Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tripods and Heads

To get the best out of any telescope you need to have it mounted as steadily as possible, so a good tripod suitable for your requirements is essential. First of all we must look at the anatomy of a tripod. Essentially there are two elements: the legs and the head. Many of the lower cost tripods available (£40-£100) come as a kit of legs and head, when spending a little more you get the option of making your own combination.

The legs are the part that gives the majority of the stability and the weight of the tripod, and here there are two key specifications to consider: the material they are made form and the overall size, both when folded and fully extended.

Carbon fibre is a woven
 material giving strength
 in all directions.
There are two types of material commonly used for legs. Most are made from aluminium alloy, being both light weigh and strong, but if you want the best combination of low weight and maximum rigidity then carbon fibre is the way to go.

The head is the critical interface between the tripod and scope, an inappropriate or poor quality head can spoil a good scope so this is the part to get right. Below are the three main types.

2-way (pan and tilt) and video heads.
The Manfrotto 128 head easily supports
even the heaviest scopes.
Velbon PH-157Q
These are generally the best for use with scopes, having the minimum number of moving parts. The best head we have come across in the last 11 years is the Manfrotto 128 RC2, which gives a beautifully smooth movement and has proved to withstand even the most extreme amount of use and weather conditions unscathed. This type is the best for a scope and is good for wildlife photography with a telephoto lens, especially birds in flight. The Velbon PH-157Q is primarily a 2-way head, both movements controlled with one handle, but the top can be flipped through 90° to allow for portrait format shots.

3-way (pan, tilt and landscape/portrait orientation) heads.
These are designed to be compatible with both scopes and for photography. This type is often lighter than a fluid video head but are usually less controllable. Great for switching between a scope and landscape or macro photography.

Ball heads.
Primarily for photography, these offer the greatest freedom of movement. This quality is desirable for taking photos with wide angle and macro and standard lenses, but can be very awkward for a telescope.

The size of tripod you require depends both on your hight and on where you intend to use it. For general use a three-section leg tripod (one with two clips on each leg) is often the best, but if you want it to fit in a rucksack or a suitcase for travelling abroad then a four-section leg will retract to a smaller size.
When it comes to carrying a scope and tripod together there are a couple of options, a shoulder strap attached to the tripod or one of our Mule Packs, which effectively turns the tripod into a backpack. Having the weight supported on both shoulders makes the scope and tripod seem lighter and leaves you hands completely free for using your binoculars. It can be tempting to carry your kit by the strap on the scopes case with the tripod hanging below, but in our experience this can strip the thread on the foot of the scope which can lead to expensive repairs.

Visit us at Glandford and Cley Marshes to try out our tripods.

Cley Spy

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