Test Your Legs

on May 06, 2021

And be prepared to be horrified.

I say this having been told of some of the things that tripods do by the repairman in our shop. He has a set of tales that would have Stephen King sleeping with the lights on. With his encouragement I tested out my tripods and found them wanting.

To be fair, they are not new - and they are not the first tripods I ever bought. They came to me over a period of decades when I felt I needed better camera support. In some cases I was not thinking very well at the time.

The repairman told me of a test that can be done for the overall condition of the support. Remove your camera and set the tripod open upon a firm floor. Then push down on the tripod head as if you were applying the weight of a camera. If all is well it won't collapse.

If it does collapse quickly you have a basic problem - it may be made of flimsy materials or with poorly-designed joints. It may be overextended for the weight-bearing it has to do. You may just have been applying too much weight - after all you are supporting a camera, not a mortar tube.*

A slow collapse points to bad leg locks - or locks that are out of adjustment Some tripods have adjustment nuts on their locking levers that can be snugged up to apply more grip. The good tripod makers give you a spanner or allen key to do this and in some cases this rides the tripod like a tool kit. Handy.

Sometimes it is the centre column. My travel tripod is fine in most places but the locking collar of the column doesn't hold as tight as it should. I thought it was the interior grip of the collar but it turns out to be the rubber ring on the outside - time has loosened it and it just turns about itself. The fix will be drastic, but cheap ; I'll split the rubber ring and reglue it with Selleys Contact cement.

The feet of a tripod are also breakable - many earlier tripods had plastic feet that have succumbed to time. Here again the local hardware store has crutch tips and other accessories that can replace the originals. If it's a case of throw away a good tripod or go to Bunnings, time your visit for a Saturday and get a sausage too.

The problem of the carbon fibre tripod that starts the break down is altogether different - this is a professional fix, and replacement elements may need to come from the makers. Whether this is easy to do this last year is anyone's guess. But at the price of CF gear, you really should come in for a proper assessment.

Note as well that tripods can suffer from chemical and saltwater corrosion more than you'd think. There are a couple of specialised ones that are built to withstand this but all the rest are susceptible. You can wrap legs in plastic bags for some protection but any dousing or dunking will get water in everywhere. You need to be prepared to disassemble the things and use a water-displacement spray to clear out the moisture before it gets fairly to work.

Now that travel tripod was one of my less expensive purchases. The studio Gitzo is unbreakable and even the wife's Manfrotto cine tripod is pretty well bombproof. I think you could also expect very long life from one of the Sirui units.

* The Gitzo is a Studex 5 and actually could support the tube of an infantry mortar. Could I have a lot of fun in the back yard...