Gear Talk


Over the last two weeks I revamped my tripod setup, replacing my Velbon Sherpa 250n and PH-157 pan head with an entirely new rig. The Sherpa, while reasonably solid wasn’t what I wanted.

  • The pan head had a single handle, making adjustments hard on the field.
  • The tripod was heavier than I expected because of the aluminum legs. I didn’t use it very often as a result.
  • The aluminum legs became very cold in windy conditions.
  • As my D70 was loaded with heavier lenses, the cork padding on the quick-release plate couldn’t hold the camera in place. This was only noticeable when I seriously tilted the head off-center.
  • I often had to compensate for slight head droop when the handle was tightened.
  • The tripod was far lower than my eyepoint and I often had to extend the center column.

I decided to go all out with my latest setup. After a lot of research I purchased the Velbon El-Carmagne 630, the Markins M-10 ballhead, a RRS B2-LR II and a Kirk L-bracket for my D70.

I purchased the Velbon after seriously considering both a Gitzo 1325 and a Manfrotto 055MF3. This Gitzo model is the gold standard for photographers, but it’s extremely expensive. The Manfrotto is slightly more expensive than the Velbon, but its center arm articulates, which is extremely useful for work at different angles. I’ve already wished that my Velbon could have done that – twice.

I had the chance to try the MF3 and the Manfrotto 3021 this weekend and I wasn’t impressed. I felt that their build quality was less sturdy than either the Gitzos or my Velbon. I honestly would have cashed out for a used copy of the 055MF3 if I felt that it was well-constructed.

There are two models of the 630. The 630A (legs only) or the 630 (legs + PH-460B pan head). While the pan head is extremely solid and nice to use, I removed it to put my Markins ballhead on. The 630 only comes with a 1/4″ screw so you need a 3/8″ to 1/4″ adapter to put most photography gear on top. Any photo store should sell that for very cheap prices. if you can afford to wait, ask the Velbon distributor to send you a free copy, but keep in mind that it takes 7 – 10 days for the adapter to arrive from them.

I love the markings on the legs, because it gives me more confidence that my coarse grained adjustments are to the correct height. I can fine tune later. Also, I’m 5’5″ and the tripod with ballhead, quick release, L-bracket and my D70 are less than 1″ below my eye level. Perfect! Th build quality is solid and the neoprene wraps make the tripod easy to use in cold and windy weather.

Unlike my older Sherpa, the lever locks on the 630 are more forgiving and less likely to pinch and bruise my fingers. Trust me – that’s a big deal. Also, the tripod when paired with an Optech tripod strap, is very lightweight to carry around and I find myself using it more.

There are some negatives. The stone bag and accessory hook are cheaply made and useless. I also wish that the rubber feet were made from harder, more durable rubber and would withstand scratches easier. Finally, I wish that there was some way to secure my ballhead to the tripod center column without loctite blue.

What about stability? [smiles] I’m satisfied.

All in all, I was happy with this one.


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