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The Binocular Advisor

The Scopes Advisor

The Tripod Advisor

Choosing a Tripod

A note on tripods

A scope without a tripod is missing its feet. All the benefits of the most expensive optics come to naught if the image isn't steady. So consider the tripod as part of the optical system, and get a good one.

A birding tripod involves a compromise between two opposing needs. It needs to be sturdy, to prevent vibration in the image. And it needs to be light, so it will be easy to carry. The limiting factor is usually what you can carry comfortably.

Here are some things to consider when selecting a tripod to go with a new scope. Or to help you get better service out of the scope you have.

Going steady with your scope and tripod

Choose a good quality tripod that is rated to hold at least 2.5 times, or better yet 3 times, the weight of your tripod head plus your scope with eyepiece and any accessories you plan to use (such as a digital camera and digital camera adapter). The extra capacity lets you turn the scope from side to side and forward and back without overtaxing the tripod head.

The maximum load, or payload, of a tripod is normally listed as part of its specifications.

A weighty question

You may need a heavier tripod to use your scope at its highest magnification.

So how much should your tripod weigh? Weight is a double-edged sword. In general, thicker legs make for steadier (and heavier) tripods, provided that the material and design are the same. On the other hand, lighter tripods are easier to carry.

Carbon fiber tripods have greater strength and lighter weight than aluminum tripods. Carbon fiber tripods by Gitzo are the industry standard for steady, lightweight tripods. They generally cost much more than aluminum tripods.

In evaluating a tripod for weight, be sure to try it with your scope on it. Put the whole rig on your shoulder. Does it balance? How far would you be happy to carry it? I own several tripods, and I find that I always choose the lightest one unless I'm planning to set up in a windy situation.

The height of delight

You have to match the tripod to your scope. For example, a straight-through scope design will require a tripod that will extend taller than your head, so that you can look up at a bird.

For an angled scope, the tripod can be several inches shorter, because you look downward about 45 degrees into the eyepiece. That's one of the reasons we prefer angled scopes. With a shorter tripod, or a tripod not extended as high, the image will be less subject to vibration.

A price that's right

Price should not be your very first consideration, or you could wind up with a tripod that will never let you know how good your scope really is. It's worth getting a tripod from a trusted manufacturer.

There is great variation in tripod pricing. For some tripod recommendations, see the Tripod Advisor.

© 2010 by Michael and Diane Porter


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