Planning to rebuild my tripod (long)

Oct 28, 2006
Munich, Germany
So, I finally decided to (probably) neither get any new glass this year, nor a second body, but instead I will do the long overdue and rebuild my tripod.

Currently, my main camera is a D200 w/grip, and the heaviest glass I use are 200/4 AF micro, 80-200/2.8 (w/collar), and 300/4 AFS (at times w/TC14). Secondary camera is F5 with anything up to the 80-200/2.8. The heaviest glass I'm even remotely considering to add in the future is along 300/2.8 w/TCs (up to 2x), 500/4 or (just a remote possibility) 400/2.8. So anything I do to my future tripod setup should take this into account and have enough reserves to grow into.

My current tripod setup is, including the gripes I have with each:
  • Old Gitzo 2-series aluminum legs (three sections). Stability currently seems to be sufficient (but not more). Main problem I have with this is the height, the legs do not extend to eye level, and using the center column is not an option due to insufficient stability with the above mentioned gear.
  • Linhof 2 ball head. This was sufficient for the F3HP and AiS glass like 28/2.8 or 105/2.8 I used when I got this, but my gear has definitely outgrown this. Camera movement when fixing the head is awful, and really takes the joy out of using this setup.
  • Manfrotto QR base and hexagonal plates. Honestly, I always thought they are a PITA (or rather, in the belly), but they were all that could be readily bought here at the time (15 yrs ago).
The following are my thoughts about a replacement setup. Comments and answers to questions below are very welcome:

Tripod: As the current one is the strongest link in above setup, I actually might replace this last. As I definitely want something that extends up to eye level w/o center column, I'm currently thinking along the lines of a GT3530LSV or GT3540LS. I'm not a particular friend of center columns, therefore the inclination to go with the "S" series right away.

Ball head: This actually seems to be the easiest part. With the Euro currently being very strong against the US Dollar, I'm thinking about ordering an RRS BH-55 directly at RRS and have it shipped overseas. Even adding import duties, this will be the best deal I can get, and should end all future ball head woes and discussions whether something else would be better. I'm pretty much set on this, and honestly don't want to consider anything else than this (hopefully overkill) solution. From my search here and elsewhere I got the impression that this seems to be about the best BH to get anyway.

QR system: Now, here it starts to get confusing. Obviously, I will want some Arca compatible system (also see below). However, RRS offers two types of clamps with their heads, screw and lever, of which the lever is supposed to have possible compatibility problems with some manufacturers' plates. A search here turned up that this seems to be not an issue for at least some of the Kirk plates.
Question: About the only thing I liked about that otherwise dreadful Manfrotto QR system is that it's spring loaded, that is, when putting the camera w/plate on it, it just snaps shut. Will the RRS lever type plate do this too, or do I have to manually move the lever in the shut position? If the latter, i will probably just go for the screw type clamp anyway.
Question: Obviously, in the long run I will want a clamp to put on my monopod, too. I already use the Manfrotto tilt head, so will just add a clamp to that. Any advice on maximum size of such a clamp for the above mentioned gear? Some of my lenses have their foot quite near to the lens mount, so I fear clearance might become an issue, especially as the battery compartment extends quite a bit forward.

Body QR plate (D200): Actually, this is the fist step in this rebuild, as I recently won a bid for a practically unused Kirk BL-D200G (D200+grip) on that big auction site, at a very good price (less than 40% of what this thing retails for here in Germany). This was a lucky last-20-minutes find&bid, and probably just what's been needed to put me on track here regarding the tripod rebuild.
Question: Can anybody confirm whether the Kirk BL-D200G is compatible with the RRS lever type clamps?

Body QR plate (F5): Actually, I recently don't use the F5 on the tripod anymore (all landscape shooting is currently D200). Therefore I just might get a simple (but matched) QR plate for the F5 instead of an L bracket, and might even postpone this for a while.
Question: How are your experiences with a body this heavy when used on the BH-55 w/o L bracket. Obviously one will have to flip it sidewards for portrait orientation, but I have no idea how bothersome this may become.

Lens plates: This starts to get difficult. The Kirk and RRS plates seem to be quite differently made, in some minor but maybe decisive details. Both offer the possibility to add a flash bracket to the plate, which at least for the 200/4, and possibly for the 300/4, I actually might want to do in the future. But, both connections seems to be mutually incompatible, so this might become the decisive point: From what I see on their websites, the RRS plates and flash bracket are dovetail slip-on and tighten by screw designs, while the Kirk ones are strictly connect by screwing the bracket onto the plate (via fixing screw). Furthermore, I got the impression that the Wimberley flash brackets might be compatible with the RRS plates, while they seem to be incompatible with the Kirk ones.
Question: Is my impression that one can use the Wimberley flash bracket on the RRS plates but not on the Kirk ones, right?
Question: What's your favorite flash bracket to use with either 200/4 micro or 300/4, anyway? (Assuming macro or wildlife shooting, obviously.)

Lens collar for the 300/4 AFS: Obviously, my current setup (especially the BH) is too weak for this lens, especially when together with the TC14. So, I cannot really decide whether I really need a special lens collar, or whether a lens plate (maybe together with the Champagne cork) will suffice. Also, I currently practically don't use this lens on the tripod anyway, but either hand-held (for BIF), or on a monopod.
Questions: Obviously, the same compatibility questions as above regarding compatibility of the Kirk and RRS collars concerning both clamps (RRS lever or screw), and flash brackets (RRS, Wimberley, or Kirk). My impression is, that the Kirk collar would only be compatible with the Kirk flash brackets? Also, supposing that for the time being, I will continue to use this lens on the monopod mainly (therefore, at shutter speeds probably above 1/160), will I notice a difference between a replacement collar and Nikon collar+lens plate at all?

Regarding these open questions, I currently am inclined to get a traditional screw type clamp, and for starters only a lens plate for the 300/4, but any hints on this matter are welcome.

Yeah, I guess I'm a bit agonizing over this, because this time I just want to get it right on the first try, without ending up with any useless gear bought:redface:. Also, this definitely is a long-term investment, as I'll probably/hopefully end up using most of this gear for the rest of my life.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for any answers, comments, and ideas.


I can only speak of the Manfrotto QR system and the StudioBall QR system (which is interchangeable with the Arca Swiss unit), the only two that I've owned.

The Manfrotto was pretty reliable and locked well. It was spring loaded and that was convenient. I had no problems with it. I sold it with my 4 x 5 as it was too big for my other equipment.

I have a StudioBall and a QR on my Bogan camera stand. I have a Hasseblad plate and it latches into the quick release and there is a knob to securely clamp it. This works very well.

Note that the higher priced studio balls are egg shaped and not spherical. By being egg shaped they loosen at the top of the travel before it loosens up on an angle so the camera will not easily flop over. It is very expensive to machine a ball this way and the cheaper balls do not have this feature.

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