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yet another question re: tripod/beanbag on photo safari

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Jun 24th, 2005, 01:05 AM
  #1
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yet another question re: tripod/beanbag on photo safari

My husband and I are really light packers and only bring carryons. But for our Tanzania trip this November, much to my dismay, my husband seems intent on bringing a tripod or monopod. He did not bring one to South Africa and says he wished that he had. Since we'll be on a private safari this time with just our driver and the two of us, he thinks he'll be able to use a tripod or monopod even though everything I've read says not to bring them. Presumably he is worried about photographing in low-light conditions and minimizing camera shake, although he did just buy a Minolta Maxxum 7D which has the image stabilizer built into the body of the camera, which should help. I know many people recommend bringing a beanbag instead of a tripod or monopod, but I must confess I have never understood why that would be useful. If you already have something to rest the beanbag on then why do you need the beanbag? Can't you just rest the camera on the top of the vehicle or on the bottom of the window or on a seatback or something (this is what we did in S. Africa)? In other words, why do you need something for the camera to rest on besides the vehicle itself? And if you did need something to rest the camera on, why a beanbag and not a guidebook or a folded-up article of clothing or anything else? I know I must be missing something. (I'm assuming the engine is not running so as to minimize vibration to begin with.) Kavey & others, can you explain the beanbag thing to me, & any advice for me to relay to DH on the practicality (or lack thereof) of bringing a tripod or monopod on safari? Thanks in advance.
lisa is offline  
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Jun 24th, 2005, 03:15 AM
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Hi Lisa,
I have just returned from a walking safari and have been using a maxxum 7d with a sigma 170-500(255-750 in digi terms). I took a monopole with me and to be quite honest it was a waste of time, as the anti shake on the minolta takes care of it. Also when we were in a landrover it was possible to take shots with the lense right out, even with the engine running.
There also could be a problem with taking a monopole onto planes as hand luggage, as it makes a fine cosh when retracted!!
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Jun 24th, 2005, 07:00 AM
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I agree with your husband...for a serious photographer on a private safari a tripod or monopod can be a great help. Beanbags have their place, but then you are limited to the placement and height of solid things which can act as a foundation, a tripod or monopod is far more flexible. The value of a beanbag is that it can fill in the spaces around the camera body & lense to make the camera really stable. Ideally, you would use this with a cable release too. A book or clothing can't do that, and resting a camera on a vehicle part still leaves lots of wobble.

I'm not familiar with the Minolta's system, but I've used Nikon & Canon's lens-based systems, and a tripod is still far, far better. No matter how good the Minolta system might be, it's hard to believe that a serious photographer is going to ditch their tripod! None of these manufacturers claim their systems eliminate shake or vibration--only that they will reduce it. However image stabilization systems are excellent options for the times when you really CANNOT use a real stabilizing device.

I have used a monopod several times both in vehicles and on walks, and have been very glad I had it. It was very light weight, and I had no problem carrying it on flights. On walks I could use it like a walking/hiking stick, so it was sometimes convenient to have anyway. I have been with several serious photographers (both had Canon IS systems) who used tripods on drives and created superb photographs. (These were open landrovers--is that what you will have in Tanzania?

So if your husband is a serious photographers and you are on a private safari, and you are otherwise light packers, I'd say let him take whatever gear he is willing to carry and/or check. What's the point of a private vehicle if you don't have the stuff that lets you use and enjoy it to the max?

Just for fun, why don't you set up a test with your camera: lowish light or shade. Try to take some photos with and without a tripod, cable release, monopod, beanbag, and just the cameras anti-motion system. Do it at various shutter speeds...then zoom in to the images and compare resolution. I'd be really surprised if the tripod isn't still the best.
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Jun 26th, 2005, 11:13 AM
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Thanks for the feedback. Tashak, I had read many reports saying "don't bother bringing a tripod, it's not worth it" that it was interesting to read a contrary view. The decision is his anyway, so I think I'll stay quiet on this one & if it makes him happy to bring it, so be it.
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Jun 26th, 2005, 11:40 AM
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I'd say that, if he's willing to carry it AND willing to sacrifice other items because of the weight issue - then let him bring it. If you don't and there's just one shot he misses because of not having it that shot will take on mythic proportions in his head, that should would have won him competitions and it will all be your fault!

Personally, I don't take a tripod - not practical for me in a vehicle and I don't wish to carry it for a walk - I have a bad back and hip so I keep weight down as much as I can when walking. I don't even use a monopod myself but we usually take one light one between the two of us.

As for beanbags - the idea is to create stability, as Tashak said - given the curve of the metal arms of the jeep, the contact area would be tiny and lead to camera rocking - a beanbag would eliminate that. If weight is an issue take a few plastic baggies with plastic seals and fill with sand or earth at each camp.
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Jun 26th, 2005, 11:42 AM
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... that shot would have won him competitions...
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Jun 26th, 2005, 12:48 PM
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Given that safaris in Tanzania use vehicles with open top hatches, there would be no place to use a tripod while on game drives. You have to stand on the seats to see out of the hatches, so a tripod won't work. Also, you often have to be fast taking your shots, so stay mobile with the handheld camera. I've used the Canon image-stabilized lens and have had no problems. The other thing to realize is that the Tanzanian national parks that you will undoubtedly be touring don't allow night drives, so low light is rarely an issue.
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Jun 26th, 2005, 06:06 PM
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Bean bags is one less thing you need to tote around. Bring a couple ziplock bags and when you get to camp, fill with sand-and voila.
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Jun 26th, 2005, 06:37 PM
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I've taken a monopod on game drives but did not have a good ballhead. It was hard to use. Also, I was on shared gamedrives. With a good ballhead and a private vehicle it might be a different story. I did see a photographer in MalaMala with a tripod in a private vehicle and it seemed to work for him. I would probably try it myself (in a private game vehicle) if I could fit it in the weight allowances.
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Jun 26th, 2005, 06:56 PM
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Now here is a dumb question...I just bought a monopod but did not buy a ballhead. They are sold separately?

A recommendation on a good ballhead will be much appreciated.

Also, I have some cheapie Samsonite tripod that was thrown in as a freebie with my camera purchase. Should I bring this along, or will I really need a good tripod. I will be doing about 60% game drives, 20% bush walks and 20% canoeing, if I don't chicken out and end up doing less canoeing (there really are times when surrounded by hippos that it feels like I am going to die!).

Also, from camp, I do expect to have some nice vantage points at just about all of my camps. This is probably where the tripod would come in most useful.

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Jun 27th, 2005, 10:37 AM
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Another thought is to use a lens with image stabilization.
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Jun 27th, 2005, 12:46 PM
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Yes a ballhead that allows quick release is important to make the monopod convenient. (Sorry, I considered that as part of the monopod, should have been clearer.) I'll dig around and try to find then name on mine...I know I ordered it from Adorama in NYC--you could check out the website. There are several sizes, I prefer the smallest one that will support the total weight of your camera and biggest lense.

And again, if we are not talking an open vehicle, I think the only thing possible is a beanbag (constructed onsite!) on the roof of the vehicle. Don't think even a monopod would work in a van with hatch.
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