6. Vinten FiberTec Tripod, Full System Handling
With the system fully assembled and fitted out with a Vinten Vision 3 pan/ tilt video head, I was ready to go.
The very going threw up a couple of things – the bags lop-sidedness and the sheer weight of this lot put together. Tripod, spreader, head, bag and booties add up to about 23 ¾ pounds (10.8 kilos), not a nice load to be carrying around. The bag itself weights in at a hefty 8 ½ pounds (3.8 kilos) and was quickly relegated to “you stay in the car”.
The rest of the system is pretty manageable on its own, and quite easy to sling over one shoulder, the camera acting as a counterbalance on the other. The only issue with the bare tripod/ head being slung “head down” is to beware when walking in public where young children are around. That video head is pretty substantial and just at the right height to kybosh a 5-year-old in no uncertain fashion should there be a collision.
Dismounting the system when thus loaded is actually easier than I had envisaged. Get a grip on the fabric and metal of the head end carabiner and just shrug the tripod off your shoulder. The tripod will describe a graceful arc around that gripped fitting and end up “feet down” ready to be lowered. It makes life a whole lot easier at this point if you shrug off the camera as well and place it somewhere soft on the ground, leaving both hands free for the set-up.
A momentary press on the yellow leg release lever on the bottom of one of the main sections allows the legs to be partially spread. It isn’t necessary to do it this way, the leg lock levers can be undone and the legs extended to the required length without them being spread. However I’ve found that doing this first, then extending the legs whilst still bent over saves me the pain of bending again to unlock the locks I should have done first time round.
As an aside, there is one issue that springs to mind with this process that I think Vinten should give some thought to. This is the vexed question of what, exactly, to hold onto with one hand whilst you undo the various latches, extend the legs, spread them etc. Holding a leg is a non-starter, at least until the legs have been extended; as the leg lock levers are exactly where your hand would need to grip. With the exception of the head pan arm, there’s nothing on the head to hold onto either. The pan bar is an option, but if raised to normal shooting height it’s sticking out at 90 degrees to the head and not much of a viable ergonomic handgrip. Worse, if the tilt lock is not engaged, lifting the unit by the pan bar ends up lifting just the pan bar, not the tripod. Some sort of rigid, horizontally oriented handle held to the top of the tripod by the head ball so that it was free to rotate a full 360 degrees around the head would be ideal. This would give you the option to spin the tripod the 120 degrees necessary to get at that last leg lock or locks. With the often precarious grip offered by the unit as it stands, getting at that third leg lock whilst maintaining a grip on “whatever” really does require some contortions.
When the legs are at the chosen height, lock them off and spread them completely, double-checking by pressing down on the spreader centre section. Any movement there means a leg has snagged and the tripod is not at it’s most stable.
This set up routine may seem a bit long winded but once you’ve done it a couple of dozen times it just becomes second nature.
You may have noticed I said nothing about the Spread – Loc lock? Having performed the above routine a couple of hundred times now I have stopped using the lock except where I know I’ll be picking up the whole assembled kit and relocating it a small distance, as happens quite a lot when shooting wildlife. The lock ensures the tripod can’t inadvertently snag a leg during the move and close completely, not a lot of fun with a slightly pimped Canon XH A1 attached to the top. It’s not a manoeuvre I should be recommending but sometimes it just has to be done.
Now would be as good a time as any to talk about one of the FiberTecs’ safety systems. The leg lock levers are designed, in normal use, to flip from full down to nearly horizontal to release the leg. If you buy a set of FiberTecs you may, possibly, do what I did on my very first outing with them – grab an already horizontal leg lock lever and pull it upwards. Doing so produces an almost excruciating “crunch” from the mechanism, which sounds just like bones breaking. My heart sank. I thought I’d just managed to terminate my new sticks with less than 3 minutes use! When the panic subsided, I remembered that this situation was covered in the manual, just grab the lever and push it back down to its closed position (more breaking bones) and it will re – set. Not something to make a habit of however as continued long term abuse will really break these latches.
OK, so you’re all set up and ready to shoot. But wait, why is the tripod moving? Grass. It’s always grass. The spikes on the FiberTec are only ¼ inch (6 mm) long and even minimal grass cover can give you a poor footing. Your choices here are pretty limited, either dig a divot (or three) with the heel of your shoe (not too popular on manicured lawns) or resort to a ground level spreader. The only other tactic I’ve found that sometimes does the job is setting the tripod up and physically draping yourself over the top to apply as much pressure as possible to those feet tips. Sometimes it will punch them through whatever it is to the soil below. It may sound like tripod abuse, and not something I would dare do with my 520’s, but the FiberTecs just shrug it off.
At this point I was going to put in a whole heap of figures based on head / receiver deflection whilst I put the entire system through what could best be described as torture. This was to be achieved using a laser pointer; a far off wall with measured graduations of some sort and an accurate set of scales to keep track of what level of torture was being applied. I may yet perform such tests some way down the track. The reason I have not done so here is that, in the absence of any realistic basis for comparison, the figures are meaningless.
The only other tripods I currently have access to are my aged 520’s and my new 528 XB’s. The 520’s would be such an unrealistic comparison model as to be laughable. The 528’s would, no doubt, put up a pretty good fight, but as they are primarily designed to hold jibs and are not something anyone would realistically lug around the traps for ‘run and gun” shooting, again, a pretty pointless exercise.
Hopefully I will get access to an appropriate set of Satchlers, Millers or O’Conners etc. (hey, maybe all three) when such comparisons will have some value.