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"Tripod?"  Ah yes, the three-legged dog!
Tripod Travails

Tripods can be an unusually complicated subject.  Here is the 25-cent guide.

Acratech: California-based manufacturer of Arca-Swiss compatible products and some proprietary products.  Makers of the unorthodox Ultimate Ballhead.  Acratech Arca-compatible quick release clamps come in one size.  Major options are (a) a detent pin to prevent accidents; (b) a rubberized tension knob; and (c) double-speed clamping threads.  Acratech generally sells through dealers.

Arca Swiss: originator of the Monoball high-capacity ballhead and inventor of the Arca-Swiss style camera quick release system.  Arca Swiss releases involve a trapezoidal plate that fits into a dovetail slot that is tightened by a finger screw.  Very secure, very simple.  And very expensive.  The Arca quick release system is the most standard of all quick release systems.  Arca did not get very far with custom applications, but American manufacturers did.  Thanks to Acratech, Kirk Enterprises, Really Right Stuff (see separate entries), Arca-style plates come in all shapes and sizes, from simple rubber-covered platforms to special plates that fit the bottom plates of popular cameras  and lenses (the advantages being anti-twist capability and better distributing camera weight).  Not only was imitation the most sincere form of flattery, but the Arca system only got better.

Ballhead: this is a tripod head that has a ball and socket.  The socket is a heavy fixed base that connects to the tripod platform, usually via a 3/8" bolt.  The ball is the spherical (or nearly spherical) part.  Between the ability of the socket to rotate and the ability of the ball to tilt, a ballhead allows almost instant repositioning in three dimensions.  The drop slot is a cutout in the socket that allows the ballhead to pivot down 90 degrees (for vertical shots).   Some ballheads have an independent pan control; i.e., the ball can be adjusted and locked and then the rotating base can be panned and locked.

Benbo: innovative British manufacturer of unorthodox hiking tripods.  Benbos are good at putting cameras into unusual spaces or positions.

Benro: trade name of Yilee Precision Machinery Co., Ltd.  Heads and plates are largely copies of Arca Swiss Monoball units.  Sold in the United States by MAC (Mamiya America Corporation) as Induro.

Bogen: see Manfrotto.

Center column: the center column is located in the space where the three tripod legs form an apex.  The top side of a center column is the platform.  Columns can be smooth or geared.  Column height increases overall tripod height, but it decreases rigidity.  On some tripods, like Gitzo, you can substitute a fixed platform or short column for the main one (mainly to increase rigidity and reduce weight).

Flip-lock: a type of leg lock that cams a lever against the leg to keep the leg from extending or retracting under load.  Quick to use but not for people with arthritis.

Fluid head: a type of pan head that has damping to make panning smoother.

Geared column: a center column that has gear teeth on it and a crank on the tripod "shoulder."  This allows the user to raise the camera without physically pulling up on the camera itself.  This is a heavy mechanism best used for heavy equipment.

Giottos: Chinese manufacturer of clones of Arca Swiss, Gitzo, and Manfrotto gear.  Note that a Giottos design may have the "DNA" of several other manufacturers.

Gitzo: French manufacturer of machine gun mounts that grew up to be a tripod and monopod company.  Traditional material is hammertone steel, but Gitzo also makes basalt, aluminum and carbon-fiber tripods.  Top-rate.

Induro: see Benro.

Kirk Industries.  Indiana-based manufacturer of Arca-Swiss compatible equipment and some proprietary products.  The newest line of Kirk quick release clamps (multiple sizes) includes bubble levels.  If you use an L-bracket, you only need to level the tripod head once for successive vertical or horizontal shots.  Kirk also manufactures the BH-1 and BH-3 tripod heads which, not surprisingly, are very similar to the Arca Monoball heads.

Legs: tripod legs are the three legs plus a shoulder piece.  You need to add a head to get a complete camera support.

Leveling head: generally a thin, limited movement ballhead that allows the rapid leveling of the main tripod head (within a 10-15 degree range).  Leveling heads, not surprisingly, have bubble levels embedded in them.

Lever-lock: see flip lock.

Linhof: Bavarian camera company that also made some fantastic tripods.  The two best examples are the Lightweight Pro and the Profi-Port.  Linhof tripods have unusually high strength for their size and weight.  Limhof's current line is oriented toward very large, very high capacity tripods (which, naturally, are not so light).  Linhofs have reversible platforms that give you a 3/8" or 1/4" attachment stud at the top of the legs.  The same is true of most Linhof ballheads.  This makes them very adaptable to alternative camera platform systems such as Arca Swiss.

Manfrotto: Italian maker of tripods and accessories for Bogen.  Depending on the vintage and the product line, it can range from hardware-store quality (older items) to beginner (lightweight tripods) to the super-duty (professional video supports).  Manfrotto makes a bunch of interesting products (squeeze trigger grip ballhead, anyone?!), but as with a lot of lines, you get what you pay for.  Don't trust any leg set that costs less than $100.

Pan head: this is a rotating tripod head that is controlled by a handle that extends from the back of the platform on the head.  Twisting the handle usually releases or sets the locking mechanism. 

Really Right Stuff: California-based manufacturer of Arca-Swiss compatible products and some proprietary items.  RRS has a proprietary (shared with Wemberly) flip-lock Arca clamp (with integrated bubble level).  The clamps with thumbscrews do not have levels.  RRS also makes a line of ballheads of sleek, modern design.  One of the more interesting RRS products is the panning clamp, which is a quick-release clamp that has its own calibrated panning mechanism and integrated level.

Slik: Formerly Slick, this is a Japanese manufacturer of tripods that run from the cheap and amateur to the mid-price range.  The original Slik quick-release plates (#6121) are really circular studs that drop into a circular hole in the tripod platform.  You then turn a screw or lever to cam the camera down onto the rubberized tripod platform.  More modern Slik products involve proprietary circular or rectangular quick release plates.  A suprising number of Slik tripod heads are not oriented toward quick-release operation.

Stud: a male threaded connector that sticks up from a tripod platform (usually 3/8") or from the ball on a ballhead.

Tripod: three legged camera support.  Tripods can have spread legs (three legs with no connection to the center column) or umbrella struts (three legs interconnected via struts to the center column.

Twist lock: a different type of leg locking that requires the user to twist a ring (concentric with the leg) or to twist a thumbscrew.  Depending on how implemented, this can be more fun to use than flip-lock.

Velbon: quirky Japanese manufacturer of ballheads and tripods.  Velbon makes some excellent simple monopods and some great magnesium heads.  Proprietary quick-release system (not easily exchanged for any other type of clamp).

Wemberly: early American clone of Arca Swiss.  Relatively limited product line.