Travel Tripods - Are Mini Tripods Any Good For Photo Trips?
I guess most, if not all of us, dislike carrying a tripod around, I certainly do, even more so as I get older! If you go out to do some photography and have a car with you, then taking a tripod is easy, just put the tripod in the car and use it when you need it. And often, a tripod is unnecessary anyway for taking good photographs, for example:
using your camera in good lighting conditions (natural or artificial) enabling you to easily hand hold the camera to get a sharp image
using the image stabiliser on your camera body or lens to produce sharp images when hand held at relatively slow shutter speeds
leaning against a nearby object, such as a tree or lamp post, to steady yourself and the camera when used hand held
increasing your camera ISO setting to facilitate use of a higher shutter speed for a sharp image
However, there probably are times where you wish you did have a tripod for your camera, either to get the best possible image quality, or for those occasions where good photography is simply not possible without a tripod or some kind of camera support, examples include:
using your camera in low light conditions, such as indoors, or twilight, or the 'golden hour' before sunrise, or the 'blue hour' after sunset
using your camera for closeup or macro photography, where focus at close distances is critical and tiny camera movements at the point of image capture might produce out of focus images
doing long exposure photography, where exposure times could be seconds, or even minutes, and hand holding a camera completely steady for that long is impossible
doing 'bracketed exposures' to blend together two or more compositionally identical exposures during post processing, eg a bright sky, with a foreground in shadow
and perhaps, even taking a group photograph that includes the photographer!
If you are lucky and all your photographs are only taken with the former examples above, then great, you will probably never need a tripod. But what about those occasions when a tripod or some kind of camera support is necessary to get good quality photographs? Sometimes, carrying or even taking a tripod is a problem, for example, you don't have a car for your photo trip, or are travelling abroad and weight and size issues mean taking and carrying a 'normal' tripod is not really possible. To help with these scenarios, I have purchased a 'table top' tripod and 'mini' tripod to take with me on trips abroad where taking and carrying a normal size tripod is problematic.
My table top tripod is a Velbon EX Macro (shown left). Its very small and compact measuring just 28cm (11 inches) folded for carrying, and has a 3 way pan and tilt head with quick release plate attached. There are 3 quick release leg sections, which are braced to increase stability. Minimum operating height with legs unextended is 28cm, while operating height with legs fully extended is 51cm (20 inches). If the centre column is raised, operating height increases to 56cm (22 inches). Although mostly made from plastic, it is a well made product, and the manufacturer suggests a maximum weight load of 2.5kg (5.5lbs)
My mini tripod is a Manfrotto Pixi Evo (shown right). This is the successor to its smaller brother, the Pixi Mini, and supports camera and lens systems weighing up to 2.5kg (5.5lbs). It has two-section legs which are adjustable in five different steps and two different leg angles with a sliding selector, enabling low to the ground shooting. There is also the possibility to shoot in a vertical mode, allowing the camera to tilt 90°. This is a very small tripod, just 21.5cm (8.5 inches) when folded for carrying, with a minimum operating height of 10cm (4 inches) and a maximum operating height of 19cm (7.5 inches) with legs fully extended.
Its probably worth mentioning that I use mirrorless compact system cameras for my photography, which are smaller and lighter than DSLR's, so are possibly better suited to table top and mini tripods, although manufacturers do say that DSLR cameras can be used on these tripods, providing their size and weight are taken into consideration, for example, a heavy top end DLSR with a 400mm telephone lens attached is probably a non starter! Having said that, I would also suggest caution is required if attempting to use a mirrorless compact system camera with a mid size or larger telephoto lens attached.
So, what type of results are available using these tripods? Five examples are shown below, two with the Velbon EX Macro tripod, and three with the Manfrotto Pixi Evo tripod. In all cases, a wired cable release was used to trigger the camera shutter, and exposure times varied between 0.7 seconds and 9 seconds.
1. Hemispheric building, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain. Tech details: Fujifilm XT2 with Fuji 10-24mm wide angle zoom, 0.7sec at F10, Velbon EX Macro tripod, fully extended.
The building is surrounded on one side by a pool of water, so when illuminated at night and reflected in the water, the building resembles the appearance of a human eye. To take the photo, it was simply a case of resting the tripod on the small wall (about 35cm / 14 inches, high), and taking the photograph.
Click the image above to purchase prints of Hemispheric at Fine Art America / Pixels.
2. Science Museum building and bridge, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain. Tech details: Fujifilm XT2 with Fuji 10-24mm wide angle lens, 1.9secs at F10, Velbon EX Macro tripod fully extended.
The building is surrounded on one side by a pool of water, so when illuminated at night its reflection is also captured. To take the photo, the tripod was placed on top of the small wall seen in the lower right hand corner.
Click the image above to purchase prints of the Science Building at Fine Art America / Pixels.
3. Erasmus Bridge and DeRotterdam Skyscrapers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Tech details: Fujifilm XT-10 with Fuji 18-55mm lens, 6 seconds at F8, Manfrotto Pixi Evo tripod fully extended.
For this photograph, I placed the tripod on the ground, as no nearby walls or similar higher supports were available. A higher shooting position eg, head height, would have been preferred as placing a mini tripod on the ground meant the camera had to be pointing slightly upwards, which is not always ideal for architecture photography due to 'converging verticals' effect produced in the image. However, because the bridge and buildings were some distance away from the camera, the 'converging verticals' effect was relatively minimal, and easily corrected with post processing software such as Adobe Lightroom.
4. Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain. Tech details: Fujifilm XT2 with Fuji 18-55mm lens, 2.6 seconds at F8, Manfrotto Pixi Evo tripod fully extended.
For this photograph, I placed the tripod on the building wall seen in the lower left hand corner, which was ideal as it gave an elevated position to take the photograph of the building, which helped to minimise problems with 'converging verticals'.
5. Parliament House (Riksdag), Stockholm, Sweden. Tech details: Fujifilm XT2 with Fuji 18-55mm lens, 9 seconds at F8, Manfrotto Pixi Evo tripod fully extended.
The parliament building is located next to a river, with a convenient sturdy wall about a metre (3 feet) high that the tripod was placed on. A slightly higher position (head height) would have been better to avoid having to point the camera upwards slightly, but any vertical distortion was easily corrected during post processing to ensure verticals appeared upright (and not leaning).
I was very happy using the table top and mini tripods to obtain the photographs shown above, and images were just as sharp as other images obtained with a regular size tripod. Based on the examples shown above, table top and mini tripods can, in my opinion, provide a viable alternative to 'normal' size tripods to some extent. They provide a relatively stable support platform for the camera, and enable sharp images to be obtained where exposure times are slow, eg, about one second or longer. An additional bonus is that they are very small and light, and subsequently easy to carry around for extended periods of time. However, despite these favourable circumstances, I am not suggesting these tripods replace a 'normal' tripod for all photo trips, but rather, that table top and mini tripods are a useful alternative to 'normal tripods' in some circumstances when the latter are not available.
Some Final Considerations
I would suggest always using a cable release to fire the camera shutter when using the camera on a tripod, to minimise camera movement and maximise image sharpness.
Avoid using a medium size or large telephoto lens on table top or mini tripods, as they could make the tripod topple over.
Try to avoid using cameras in vertical orientation on table top or mini tripods for long exposure photographs, as the tripod head might be susceptible to 'slippage' resulting in unsharp images due to camera movement during exposure.
One last tip!
There may be occasions when you have a mini tripod available for a long exposure photo, but for whatever reason, may be unable to place it in the desired position to get the composition you want. If your photo shutter speed setting is no slower than about 1/4 or 1/2 a second long, you could try resting the mini tripod with camera attached on your own body, eg, your chest, and see if that provides sufficient stability to take a photo. This, along with any image stabilisation that your camera/lens may have, might give just enough support to get the photo with your desired composition. I have tried this technique on a small number of occasions and have managed to get a sharp image with shutter speeds as slow as about 1/4 second. Its not an ideal situation, and clearly will not work for long exposures such as a second or more, but worth a try if no alternative option is available.
Disclaimer: I have no involvement with any of the tripod manufacturers mentioned above, all items were purchased by myself as a normal customer. Similar tripods by other manufacturers are also available, and may be better, worse, or as good as the ones mentioned above.