To Tripod Or Not To Tripod

To Tripod or Not To Tripod? That is the Question.

I have been a tripod photographer from the first time I bought my camera. Why? Because it is a stable platform for taking photographs whether landscape, nightscape, portrait, fashion, or architecture. Having a stable, sturdy “platform” for your camera is essential to eliminating camera shake and vibration.

For most of my travel and landscape photography I use a tripod whether in rainforests of Costa Rica, the Sacred Valley of the Inkas in Peru (...and yes I spelled it “Inka” ... the original spelling!), or hiking the Swiss or French Alps. I carry a tripod with me whether I need it or not. My go to tripod is the Induro CT214 carbon fiber tripod with a BHD2 ball head. It can support up to a 35-pound camera + lens rig.

Before leaving for the Middle East over the Christmas and New Years holidays, the project manager for the Shamayim Egypt Expedition 2018 sent the photographer team a list of what to bring and what not to bring. One of the missing items on the list was a tripod. I was taken by surprise.

The reason for “no-tripod” instruction was to minimize the photographer’s footprint while shooting in and around Egyptian ancient sites and basically “look like a tourist”. Egyptian authorities consider you a professional when they see a tripod requiring a photography permit of $1500 to $2500 USD depending on your location. Shamayim’s project manager said there would be people from all over walking around. Someone could literally walk into your tripod leg without them knowing it.

I wanted to photograph sunsets and sunrises in the Sahara desert, and the pyramids at night which required a stable platform for my Nikon D850 and 24-120mm F4 lens.

I began investigating using a monopod. I looked at several models from Manfrotto ($$$$), Benro ($$-$$$), and Sirui ($$-$$$) with fold-out locking leg bases. After a thorough web research and reading many online reviews, I choose the Sirui P-324SR monopod with a Sirui K-20X ballhead. Besides this Sirui model being carbon fiber, this model had longer locking legs on its base compared to other models. The locking leg length when fully extended gives solid support when the monopod is fully extended with a camera and lens. The monopod also packed nicely into my large checked luggage. I separated the base from the monopod itself for airline travel.

My first test of the setup was the 2nd night of my stay in Cairo. Our bed & breakfast where we staying had a rooftop lounge that had a clear view of the Giza Plateau and the pyramids. After securing the D850 to the K-20X ballhead, the monopod stabilized within seconds. I did not leave the rig at that moment. I stayed near the rig to ensure it could not tip over. I must say the wide-legged base decision was the right choice for this monopod. Smaller legs might have taken longer to stabilize the rig.

In order to further reduce camera shake, I connected an Alpine Laboratories Spark camera remote control. The Spark allows me to control my D850 from my iPhone. The combination of the Sirui P-324SR and the Spark drastically reduced camera shake. All adjustments to the camera’s settings was done from the Spark app on my iPhone.

To answer the question: To Tripod or Not To Tripod … let the circumstances and environment dictate what you prepare for and bring on location to a shoot. Bringing the monopod was the right decision. Easy to pack, easy to attach my camera backpack and most importantly – it did not draw any attention while I was taking photographs. I look like any other tourist with a camera and a hiking stick.

Please Note: When traveling to/from airports in foreign lands, you may need to pack your tripod or monopod in your checked luggage. I was asked to pack my tripod inside my checked luggage in Ashwan, Egypt international airport. So check with your airline(s) before traveling.

Besides the wide-legged base and twist-lock legs, the Sirui has to other features that I found very useful in the field: (1) the P-324SR has an adjustable friction control ball head mechanism in the base of the monopod that allows tilting the monopod at various angles; (2) a panning hand grip that enables a smooth 360° pan movements.

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