A tripod for long lenses
With my tests of 500mm lenses with a 2× converter in 2002, I discovered that my tripod, which I had thought was good, was not steady enough to keep the camera and lens absolutely still. The problem is that the more powerful the lens, the more it magnifies the subject, and with it any movement. For 1000mm lenses, a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec is recommended, and the Pentacon Six can provide this (without the infamous banding experienced by users of the Kiev 88!). However, there is often not enough light to allow the use of such a high speed.
Also, my tripod was just not strong enough to provide reliable support for the 14 kilogram 1000mm Carl Zeiss Jena mirror lens.
So the task was to find a tripod for this lens. It would then cope with any other combination that I might wish to use.
Discussion on “The Kiev Report” forum led me to Berlebach wooden tripods. These have been made in Germany for over 100 years, and are much loved by astronomers, land surveyors and photographers. Tests have shown that Berlebach wooden tripods dampen vibrations (for instance, caused by the SLR mirror at the end of its travel) far better than aluminium and carbon fibre tripods.
The tripod head
With high-end tripods like the Berlebach, the tripod head is a separate item that goes between the tripod and the camera. The choice here is mostly between a 3-way pan-&-tilt head and a ball head. Having had an extremely bad ball head many years ago, I have always preferred a 3-way pan-& tilt head, with three separate locks for:
Berlebach’s catalogue includes a range of tripod heads.
However, a user of the Carl Zeiss Jena 1000mm lens recommended a very special ball head: The Arca-Swiss B1-G monoball. This ingeniously-engineered item has an aspherical (non-round) head that increases the grip automatically as one tilts further away from the horizontal. This is designed to maintain control and prevent heavy lenses or cameras flopping over unpredictably when tilted too far.
In choosing a tripod of suitable height, I calculated:
I am taller than that, but my eyes are not on the top of my head :), so that does result in a height that is about right for my eye-level, with only a small amount of hunching forward.
(The Berlebach website says that the maximum height of this tripod is 1 m 29 cm, so they must be calculating this with the legs slightly wider. Their catalogue states that heights are based on an approx 20° leg spread.)
The Berlebach UNI 24 is quoted as having a maximum height of 1m 60 cm, but it also has a larger transportation length (103 cm), weighs more (7.3 kg instead of the 6.2 kg of the UNI 14), and costs a little more. I decided that the UNI 14 had the right combination of factors for me.
You might consider adding a “dolly” to the set-up. This is a Y-shaped base made out of wood or metal, with lockable wheels and a locating slot for each leg. This will also naturally add to the overall height. Berlebach and other suppliers offer tripod dollies.
Having visited the Berlebach website (http://www.berlebach.de/),
decided to phone them, and placed an order for a UNI 14
one Friday afternoon. (I could have ordered via
the internet.) They told me that it would go out
the following Monday. Four days later (on the
Thursday), the tripod was delivered – not bad for an
international order from Germany to another European
The lens plate or “Quick Release” (QR) plate
I bought the ball head with a ¼" and a 3/8" plate. These are metal plates that screw onto the lens or camera and have a dovetail-shaped base that in use is locked to the clamp at the top of the ball head. These two plates work fine with a camera and a shorter lens, but – as the following picture makes clear – are a bit on the small side for the 1000mm mirror lens.
A friend lent me the 8" plate that is seen mounted on the 1000mm mirror lens. It is made out of aircraft grade aluminium (“aluminum” for my American readers), and as you can see, it is perhaps a little on the short side for this lens. The idea is to be able to slide the lens to and fro on the ball head to find the centre of gravity, which will vary depending on the angle at which the lens is used. For astro-photography, this angle can at times be quite steep, and the bolts at each end of the lens plate are to prevent it from sliding out of the ball head clamp when the clamp locking knob is loosened to move the lens backwards or forwards. The same friend arranged for the manufacture of a couple of longer lens plates for me – one 15" long, and one 9".
The longer plates have more than one fixing hole, to increase mounting flexibility further. The holes are three inches apart, so on the 9 inch plate there are two, with each one being three inches from the end. The 15 inch bar has four, evenly spaced out. The bolt on this custom-made lens plate has a diameter of 3/8", but I have also bought from Berlebach a sturdy adapter that reduces the size to ¼", should I wish to use lenses or cameras that require the smaller size. (Picture below.)
This ball head can now
(2019) be seen here
on a tripod of more common dimensions, the Benro Mach3
TMA28C Carbon Fibre tripod (scroll down).
Here is the Berlebach–B1-G–1000mm
Spiegelobjektiv outfit, ready for use:
|How does it
The day that I set everything up was the first time I have felt really at ease using this massive lens. In the past, with other tripods, I always had to keep a watchful eye on the tripod. But with the Berlebach UNI 14 and the Arca-Swiss B1-G head, using even the 1000mm Carl Zeiss Jena mirror lens was easy, and I even had the confidence to leave the set-up unattended when necessary. Adjusting lens angle and swivel was easy, with no danger of the lens flopping over out of control. Once set up, it didn’t even feel heavy!
It all works a dream. There is still a use in one’s outfit for a smaller tripod, for travel or for use with smaller lenses in the studio, but in the UNI 14 with the A-S B1-G I have finally found the right set-up for my longer and larger lenses.
To see more comments on the use of this combination in practice, see Moon Shots.
Storing and carrying the tripod and head
The transportation length of the tripod
is 87cm. As indicated above, the height of the
ball head is approximately 14.6 cm – making a
theoretical combined length of 1m 1.6 cm. However,
I advise transporting the B1-G off the tripod
and in a suitable protective case. I found that an
East German lens case as supplied for the 300 lenses was
just right. This case is 225mm high × 140mm
Berlebach offer a range of tripod-carrying bags. The largest bag for the UNI range of tripods has a diameter of 24 cm and is 112 cm (1120 mm) long. Putting the lens case containing the ball head end-on to the tripod leaves 25mm (1") spare space at the end when using this bag.
To go on to the moon shots test of the 1000mm lens on this tripod, click here.
A review of the Pentacon tripod can be seen here.
For information on tripods for very low-level shots, see
To go back to the beginning of the lens tests, click
below and then choose the focal length that you want to
© TRA May 2008 Latest revision: April 2019