A small tripod is the one tool that underwater shooters often don't use, and it is perhaps the most important tool that shooters can use to improve their underwater video.
I've used all kinds of tripods, for all kinds of video and film cameras. I’ve used $1500 Miller heads with my giant HDCAM housing under the ice in Antarctica. I’ve used cheap $150 tripods to shoot time-lapse videos of soft corals and nudibranchs ( http://www.norbertwu.com/Film.html ). Most of these tripods and heads have frozen up after one season of diving, or I’ve had to spend hours after each trip to take them apart and spray every part down with WD-40 lubricant. I’ve finally found an all-aluminum tripod that fits my underwater needs and doesn’t need hours and hours of after-dive care.
|Marcel Hagendijk using the Really Right Stuff Ground-Level Tripod with a Canon 7D in a Nauticam Housing, Ambon, Indonesia|
I have been using Really Right Stuff clamps and other gear for years and years, both underwater and topside, and I’ve never had the slightest problem with them. I used their clamps and dovetail plates for all my still housings when shooting underwater, under the ice in Antarctica, back in 1997 when photographers were still using film and I was forced to use 15-second exposures. I am still using these great clamps and plates to attach my underwater housings to tripods. Being able to quickly clamp an underwater stills or video housing to a tripod using an RRS clamp has meant the difference between getting the shot or losing the shot – both topside and underwater. I have RRS plates on all my cameras and lenses for topside and underwater work. The plates and clamps are workhorses – made of top-quality anodized aluminum, they do not freeze up or rust when used in salt water.
On my recent trip to Ambon, Indonesia, I brought a Really Right Stuff Ground-Level (their TP-243 Ground-Level Tripod), and I recommend this little marvel of engineering highly. It is made of anodized aluminum, and like all other RRS products, it has almost no parts that will rust or freeze up. It is a near-perfect tripod for underwater shooting – it is small and low to the ground (almost all underwater close-up shooting will be of bottom animals), the legs spread out to various angles and lengths to accommodate almost any position you may need underwater, and it can get as low to the ground as needed.
The RRS Ground-Level tripod (I call it a groundpod) will withstand years of abuse, both underwater and topside. It is light, but not so light that it cannot handle heavy underwater housings, and the legs click into four positions for all kinds of positioning flexibility.
I put a RRS dovetail clamp (B2-Pro: 60mm clamp with dual mounting) on the top of this tripod and shot dozens of hours of fantastic underwater close-up shots in Indonesia with this arrangement. I’ve included two clips showing how using this tripod brings needed stability to underwater close-up shooting.
The only improvement to this tripod and clamp would be a focusing rail. I used a Canon 60mm macro lens on a Canon 7D body. This gave me plenty of distance from a subject, but there were many times where I could not place the tripod in the best position from the subject. Having a focusing rail on top of the tripod, such as the RRS B150-B: Macro focusing rail would be a good solution. I could then get the tripod fixed in place, then put my housing on top of the macro focusing rail, and then move the housing back and forth on the rail to achieve the fine positioning that I would need. I could put one of RRS’s nice ball heads on top of their tripod for the ultimate flexibility, but that would raise the housing higher than I would like. For the best underwater close-up shooting, I usually want the housing down as absolutely low as possible. I also don’t know how well their ball heads will hold up in salt water.
RRS also makes camera bars that would allow me to slide the housing back and forth on a bar; an example is their CB-10 Duo Package: CB-10 and B2-Duo. However, since my housing is designed to accept an RRS plate perpendicular to the lens direction, the rails would seem to be 90 degrees off from what I want. I’d want a bar where the clamp is oriented 90 degrees to the rail, so that the front of the housing can slide back and forth on the bar. Their 192 FAS Package: FAS Clamp & MPR 192 has this orientation. RRS’ 192 Precision Plus Package has two mini-clamps which will allow me to orient my housing either parallel to or perpendicular to the rail.
Buy this tripod. Put a RRS plate on the bottom of your housing and a clamp on the top of this ground-level tripod. It will improve your underwater shooting of close-up subjects, turning formerly amateurish, shaky video into professional, smooth footage that you will be proud to show.