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If you use a camera for anything more than just a few quick holiday snaps, a tripod can be a reasonably cheap way of getting a little bit more of a result out of your hobby. Shaky hands, extreme weather, low light or long exposures can lead to blurry images, and a tripod is required.
You might think there's not much to talk about here, a tripod is a tripod right? Well to some extent yes, but there is a difference between manufacturers and the various models, explaining why the prices vary so very much, baffling would-be buyers.
As well as telling you all about this particular tripod, I'll also have a go at guiding you towards your ideal one. So what do we need to take into consideration?
Weight - this is can be important to some, particularly if your photographic escapades are carried out by foot, cycle or public transport. You don't want to be lugging a ton of metal legs around if you're tired before you even remove the lens cap. Nor do you want to keep leaving it at home because it's a bit heavy to carry around. The problem is, a lightweight tripod certainly isn't going to be the most stable - some say the heavier the better! The Velbon VGB-3 isn't exactly light at just under 2kg (4.3)lb, but if you are reasonably fit it doesn't present too many weight issues. Other, more expensive tripods are generally lighter, due to different construction material. If you are generally going to be using the tripod at home, in the garden or straight out of the back of the car, weight isn't really much to worry about.
Material - Generally tripods are constructed of either Carbon-fibre or aluminium/magnesium. As well as the weight issue mentioned above, carbon fibre are easier to hold when shooting in cold weather. With the Velbon, we must suffer cold hands, as it's of the aluminium variety.
Maximum height - It is important to choose a tripod which will allow you to photograph at eye level. Considering anything less than this means you will constantly be bending to take your photos. The Velbon is 47inches (1.19metres), extended to 60inches (1.52metres) by raising the centre column fully using a crank handle. For me, being of perhaps just slightly less than the average height of a man - the maximum is just about perfect when the tripod is fully extended. Those of you who are much taller need to perhaps look for alternatives if the bending issue is likely to be a problem.
Minimum height - At times you'll want to be down a lot lower than eye level, hiding in long grass on your belly maybe waiting to shoot the neighbours cat or something. The Velbon will go down to is 21inches (53cm). By using the bottom camera thread on the centre column, however, you will be able to take shots at ground level, although you will need to take them upside down - not the easiest with a 35mm, but perfectly possible using a digital with a large enough screen. Not all tripods have this bottom thread, meaning if you do want to shoot at ground level or there abouts, you'll need to invest in a mini tripod too.When not in use and folded it is just over 23inches (58cm). A suitable tripod case is a good idea if you are out and about with it a lot.
Head - The type of photography you are doing may influence the type of head you choose. The Velbon has a 3-Way pan & tilt head, which is ideal for general photography including macro work. The head can be panned completely, by holding the handle grip and and rotating it around. It can then be locked by using a tightener. Twisting the handle grip will allow you to pan the head in both directions enabling you to look up at a subject, or look down. Another adjuster can flip the head 90degrees, to allow you to take portrait shots. Using a combination of the adjustments on the head, it should be possible to position the camera wherever you need it. All of the head controls on this tripod are easy to use, and the locking and unlocking works particularly well. The head mount is a standard 1/4", which which will be compatible with virtually all modern camera equipment. Other types of head, such as the ball head are more suited to wildlife photography, not to say though that the head of the Velbon can't be too.
Head platform - This is the bit where your camera sits on. Your ideal tripod should have a platform which is big enough to comfortably hold your camera, but will not interfere with your lens. The Velbon has a 3" x 2.5" platform, which will be suitable for a wide range of cameras and lenses. It is also worth mentioning that some manufactures will quote a maximum load for their tripod - make sure your equipment does not exceed this as this could lead to unstability issues.
Legs - Different types of tripod offer different designs on the basic theme. Some may have only two sections, others as many as five. The more sections, the more unstable the tripod is likely to be, although it does help reduce the size when folded. The Velbon tripod, being tri, has three legs, each of three sections. The leg sections are are channeled as opposed to being tubular (which helps a little with lowering the overall tripod weight). Each leg section can be raised or lowered independantly, and locked using the clip method. These clips lock tight, are easy and quick to use, and are much preferred over the alternative threaded twist locking method.
Feet - Best to choose a tripod which is can be used both indoors and outdoors. At the bottom of each leg of the Velbon, there are rubber feet for indoor work, but by twisting them, change to spiked feet for stable outdoor shooting.
Price & Availability The VGB-3 has been a flagship tripod for Velbon for around 20 years. It is now difficult to seek out, apart from on the second hand market. I have found www.mifsuds.com who list it for £30 - very reasonable, although I can't guarentee they have any stock. A similar model, the VGB-37 is more widely available.