Thursday, April 22, 2010

Feisol CT-3442 tripod and Photoclam PC-44NS ballhead: A Review (kind of) -- Or, how I bought a tripod

I decided to write a few "reviews" of some of my stuff a while back.  The first bit of "stuff" I wrote about were my lights.  I know these really aren't reviews.  These are my general feelings about the items that help me get my pictures made.

This time I should come clean up front, though.  For the vast majority of my shots I don't use a tripod.  I find them a general pain to carry and use.  Most of the time I'm throwing light about with a flash anyway, the tripod is almost superfluous in those situations.  However, not in all of them.

When you need a tripod, you really need one.  I bought my first tripod within a few months of deciding to pursue photography seriously.  I picked up a Slik 300DX.  It is solid.  The head is a pan-tilt style which is nice for very precise control, but lacks the speed of use of a ballhead.  This tripod is also very short without extending the center column, and it is heavy.  However, it is fairly inexpensive, and works very well for my light camera and lenses.

So, why did I pick up a nicer tripod when I already admitted I don't use one that often?  First, like I mentioned, when you need a tripod you REALLY NEED a tripod.  I wanted something I wouldn't mind carrying around "just in case" I needed it.  I also wanted a ballhead.  I am also trying to do more landscape/nature style photos.  Tripods are helpful there, if only for the "study the frame a while" aspect.  Finally, even though my Slik is in good shape it is starting to show its age.  I expect one of these days something bad will happen to it.

I actually started looking at better camera support a month or so after buying my Slik.  I am not sure if its unique to me, but it seems that when I start a hobby there used to be a continuous pressure to keep upgrading my stuff.   At the time I discovered that Gitzo tripods were the gold-standard.  I couldn't afford them. I still find them extremely expensive. Since it is an item I don't rely on  I needed to find a less expensive alternative, or simply continue to use my old tripod.

I accidentally tripped across the name Feisol on an online forum.  Mostly out of broken-foot-induced boredom I began to research it.  For my needs they seemed a good fit.  They are stable, well liked, and while the price stings it is a good bit cheaper than the alternative.

I chose a 4 section tournament class tripod.  It is light.  It is about as tall as my Slik if I extended the Slik's center column.  This is my favorite feature of the new tripod.  Height.  It is also light.  And it is stable.

After I chose the legs, I needed to find a head.  Forum reading let me know the Feisol's ballheads had an arca-swiss "like" quick release system.  But its plates and clamps were not compatible with other industry-standard plates and clamps.  This, of course, is unacceptable.   More reading led me to Photoclam heads.

I found a dealer that sold both named Really Big Cameras.  I asked some questions via email, and based on the answers decided what I needed.  Then I waited many, many months before placing an order.  Ordering was pretty painless, and it was shipped out extremely fast.  I was nervous about purchasing through such a small outfit, but I shouldn't have been.  It went perfectly.

I have had the tripod a month or so now, and I really really like it.  I have used it quite a bit already.  I used it for my tub picture.  I also used it for almost every exposure on the roll of Kodachrome I shot.  The film had been in the camera for ages, but I didn't make many shots until recently.  If you want to shoot film, I think a tripod is almost mandatory.  ISO 100 film still seems pretty fast to me!

It is easy to extend and collapse the legs.

I like that it is so light.  I also like that it came with a carrying bag.  I have brought it with me on a few outings, that in the past I would have carried no tripod.  I didn't use it, but I didn't mind carrying it.

The ballhead is simply amazing.  It is crazy how much quicker it is to use than a pan-tilt head.  When its locked down it doesn't budge.  I feel confident I could stand on it.  Of course, I would probably end up with another broken foot pulling such a stunt, so I won't try that.  All the dials are extremely smooth.  It may be that I have no prior experience with this kind of support, so my infatuation might be a "class effect".  But, if you are looking for a ballhead, I recommend at least looking into this one.

What makes it really makes the setup worth the money to me, though, is how much Tobias loves it.  He has named it "Robo-tripod". Robo-tripod has already helped us avoid fits at bed time, wake time, bath time, and TV-off time.  Robo-tripod has also provided a few hours of entertainment.

I highly recommend the whole rig from the child-control aspect alone.  It is also a pretty decent bit of photo kit.

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