Choosing a tripod for coastal photography

If you do a lot of photography on the coast you’ll be well aware of the damage that salt water can cause to your tripod. This is a problem I have been battling with since I first picked up a camera. The problem becomes even more serious if you’ve invested in an expensive carbon fiber tripod, as some models are particularly vulnerable. I have gone through countless Gitzo tripods because the build up of salt crystals has eventually caused splitting of the carbon fiber legs, weakening their rigidity. Meticulous cleaning after each coastal session will help to extend their life, but for me this is not practical as I rarely have time to spend an hour each night cleaning my tripod!

When I'm working on the coast I often have my tripod set up in  salt water in order to achieve the best composition

I managed to find a suitable tripod head in the form of a Really Right Stuff BH55, which is extremely study, well made and easy to clean and maintain. However, my search for suitable tripod legs continues. Recently I tried a wooden tripod by German manufacturer Berlebach. This worked well for a while but eventually the lacquer wore off and the wood began to swell, causing the leg sections to bind. The design also allowed grains of sand to lodge between each leg section, again causing them to stick. The leg stops were also too weak and it was easy to pull an entire leg off the tripod!

The build up of salt crystals will eventually lead to legs seizing and parts failing

Manfrotto makes the best model I have been able to find so far. The 351MVCF uses a twin leg design that makes it very stable and less likely to be buffeted by incoming waves. It also means that seawater doesn’t become trapped within the leg sections, so the formation of salt crystals is less of an issue. The only maintenance I carry out is to rinse the legs in freshwater when possible after each use. The only problem I have found is that the lower leg clamps can crack once enough salt has accumulated beneath them. This is annoying, but at least it’s easy and fairly cheap to repair. I carry spare clamps and tend to need to replace one roughly every six months or so. I chose this model over any other twin-leg tripod simply because it’s the only one allows the legs to be set at an angle without the use of a cumbersome spreader.  I used to have an extremely stable Sachtler tripod, but the risk of it collapsing without the use of a spreader was made clear when it dissapeared off a clifftop in Scotland!

The Manfrotto 351MVCF is my tripod of choice for coastal locations

The twin-leg design of the 351 MVCF helps to reduce the build up of salt crystals

When I’m working away from the coast I use a Really Right Stuff TVC-34 tripod, which I find to be the best compromise between compact size, rigidity and weight for general landscape and wildlife photography.

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