PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

25Aug/080

Tripod testing results

A good friend was kind enough to lend me a Gitzo 1327 for testing (and my education). It was an eye-opening experiment to say the least. I had to tell my friend that he cost me money by lending me this wonderful toy.

Test Subjects

  • Bogen 3001N + Bogen 3025 head
  • Gitzo 1327 + Bogen Compact Ball/Plate

Note: I put my current head on John’s legs and my old head on my current legs.

Experimental Parameters

Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR ED-IF
Focal length: 200mm (300mm effective)
Speed: 1/4 second
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 100
Distance: ~13 feet

Note: The D80 is a mid-range camera and doesn’t have a mirror lock-up mode. It does have an “exposure delay” mode that waits ~¼ second between flipping the mirror and opening the shutter. I varied this parameter.

Note: The 70-200 has VR and I chose to also vary this parameter. At first I assumed VR would be the enemy so I disabled it for most shots. Towards the end of the experiment I switched it on – with surprising results.

Reference Image

This image was taken at 1/250 second under flash power. The result is free of motion blur, and is about as sharp as the 70-200 gets @ 200mm (its weakest length). There’s just a touch of softness compared to D80’s maximum available resolution, with is only achievable @70mm on this lens or with more exotic glass.

Note: No images have been sharpened in this test, including this one.

Note: All images are 100% crops from an area covering roughly 1% of the total frame.

Bogen-vs-Gitzo: w/ exposure delay & w/o VR

This is the obvious first test, which I will dub the “prosumer” test. The D80’s exposure delay mode is a poor-man’s mirror-up, and is indicated for this kind of shooting. As per popular wisdom, VR is turned off.

Both tripods produced results that are softer than the reference shot, but would hold well to scrutiny by most ordinary viewers. There’s a very minor edge to the Gitzo here, but you have to look pretty hard to see it.


LEFT: Gitzo. RIGHT: Bogen.

Bogen-vs-Gitzo: w/o exposure delay & w/o VR

This is the “prosumer in a hurry” test, in that we all know we should disable VR/IS on a tripod but we may not always take the time to set our cameras for an exposure delay / mirror up. This is how I my use my own tripod most of the time, and I expect most of you too.

Armageddon is the result.

The Gitzo produced very soft results here, perhaps usable but just barely. The Bogen however produced useless garbage.


LEFT: Gitzo. RIGHT: Bogen.

Bogen-vs-Gitzo: w/o exposure delay & w/ VR

This is the “consumer” test. You just put the camera on automatic, plunk it down on the tripod. Leave VR on. Don’t change settings.

Both tripods improved over the previous test.

The Gitzo produces usable results now under these conditions, somewhere in-between the previous two tests. The Bogen also improved but still isn’t as good as the Gitzo was w/o VR, I wouldn’t use this result.


LEFT: Gitzo. RIGHT: Bogen.

Conclusion

I have a few take-home messages:

  • Mirror-up / exposure-delay is essential for tripod use in the “danger zone” of 1-second to 1/30-second exposure times.
  • The D80’s exposure-delay mode may not be as good as a true mirror-up (speculation) but it’s certainly no joke. It delivers real value.
  • The Gitzo carbon tripod is substantially better than the Bogen aluminum tripod to dampen vibration.
  • If you don’t have a mirror-up / delay mode, keep VR / IS on when using a tripod.
  • This is probably all true for long lenses, 200mm effective and above. Not sure if it's such a good idea to keep VR on for shorter focal lengths. I will make another experiment later with a normal or wide length.

    It's capital to note before leave that besides improved effectiveness the Gitzo product's construction is head-and-shoulder above the Bogen product. The higher price is pretty clearly justified. Sigh.


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