Wooden tripod performance

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Hello everyone: I'd like to know if there is any published information (test reports, etc) on the vibration dampening effects of wooden tripods vis-a-vis their metal counterparts of comparable quality and build. Thank you in advance..

-- Emrehan Zeybekoğlu (zeybek@boun.edu.tr), April 17, 2001


Supposedly wooden tripods have better vibration dampening qualities than metal, but it depends upon the camera you are using. Some of the Medium Format cameras, such as the Hasselblad and Mimaya with the large mirrors set up quite a bit of vibration when the mirror swings up. If the tripod resonates at the frequency of the mirror slap, vibration can be considerable. There is not enough vibration in view cameras to worry about. I use both with my 4x5 and 8x10 view cameras and cannot tell any difference because the only vibration present is from wind and outside factors. The shutters have very tiny amounts of vibration, not enough to affect image sharpness. This is from my own experience and from reading what others have written. Hope this helps.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), April 17, 2001.


Call Keith Soderstrom, President & CEO of Ries Industries (His company makes Ries tripods) at (206) 842-9558. He's a great guy to talk to and he can probably point you to those test reports. In addition, think about Doug's comments. Just make a lot of sense. Cheers,

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), April 17, 2001.

I haven't seen any studies on the subject and am no engineer.

While it would seem "common sense" that wood would absorb vibrations better, at the same time consider the preferred material for violins, cellos, pianos, etc.

Have you ever felt the sting of a bat when you hit the ball soundly? Or when splitting wood, felt the sting when the sledge contacts the wedge just right?

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), April 18, 2001.

Many instruments (trumpets, trombones, bells, triangles) are made of metal. I'd guess that wood is the preferred material for violins and cellos precisely because its dampening effects (compared to metal) are desireable for those instruments. Making them of metal would produce instruments that are far too strident. A bell, for example, made of wood would certainly sound more "dead" than a metal one (less "ring"), confirming that the wood does dampen vibrations better.

-- Chris Patti (cmpatti@aol.com), April 18, 2001.

Well, like I say, I'm no engineer, but isn't the big wooden area under the strings on a piano called a sounding board? And isn't the back of a banjo called a resonator?

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), April 18, 2001.

Thanks to everyone who have responded to my query. I know that wood is preferable to other materials in a lot of areas. Especially having played the violin, I am well aware of the resonating nature of wood, and kinds of wood that might be needed for particular purposes. Having recently bought a Ries tripod, I am quite satisfied as far as tripods go. My question was simply a matter of scientific curiosity. Doug Paramore's answer certainly makes sense; but wooden tripods are also said to minimize the effect of wind, water, etc. even though you might be using a view camera, which does not have a slapping mirror. Best regards..

-- Emrehan Zeybekoglu (zeybek@boun.edu.tr), April 18, 2001.

I should precede this by saying that I do not have any information about tests between wooden and metal tripods - the idea to contact Ries is probably a good one.

Its my understanding that resonance is more determined by the design of the overall structure than by material. The simplest example to demonstrate resonance is to have a column of water whose height you can adjust. If you hit a tuning fork and hold it over the column of air above the water, at certain heights you will get resonance. This proves that even a column of air can provide resonance. If the dimension that a wave of vibration is travelling along is specific multiples of the vibration wavelength, it will develop resonance since reflecting wavelengths will be magnified by incoming wavelengths. Its the reason armies are told to break step when they march across bridges etc. The stridency or otherwise of metal versus wood instruments is more due to the mix of overtones and harmonics - musical instruments are typically designed in specific shapes to provide resonance. As Sean points out, the sounding board of a piano or the box of the hollow body guitar are designed to provide an air pocket that can pick up the vibrations from the wood and 'amplify' it. A Dobro guitar, which is made of metal, can have a distinctly different, somwhat jangly sound since the metal probably vibrates in different ways and provides a different mix of overtones.

This does not mean that wood and metal do not have different properties in terms of vibration sustenance. Metal may be better at transmitting or reflecting vibration than wood (especially non resonant frequencies which are also damaging for our purposes) etc. However, resonance is not a function of material alone but also of the overall structure. In fact, I would venture that the design might have a greater impact than choice of material.

In general, vibration (and the perhaps accompanying resonance amplified vibration) is more of an issue with cameras with moving parts - slapping mirrors, shutters etc. With view cameras, there are very few moving parts during exposure. Even the shutter tends to be a leaf shutter which does not have the jerk and stop of a focal plane shutter. So, I would guess that the risk of resonant vibrations is less of an issue. I think the superiority of wooden tripods tends to come from the fact that they were typically uncompromisingly designed for one task - to support a large view camera. They tend to be large and heavy and that's got to count for something. Metal tripods have typically been designed with more compromises in mind - seductive appeals of lightness/compactness etc. One could possibly design a metal version of the wood tripod (something like a studio stand - good luck carrying that around).

Still, all of this is just hypothesizing. Some data from Ries or some place would be more enlightening. Just my rambling thoughts for the morning. Cheers, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (ndhanu@umich.edu), April 18, 2001.

One last thought on tripods. There are few things in photography with the feel, the beauty, and the functionality of a well designed and manufactured wooden tripod such as the Reis. And for us ol' LF shooters, the wooden tripods just seem to fit. The metal ones are good and hold the camera up off the dirt, but the feel and the beauty just aren't there.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), April 18, 2001.

The wooden tripods I've carried all had a lot of resonance. My shoulders, arms, and legs resonated for days after lugging the things around. I'd have to see some pretty terrific tests before I'd trade my 4-6 pound Gitzo and Bogen tripods for a 12 pound wooden tripod. I love to look at Ries tripods though - on someone else's shoulder. : - )

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), April 18, 2001.

Hi all

I like wood very much but almost the living tres! I worked in my first profession as carpenter for about 7 years, so I know a little bit about wooden things! But I definitly prever a heavy metall tipod(not the music ;-) if I can drive with my car to the shooting place, I take my 10Kg Manfrotto, if I have to walk more then 200 feet a prefer a 3,6 Kg Gitzo and in future it will be a carbon tripod very soon! No wind and good light!

-- Armin Seeholzer (armin.seeholzer@smile.ch), April 18, 2001.

Like Doug said, a wooden tripod just feels right, if that makes sense. And it's not just the "ol'" LF shooters, either- some of the posters here have been shooting LF longer than I've been alive and I'm still hooked on my Ries. I'd use it for all my shooting, but have you ever seen a Nikon on an A100? It's a little ridiculous. That, and when your tripod outweighs your camera bag with 2 cameras and 5 lenses in it, you know there's something out of wack. As for heavy metal, I'm a fan, though in this case it is the music....

But seriously, I've done a couple quick & dirty tests in comparing vibrations in metal and wooden tripods, and my general findings seem to indicate that when vibrations are induced in a wooden tripod, they die out more quickly than in metal. Might also be a matter of mass (Bogen 3021 vs. Ries A100). Haven't seen any published test results, though.

-- David Munson (orthoptera@juno.com), April 18, 2001.

The technical aspects of a wooden tripod may or may not be "that critical" when it comes down to actual photographic work, especially in LF. However, there is certainly something to be said about the aesthetics of these products. Happy shooting to everyone.

-- Emrehan Zeybekoglu (zeybek@boun.edu.tr), April 19, 2001.

Surveyors still prefer wooden tripods. Ever wonder why? Who really cares about technical comparison test reports? (Equipment marketers certainly do.) Put your camera on your wooden tripod, and then, under the same conditions and making the same shot, and with all other things equal, on a metal one. Compare the proofs. Any difference in sharpness? The only thing important to a photographer is whether you can SEE a difference or not, no?

If your wooden tripod has spiked feet, be sure to drive them into the ground (if possible, of course).

-- Robert T. Creutz (robertcreutz@mediaone.net), April 20, 2001.

Actually you will find that surveyors are going over to composite tripod materials like carbon fiber. Just attend a close range photogrammetry seminar and you will probably find more carbon fiber pods then wood ones for surveying.

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), April 20, 2001.

The statement that wood tripods dampen vibration more quickly is at best simplistic. Vibration dampening and stiffness will depend on the overall design of a specific tripod. Wood is naturally a composite structure with increased stiffness per weight from being hollow on a small scale. Metal tripods are stiffer per weight by being hollow on a larger scale--using tubes rather than small rods of the same weight. On many tripods stiffness is compromised at the joints rather than in the legs members.

I have used wood, metal and carbon fiber tripods and examined many more. The stiffest that I have ever seen is a Gitzo carbon fiber. At least in the US, the cost is quite high.

-- Michael Briggs (michaelbriggs@earthlink.net), April 20, 2001.

Tripod? I don't need no stinkin' tripod. That's why they make f:1.4 lenses and 400 film for 35mm.

-- B. (bmitch@home.com), April 21, 2001.

In response to the following "Tripod? I don't need no stinkin' tripod. That's why they make f:1.4 lenses and 400 film for 35mm." we know that we DO need a tripod at times, and the limitations of fast films are also well documented. A tripod is a necessary evil, in my opinion.

-- Emrehan Zeybekoglu (zeybek@boun.edu.tr), April 21, 2001.

Make that, "3200 film."

-- Mitch (bmitch@home.com), April 21, 2001.

If you insist, no problem.. Whatever makes you happy.. Good light..

-- Emrehan Zeybekoglu (zeybek@boun.edu.tr), April 22, 2001.

For years I have used one of the older Zone VI wooden tripods. I'm not really sure about the vibration dampening effects of wood vs other tripods. The reason I use a wooden tripod is because I don't have to baby it, that and the fact that as someone in an earler post stated "a wooden tripod just feels right for LF". Over the years I've been on trips where I've left my tripod in the car overnight in freezing weather, left it in the car in summer when the temperature would climb over 110 degrees, set it up in snowfields, in fresh-water and salt-water streams, in mud and just about anything else you can find in nature. After all this treatment it still works. About the only thing I have to worry about is termites :)

-- Mike Troxell (mtroxell@ix.netcom.com), April 23, 2001.

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