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Star Trails
Posted on Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Star Trails

by Jeff McCrum

As a long-time tripod advocate I have spent innumerable hours trying to convince people that a well-built tripod would be the best thing for improving their photography. Tripods provide a stable base for the photographer to explore any exposure times longer than 1/60th of a second. They allow you to create time-lapse movies. They let you be in the photo. Quite simply, they become someone else so you don't have to hold your camera all the time.

But I hear the same complaints: “Too big.” “Too heavy.” “Too expensive.” “Too impatient.” Too much work, in other words. I also hear the collaborating complaints: “My shots are too blurry.” “My shots are too dark.” “I wanted more depth of field.” “Why can't I get star trails?” 

Night photography requires a stable connection to the Earth. The planet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour while orbiting the sun at another 67,000 miles an hour, but it's the best solid point of reference most of us have. Any long exposure aimed at the sky for five minutes will show the viewer how much it's all moving around up there, and the firmer your camera can be the better your star trails will look.

When I accidentally busted my specialized tripod legs with expensive ballhead, I was convinced I'd never find another set of legs that would fold down to 18”, extend comfortably to my eye level, and be less than eight pounds. I spend a week every summer trekking across Maine's Monhegan Island. Between scouting out night shots, running around with the kids, and eventually going out to await moonrise or lightpaint nature along a rough trail it seems like I walk the length of the island at least three or four times, which starts to add up if you count the thousand vertical feet. Bigger tripods have a tendency to snag on the narrow trails and when scrambling up cliffs in the middle of the night any extra weight can really be felt when you have another mile to go to get home.

The carbon fiber C2682TV2 has significantly changed how I am able to shoot. Lighter, faster, stable, and with a load of improvements over my aluminum legs and previous ballhead. My previous legs were less than 18”, but that required removing the head every time I wanted to get to that length. The Benro legs cleverly swing up along the center column for an overall length slightly longer than 18” but certainly able ot get stowed away in any standard airplane carry-on. My camera is over my head at full extension with the column, but I try to avoid using it when possible. Even so the head is smartly positioned at slightly more than 54 inches when just using the legs, just slightly below eye level for all 5 foot 7 of me.

Weighing in less than a half-gallon of milk (four pounds) is certainly appreciated at all times of the day. If you're worried about this being too light for your gear, rest assured the tripod can hold 40 pounds steady and the hook at the bottom of the center column can hold your gear bag for extra stability (just be sure it's touching the ground, putting a pendulum at the bottom of the camera is definitely to be avoided). The head has a bubble level to confirm the camera is level before snapping in the Arca-Swiss plate. I find myself appreciating the simplicity of the locking release knob when I use it, a half rotation allows the plate to slide for adjustment but in order to fully remove the camera you just pull back on the knob and unscrews fully. It's very easy one-handed and because it happens every time I tighten the camera down means I never forget the lock.

There are a passel of additional reasons that I've fallen for this tripod: The fact one of the legs unscrews to use as a monopod so I don't need to bring along another piece of gear, the included spike feet, the second quick-release plate, the well-engineered head with adjustable drag, the shoulder bag, the sealed leg adjustments, but if I had known that a tripod with miniscule weight and tiny size were available years ago I would have happily replaced my tripod long before I needed to.

Jeff McCrum

Jeff McCrum works in New York with frequent travels to Maine and anywhere the skies get dark. A space junkie from a kid he loves the quiet of the night's long hours and any opportunity to watch the skies.

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