Taming the Three-Legged Beast

That’s hard-boiled slang for talking tripods.  And there’s lots of chatter on the subject…just surf the forums and you’ll see. There are plenty of hollow-eyed shooters out there searching for the elusive “perfect ten” 3-legged creature. You know the old song, “I like my TJ-4630b, but…”  There’s always a “but” at the end (so to speak).

I’ve owned some nice tripods in my day, but still kept an eye peeled for one a little lighter, a little steadier, a little more responsive or durable. And, oh yeah, one less expensive than a Porsche. Now an amateur might think s/he’s got great legs after snapping one up for $39.99 at Target. But then they get out in the field and discover their shots are still a little blurry—the dang thing’s prone to the wobblies.  

But it sure is light! 

So you realize there’s a balance that must be struck, and a trade-off depending on the kind of photography you do. If you mainly shoot video, you’ll be climbing the ladder toward a $1,000+  price tag. If most of your shooting takes place in a studio, you won’t get hung up on the issue of weight. For the photojournalist, however, weight is a major consideration.  

Ultimately price is a clue as to what you’re getting, although you don’t have to spend a thousand bucks to find satisfaction. You can, of course, but you don’t have to.

What a pleasant surprise to discover the Feisol CT-3441S  Rapid Tripod, which lists for $388 and is available from Really Big.Cameras. By professional standards a tripod costing less than $400 is considered “inexpensive,” so the antenna go up. But when you hold this baby in your hands it oozes quality. At 2.2lbs it was born to be a world class traveler, and folds up to 43cm (16.9 inches)—compact  enough  to stuff inside a gear bag or backpack. So far so good, but what about stability?

There’s some nice tension when you pull the legs out, and the unit claims the ground firmly when you plant it down— another good sign. Precision twist locks set leg position securely.

After mounting a Nikon D300s with battery pack, you discover just how sturdy this little gem is. The Rapid (RAL) model stands for Rapid Action and Anti-Rotation Legs—meaning the leg angle can be set quickly to  25, 50, 75 degrees—even flipped upward 180 degrees! 

You can take incredibly low shots at 35 cm.

…and stand tall at a height of 70.1 inches via its two-piece telescoping center column. That it folds up to such a compact size is truly  masterful design and engineering.  So all in all we’re talking an immensely versatile tripod  that’s  fast on the draw, fast folding on exit, light to carry, AND amazingly steady. And it’s sure to be a hit with photojournalists.

A sleek black carry bag is included.

I tested the CT-3441S  with a PC-D300 -Up universal quick release plate for the D300s (Really Big Cameras offers release plates to fit various DSLR models). To be frank, some quick release plates are anything but. Sticky and Tricky might be a better description, but not the PC-D300…it slips on and off the Feisol smoothly, fast and easy without a hitch— a slight twist of a knob locks it in place.

Now comes the pièce de résistance

…the Photo Clam Professional BallHead PC-33NS. It’s love at first shot, a precision gizmo perfectly in tune with the Feisol CT-3441S  Rapid Tripod.

Here are the stats:

Ball Diameter : 33mm/1.30in
Housing Diameter : 43mm/1.70in
Panning Base Diameter : 50mm/1.96in
Height : 87mm/3.43in
Load Capacity : 30kg/66lbs
Weight : 310g10.9oz/0.7lb
Friction Preset : Yes
Levels : Yes
Color available : Red,Blue and Gold

If you shoot panoramas, you’ll dig this hot clam. It allows you to maintain a fixed angle while measuring each shot via a Panorama Scale. Pan smoothly for series perfection. The unit’s Multi-function grip offers total control. Talk about steady moves,  you’ve got every angle covered to level perfection—quick shifts, snappy readjustments, and what I call pure photoflow.  That’s when the  tool is in synch with the artist’s vision.

This duo has just won our Street Smart Editors’ Choice Award.