Why do we need stabilisation and tripods?
(look here for the German version of this blog post)
Of course, you can take photos without a tripod or any other physical stabilisation, but in some situations it is helpful to have a stabilisation aid. Depending on the situation, you may use built-in stabilisation (be it in the lens, or in the body, or even in both like Olympus or Panasonic currently offers) or use an external aid like a tripod or similar gear. Stabilisation helps to maintain focus on your subject (sports action, landscape photography with a lot of details) or create effects like flowing water in long exposure landscapes.
In this blog post, I’ll present the different tools I use and explain where and in which circumstances I find them helpful.
All the images show my Fuji X-T2 with the 16-55 2.8 lens mounted, in order to give you an impression of the relative size of the different tools.
Tripods and heads
Generally speaking, tripods are the preferred option if you need stabilisation, have the necessary time (or take it) to set up and are able to carry it with you.
Tripods globally perform best if they are solid, heavy and sturdy. While this might be the best combination in a studio environment, it is not when you have to carry it with you and then you have to make compromises. Depending on your needs and carrying options (do you drive in a car to your location or do you hike for hours carrying a backpack?), there are different options.
In addition, good tripods do generally come without a ballhead and you have to purchase it separately, depending on your needs and use.
My preferred combinations
Here are my preferred combinations for every day use. I have to say I’m using Fuji cameras and lenses, so my weight support needs are more representative for mirrorless camera system users and are a little bit different for users with heavier DSLRs, so you might want to check if the weight limits of the gear shown here fits your needs.
Most often, I use the Manfrotto 190XPROB (UK , DE , US , FR )* tripod that I bought in 2010. I has been placed in water (even salt water), in desert sand, in rivers, mud and so on and it is still perfectly working. I’m not the guy who cleans and rinses tripods after each use, so this shows that it is of really good build quality. This tripod is a little bit heavy for long hikes (1,8 kg plus ball head), but it has some great options for landscape photography: all 3 legs can be moved and extended seperately and can be placed at almost 90 degrees in relation to the center pole, the extendable middle pole can be placed horizontally or even be reversed if you need to get very close to the ground. The clamp locks are very sturdy, and I personally prefer them to twist locks.
Benro B-2 ballhead
I purchased the Benro B-2 ballhead (UK , DE , US , FR )* at the same time as the Manfrotto tripod in 2010 and it has since been my fellow companion. It is relatively heavy, but, again, very sturdy (0,46 kg) and you have 3 different lock wheels to adjust friction. It works with PU-60 plates that will be mounted to the camera, or if you have an Arca-Swiss-compatible release plate, it just works as is (I personally prefer Arca-Swiss-compatbile release plates to the Manfrotto plates, I simply don’t like those).
Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W 3-Way Head
I purchased the Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W 3-Way Head (UK , DE , US , FR )* this year for video production (seea first result here) as it allows for smooth operation in 3 ways. Landscape photographers tend to prefer either ball heads or 3-way-heads. I prefer ball heads as they are smaller, lighter and allow fast one hand operation. On the other hand, 3-way-heads allow more precise adjustments in one dimension while not changing the other.
Benro Slim TSL08CN00 Carbon
I have now been looking around for a long time for a travel tripod that would fit my needs: light, Arca-Swiss-compatible release plate, small pack size, ideally with clamps for the leg extension. I have tried a few ones before buying and finally, this spring, I bought the Benro Slim TSL08CN00 Carbon (UK , DE , US , FR )*. It has a small pack size, 3 leg extensions with twist locks (that was the compromise, althoug I prefer clamps) and it is really light (1,01 kg). It is sturdy enough for my Fuji X-T2 with all my lenses, even the 50-140mm causes no problem. Of course, it is not as flexible as my Manfrotto tripod, but as a travel compromise, I can highly recommend it.
Cullmann Magnesit Copter Digital Tripod with cb 2.7 Ballhead
In December 2012, while preparing for our January 2013 Kilimanjaro expedition, I was looking for a small, lightweight tripod that I could carry around all the time, in combination with my then new Fuji X-E1 and 35mm 1.4 lens. I’m not a fan of the Gorilla pods and finally, I discovered the Cullmann Magnesit Copter Digital Tripod (UK , DE , US , FR )* as a very nice small tripod and it has been my favourite for every day use when I’m just wandering around and I want to have a tripod with me, just in case. It fits in every bag I used, even the smallest one (see my blog post on travel bags).
Other stabilisation options
Manfrotto 685B Neotec Pro Monopod
I bought the Manfrotto 685B Neotec Pro Monopod (UK , DE , US , FR )* also back in 2010 for wildlife and sports photography, back in the days when I used the heavy Canon DSLRs with the big lenses. A monopod primarily helps you to get the heavy weight of the camera/lens-combination (typically used in sports or wildlife photography) out of the way and allows for panning stabilisation.
The Platypod Pro is a love/hate (or love/ignore) relation for me. I bought it as I liked the idea of having a simple, very well built plate that can hold a ball head and can be either placed flat directly on a surface, or by using adjustable screws to fit uneven surface. The Platypod is sold on the idea that you can use this in areas where tripods may not be allowed (in buldings, roof terrasses (Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, …). I must say that I never really used it for this as I prefer my small Cullmann tripod which helped me in all these cases. I use the Platypod sometimes in a studio setting for table top photography as it does not need as much space as a full size tripod. But what I really like is the nice pouch that comes with it, this is what I really use, mostly for other equipment than the Platypod ;-).
The Pod / Bean bag
I bought the Pod (UK, DE, US , FR )*, a sort of bean bag with a built-in screw to fix the camera, a long time ago, before I had the flexible Manfrotto tripod. I used it quite often in the beginning and it does a good job as a more elaborate bean bag, i.e. in situations where you need some stabilisation but still hold the camera, so it only helps avoid some movement. You might use an attached string to fix when there is a risk of losing it.
Foam roll (pipe insulation tube)
Foam rolls / tube insulators (UK, DE, US , FR )* are a very practical and often underestimated solution to stabilise your lenses, especially long lenses, when doing a wildlife safari and you have to shoot out of your car. You open the foam roll / tube insulator on the long side and then you clip it on the partly opened window glass. It provides a nice cushioned rest for you lens and avoids scratching you lens (don’t forget to switch off the engine to reduce vibrations).
Accessories used in combination with some of these stabilisation aids
L-Brackets are a very useful and fast way to attach your camera on a tripod or a ball head. They permit horizontal and vertical mounting, thus allowing you also to shoot panoramas.
Neewer Black Metal Quick Release L-Plate Bracket Hand Grip Camera Grip for Fujifilm Fits Arca-Swiss Standard (XT-1)
Fittest L-Angled Clamping Plate for Fuji X T2/Arca-Compatible
For panorama photography, it is important to have the centre of your lens as close as possible to the nodal point. Although there are different methods for doing panoramic photography (from the iPhone panorama option to the fully fledged panorama head solutions), I’ve opted for an affordable, yet flexible and reliable option by using a panorama basis with built-in quick release clamp and spirit level, combined with a nodal slide double dovetail focusing rail plate. The rail plate is used to adjust the nodal point of your camera/lens combination and can also be used on macro shoots.
Sunwayfoto DDH-04 Panoramaadapter
Haoge 140mm Nodal Slide Double Dovetail Focusing Rail Plate with Metal Quick Release Clamp
It is important to note that every camera/lens combination has a different nodal point and that this position has to be determined as precisely as possible. The well-known Fuji-X-photographer Damien Lovegrove has produced a great blog post describing how to determine this nodal point setting as easy as possible.
When doing a panorama, the stitching of the different images can later be done in Adobe Lightroom or in specialised software).
I’ve shown a few combinations I use and that work well for me. I would be happy if this helps you to determine your needs or to generate new ideas. And don’t forget that you can also just lean or press your camera and lens against an object (like a wall, a fence) to enhance stability.
And don’t forget: the camera and the lens is just a tool and scratches are not a problem (except if they are on the glass).
Resumé gear list
- Manfrotto Manfrotto 190XPROB (UK , DE , US , FR )* discontinued, replaced +/- by Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 (UK , DE , US , FR ) *
- Manfrotto Benro Slim TSL08CN00 Carbon Kit with ball head N00 (UK , DE , US , FR ) *
- Manfrotto Cullmann Magnesit Copter Digital Tripod with cb 2.7 Ballhead (UK , DE , US , FR ) *
L-brackets and panorama equipment
- Neewer Black Metal Quick Release L-Plate Bracket Hand Grip Camera Grip for Fujifilm Fits Arca-Swiss Standard (XT-1) (UK , DE , FR )*
- Fittest L-Angled Clamping Plate for Fuji X T2/Arca-Compatible (UK , DE , FR )*
- Haoge 140mm Nodal Slide Double Dovetail Focusing Rail Plate with Metal Quick Release Clamp (UK , DE , US , FR )*
- Sunwayfoto DDH-04 Panoramaadapter (UK , DE , FR )*
* Affiliate links