I have linked a blog post below from Thomas Jefferson Kitts on his recommendations for tripods for the plein air painter.
It’s a very good article, but I think his prices may be over-inflated. For less than half what he spent on his one tripod setup, I was able to get 2 tripods and accessories, although I opted not to spend the extra money on carbon fiber. I generally don’t hike much more than a ½ mile to a painting site, and although the lighter weight would be nice, I would prefer to spend less money.
So I thought some of you may be interested in what I researched and purchased this year. I spend WAY too much time online in general, and when I am researching a purchase, I spend even more time. I like to compare prices on eBay and Amazon, and also a couple good online photo supply stores – Adorama and B&H Photo. I purchased my tripod stuff from all of these. It pays to check around, especially this time of year when you might get holiday deals and/or free shipping. I would also consider buying used from some of these sites, but this year, I found deals on brand new. After researching, I decided that I really liked the features and reviews of Manfrotto tripods, and kept my research to this brand.
When I purchased my new Heilman pastel plein air box this year, I wanted a very sturdy tripod for that which would fit into my checked bag for a trip out west. Because I planned on using this one primarily for the Heilman, I didn’t want a ball head that would tilt.
I was able to find a great deal on Manfrotto 190XB Tripod Legs, which has a 11.02 lb load capacity – nice and sturdy for my fully loaded Heilman back pack box. This folds down to 22 inches. This can retail from $110 to close to $200, but I found a great deal on eBay for $93 with free shipping.
But keep in mind, this was just the tripod legs. Because there are many different heads which can be mounted on Manfrotto tripod legs, the tripod is normally sold without. So I searched for a quick release adapter with plate. This makes it easy to leave the plate on the painting box and quickly hook it up to the tripod. After looking around for a head, I decided on the Manfrotto 625 Quick Release Adapter with 030-14 Plate. I think I purchased this at B&H Photo or Adorama for about $60. I also purchased an additional plate so that I could leave this one on my EasyL 11x14 painting box. The additional plate was about $22 bucks, but worth it for the convenience.This whole system works very well for me.
A few months later, I decided I wanted a lighter weight setup for my smaller painting boxes, which I may use if I know I will be working farther away from the car. I have a smaller EasyL “ProChade” for up to 8x10 paintings, which is very compact and light. I also have a Judson’s Pocket Box for 5x7 paintings. The other tripod would work of course, but I wanted lighter. On this one, I did want a ball head that would tilt, along with the quick release option. I found a Manfrotto 7322YB M-Y Aluminum Tripod with a RC2 Ball Head and quick release adapter with plate (4.4 lb load capacity) as a set on eBay for a really good price of $65 plus shipping. I also bought an additional plate for this one at about $18 so I could leave one on both painting boxes.
I also bought “stone bags” for each tripod. This is a sling you attach to the legs of the tripod. Most people use this to add to weight to the open tripod for stability, by adding some rocks or bottled water on top of the sling (it also gives you a place to put some supplies, or cellphone, etc.). I found these for about $10 each at Adorama.
So in the end, I bought TWO complete tripod setups with extra plates and stone bags, and shipping for well under $300 compared to Tom’s estimate of $400-500 for ONE setup. I do agree with him about looking for 3-section legs, the multiple leg angles, and the center hook or ring (where you can hang your backpack for extra stability to the tripod). It just takes some time and effort to research what you need and find a good price. Hopefully the work I did for myself will be useful for your plein air gear search.
Your local photo equipment place can be helpful and may have better deals, but that takes time to visit them. I find it easier to research online. Check out Amazon and eBay, along with these places if you want to research or purchase tripod equipment:
It’s been a very expensive year for me with purchasing a lot of extra gear, painting boxes, a big trip out west, a painting retreat, several local workshops, many tubes of paint, lots of new pastels, etc… but I really enjoy my time painting, so it is money well spent. Although I do plan on 2014 being a year of saving some money back for future painting adventures! Hopefully I can sell a bunch of paintings to help fill the coffers! All my artwork is for sale, so if you see something you love, please email me for a price.