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Setting up a Tripod

There are a number of different styles of tripods available. Regardless of whether it’s the telescopic type or the dual tube type, always try to use a tripod/fluid head combination that has a "levelling head". A tripod that has a adjustable rising centre post is designed for stills photography – it has no place under a video camera.

Video and stills tripods consist of two parts – a tripod and a fluid head, however it is common to refer to the whole unit as a tripod or a tripod system.

Tripods with ultra-lite telescoping tubes are popular for use with video cameras – the height range is impressive and you can operate from almost ground level to over the top of crowds.  Setting up a tripod can be a little like setting up a deck chair, so it’s best to get in the habit of doing things in the right order. For this tutorial, we're using the Miller Solo DV 2-stage telescopic tripod which is the one of the best tripod systems available.

Stand the tripod on the floor, un-tighten the pan/clamp and raise the pan/tilt handle parallel to the ground. This gets it out of the way so you can proceed to the the following steps.

1. Lift the tripod and cradle it on one arm. Loosen the (larger) upper concentric lock on one leg and extend the tube to the approximate height that you’d like to work then re-tighten it. If you want to set the tripod to a higher position, then extend and lock the lower tube first then the upper tube. You can stand the tripod on the one extend leg to check if the height is right for you.

2. Once you’re happy with the height, hold the tripod as before and extend the other legs to match the length of the extended tube. Make sure that you tighten all three concentric locks. 

3. Grip two of the legs with both hands near the top of the tripod and place the foot of the third leg to the ground in front of you. Keeping that tripod leg in place and take a step backwards, drawing the other two legs towards you and placing them on the ground. Be sure that you pull the legs out to the limit of the leg angle limiters or built-in spreader.

4. Using a Miller DS10 system, you should firstly mount the rectangular camera plate onto the base of the camera with the supplied attaching screw. The screw should be tightened and there should be no slipping movement – the locating pin on the plate should prevent this.

5. Slide the attached camera plate (now securely attached to the base of the camera) into the recessed channel on the fluid head and make sure that the yellow securing lever has fully engaged to lock the camera onto the head. Tighten the smaller yellow slide channel lock on the side of the head to ensure the camera doesn't slide forwards or backwards in the channel.

6. Set the panning arm angle. Find a position where the pan/tilt handle feels comfortable. I find it handy to have an index mark on the head to find this position in the future. Try a few positions to see how it feels, but once you find the sweet spot, you should place an index mark on the head so you can angle the arm just where you like it every time. You’ll find that it feels comfortable and familiar when it’s set at the same position each time. 

7. You are now ready to level the tripod. You should do this by gripping the top camera handle in one hand, and loosening the main locking adjustment cup underneath the tripod head. You should now be able to roll the fluid head with the camera and adjust all angles so that the small spirit level indicator on the head is in the centre of it's circular index marks. At this point re-tighten the adjustment cup.

8. You now need to balance the camera on the head. This is done by loosening the black tilt lever on the side of the fluid head. This will let you tilt the camera on the tripod. You will probably notice that the camera will tend to naturally tilt backward or forward depending on the where the camera is seated on the fluid head. You need the camera to sit level to the horizen, so undo the yellow slide lock (near the camera mounting plate) and slide the camera forward or backward so that it sits in that horizontal position. Tighten when balanced.

You are now ready to set your tilt and pan drag settings with the small rotatable knobs. This is a personal preference, but when set correctly you should be able to make smooth slow or fast speed camera moves without jerking, and be able to start the move from a stationary position without having to apply excessive force.

© 2013 Pieter de Vries ACS