At what point do you place a price on weight? Does the presence of an extra ounce make a difference? An extra four ounces? Eight ounces? Or perhaps 10 ounces is the magic number.
Years ago I attended a two day workshop on nature photography featuring John Shaw. I will never forget the sight of him standing in front of the audience holding up his arms out from his sides. He alternated raising and lowering his hands in a pantomime of weighing something as he answered someone’s question about whether the cost of a carbon fiber tripod was worth the weight savings over an aluminum one.
His points were that:
1. Someone could pay roughly $350 more to obtain a carbon fiber tripod that weighs only a pound less than it’s otherwise aluminum twin.
2. The savings in weight was roughly equivalent to an order from MacDonalds of a Big Mac, large fries and a drink.
3. The majority of photographers never carry their tripods further than the hundred or so feet between their car and the scenic overlook.
Concluding that most photographers who insist that they must save every ounce are deluding themselves. And at a fairly steep price as well.
Of course he did say that for those photographers who regularly hiked in fair distances with their gear, the weight savings had much greater importance. and, since this workshop was geared towards nature photographers in general, the amount of vibration dampening found in carbon fiber over aluminum was not mentioned.
As you might have noticed from my first blog post, Getting Back to Basics or Photography on a Shoestring, Part 1, I am also an avid birder. Just not an avid bird photographer. This past Saturday I went on a roughly two mile long bird walk carrying my brand new full sized spotting scope. The weight; scope, tripod and tripod head were not too heavy for me to carry. But I did notice a problem. I use a ball head for my camera gear. Although this head works great with my camera and not too bad with my older, and much smaller scope, the size of the full sized scope made handling very awkward.
So, I came home and off I went in online pursuit of a 3-way pan/tilt tripod head. My first stop in this venture was to check out what suitable heads were available from Induro, the maker of my tripod legs and it’s current ball head. After learning that the least expensive pan/tilt head made by Induro was $77, I then went in search of heads from other makers. Not that $77 was that expensive, but rather that it was an expense that I had not budgeted for. Problem was that no maker had pan/tilt heads for much less cost. And those that did used a quick release system that was different than the one found in the Induro heads. That would necessitate my buying a second quick release plate so I could have one on the camera and one on the scope. That would mean an additional $15-$20 depending on the make of quick release plate.
From there I turned to the used market. KEH, a respected used camera and photo equipment dealer had Induro pan/tilt heads for $33.00 Factoring in the $10,00 for shipping and it was still a savings of $34 over a new pan/tilt head with free shipping. Except for one small problem. My current tripod head weighed only 8 ounces but despite it’s small size it could easily support the weight. Pan/tilt heads, due to their style, must weigh more to support the same weight. The Induro heads available from KEH weighed 2.1 pounds. Or roughly a pound and a half more than I was already carrying. The new Induro for $77.00 only weighed 1.5 pounds.
So my dilemma was clear. Do I pay an additional $34.00 to save 17.6 ounces? It took me a few days of pondering but I finally made my choice and opted to pay the extra money in exchange for lower weight. With my current camera, and the longest lens I own, my tripod and the ball head, my rig weighs in a about 8.5 pounds. The spotting scope weighs about as much as the camera/lens combination. When using the camera and tripod I don’t normally walk further than a mile, usually over a smooth path of grass or packed dirt. But after doing a two mile bird walk over ankle turning rock I had second thoughts about adding much more weight. So despite it stretching my budget I spent the extra money for the lighter weight head.