When photographing landscape-scenic-nature subjects after your camera body your tripod is your most important piece of equipment . There is no one perfect tripod, each make and model has it’s good and bad features, and just like your camera you get what you pay for. An ideal tripod will have a height that is as tall as your eyesight without the use of a center column, it will also have a minimum height that is no more than the height of the camera and head assembly.
The industry standard for most nature photographers is the Manfrotto or Gitzo. Both are made by the same manufacturer. The Manfrotto line of tripods are like Chevys and the Gitzo are like Cadillacs.
A word about tripod heads and quick release systems;
When you shop in the Cadillac level of tripod heads most of these heads are equiped with the Arca-Swiss style of quick-release mechanism. This style is universal among all manufacturers of this style of quick-release. That means any Arca-Swiss style plate will fit a Fourth Generation Design gimbel head, a Kirk ballhead or any other tripod head with a quick release of this design–very handy.
Tripod legs for the Cadillac budget:
Carbon Fiber Leg assemblies for Gitzo:
Model 2542 L Maximum height w/o center column is 59.5″, minimum height 6.7″ plus head and camera. Supports 26.6 pounds. Folded length 24″. Approximate cost is $750.
Model 3541 L Maximum height w/o center column is 59 “, minimum height 6.3″ plus head and camera. Supports 39.6 pounds. Folded length 23.6” Approximate cost is $900.
Tripod Heads for the Cadillac budget:
Tripod heads in this range should all come equipped with the Arca/Swiss style quick release plate. It is the standard for professional quality tripod heads. There are many to choose from, here is a list with hyperlinks to the websites of the manufacturers. Most of these head assemblies are not available at your local photo retailer and are only available directly from the manufacturer.
A ball head is a good general purpose tripod head. Quick and easy to use it is useful for a wide variety of applications. If I could only have one tripod head it would be a ball head. There are many brands to choose from. I own a Kirk BH-1 and have been very happy with it. Prices range from $200 on up.
Really Right Stuff
Three way heads are great for close-up photography or use with large format view cameras. There is only one three-way head as far as I am concerned; the 410 Jr Geared Head, ironically it is a Manfrotto head, but modified by John Zeiss at Fourth Generation Designs to use an Arca/Swiss style quick release.
Contact John directly to purchase the head and modification as a complete package.
For use with long telephoto lenses, again the only make I recommend is by Fourth Generation Designs. Price will vary by model.