Upgrading my tripod

MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
edited September 2012 in Practical Filmmaking
I've been using my $50 walmart tripod for far too long now. I broke it two years ago and have just been working around it's handicap, but now I want a sturdy tripod so I can use a slider dolly on my tripod. I have been looking at two different tripods recently. I'm on the fence about which one to get.
This Davis & Sanford tripod looks promising. It has a sturdy set of legs and I have heard very good things about he FM18 fluid head. I personally like the fact that the legs weight a good ten pounds because this ensures one very important thing, it will be much less likely to tip, like my current tripod has done in the past, which will be really nice when I try to operate a slider on it. Also I like the price. At just under $200, this appears to be a very solid tripod. However, one thing I currently hate about this tripod is the airlift column. It seems, from what I have read, that it takes a considerable amount of force to get the column back down after extending it and that it shoots up rather quickly when released. This does worry me a bit.
The other tripod I have been looking into is this Manfrotto tripod, which also appears to be a great choice at the moment as well, however a good $100 more than the Davis & Sanford pod. The things I like about this tripod, at the moment, is the mobility of it. It would be much easier to lug around to different places, as it seems to be much slimmer than the other. I hear equally good things about this tripod and am unsure as to what makes this one worth $100 more.
I would love to get a second opinion before I decide which one I will be getting. I will be using this tripod mostly for a "studio" type setting at my church where I have set up a green screen studio for their video announcements. Other than that, little projects here or there, but nothing particularly demanding. Pretty much just plan on using it for some static shots and the occasional pan/tilt from host - co-host or vice versa.

Thanks in advance!


  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,252 Staff
    I'd avoid any tripod with a center column for video work. I mean, as long as its all the way down its probably fine, but using three opposing legs to give stability to your camera, and then balancing your camera on top if a stick standing on top of the legs - its counterproductive. Obviously they do what they can to keep it stable, but when you are talking about adding a heavy camera to the top of that column, the potential of getting small unwanted movement is significant. The column being there isn't a problem, but don't plan on using it, and check the max height without the column. However both the added weight of that tripod and the spreader are significant advantages over the Manfrotto. Considering that, you could skip the gimmicky air-lift column and save some money.
    Either one is going to be decent, and the key disadvantages to affordable tripods like the ones you linked, when compared to expensive pro-grade ones is often the weight of the materials. These ones aren't cheap, so the build quality should be good, and they should be reliable and durable, but they are going to be bulkier and heavier than the high-end ones. For video, this isn't necessarily a disadvantage, depending on your shooting style and the type of locations you frequent. More weight adds stability.
    The most significant factor to consider, though, is the head. Stable legs are pretty easy to come by; but a smooth moving head , not so much. I've never used a Davis & Sanford head, but that Monfrotto 701 head is pretty decent, for an affordable fluid head.
  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    edited September 2012
    Hey thanks Axel!
    I have heard nothing but good things about manfrotto which is why I considered the one I posted above in the first place. To be honest, the fact that it doesn't have a spreader is like a deal breaker. My current tripod's spreader on one leg broke so it has been a huge pain in the butt to level and I can imagine the manfrotto, with no spreader, would be much worse.
    Looking at just the heads on the two pods, the FM18 has some very good reviews, I watched an online review and some online tests. It seems to be a very good fluid head for the price (about $100). The manfrotto head seems to yield the same results without any noticeable perks for about $25 more. Not to mention the only legs I can find for under $200 (I'm trying not to exceed $300), don't have a spreader, at least on B&H. I am looking for something at least 5' and would like to get something as close to 6' as I can so that narrowed my search quite a bit.
    For me, going with one of the couple Davis & Sanford options seems to be the best fit at the moment, but I'm always open to other ideas.
    EDIT: I just thought I'd mention, I think you are definitely right about the column, I probably won't use it due to stabilization issues it could create.
  • Ben
    Ben Posts: 51
    edited September 2012
    Just wanted to throw my two cents in here:
    I've used similar lightweight, single-column tripod legs from Manfrotto for 7 years, same set with a 501HDV head (a bit more robust than the less expensive, but still effective 701) and although I miss not having a ball head to balance the top when I mount things like a slider on top, I would actually say the center column is the thing I use the MOST on the tripod. It allows me to get higher and closer to walls, in cramped corners, etc without having to ever extend the legs. You would think it would make for stability issues, but after about a decade with my own set of similar legs (I don't believe they make the model I have anymore) I love them, their versatility, and their size. And I love the center column.
    Just my thoughts! We're just now wrapping a 22-page television pilot and honestly, even with others on set bringing their ball heads and other off-brand, robust tripods with them, I heavily prefer my smaller-profile tripod with the center column. The column also means that the camera can be reversed and put upside-down on the column, hanging from the center on the underside of the legs for lower shots, shots really close to the ground, or shots where you need table-top stability or pans close to the surface of the table/bar/etc.
    Although I agree with the sentiments of instability with the column, I just want to say that I disagree with the conclusions there. A tripod is a tool, right? If you're just using it to steady your pants and tilts and have shots static, okay. But that center stem means you cab get into more places and find stability or interesting shots in areas you normally couldn't. You might hate the center column stem, you might love it. For me, its been my favorite part of my tripod since 2005 and i wouldn't trade it for anything.
    Also, in my experience, the mounting mechanisms of most all tripods I've used aside from Manfrotto mounting plates are a huge, earnest pain in the ass and I wouldn't wish them on anyone. Yeah there's other 'fluid' heads out there, but at this price point, go Manfrotto or go home. Shooting a commercial about a month ago, I hired out a friend of mine to fly into Austin and shoot with me with his equipment, and was so frustrated with his FM fluid head that the first night of the shoot I went on Amazon and next-day ordered a Manfrotto 701 fluid head for his sticks and expensed it to the project.
    In my experience, unless you're doing next-level stuff, you're much better off just spending $100 more and getting Manfrotto. The parts are all 'standardized' for this level of video work, meaning one Manfrotto plate (normally) fits all the Manfrotto products you'd use. Just trust me on this one. I use my tripod a TON and things like ball head, spreader, etc don't matter for levelling as much as mounting the camera off-abd-on easily and being able to efficiently operate the fluid head. Off brand isn't name brand for a reason, in this case. You just have to decide what you really want the tripod for, I suppose, and to what extent.
  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,252 Staff
    edited September 2012
    Good points, Ben. I have a set of Manfrotto sticks with the 501 head, and then a couple of ball-head tripods that I use mainly for still photography. I did actually have to use my non-Manfrotto tripod for a video project the other day, simply because it has a center column I could flip upside down, to get my camera right near the ground while on a dolly. I've never had good experiences when using a center column mounted right side up when shooting video, but then, the Manfrotto tripod I have is also not one with a center column. My center-column tripod is a lightweight still-photo tripod, so its probably not the best told to use for properly evaluating center columns for video.
  • In my experience, unless you're doing next-level stuff, you're much better off just spending $100 more and getting Manfrotto. The parts are all 'standardized' for this level of video work, meaning one Manfrotto plate (normally) fits all the Manfrotto products you'd use. Just trust me on this one.
    Agreed on all counts, but especially this. Until you're doing next-level stuff, as Ben says, the Manfrotto will work great.
    Once you do step it up to the next level, tripods are cheap as dirt to rent. I can rent a $1k+ Vinten for $30/day (no insurance req'd) in my city.
  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    I'm not so sure I can see it this way. It seems like a lot of emphasis is put on brand. I need more than just a brand name and "standardized" parts to justify an extra $100 that doesn't seem necessary. I don't see anything I get from the manfrotto that I wouldn't get from the Davis & Sanford. Ben, you said that you had a friend who got frustrated with is FM head, why is that? What makes the manfrotto head so much better? Honestly, after reading about each of them, the FM18 and the 701, I don't see anything that the 701 has that the FM does not. I would love to know what makes the 701 better.
    I can agree that the column may come in handy. Of course it all depends on how it effects stability which I won't find out till I have the tripod in my hands.
    After using my current tripod when one of the legs is not connected to the spreader, I have no intention on getting a tripod without one. Trying to level my current tripod probably takes a good two or so minutes, which if you ask me is a waste of time. I am sure the manfrotto is better designed, but even so, a spreader is something I don't want to do without, and why should I have to? What do I gain from not having one?
    With that in mind, the cheapest manfrotto kit that comes with a spreader, is $400. A whole $200 more than the Davis and Sanford and I really can't justify spending $400 on a tripod right now because I want the name "Manfrotto" on it and a spreader. I only spent $100 on my Canon HV20 from craigslist, so throwing $400 at a tripod right now is not exactly how I want to spend my money.
    For static shots all tripods, essentially, will function the same. After watching countless videos online of the FM18 and the 701, I can't see any reason to get the 701. They seem to have the same level of stability when panning/tilting.
    [quote="Ben"]go Manfrotto or go home[/quote]
    This sentiment just sounds fanboyish. I mean I haven't found any information out there, as of yet, to make me think that the 701 is somehow superior to the FM18. It is different, but superior? I just have yet to see that.
    [quote]You just have to decide what you really want the tripod for, I suppose, and to what extent.[/quote]
    The most obvious reason I want a tripod is to do stable shots. Shots without shake. Whether I be panning, tilting, or both, I want to have a stable movement. From what I have seen both tripods will allow me to achieve that.
    Next I want to eventually mount a slider on top, which as far as I can see, both tripods would be equally capable of doing. Also I want to be able to mount a jib on it, if and when that is something I am able to acquire. The Davis & Sanford has a max load capacity of 12 pounds. The $300 Manfrotto is only 8 pounds and the $400 is 13.
    Bottom line, from the research I have done, there is nothing I need, or even want, that Manfrotto can offer that Davis and Sanford doesn't have for a fraction of the price. Maybe there is something I'm overlooking, and I'm completely open to that being the case. If there is, please point it out before I make a mistake ;)
  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,252 Staff
    Fluid head is a term that is thrown about to indicate smooth movement in the head, but the fact is that there is a significant difference in how smooth the movement of the head is, and its possible that therein lies the difference with the Manfrotto heads, which do indeed move quite smoothly. Particularly when you have a long lens on, it gets very noticeable when a pan isn't smooth.
    I don't think the spreader will be a big help in leveling the tripod, its more to add stability by reinforcing the legs when they are adjusted all the way up. A huge benefit of tripods without a center column, at least video tripods, is that you can level the head completely independently of what the legs are doing. There is a handle just under the head, and you twist it to loosen the entire head up, shift it to level, and tighten the handle back up, and you are good to go. Like on this one. Its hugely, hugely useful, especially when you are filming on not-so-level ground, which is most of the time that you are on location.
    I don't have any evidence to support the theory that Manfrotto will give better performance at that price point, not having used the Davis & Sanford stuff at all. And the fact that the D & S kit has a 4.5 star rating after 166 user reviews indicates that it can't be all bad. I'm interested to hear what Ben's thoughts are though, after having used them both.
  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    edited October 2012
    Well the FM18 is a fluid head so I assume the movement will be at least similar to the 701. As far as the spreader is concerned, it doesn't appear that the manfrotto has anyway to weigh down the tripod in a situation that it would be necessary, (being on very soft carpet for instance). This is the biggest reason, in my opinion to have a spreader. I can attach my backpack/sandbag or whatever to the tripod with a little string and it will help keep it weighed down.
    I too would love to see what Ben has to say.
  • Ben
    Ben Posts: 51
    Okay, well I guess I'll just give a quick reply with my opinion and you can make your judgments from there.
    At this price point, I don't think $100 is that big a deal to get the name brand. And Manfrotto is the name brand because it's better. In almost every way you could think. The clips that lock the length of the legs in place can be tightened, they're usually stronger (meaning they don't have 'give' or 'sag' after you lock them in place -- offbrand stuff does, almost 100% of the time in my experience, after medium-to-heavy use) and better build. The little mechanisms on either tripod - to adjust the angle of the panning handle, to slide or release the camera's plate, etc - are, as a rule of thumb, very efficient and super strong on Manfrotto stuff, across the board. Other stuff, well.....I dunno, I guess you'll have to see, but I think it's a waste of money. The glue that holds the rubber to the non-Manfrotto plates? That usually fails with the torque of screwing something like, say, a slider or jib onto the small plate, meaning the plate has pulled-up grips and just raw metal on the surface once it's been detached from the slider/crane/whatever.
    I wouldn't be so adamant on this if I didn't have my little $400 investment from 7 years ago continuing to prove itself in lieu of my friends' newer, off-brand stuff. So here's an even more recent example:
    Just finished on October 2nd in Dallas where I had to shoot in the executive offices of a large logistics firm. This is a place where people wanted a certain decorum and certain professionalism, and were used to camera crews in the past with what to look for; and so it was indeed nice for us to have our name-brand Arri lights, our Manfrotto tripod, the L-series glass, etc -- yes, for that, 'name brand' is good for brand reasons. But let's look beyond that, into why that stuff ended up mattering.
    We initially intended to shoot with two Konova sliders on the shoot, both 31.5" models, one (mine, ordered as part of a shoot I did two months ago) much newer but also really rough/miscalibrated and the other older-model but more efficient. I had three friends on the job, one my roommate here in Austin, who I share part of my equipment with, and two others, my friends from Dallas, who come with their own equipment.
    One friend brought an aluminum, medium-weight 'clip' mechanism leg tripod, no spreader, with a 501HDV head. He also brought some heavy-weight Manfrotto sticks that go to his very expensive, fully-loaded AdvantaJib Lite. Right out of the gate, we had to rule out the heavy-weight Manfrotto sticks and the AdvantaJib, because they were too large and cumbersome for use around an office interior for what we were doing. In this case, our 'name brand' stuff wasn't the right tool for the job. So we have left the off-brand sticks and the two Manfrotto heads. Right away, 15 minutes of use with the sticks showed they sagged when anything like a slider was mounted on top of them, so we had to nix those as well.
    I took my friend's 501HDV head off his sticks and put it atop the older slider, took my own 501HDV and put it on the newer (but sorta broken) slider, ready to go. Mounted the 501-head slider on my medium-weight, relatively cheap Manfrotto sticks and called it a day on my first friend's equipment. Now one rig, slider attached, fluid head on top, camera mounted -- was ready to go. We used this all day with a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 to grab medium-wide sliding shots in interviews and to grab some Canon 50mm f/1.2L 'glamour' shots of the office.
    Then we had my other friend, the one with the FM head. To this shoot he brought his FancierStudio Fluid-Head and non-clip two-stage sticks, his FM fluid head (not certain which model) and his extremely inexpensive, extremely simple, but extremely effective Glideshot GSCE72 Jib ($160 shipped). He also had the 701 head that I bought him to use on that project we shot a few weeks ago. The first thing we did was test the FM head on the end of the crane, where the camera would be mounted. The way to go about using the Glideshot, given its simple nature, is to operate the camera from the camera itself, and use the crane as a steadying mechanism. Again, after about 15 minutes of rehearsing camera moves on the FM head, we nixed it and took it off, instead putting the 701 on the end. 5 minutes into the 701 being mounted, we found ourselves not needing to rehearse movements as much, because we were immediately getting smoother, better results.
    Then we have the FancierStudio legs and head. At first we mounted the jib atop this head and legs, and tried to use it throughout the day. Went terribly. Little things started to fail in small ways - the tilt lock on the fluid head started to loosen, meaning the balanced jib would fall slowly with a camera on it, mincing the fingers of anyone operating the camera by holding the end of the jib. The tightening screws holding the plate (which had a jib attached) in place started to loosen as well, sliding (dangerously, might I add) the jib off the tripod sticks. This isn't a heavy jib, either, it's small.
    So then we tried the FM head at the base of the jib, with the 701 on the end with the camera. Worked for a few hours, then started to fail in the same way - tightened pan/tilt knobs and plate-lock knobs failing every 15 minutes and needing re-tightening before the jib collapsed to the ground, camera on-board.
    You might guess where the problem got solved - I got fed up with the off-brand crap and took my friend's 501 off my slider, which was having issues in the first place, and used it as the base for the Glideshot jib. Boom, no problem. We finished off our first day and were geared to go, after 'troubleshooting' through our collective equipment the first day, for a second day of shooting on the 3rd.
    The moral of the story?
    You are free to test out whatever you want. Something that doesn't quite work for me might not quite work for you. I'm not a big 'gear upgrade' kinda person - I had my Canon GL2 for years before I upgraded to HD - because I don't come from a very 'affluent' background and money has always been a bit of an issue for me. I've had a lot of fortune to work on projects the past two years where the clients really believed in Atomic Productions and were willing to invest in equipment for us to get the projects done. But one thing I've retained since my early highschool years (now done with college, by the way) is my Manfrotto tripod. I love it.
    It's not an 'upgradeable' thing for me, and it was only a few hundred dollars. In the scheme of things, that's not a big deal. Think about where you might spend money. I've learned, from being a college student and coming from a (relatively) poor economic background that the better investment is in the better equipment that you don't have to turn around every few years.
    So I read this topic and see Matthias is the original poster, someone I know I've had the pleasure of being able to converse about filmmaking with for a number of years. I berate this topic and really try to hit the 'Manfrotto' line hard because I know that you care about filmmaking and getting the right results, and I'll say in this case, if you don't buy Manfrotto you might as well not even spend more money. Not that there's not other good products out there - there are.
    But, for the money, I personally wouldn't buy them. I'd wait to get the right tool for the job. To me, although I may be biased, that's Manfrotto.
  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    Alright. I will shop around a bit more with the Manfrotto stuff. Thanks for taking the time to write all that out, Ben. I appreciate it.