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Tripods and Telephoto Lenses in Nature Photography


We could not stress more the importance of a tripod when you use telephoto lenses. The basic rule of thumb is the shutter speed on the camera should be set to one over the focal length of the lens for any hope at a sharp shot. In other words, if you have a 250mm lens the minimum shutter speed you can hand hold the camera is 1/250 of a second.

Even at that setting you have to have a very steady hand to get a sharp image. With the innovations in tripods and heads you can get that sharp shot and still have the freedom of hand holding the camera.

How can a tripod help?
Not only does the tripod hold the camera steady when you have a long lens on, they also save your back. For those of you that shoot wildlife, nature or take your big lenses traveling you know that holding the camera steady while you wait for that great once in a lifetime shot can be agony on your back and arms. So why not let the tripod do that work for you, and improve you shots as well.

All Manfrotto’s tripods for outdoor and bird watching/spotting use come with a black or dark green non-glare finish, which helps to stop the reflections that can spook your subjects. Nature photographers or users of spotting scopes and sport optics often prefer tripod heads originally developed for video rather than photographic use. Fluid video heads normally do not allow for portrait setting of the camera but they do allow for much easier and smoother movement of the head (using the pan bar) when following and framing birds in flight, moving animals, etc. In addition, more professional (but normally heavier) models are counterbalanced, friction able and adjustable, helping to support long lenses which can put the load off-center.

Why a grip head?
When opting for a purely photographic head, a three way head can offer extremely precise positioning for macro work or landscape, but a ball head or grip action head are more rapid in use and simpler to reposition and lock. We have used a 222 because of the fact it locks the camera safely in position as soon as we let go of it, a security feature that might prove invaluable out on uneven terrain or when we are distracted by the cold. Learning from camera bodies and lenses, Manfrotto’s modular tripod system separates the head from the tripod legs, yet maintains a common fitting method and screw size for all models except the top video heads, you can interchange heads for different purposes or shoots, and you can also choose to update one part of your kit without throwing away the rest.

The 222NAT (3265G) has the same finish and gives you the ability to move the camera and follow the subject with one hand and keep your other hand on the shutter so you won’t miss that special shot when it happens. The 222NAT also has a tension adjustment so you can tune the head to the weight of the huge lens and lock it securely when you let go of the grip.

The 222NAT Grip Action head gives you the silent, quick movement you need in the wild, by simply griping the handle you release the head to move freely in a 180 degree sphere. Then when you find your shot just let go and the camera is locked in where you want it.

To adjust the tension on the 222NAT Grip Action head, simply turn the adjustment dial to the desired setting. This may take some trial and error to tune it just right, but once you find it you can easily reset it. There is a tension indicator on the back of the grip handle, so you can easily return the head to any setting provided you note what the settings are for each of your lens and camera combos.

Finding the center of gravity
When you’re out in the field shooting nature and wildlife, finding a flat spot to set up your shot can be rare. Setting up your tripod on the side of a hill or on a slope can present a few scary problems as well. Finding the center of gravity and setting your camera as close to this point as you can will ensure the safety and the long life of your expensive cameras and lenses. The extensive adjustments on the Manfrotto 055NAT3 tripod make setting the camera in the safe position a snap.

The next thing to consider is how to mount the camera and long lens to the tripod. Most long lenses come with a mounting yoke attached to them and these are removable and adjustable in most cases. We highly recommend you use these, as they relieve the added tension the heavy lens puts on the camera’s lens mount. They also center the weight of the lens over the center of the tripod making the movement of the camera and lens much smoother. Attach the Quick Release Plate to the lens mounting yoke, and. For safety’s sake leave the caps on the lens, and mount the lens alone to the tripod head (without the camera). After mounting the lens to the 222NAT Grip Action head and removing the cap, we can attach the camera and get to shooting.

So now you can see the importance of the tripod when you’re shooting wildlife with the long lens.

Click here to download a printable version of Tripods and Telephoto Lenses in Nature Photography.

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Arlington Camera, Inc.    544 W. Randol Mill Road    Arlington, Texas 76011
Metro 817.261.8131    Toll Free 800.313.6748