Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Really Right Stuff TVC-34L - Thoughts after field use in Alaska

Well, this will be a short post as I just returned from my trip to Alaska.  I wanted to give a quick update on my use of the RRS TVC-34L tripod in the field and the things I liked and did not like (which are very few).  First, my choice of the 34L for packing reasons was a savior.  I had just enough space for the 34L that would have put me in a tight spot with the Gitzo.  I hit the 50lb mark exactly going there and coming back with the RRS in the bag.  I would have been about 2lbs over with the Gitzo should I have decided to take that instead (would have been an extra $100 in overage weight fees).  I also decided to wrap the top legs in bicycle bar tape rather than a lenscoat or foam leg wraps, worked perfectly.  

For the trip to Katmai I went with the minimal amount of gear I could (D3s, 600 VR, D300s, 24-70 and 70-200) along with the RRS TVC-34L tripod.  The first thing I found out before I left for Alaska is that I did not extend the first leg (I know, first rule of keeping debris out of the leg locks).  Reason is that I found too much flex in the tripod with the first leg extended.  I feel that the thinness of the diameter of the first leg allowed too much movement and that I only extended the top three legs and left the first one retracted.  It worked fine for me.  Slight bending over, but nothing I could not handle.  I did not more walking over the 5 hours I was there so the times I took shots, it was not for an extended period of time (which is too bad as I could have easily spent 10 hours there).  I will work more on having the first leg extended and see if it really is an issue or not.

I walked with the 34L and the 3 legs extended with the wimberley, d3s and 600 VR over my shoulder the entire time.  The compactness of the top plate and distance between the legs suited my left shoulder perfectly.  I had never walked any length of time with a setup like this on my shoulder, but I perfected it in the time I was there.  The 34L performed flawlessly while there and during the rest of my trip.  The leg locks also were second nature and never thought about them, which is a great thing.  raising or lowering the legs were simple and quicker than the Gitzo, but that is my personal opinion.  Since I was walking so much, I did not have a chance to hang a bag off the hook and my gripe over the caribiner hook change was a non-issue.  I actually received an email from Joe Johnson (President) from RRS alerting me to the change after reading my blog, assuring me that no caribiner would slip off with the new design.  I tried it after the Katmai trip and sure enough, a non-issue.  Thanks for the email Joe!

I can not be more happy with the 34L and glad I was able to get one for my trip, actually saved me some money having it!  Not sure many people could say that about a tripod.  The 34L took everything I threw at it in the wet fields and waters at Katmai and the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska.  I will have this tripod for some time and will be selling my Gitzo shortly.  :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Review & Comparison To Gitzo GT5541LS

Well, I did not have enough time to write this up before I left for a quick 4th of July vacation up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  Now that I have a bit of time before my trip to Alaska, I thought I would do a write up of the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L and a comparison of it to my previously main tripod, the Gitzo GT5541LS.  I was so excited to finally receive the 34L as I placed my order well over a month prior to receiving it.  It was double boxed and in perfect condition when I received it. 

First thought after getting it in my hands is how light it is and the finish on the carbon fiber legs.  It is something of a smooth matte clear lacquer on each leg.  Feels really slick and smooth, I like it.  Second thing that I noticed was the diameter of the first leg.  It was quite a bit smaller in diameter than the Gitzo.  It actually felt more like a 3 series from Gitzo than a 5 series.  I actually kind of prefer the thickness of the 5 series Gitzo over the RRS.

One of the next things I noticed and was very happy to see was the diameter of the top plate (apex).  The TVC-34L has a super small plate vs. the very large diameter plate for the GT5541LS.  This means 2 things to me: less weight and smaller packing dimensions.  This plate diameter is one of the first things that drew me to the RRS tripod.  The second was the overall weight.  At almost 2lbs less (6.3lbs vs. 4.7lbs) that adds up when packing a lot of gear, especially if you are close to the 50lb limit on checked luggage.  I plan on packing the tripod in a checked bag and the less room it took up, the more room I had for other things, like clothes. Another great feature is the locking ring on the top apex plate.  Gitzo's have been known or prone to having the top plate come loose and lose whatever it is you have mounted to the top.  Having $15k worth of gear fall off because of bad design is a no-no in my book.  Knowing that I do not have to spend another $100 for a locking plate to secure on the gitzo and the piece of mind knowing that I will not lose the gear I have attached made the RRS tripod that much more appealing.

The next great feature of the RRS tripod is the ratcheting and smaller leg connections.  It takes the same amount of effort to change the leg angle as the Gitzo, but reverting back to full height is so much quicker and easier as the leg ratchets itself back to the original position without having to close the stop.  A great feature to me that I know I will appreciate when using.  

Now the length of the closed tripod is another factor I look for when traveling.  The RRS TVC-34L is actually slightly longer than the GT5541LS, about 3/4 of an inch.  The TVC-34L comes in at slightly over 24" and the GT5541LS comes in slightly over 23".  I do not believe that this will be a hindrance in anyway to me in any way.  If it come down to it, I can screw off the rubber feet and have it smaller in a snap. 

Having the RRS tripod being almost the same length closed as the Gitzo but be almost a foot taller was a definite plus in the RRS column.  The TVC-34L goes to 70" (5'-10) where as the Gitzo only goes to 60" (5'-0").  That extra 10" can come in handy on uneven terrain to get the tripod level or up to shooting height so you are not bending over so much.  I use a wimberly version II head and even with the height adjustability of the Wimberley, I have come into many situations where I had to bend over to make shots.  When you are out taking pictures of birds for a good length of time, your back gets tired.  When you get tired physically, you are not thinking about the shot or what you want, you are thinking about your back and wishing you could stand up, missing shots.  

Some of the features that I was looking forward to that are not evident until you start using it was the bag hook below the apex base and the no-twist leg locks.  I am not sure if Really Right Stuff changed their design, but I thought that there was a different hook below that had a hole that allowed a caribiner to be placed in with no chance of it slipping off.  On top of not having the hole, it also does not swivel like the one shown in the RRS TVC-33 video you can see on You Tube.  I am a bit dissapointed by this and thought this would be a great and well-used feature by me.  

The no-spin leg locks (like Gitzo's G-Lock) are made so that you can loosen a leg section and not have the leg twist while doing so.  Having had older Gitzo and non-Gitzo tripods in the past, this is a welcomed feature and should be standard on any tripod.  First impression of the locks is that they are a good size to fit in my hand and having the curved cylinder rather than a straight cylinder shape like the Gitzo, made it easier to lock and un-lock.  One gripe is that 2 of the locks on the first leg section were a bit 'crunchy' in that they threading of the 2 pieces was not very smooth or something was obstructing the thread.  Since this was never used, I would have hoped that would have been tested before being boxed and shipped.  I might have to remove the lock to inspect the threads to make sure there is nothing blocking them.  The curved rubber feet should prove to keep a lot of stuff off of the first leg section when going really low and give a better angle of friction as well.

Overall, I think that the RRS is a great tripod and certainly trumps the Gitzo in many categories.  I think the overall height, size and weight are clearly a win over the Gitzo.  I am not sure if the beefiness of the Gitzo legs are a help or a hindrance as the RRS legs are much smaller in diameter.  I could actually get a good amount of flex in the RRS tripod when jostling a leg vs. the Gitzo.  I will have to test in wind to see if it makes a difference in the vibration dampening of the carbon fiber legs.  The overall fit and finish is also a win over the Gitzo.  Machined parts always hold a special place in my heart having worded for a few machinists when I was younger.  The leg locks I think are a toss-up as they both work great, but having some glitches in mine was a definite minus.  The under side hook was a let down not being the same as the previous tvc-33.  Gitzo's well, not the best choice of materials used for it.  

I plan to do a bit more testing before my trip to Alaska to make sure that the RRS has a place in my bag, my guess is that it will, but if it can not be as solid as the Gitzo (a clear benchmark in solid tripods) then it is just a pretty paper-weight in my opinion.  Blurry pictures are worthless.  Stay tuned....