TRIPODS MADE OF WOOD – Don’t be amused, it is a reality. For most people who aren’t into photography and for many of those who are, this might come as a surprise but assume for some time that tripods are and can be made of wood. In fact, wooden tripods are one of the best and worthiest tripods in the worlds. You might have seen the old Hollywood films wherein a photographer is seen with a bulky camera and a large wooden tripod. Well, I can’t name the movies at the moment so let me know some names in the comments section below.
I’m sure this topic is quite unusual and makes you wanna know more about it. Be rest assured, I’m gonna cover almost off your doubts and questions about antique wooden tripods in the next 5-10 minutes. Keep reading.
Why Use Wood?
The first big question – why wood? To most people, this might seem silly but wooden tripods are actually some best tripods in the market, sometimes even better than the usual aluminum or carbon fiber ones. Wood is a natural raw material which has faced a lot of physical challenges in its evolution due to which is often used in construction.
It fares better as compared to aluminum and carbon fiber when it comes to stability. Yes, you read it right, wood has the best dampening properties among many other materials. It acts as a natural shock absorber when put to test. Note that not all kinds of wood are suitable for this purpose.
We need a particular variety of wood which is strong ( to support those large lenses), easy to work with, able to withstand the test of time and weathering, and at the same time must to aesthetically pleasing. After shortlisting the options, we arrive at a conclusion that is only ash wood or maple wood is the kind which can and are used to make wooden tripods. These are stored and processed for years before they are fit for making tripods. The processing improves its water repelling properties making t resistant to liquid damage.
They both have excellent dampening properties and are very helpful in getting rid of small vibrations or shakes which shooting. Also, old ash is highly durable and its products last for a lifetime without the need for any heavy maintenance. This equipment can be put to use in situations where one needs to keep shooting long exposures and where even the smallest of vibrations can make or break an image, especially while using long telephoto lenses.
Their Place in Today’s World
This is the most common and natural question which I get whenever I talk about wooden tripods. What purpose does a wooden tripod serve in today’s scenario where more than 95% of the tripods are either metallic or carbon fiber based? Well, the answer to this is simple, this is not for 95% of the people out there. To start with imagine a scenario where you have to shoot long exposures probably while photographing landscapes or doing astrophotography, here a wooden tripod can be your best friend because of the dampening properties as I already mentioned.
Another issue which resonates among photographers while shooting landscapes is the dust and sand. Tiny grains of sand and dust usually find their way into the joints in the legs of these tripods, this dust or sand makes the usage rough and sometimes loosens the joints. Wooden tripods, as you can very well observe in the image above have a very simple construction. There are no complicated locks or joints, just a plain but effective structure. This makes them robust and fit for use in all kinds of environments for all times to come.
Comparing it to its brothers, wooden tripods have some significant advantages and disadvantages as well. They are not as light as carbon fiber ones ( not even close, they are 10X heavier than carbon fiber ones and I am not kidding!), so they aren’t the best choice for travelers. Secondly, aluminum tripods are generally cheap and a very good option for beginners. This isn’t the case with wooden tripods. They are expensive! Apart from all these pros and cons, if you are looking for something which has excellent stability, lasts long and if you don’t mind spending then consider wooden tripods.
Some Great Choices
To this date, wooden tripods are in production and constitute a small portion of the photography market. What you need to understand is that the customers are very limited due to the various factors as I have already discussed. Nevertheless, there are choices available if you want to go in for something like this. Let me list some of them down.
- Weight: 7.1lbs (3.2kg)
- Min. Height: 3″ (8 cm)
- Max Height: 56″ (143cm)
- Max. Load Capacity: 27lb (27kg)
BERLEBACH UNI 27
- Weight: 19lbs (8.6kg)
- Min. Height: 21″ (53 cm)
- Max Height: 83″ (212cm)
- Max. Load Capacity: 44lb (20kg)
- Weight: 3lbs (1.3kg)
- Min. Height: 4″ (10 cm)
- Max Height: 15″ (38 cm)
- Max. Load Capacity: 17.6lb (8kg)
These tripods are from a company called Berlebach which is based in Germany. All these products are crafted and exported from their manufacturing plant in Germany itself. The UNI series is supposed to be the best of the lot in terms of stability and quality The report series is their mid-range tripods. Most of these tripods come with a base plate attached for using various heads. You can also order the type of plate from their website to suit your heads or use half ball levelers.
Because the market of these tripods is so limited, there aren’t as many companies that make wooden tripods. According to my research, there are only three in the world – Berlebach, Ries and Wolf. Out of these Berlebach and Wolf are based in Germany while the Ries is purely American. All the 3 companies make excellent products but a Berlebach’s finesse is unmatched.
Ries makes their tripods from maple wood which isn’t as good as old ash. Ries has a long history of making wooden tripods. Some of them were even used by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, the legends of their time. Even today, they make their products only on orders in Washington state after starting out in 1936.
Berlebach, a German tripod company started out in 1898 when the world was still in awe with the results of a camera. They have established themselves as the best in what they do, beating their competitors. The company’s website lists tens of models which are still in production. Not only for photography, but Berlebach’s equipment is also used in astronomy too, owing to their premium built and reliability factor.
A wooden tripod is not a toy or a novelty but a serious piece of equipment that is meant for those demanding photographers who need to deliver no matter the conditions. Its basic design and the top-notch craftsmanship allows it to last a very long time and in various challenging environments. It might be absurd for people to invest in such unconventional tripods but still there are people who swear by these supports.
I hope I have put your inquisitive mind to rest now. If you still have any questions or doubts about these antique wooden tripods, leave a comment below and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.
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