Manfrotto ™
A Vitec Group brand

Tripods & Telephotos

The importance of a tripod when you use telephoto lenses can not be stressed enough. The basic rule of thumb for hand-holding a shot is that the minimum shutter speed you use should be set to one over the focal length of the lens for any hope of a sharp image. In other words, if you have a 250mm lens, the minimum shutter speed you can hand hold the camera is 1/250 of a second.

And even at that setting you need a very steady hand to get a great result. Luckily, with recent innovations in tripods and heads you can get that sharp shot and still have the positioning freedom of hand holding the camera.

Topics Covered:

  • How can a Tripod help?
  • Why a Grip Head?
  • Finding the center of gravity
  • Choosing camera position
  • Lighting is the key

Manfrotto Equipment Used:

  • Manfrotto 190MF3 tripod
  • Manfrotto 488RC2 ball head

Other Equipment Used:

  • Olympus HLD-2 Power Battery Holder
  • Olympus 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5 Digital Zuiko Zoom Lens
  • Olympus BLM-1 Lithium-Polymer Battery Pack
  • Olympus E-1
  • Lexar 4GB Compact Flash card
  • Lexar Multi card reader
How can a Tripod help?

Not only does a tripod hold the camera steady when you use a long lens, it also saves your back. Tthose of you that shoot wildlife, nature or travel, know that holding the camera steady while you wait for that great once-in-a-lifetime shot can be agony on your back and arms. So why not let the tripod do that work for you, and improve your shots as well.

In terms of tripod choice for outdoor/nature work, Manfrotto offer a choice between aluminum and carbon fiber models at a variety of maximum heights and weights so that trekking fully-laden out into the wilderness won't prove an ordeal. For lightness, we chose the 190MF3 carbon fiber for this lesson. Its carbon fiber construction and fittings mean it's rust-resistant, and is 30% lighter than its aluminum counter part... but stronger and more rigid.

All Manfrotto's tripods for outdoor and bird watching/spotting use come with a black or dark green non-glare finish, which helps to stop the reflections that can spook your subjects. Nature photographers or users of spotting scopes and sport optics often prefer tripod heads originally developed for video rather than photographic use. Fluid video heads normally do not allow for portrait setting of the camera but they do allow for much easier and smoother movement of the head (using the pan bar) when following and framing birds in flight, moving animals, etc. In addition, more professional (but normally heavier) models are counterbalanced, frictionable and adjustable, helping to support long lenses which can put the camera load off-center.

Learning from camera bodies and lenses, Manfrotto's modular tripod system separates the head from the tripod legs, yet maintains a common fitting method and screw size for all models except the top video heads, you can interchange heads for different purposes or shoots, and you can also choose to update one part of your kit without throwing away the rest. When opting for a purely photographic head, a three way head can offer extremely precise positioning for macro work or landscape, but a ball head or grip action head is more rapid to use and simpler to reposition and lock. We've used a 488RC2 ball head because of the fact it gives you unlimited movement and allows you to lock off the camera in any position with one hand.

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows the 190MF3 without the head fitted, you can see the non-reflective finish of the carbon fiber construction that makes this the best all around outdoor tripod form Manfrotto.

Figure 2
The 190MF3 comes equipped with non-skid rubber feet installed, these work well on most surfaces. If you intend to shoot on uneven soft surfaces, we recommend that you replace the stock feet with the adjustable spike feet (figure 2).
Here we see the 190MF3 with the retractable spiked feet installed. When you get into the woods you can retract the rubber to expose the steel spike that will give you the solid footing you need when you shoot nature shots. Figure 3 shows the convertible feet in action.

Figure 3


To install the accessory feet, first remove the supplied rubber feet by slipping them off the tripod legs. Included in the replacement kit you will find a tool for installing the new feet, before placing the feet on the tripod legs, loosen the set screws on the new feet. Then slip the feet onto the end of the tripod legs and tighten the screws with the tool (figure 4).

Figure 4


To extend the legs on the 190MF3 you perform a simple three-step operation. Uun-lock the leg sections by opening the quick action levers, pull out the leg to the length you want and then re-lock the leg into position by closing the levers. Use the thicker leg sections first for more stable support. Leg lengths and angles are independent, so even on uneven terrain you can easily get the tripod level (figure 5).

Figure 5


Figure 6
Why a Ball Head?

The 488RC2 has the same finish and gives you the ability to silently move the camera and follow the subject with one hand and keep your other hand on the shutter so you won't miss that special shot when it happens. The 488RC2 also has a tension adjustment so you can tune the head to the weight of the huge lens and lock it securely when you set the ball lock knob (figure 6).
The 488RC2 ball head gives you the silent, quick movement you need in the wild. Figure 7 show some of the positions available with the ball head.

Figure 7


Finding the center of gravity

When you're out in the field shooting nature and wildlife, finding a flat spot to set up your shot can be difficult. Setting up your tripod on the side of a hill or on a slope can present a few scary problems as well. Finding the center of gravity and setting your camera as close to this point as you can will ensure the safety and the long life of your expensive cameras and lenses.

Figure 8
The extensive adjustments on the Manfrotto 055NAT3 (MF3 not shown) tripod make setting the camera in the safe position a snap.

In figure 8 we show the wrong way to set this shot up, the center of gravity is set to the of low side greatly increasing the likelihood of the camera and tripod falling over.
To correct this problem we will make some simple adjustments to the tripod legs. First, push the leg angle adjustment clip down to release the leg. Then pull the leg out and set into the next position, the leg will click into place and lock (figures 9 and 10).

Figure 9

Figure 10
Because we have changed the angle of the leg we need to adjust the length to get our center balanced. To do this we unlocked the leg extension clip, centered the tripod, and relocked the leg into position (figures 11 and 12).

Figure 11

Figure 12
The next thing to consider is how to mount the camera and long lens to the tripod. Most long lenses come with a mounting yoke attached to them and these are removable and adjustable in most cases. We highly recommend you use these, as they relieve the added tension the heavy lens puts on the camera's lens mount. They also center the weight of the lens over the center of the tripod making the movement of the camera and lens much smoother.

(The Manfrotto 222 Grip Action Ball Head shown )

Figure 13
In figure 13 we have attached the Quick Release plate to the lens mounting yoke. The plate can be mounted to the lens in two directions, shown by arrows on the underside of the plate. We will mount the plate so its longest side is in line with the direction of the lens. For safety's sake we left the caps on the lens, and we mounted the lens to the tripod without the camera attached (figure 14).

(Note: The 488RC2 uses the same Quick Release plate as the 222G head shown in the image.)
We then removed the caps and put the lens hood in place (figure 15).

Figure 14

Figure 15
Now we can attach the camera and get shooting (figure 16 and 17).

Figure 16

Figure 17
We set up our camera as follows, for focus we set it to manual, ISO was set to 100, and resolution set to TIFF. For our exposure we used the BDE (Basic Daylight Exposure) also called "sunny 16". For those of you that have never heard of these terms, all it means is we set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to 1/ISO or 1/100 of a second. This a basic rule you can use any time when you're shooting in sunlight.
Here are a few shots we made at these settings (figure 18).

Figure 18


To finish this lesson we reset our exposure settings to increase our shutter speed and reduce our aperture, keeping the same exposure value. What we mean is that if we increase the shutter speed from 1/100 to 1/800, to keep the exposure value the same we need to adjust the aperture the same amount. The change from 1/100 to 1/800 is 3 stops (1/200= 1 stop, 1/400= 2 stops and 1/800= 3 stops)... to match this in our aperture we need to set it from f16 to f/5.6 (f/11= 1 stop, f/8 = 2 stops, and f/5.6 = 3 stops).

The shots we will now take will have the same look from the exposure stand point, but because we have a faster shutter speed we should have no movement , and we should have a much shorter depth of field (figure 19).

Figure 19


The importance of the tripod when you're shooting wildlife with the long lens is also that it allows you to try different exposure settings without risking blur. In this example we went for a faster shutter speed and shorter depth of field, but had we wanted greater depth of field to f22, we'd have needed to decrease shutter speed to 1/50 - and could have got very shaky photos without the tripod.

The following are some examples of shots we made while we were out in the field (figures 19 and 20). The in-flight image of the geese and the surfer images were made much easier by the fact that we decided to use a 701RC2 fluid video head, allowing us to follow the moving subjects without introducing camera shake.

Figure 20


Figure 21


Manfrotto Equipment Used:

  • Manfrotto 190MF3 tripod
  • Manfrotto 488RC2 ball head


Other Equipment Used:

  • Olympus HLD-2 Power Battery Holder
  • Olympus 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5 Digital Zuiko Zoom Lens
  • Olympus BLM-1 Lithium-Polymer Battery Pack
  • Olympus E-1
  • Lexar 4GB Compact Flash card
  • Lexar Multi card reader