Buy once, cry once. We’ve all heard it before and sometimes we actually listen to that advice. It’s hard to pay a premium for everything you need and at times, you don’t need the best. When it comes to camera support, especially tripods, don’t skimp. It took me too long (and too much money) to figure this out so my hopes with this post is help those looking for a new set of sticks.
Before we get too far into this, I want to first say a tripod is different for everyone. What some may like, you may not. I highly recommend trying out the tripod either at a rental house or an event like NAB, Cinegear, etc. Secondly, a good tripod will last an extremely long time. It isn’t something you should be buying every couple years but rather 20+ years.
So what should one look for when buying a new set of sticks or tripod head? The first thing I do is figure out the max payload I’ll need. In some cases you will want to look at the minimum payload as well. Take a look at the rigs you work with as well as the ones you want to be working with. I’ve been burned before from buying a decent tripod but didn’t handle the weight I needed when my rig got bigger and I started working with bigger cameras.
Along with payload the next thing I’m looking for is the pan and tilt stages. By this I mean how much drag I can add and how precise. For example, lets say a tripod has 3 stages. This means at 0 there is no drag at all. 1 has a little more, 2 is in the middle and 3 is the maximum drag. The problem with this is you won’t get a very precise feel. Versus say a tripod that has 5 stages where you can precisely pick the drag you need for the specific shot and camera. Same goes for counter balance. Ideally, your camera should sit still at any tilt angle. Having a tripod with a good counterbalance system makes this easy. Bonus if it has a long sliding plate.
After going through a Manfrotto then an E-Image, I was done buying tripods and wanted something that would last. Additionally, I hated renting sticks and getting stuck with one that had issues and wasn’t as smooth as it should be. So a few years back at NAB, I dedicated an entire morning of doing nothing but playing with tripods. I wasn’t concerned with price at first as I just wanted to get my thoughts without thinking of money. I went through Manfrotto, Sacthler, O’Connor, Miller, Vincent, Benro, Cartoni and whatever else I can’t remember.
I would be lying if I said O’Connor wasn’t the best feeling tripod and has the reputation of lasting forever. However, I didn’t like how heavy it was for everyday use. The big O’Connor heads are amazing and that’s why you see them on every film set. Most of the time production rents those through the rental house so I didn’t feel I’d ever make my money back. The smaller ones were still bigger but the payload range and tilt range worried me. To be honest, I thought I’d go with a Sachtler. They are solid, well priced, and most importantly, last a long time. I know a lot of people that have them and love them. But there was another brand that caught my eye and felt extremely similar to the smaller O’Connor heads. Miller.
The Miller ArrowX5 is remarkable. 15 stages of counterbalance, 7 stages of tilt and pan! I didn’t realize how much I loved that until having for a year and putting all sorts of cameras and lenses on there. The weight is spot on for me as well – 7.4lbs. I like having something sturdy but don’t want to lug around a 20lb tripod. The payload range is incredible (4.4-46.2lbs). Beyond looking at specs I could really feel the control whether I had a basic Canon C200 or a rigged out Arri Amira. Being fully transparent, that has made writing this blog post so difficult. It’s hard to explain the feeling of a tripod but I can say once you work with the right one, you will know it.
What truly perfects the ArrowX 5 is the Sprinter Carbon Fiber legs. Click here to see the kit. I’m a huge fan of the center spreaders for speed and when on uneven ground. What make these even better is that in any position they can be locked. Again, speed is king with this. I don’t have time to mess around. I want my AC to quickly get sticks up, level and hand it over to me. When talking speed, there’s a reason they call them sprinter legs. The lever releases both stages so you are able to go from minimum height to maximum height in an instant. Similar to the popular Sachtler legs but with one awesome addition. The lever is actually split in 2. This allows you to only release the bottom or top stage while easily being able to release both. It only took a few times to get the hang of it and I love it.
It is such a great feeling having my perfect set of sticks. I take them on every job and even fly with them. Everyone I show these to are extremely impressed and a few have even bought them after using. Either way, the point of this is to take your time with your tripod investment and purchase something that will last you a very long time. Good Luck!