Wednesday, March 16, 2011


A family of three legged things

This weekend I purchased a new tripod, which was a joyful event for me.  I already have a lot of tripods:
  1. One with a missing mounting plate because the plate was attached to the bottom of my old Canon that I 'lost' in France in 2002 after drinking ten pints of Exceedingly Strong Lager
  2. One spindly legged and very wobbly tripod that it's mandatory to be given for free when you spend lots of money on new cameras in the Wan Chai computer store
  3. A Benro tripod that's slightly less spindly than the free tripod, with a ball head, which is jolly nice, but with a rather awkward quick release plate that seems to require you to push much too hard on the body of your camera when you're trying to mount it
  4. A minature tripod for a very small camera, that falls over when I put even my compact camera on it.

None of these tripods gave the combination of a quick release, a ball head, stability and transportability.  Thus when I saw a Velbon Ultra Mini Maxi tripod in Kota Kinabalu back in February, I realised I'd come across the holy grail of tripods.

Well, the holy grail for me.  I understand that if you want to go and take a nice landscape shot, you want some Manfrotto beast that weighs as much as you do, for maximum stability and pose value.  But just like cameras, the best tripod is the one that you have with you, and the Velbon Ultra Mini Maxi, although having a patently silly name, is the perfect size to fit inside my camera case, along with my camera and a spare lens.

That means that I can take it on holiday with me without even having to start worrying about whether I have enough space for it or if I'll have to check it into the hold of the plane, and that means that I can take nicely composed shots from the window of my hotel room without having to balance my pride and joy precariously on a stack of suitcases, chairs, pillows, cushions and laptop cases, like I had to in order to get this shot of Marugame:
Darkened floodlights, Marugame

Mind you, this wasn't as easy as it should have been. Hong Kong is full of camera shops, but all of them wanted to sell me an enormous tripod, or a small tripod without a ball head, or something else that wasn't what I wanted. And I didn't fancy going back to Kota Kinabalu to pay twice as much for the tripod as I could see it for on Amazon. But I also didn't want to buy it from Amazon as it didn't appear to have a ball head there, and although I could buy a replacement head to put on the tripod, that way madness lies.

Madness, and a flat filled with discarded tripod components.

Finally, after wandering around Hong Kong, I went to Stanley Street and found a shop selling something that looked quite like the Velbon that I wanted. But with no head. The salesman suggested this was a feature, as I could then buy whatever head I wanted separately. But that's a bit like selling somebody a new Ferrari without any tyres: sure, you get all the choice you could ever wish for, but it would be nice to buy something that worked before starting to throw extra money at it.

I put it back on the shelf, walked down the street. And discovered to my surprise that the transport infrastructure in Hong Kong can't be that good, because it costs an extra 80 HK$ to move a tripod a hundred yards up Stanley Street. At least, that seems to be the reason that the shop further down the hill is so much cheaper.

Plus they were selling a tripod with a head already attached, which meant it would be instantly usable. Except it wasn't a ball head with a quick release. I asked if they had one in stock - they said they didn't. We suggested that they could order it in for us, and at this point the untrusting nature/desperation to make a sale kicked in. We would happily have come back the following week if they'd ordered us the part we wanted, but they didn't believe that. Instead, they ran off, removed the head I wanted from a different tripod entirely, and stuck it on my desired tripod body, and then didn't charge me any more, even though the new head looks much better than the slightly cruddy original, non-quick release, non-integral spirit level version that I've got.

Which was nice.

Here it is, holding up my 5D without any fuss.
A nice big camera on a quite small tripod

And here it is, packed snugly away with my camera, ready for its next exciting journey:


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