Tripods - the rock behind every timelapse - whether they're holding just a camera, a motion control track or breaking your back with their additional weight, you'll need one (or a monopod) to shoot successfully. I was fortunate to be given one at the Photography Show earlier in the year and here's what I think...
Now before I start, I'd just like to say that I am in no way affiliated or paid by 3 Legged Thing to write a review - I just like to share my experiences in the hope it may slow down the torrent of emails I get on a daily basis! Additionally, when I refer to 'Frank', the newer model is now known as 'Steve' if you're looking to buy!
So - who are 3 Legged Thing? They're a British designer of possibly the best tripod I've owned. The one I was given is called 'Frank' along with an Airhed Ballhead. As well as giving their kit actual names rather than part numbers, which I'm totally in love with, they're not a company to just pass by without having a look. Lightweight, sturdy as well as bloody beautiful, Frank has given me much pleasure over the past couple of months.
We're often told that the heavier the tripod, the better and I couldn't agree more but why carry around a gargantuan tripod when you can source weight locally or use something you've already carried up?
Most of my shoots involve some sort of carrying of kit one way or another and I often scout locations before I start shooting to find the best spot so I do a lot of walking. When you end up carrying two or more tripods, you end up with either extra strong leg and back muscles or are in agony and as much as I prefer the first, I'd rather avoid the second.
Frank is made of Carbon Fibre and on my first use, I was excited to see how light he was! My immediate concern was that he was too light and anything shot on a lens greater than 24mm would show vibration in the end result.
So does Frank shake like a shitting dog when put under pressure? I've been waiting for a bit of wind to give it a true test and today was the day - 25mph gusts - that should do it! I jumped in my overgrown and under-maintained garden (full-on work life = no time for gardening) and set up a timelapse shoot with the following lenses: 16mm, 35mm, 100mm, 300mm and the mother of all tests, the 300mm + a 2x extender - a whopping 600mm in 25mph winds! He's strong, but is Frank stable? Please do ignore the quality of the vid - I used one of my first 5D bodies which hasn't had the sensor cleaned in a few years and I took it off my retired-body shelf for testing purposes!
Frank was placed on grass and as you can see once you get to 300mm, there are signs of movement. I'm still impressed at how little it moved with the 600mm but this is easily resolved in Premiere with a bit of stabilisation! All in all, Frank can take the weight and keep her steady! Also just to mention, IS was turned off on all lens lengths and on this occasion, I didn't weight the tripod down.
It's very rare that I'll shoot anything above 300mm apart from the occasional sunrise or set. The stability of this tripod is second to none considering how light it is - a mere 1.8Kg! I'd sooner have less weight than worrying about the occasional wobble when it can be easily sorted on my return in the edit. When you're carrying a lot of kit, it's the best solution.
Transformers: Tripods in disguise
One of the outstanding features of Frank is that one of his legs unscrews and becomes a monopod. Useful on a travelling shoot so you don't have to take both tripod and monopod and good for the old environment - less weight = less baggage fees and less fuel burning.
I've got the tripod to monopod de-rig / re-rig down to a comfy 45 seconds and it's a very useful feature if you're planning on shooting a hyperlapse alongside your timelapses. Yes - that's me on the right in the picture - we had to wear a robe to shoot in the Monastery in Cyprus - I'm the one on the right holding One-legged Frank in monopod mode.
Twist Locks, Weight Hook and Toughness.
Frank, along with all of the other 3 Legged Things, as far as I'm aware, are operated using twist locks. I've often seen debate as to which are 'best' but I think it boils down to personal taste rather than superiority. Lever locks on tripods eventually come loose and they can be tightened up again but if you've not got the right allen key with you, it's a wait until it's fixed again.
I've always used pods with lever locks until Frank turned up and I have to confess that I'm loving the twist locks - very quick to lock and unlock and so far, no problems. Frank has had a good soaking, been partially submerged in sand and also the finest of fine coatings of dust has been splattered all over his legs when I was shooting a slab of rock being engraved by a giant CNC machine. He's seen a lot of dirt and not the slightest bit of grinding or scraping noises have been heard during his erection.
When I was talking about sourcing local weights earlier I was talking about stabilising the tripod. On the base of the centre pole of Frank is a sprung weight hook. I occasionally use this in high wind or if I need to tie him down in a rigging situation for safety reasons. Sourcing weight locally means you don't have to carry extra around with a bulkier tripod. I normally carry an empty sandbag and fill it with rocks, sand, mud or whatever I can find and then attach it to the base. Be careful though - if it's hanging too loose then the swinging of this may ruin what you're trying to achieve - make sure your weight it touching the ground!
With regards to the toughness, Frank has taken a decent beating. It's not that I don't look after my kit, I just expect it to survive the occasional fall, trip or being trod on by a half-blind director. Over the past 4 months Frank has also been in many varied environments including shoots in Morocco, Jamaica, Cyprus, Wales and my back garden.
He's been flown many thousands of miles whilst sitting in my peli cases and abused by baggage handlers. He's been loaded with much more weight than I should probably have used. He's been sat in temperatures of 38 degrees celcius and not broke into a sweat once. All of this and without complaint, he's still standing and I certainly have a bromance thing going on.
The Air Hed
This is 3 Legged Thing's own Ball Head which comes separately from the tripod but I believe can also be bought together as a package and I thought I'd say a few words! Firstly - the weight it can take and hold true is amazing. I've had a full moco pan and tilt set up on it with a camera and big old lens on it and it's fine. The tightening knobs are perfectly placed and are smooth in action. It also holds a few different plates as well as the snazzy 3LT one that comes with it. If you follow me on Instagram you'll notice I've been using a variety of plates as it's easier to leave them on as I'm using a menagerie of kit.
I really am impressed with Frank and 3LT as a whole - I love a good bit of engineering and Frank has not failed to deliver! It's taken me a while to do this review as I like to fully explore a bit of kit before I recommend it and typically, they've just released the next generation of kit so expect another one soon! The only downside to 3LT is that they don't make anything called Chad yet...
For a bit more footage, here's the video we shot in Morocco - Timelapse and Hyperlapse shot with, on or using Frank.