.  I may do a separate review on it at some point, or loan it to a buddy who does lots of pano-shooting and get some thoughts from him.

If you have a monopod and don’t have a setup like this, I think you’ll be delighted with how much easier it is to shoot with your monopod.  If you’re getting a monopod, I’d highly recommend the DT-01.  Folks who have adopted the Arca-swiss system who have long lenses with feet will love how easy the DDH-2 makes switching between body and lens-mounted plates.

Thoughtful engineering at a competitive price is a winning combination for me, and I’m looking forward to many years of use from the DT-01 and the DDH-02.

Sometimes, you have to learn your own way…

Thanks for visiting Enthusiast Photographer! For those of you coming from search engines or links, the post below was my “First Look” review of the DT-01 and DDH-02 setup.  Since then, I’ve taken it all over the world and written a full review.  Please feel free to read the post below, but click the link at the bottom for the complete story.  Also, feel free to follow the blog, “Like” Enthusiast Photographer on Facebook or follow on Twitter if you’d like to join me on my photography journey or just want to read something different once in a while.

I’m not ready to post a review about the Sunwayfoto DT-01 Monopod Head yet, but I learned something tonight.  Women can be pretty clever.  Either that or Winnie from Sunwayfoto has been talking to my wife…

It all started during some correspondence about my XB-44 ball head review.  I mentioned to Winnie that I was going to be taking two trips soon, one to Europe and one to Asia, and was going to buy a monopod to use while traveling.  Since my 80-200 plate has a different orientation than the L-bracket on my D90, I was looking for a solution that I could quickly change to accommodate the orientation of whatever I was using.   Winnie suggested their DT-01 monopod head and the DDH-02 plate.  I’d noticed that head previously (it was on display when I visited their booth at CES) and the DDH-01, which looks similar to the RRS MH-02 setup – a monopod head with an indexing clamp.  Honestly, when I looked at the DDH-02 on their website, I thought it seemed too small and a little delicate to handle my 80-200 on the monopod.

Winnie surprised me when she suggested that I have a look at the head with three clamps – the standard DDC-50 screw-clamp, the DDH-01 I’d been looking at and the DDH-02 she had recommended.

The package arrived the other day, and I just had a chance to try out the various configurations.  I learned a lesson:  Listen to the people who do it for a living.

While I can’t fully speak to the handling and other features yet, I can say this:  if you want something more than the standard screw-clamp, the DDH-02 is the way to go.  When I fit the larger and more substantial DDH-01 on the monopod head, the whole setup is pretty bulky.  This is clearly the reason Sunwayfoto developed the DDH-02 and why Winnie was patiently suggesting that pairing to me.

So when I was failing to listen, Winnie took the direction my wife often does, which is to let me see for myself that she was right. 🙂

Let’s have a look at some photos:

The DT-01 with the standard screw clamp

The DDH-01 and DDH-02 side by side

The DDH-01 panning clamp mounted to the DT-01 Monopod head. I need to try to see if one of the standard screws fits directly to the head, but it doesn’t appear to. Mounting it using the standard clamp worked fine, but the package is bulky.

Last but not least, the svelte and effective DDH-02 panning clamp.

It will take a while to post a full review, but I’ll mention a few basics:

The DT-01 bears some similarity to the RRS monopod head.  They both have a pendulum design and an Arca-compatible dovetail at the base of the head.  Both are all-metal and stoutly made.  Sunwayfoto chose a single-arm base, where RRS has two outboard rails for the swivel base of the head.  The Sunwayfoto design appears to be beefier – my guess is they both perform well.

The Sunwayfoto DDH-01 is a panning clamp that offers similar function to the RRS PCL-1 Panning Clamp.  I thought that made a nice choice to rotate the clamp orientation for use with my 80-200.  As I mentioned previously, it is a fairly substantial clamp, and even directly attached to the monopod it is over-large for good ease of use.  It is a terrific solution to use when shooting panoramic shots on your ball-head, however, and the included dovetail makes using it very simple (you can add a dovetail to the RRS PCL-1 for  $30).

Then there is the DDH02:

It is small, clamps very securely and has a nifty flip-lever that allows it to rotate or pan in 360°.  As soon as I’d mounted it on the head, I knew I had the right solution.

I’m still going to take all three out on my trips so I can see how everything handles, and I’ll write up a full review in a couple of months.  But over and above some things I’ve already learned as a enter the world of monopod users, I learned again a lesson for so many of us:  Listen.   🙂

The DDH-01 panning clamp is available at B&H, but for now I can only find he DT-01 head on Amazon and eBay.  As a new product, the DDH-02 hasn’t popped up anywhere yet…
Update: My full review on the DDH-02 and the DT-01 can be found here.  Both products are now available at B&H and Amazon.

UPDATE:  I’ve completed a full review!  See it by clicking here.  Enjoy!

Note/Disclaimer:  You might have noticed these products have “SAMPLE” serial numbers.  As with the XB-44, these were provided to me by Sunwayfoto for review at no cost.  If you’ve read my blog, I hope you believe that I’m a very straightforward guy – I say what I think, I admit what I don’t know and I’d never let anything sway my review of a product: It works or it doesn’t.  I like it or I don’t.  I hate fiddly stuff and poor design, and I’ll never hold back on those issues.  I always try to be fair, whichever way that cuts.

A bad habit…

I was sitting around watching March Madness and playing with my D90.  During a commercial break, I was goofing around shooting my DirecTV receiver that was ten feet or so away.  Since it was a black box with blue lights, it was obvious that I wasn’t cleanly pressing the shutter.  In fact, I realized I was “punching” it.  Maybe I’m guilty of skimming the books I’ve recommended here a number of times, or maybe the lesson on good shutter technique was too subtle for me.  So I shot at a deliberately absurd hand-held shutter speed of 1/2, played around with a couple lenses and experimented a bit.  Before get to what I came up with, let’s look at what I was doing until today:

Tokina Punch Big Crop

Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, f/2.8 - heavily cropped (approx 300%).

80-200 Punch

Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, f/2.8 - Re-sized only

So…now I know why some of my hand-held shots aren’t as sharp as I’d like – my technique is terrible. I have always tried to be smooth as I pressed the shutter, rolling my finger across the button (I do recall this from my first read of Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography series, but this made it pretty clear I was bouncing the camera.  It was clear after a few minutes that the biggest culprit was not pressing the button, but actually releasing it!  After a few minutes of trial and error, I found a style that made a big difference.

Net: I roll smoothly across the button and don’t move my finger at all until the shutter cycle is complete.  The improvement was pretty significant:

New technique with Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm, same crop, etc.

Better, right? The heavy crop and very low light don’t make this very sharp, but it certainly illustrates how much less movement is in the release. What about the big, heavy 80-200?

New technique with Nikon 80-200 @ 200mm, just re-sized.

I’ve still got room for improvement here, but I was still in my Al Bundy couch pose and the 80-200 really is a big piece of glass.  Net: the shake is reduced by at least 2/3, and I’d say good posture and a little more focus on my hand-holding technique would give better results – it ain’t bad for a hand-held shutter speed of 1/2 with a station wagon strapped to the front of my D90!  Realistic shutter speeds would help, too.

I’m sure there are photographers reading this and saying “Well duh!” and I’m hoping that when I re-read my Scott Kelby there isn’t a completely obvious tip on this.

In the meantime, I hope it is helpful to other Enthusiast Photographers.  For me, I’ll be doing a little more research and reading on the basics of shutter and hand-holding techniques!

Legs or or no legs?

Maybe it is the specter of Scott Kelby telling me the first step to sharp photography is a tripod, the kind of photography I do (lots of landscape/cityscape shots) or just the plain great results I’m getting when I use one, but I’m a pretty big fan of my tripod.  I look for excuses to use it, especially since I got the RRS head and L-bracket (which is still a post for another day).

But what about you?  Do you use one?  I’d love to hear comments on why you do or don’t, if you love it or hate it!

I shoot RAW

I wish I'd seen this earlier - one would be under my tree with a bow in it!

You might recall I linked Jared Polin’s 10-video-long rebuttal to Ken Rockwell on JPEG vs. RAW in my own rant on the topic.

Well, Jared has built a full-fledged website with lots of resources and videos, many featuring appearances by his lovely and lively 101-year-old grandmother Lil.

Among the content on his site is his store that sells “I Shoot RAW” paraphernalia:  A great gift for yourself or your favorite Enthusiast Photographer. 🙂

(Jared isn’t selling out, he’s just selling well!)

Sharp Lenses?

Have you ever read a “for sale” ad for a lens and have someone talk describe it as a “sharp copy”?  I have to admit, the idea that there are good and bad versions of lenses scares me – wouldn’t there be some sort of testing and quality control?

I recently read an article about lens sharpness and sample variation from the owner of Lensrentals.com (if you aren’t familiar with them, they are what their names says.  If you’ve ever wanted to try out an exotic lens for a little while, check them out).

The net of the article is this:  Even the very best lenses have variation, but so do the bodies they mount on.  Some combination of a lens on a particular body might yield great results, but switch to another sample of the same body and things look different.  They are all going to vary a little, and that is OK.  The point he boils down to with data and analysis is that bad lenses are truly rare, and you shouldn’t waste a lot of time trying to match a lens and a body.  It will drive you crazy.  Get good, reputable lenses and learn to shoot them as well as you can.  Sharpness starts with the shooter.

Patience is a virtue. I’m lacking virtue.

I got the chance to upgrade my tripod setup, and I jumped at it.  I was able to sell my existing Manfrotto legs and head for good money, and I found a great deal on a Gitzo 2531 with a Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-40 ball head.  They are on the way.

And so now I wait.

I hate waiting.

I really, really, really do.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the new setup.  Honestly, it is probably what I should have gotten starting out, but lots of factors determined what I bought the first time, and now I’ve gotten a chance to take a big step up.  I’ll write up a full review with details, comments, photos and thoughts, but here’s a few things to chew on if you’re an Enthusiast Photographer thinking about tripods (hopefully you’ve already read my post “The least sexy upgrade, and it isn’t in your bag…”).

First – think ahead in your purchase.  If there is any chance you’ll wind up with bigger lenses later, take that into account now when you’re buying your tripod.

Second – buy the best tripod and head you can afford.  The good news is that these are pretty much like good lenses – they don’t tend to lose much value over time.  This isn’t to say you have to buy a $1200 tripod and head setup.  If you can’t afford carbon fiber, go with aluminum.  Manfrotto’s 055XPROB is a very nice, affordable, solid setup with great height and a nifty optional carry strap.  But as usual, I’m ahead of myself.  Look at your future potential weight needs and buy the best stuff you can.  Much like in the world of laptops, the lighter you go, the faster the price escalates.  Unless weight or travel size is absolutely critical, I’d go with a nicer head with heavier, less exotic lenses until you can afford nice everything.  A bad head will make you miserable.  More on heads and legs in another post – it is another example in the photography world of a subject that has huge dimension, learning curve and spread of opinions.

Third – don’t be intimidated by the brand snobs.  Some say if you don’t have Manfrotto, Gitzo or RRS, you’ve got a bad tripod.  Here’s the net: most of us aren’t professional photographers out with a bag shooting for paychecks and running our gear hard.  We’re Enthusiast Photographers, right?  That means we’re out mainly on the weekends (if we’re lucky) and on the occasional set shoot or vacation.  We don’t need the stuff built to survive a war zone.  Benro, Induro, Sirui and Vangard have pretty decent products and lower prices from what I’ve read and the limited amount I’ve been able to handle them.  Yes, the cheap ones are probably built in China.  There is nothing wrong with that.  You won’t get ultimate features or ultimate quality, but I suspect you’ll get a fine level of both.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider the nice brands.  They are great – I have no doubts I’m going to love my Gitzo.  The fact that Really Right Stuff is entirely made and sourced in the USA is terrific, and they are just plain beautiful – the pinnacle of tripods.  But I can’t afford or justify them at this point.  Net:  You can get a very nice tripod for reasonable money.

Fourth – start at the top and work your way down.  I’ll cover this more in the head and legs section, but you would do well to think about the plates you’ll be using to attach the camera to the tripod.  There are proprietary plates on the least expensive heads that will limit you later.  Manfrotto’s heads work only on Manfrotto tripods and have some limitations I’ll cover later, too.  Then there is the Arca-style plates used by Arca-Swiss, Acratech Kirk, RRS and others.  It is a standard, sort of, and it offers the broadest flexibility.  I’d venture to say it is the preferred platform for most of the most serious photographers.  Your plate decision is generally going to make your head decision (generally Manfrotto vs. the Arca crowd), and from there you are about budget, load and usability.

Fifth – for tripods, less sections is generally better than more sections.  Prefer three sections to four.  It isn’t an absolute, but it isn’t far from it.  The higher-end CF 4-section legs are fine (RRS, Gitzo, et. al.).

Anyway, this is a lot more than I intended to write.  Mainly I’m really hating that I’m waiting.  If you have tripod thoughts, suggestions or questions, let’s hear ’em and I’ll incorporate them into the head and legs post.  Which I’ll write after I’m finished waiting for my new toys.  In the meantime, Thom Hogan has a good read on tripods and the process most photographers go through when it comes to support.

The least sexy upgrade, and it isn’t in your bag…

In my post “Breaking Through the Wall“, I made the analogy that to make your car faster, the best upgrade is to make the driver better and said photography is the same.  That doesn’t probably sit well with people who think they can get newer, better equipment to solve their problems.

It is natural to want the latest thing, or to upgrade the camera or lenses you have, but I’ll throw another one at you:  most people need to buy a good tripod before they spend any other money on other equipment.  Unfortunately, tripods are like pretty much everything else in the photography world – you get what you pay for and the curve can get steep in a hurry.  The net of it is this:  buy the best tripod you can afford.  If you’re really mobile, a monopod isn’t a bad idea either.

Why? Simple.  Stable cameras make for much clearer, sharper pictures.  Shaky cameras make for blurry images.  Sadly, even a basic tripod setup with the head is going to cost you well over $200, and really nice ones that will serve most Enthusiast Photographers will get up where – $300-400 for the legs and another $300-$400 for the head.  If you want carbon fiber, you just added a few hundred dollars more.

But for most of us, the enthusiast photographers, we don’t need a $1200 tripod/ball head setup.  We just need a nice, non-consumer set of legs with a ball head capable of supporting the equipment in the bag.  Check some of the Buy/Sell/Classifieds on the more established photography forums.  Like good lenses, good support equipment holds value pretty well, but it is also generally something that doesn’t lose performance unless it is damaged.

I got the Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with their interesting 322RC2 head.  In retrospect, I might have gone for the slightly heavier-duty 055XPROB (don’t ask me about Manfrotto’s product names/numbering – I’m sure it makes sense to somebody…) and a more standard ball-head.

I can tell you this – my pictures and photography have improved dramatically since getting on good support.  Yours will too…

[UPDATE:  I moved on from the Manfrotto to a Gitzo tripod and heads based on the Arca-Swiss standard.  My opinions have evolved a bit, and while I think Manfrotto’s tripods are an excellent value, I’d recommend just about any head based on the Arca-Swiss system over any Manfrotto head.  The “Why” is probably a topic for a later post, but check out some of my newer posts on Gitzo, Really Right Stuff and Sunwayfoto (you can search at the top right of the page)]