Birder's Guide

DEC 2015

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Leica C-170 Gitzo 2542 Mountaineer Gitzo 1542 Mountaineer Vortex ProGT Vanguard ABEO 283 AV Manfrotto 190GO 12 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2015 Propping It All Up also worth noting the maximum extended height of a tripod, as shorter tripods will save weight but may not meet the needs of, say, a tall birder using a straight-through scope. Leg sections typically have fip locks, but some have collar-twist locks. For me, the quality of construction (generally equated with price) is the biggest predictor of whether or not I'll like section locks, not which type they are. Selecting a set of legs separately from a tripod head gives you the most fexibility in creating a custom rig, but it might seem daunting (more on heads to follow). Tripods can also be pur- chased as a kit that includes both legs and head, simplifying the process. So to revisit the maxim of a system only being as good as its weakest link, let's not neglect tripod heads. As with legs, a head's weight should be considered hand-in-hand with its load rating. Heads with heavier load ratings will generally be more stable but also heftier. As with tripod legs, I'd use the load rating as a general guide to stur- diness instead of fguring out how much your scope weighs and matching the load rating of your tripod system. In this regard, aluminum and carbon fber. Aluminum tripods are reasonably light, durable, and more affordable than their equivalents in carbon fber. Carbon legs will cost more but are lighter than an equivalent alumi- num model. Aluminum can dent and bend a bit, while carbon will keep its shape un- til its breaking point is reached. In cold weather, carbon tripods can be a lot more comfortable to handle than heat-wicking aluminum. To me, the most signifcant dif- ference between the two materials is the vibration-dampening abilities of carbon f- ber. This is readily apparent when birding in the wind or if you are digiscoping and require the most steady platform. To summarize, aluminum tripods work well for general birding and for saving some money. But if you want to save some weight instead of bucks and get the best out of your tripod, then carbon is the way to go. Another tripod feature to consider up front is the number of leg sections. In most cases, the choice will be between 3- and 4-section tripods. 3-section tripods are typically a bit more affordable than their 4-section counterparts and may save a lit- tle weight since a 4-section tripod has an extra set of leg locks and extra construc- tion costs. 3-section tripods are a bit more convenient to set up and take down, but 4- section models collapse down smaller and can be more easily stowed in carry-on lug- gage or backpacks. Often, 4-section tripods are termed travel tripods for this reason. When I fy, I put my 3-section tripod in my checked luggage (with scope in my carry- on camera bag), but there are times when I realize that a 4-section would be nice to have in my carry-on when traveling via commercial airlines so as to avoid checked- baggage hassles. Once you've narrowed down the funda- mentals of construction material and leg sections, you can begin to evaluate tripods within your desired confguration. How much a tripod weighs is certainly impor- tant, but so is its sturdiness. A good way to evaluate that is to see what the load rating of each tripod is, which will make tripod weight comparisons more meaningful. For example, a tripod rated for a 10-lb. load may come in lighter than one rated for 26 lbs., but it will not be as sturdy. It is

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