Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tripod Woes

Equipment Failures

I have had my fair share of disasters in the past with photographic equipment. Usually it’s odd items like scratched or broken grads and lost lens caps but I also have had my tripod blown over at Robin Hood’s Bay damaging my EF 24-105mm lens and a fall in the field in Africa which required a new IS unit to my EF 100-400mm zoom lens. Fortunately in both cases I was insured and the bulk of the repairs were covered.

Recently however, I had a rather an odd mishap and lost (yes lost!) a leg from my tripod. This was from my much prized Gitzo GT-3541-LS carbon fibre tripod; not a cheap item either and a tripod you expect to be built to the highest of standards too. But I guess you’re wondering how on earth I could loose a leg. Well it’s not quite as difficult as you may think.

Gitzo 3541LS copy

For quite some while now my backpack of choice has been the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW which is an excellent backpack and I’ve sung it’s praises in the full review I did here. It features a tripod loops on the front and sides of the backpack which are really just large pockets without a bottom. The top (rim) of each is heavily reinforced so you can just slot two of your tripod legs inside and let third leg rest outside. The the main tripod holder in the centre of the pack also has a couple of straps to secure the tripod further, and has a fold down foot holder although neither of these two features I have thought necessary if you are just walking short distances. Unfortunately that has been to me detriment.

Whilst out with my family on a walk from our holiday cottage in Craster down to the coastal path towards Cullernose point we got caught in a downpour. Not just any old downpour mind you, a really hooly. The weather turned from blustery but sunny  to wild wet and windy in a matter of minutes with the rain sheeting down and blowing almost horizontally. You know the sort. As prepared as we were, it was time for a mad dash back to the cottage where we headed with some urgency.

I had my Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW slung over my back with the tripod just sat in the central tripod pocket, not fastened in. It was really blowing and I was concentrating on getting back fast, keeping an eye on my daughter Sophie whilst keeping one hand on my rain hood to stop it being blown backwards. Unbeknownst to me, the action of my quick walking and the motion of my backpack was slowly but surely unscrewing the uppermost joint of my tripod. Until it fell out. You’d think I'd notice it fall, but I didn’t under the conditions and it didn’t hit my legs either. It was only the next morning on inspecting my pack I found I was missing the bottom 3 sections to one of the legs.

Of course I searched the path and rocks several times with my son, but no trace of the offending leg could be found. It had either ended up being washed out to sea or (probably more likely) been picked up by a later passer by. Either way I was left without a tripod.

The prospect of spending the rest of the holiday without the ability to take photographs was just too much and I contemplated driving all the way home to get my back-up. However, in the end a trip to Newcastle’s Metro centre and a purchase of a Manfrotto 055PROB proved the easiest option.

That all happen in August. Today my replacement leg finally arrived from Gitzo, a good 3 months after placing my order for replacement parts. I heard Gitzo could be slow so that was no surprise. A big thank you has to go to Ian Hemingway at
Manfrotto & Gitzo UK Service Centre for  just managing to sort out the correct parts. As it turns out, just about every Gitzo tripod is unique and they seldom share common parts, and even though less than two years old my model had already been superseded.

Today my wallet is a further 142 quid lighter, not to mention the cost of the temporary replacement Manfrotto. It takes just 4 1/2 turns to completely unscrew one of the leg joints on my Gitzo. I can’t be sure, but I suspect I didn’t tighten it fully from the previous shoot, but I’m still amazed it managed to unscrew itself whilst on the back of my backpack.

And the moral to this tale … well make sure your tripod is tightened fully at each joint after every shoot, and secured properly to your backpack no matter how short the walk to the next location.

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