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Thread: tripod topples over...view camera splats

  1. #1

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    tripod topples over...view camera splats



    Last Sunday afternoon July 21, while on my fourth day out on a 5-day backpacking trip into the John Muir Wilderness, I was confronted by something all we photographers dread and hope never happens. My tripod toppled over with view camera atop it. Yep $3,000+ splatting on the earth! Although I've been doing considerable work in all manner of rough field conditions for nearly three decades, this was the first time I can recall a tripod of mine ever actually falling over. I've had a few near misses when standing next to my setups when I've been able to grab a tripod before it fell over. Those events were mainly situations where maybe a leg was still loose while I was setting up and a tripod was unstable. I've had quite a number of camera systems over the years and early on began consistently using tripods. Way back when my system was a 35mm SLR camera I used a Benbo Trekker, one of the most notorious tripods for potentially damaging one's camera if not careful yet never had an accident through many years.

    The accident occurred while I was set up to take a reflection image at a shallow shrinking pond at about 11,000 feet altitude. It was about 4pm when we arrived at this pond, one I'd visited years ago in 1994 that had an aesthetic black and white striped ridge in the background. The pond bottom itself had areas of soft brown granite sand mud with raised grass hummocks breaking the mud surface here and there. I have a big Gitzo G-1325 with a G-1318 center column with ball head atop that. My wooden field camera is an old Wisner 4x5 Expedition. In order to take the desired image, I had to tripod right on top of some low willow bushes that complicated tripod leg positioning since I needed to weave the legs through some branches. Under the willow was pond mud that walking on left one to two inch deep boot prints. I don't recall what I did when seating the tripod legs in the mud though expect I probably didn't test them per usual by forcefully pushing down on the tripod from the center to check they were actually stable. After composing and focusing, I decided to wait an hour before exposing any pricy film because it was still a bit too early versus better later afternoon light. Normally I'm quite careful that my tripod is well balanced and stable anytime I leave its vicinity for more than brief moments. Thus we wandered off to a nearby viewpoint for about 15 minutes.

    When we returned, I could see from a distance the tripod had toppled over to the right with one leg sticking up in the air. After hurredly returning to the spot, I found the camera had quite burried itself in the pond mud such that the front right corner of the bed was down 6 to 8 inches into mud with my 150mm Nikkor lens half under the mud. Yikes it must have toppled with quite a force I thought. A quick visual check erased my two worst fears, that the groundglass or lens glass had shattered. Knowing muddy water had likely been seeping into the lens, I quickly pulled the whole tripod out and carried it to the shore. Half the camera body was covered by coarse wet mud including the lens and part of my wide angle bellows. My immediate strategy without much consideration was to crudely wash the mud off. Thus I went into my large camera daypack and emptied a Ziploc bag full of small camera items, that I then used to fill pond water with. The pond water itself was moderately clear with tiny red fairy shrimp the only things obviously visible in its clarity. After about a dozen bag-fulls of water later, I had done a quick job of removing most of the mud.

    I carried the tripod with camera a bit higher on the shore to a slab of flat granite where I proceded to first remove the lens, remove its front UV protection filter, and the front lens element that left the Copal shutter and back lens element on the mounting board I layed them out on the rock temporarily then went about quickly disassembling the rest of the Wisner. Thus off came my custom dark cloth, groundglass, bellows, rear standard, front standard, leaving the bed. They all went out on the rock. I brought my lens parts down to the lake where with sponge foam pad, pocket knife, lens brush, and synthetic cleaning cloth I went about cleaning the lens up. I was glad the front lens element was well sealed. The only part water entered was the shutter and the UV filter. Each time I actuated the shutter, small beads of water appeared on the shutter blades indicating more was inside. I brought the lens parts back up to the rock and put them in the sun to dry out. Fortunately a consistent mild breeze had been blowing that help the drying.

    I went to work cleaning as best I could the other parts. The bed and standard gearings all had sand stuck in the gear slots that I used my knife to flick out. The dark cloth would remain a bit wet into that evening though that was of little concern. All were then placed out in sun and breeze too. My sheet of synthetic sponge had been quite useful quickly soaking off the water that I'd washed the mud off with. I feared if any water got past the finely varnished wood surface and soaked in, that it might cause warping. The dry high altitude alpine air didn't take long to dry all the parts. I went back to the lens taking care to clean its surfaces carefully. I was surprised the inside of the Copal shutter had dried out so quickly. Within an hour of discovering the disaster, I had the camera back together and was beaming with the reality it was probably fine and I could go back to taking some shots. Well I left off the UV filter that still had water inside its threading. Thus set up in the same place where the tripod had toppled over and exposed the sheet at the top of this page that seemed to develop fine. A rather nice image though not excellent enough to ever market anytime soon due to a slight shimmer on the reflection on the right side of the pond and lack of interesting clouds. I have so many strong lake and pond reflections that an image has to be rather exceptional for me to bother drum scanning and processing an image for a large print to market.

    Why did the tripod topple? I suspect the right tripod leg slowly sank further into the mud until the whole thing toppled. My mistake was evidently not adequately checking how stable the platform was probably because I became distracted with adjusting the tripod for the composition. In any case I was quite lucky to escape without any equipment prolem. ...David

  2. #2

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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    Ouch but good save! What are the chances of residue or rust on the shutter blades/mechanism? Would it be worth getting the shutter properly cleaned out just in case?

  3. #3
    Maris Rusis's Avatar
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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    Here's what I've seen and don't want to see again:

    Speed Graphic and Manfrotto quick-change hex plate carried over the shoulder on the end of a tripod spontaneously detaches during a creek crossing, sinks to the bottom, is swum for, found, drained, disassembled, dried on a sunny rock; still works!

    Plaubel 8x10 monorail and hex plate falls off another shoulder carried tripod and half buries in a sand dune. Bellows were ripped but Black Bellows Tape comes to the rescue. Looks uglier than new but works fine.

    Tachihara 45GF on Gitzo 1228 overbalances on a granite tor and slides all the way to the bottom. Shattered wood focussing frame gets glued and clamped for repair. Looks ugly, works fine. Busted brass focussing spindle and cogs replaced by original Tachihara parts. Exhorbitant costs but worth it.

    Tachihara 45GF (another one!) on a Manfrotto 190 tripod blown over by a gust of wind. Busted focussing spindle was silver soldered by a local jeweller and still works OK.

    New Commercial Congo 360mm f6.8 lens in Copal #3 shutter ($$$) jumps out of the front of a Tachihara 810GF and falls onto ocean side boulders. Protective Skylight filter smashed, wooden lens board scratched and dented. Not a mark on lens or shutter, phew!

    Since then no accidents; fingers crossed.
    Photography:first utterance. Sir John Herschel, 14 March 1839 at the Royal Society. "...Photography or the application of the Chemical rays of light to the purpose of pictorial representation,..".

  4. #4

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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    David,

    Ow, evil flashbacks to earlier this year. I had taken the C1 out with a handful of lenses to try, had the Hexanon 150 mounted on the packard reducing board, atop the Gitzo unknown 5 series with a 1570M head. All composed and ready to shoot, turn to grab a filmholder, turn back just in time to watch the C1 go face first into the beach, breaking the little #6 screw that holds the front standard onto the rail, stretching the bellows fully open, and they're not in that good a shape to begin with. Using words I though I had forgotten, I collected up the pieces and drove home.

    After assessing the situation, I removed the stub, retapped the hole and replaced it with an equally soft screw, just in case it happens again. The 150 fared quite well, only dislodging the stepdown ring epoxied onto it for filter attachment, a reasonably quick fix.

    I now take the D&S prolift/Majestic tripod combo out unless I know for sure that I need to get really, really low.


    erie

  5. #5

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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    Quote Originally Posted by David_Senesac View Post


    Why did the tripod topple? ...David
    Sounds like you left the dark cloth on the camera while you were gone, and probably had a puff of wind that turned it into a sail and toppled it. (That happened to my Busch Pressman/Tiltall once, when I had only turned around for a moment to get a different filter out of the bag). Also, did you have the tripod center section raised, rather than extending the legs to position the camera height?
    I'm certainly impressed with your response to the disaster.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  6. #6

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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Rubinstein View Post
    ... What are the chances of residue or rust on the shutter blades/mechanism? Would it be worth getting the shutter properly cleaned out just in case?
    Don't think much residue might have entered because not much water had even managed to seep in through the tightly torqued threads that likely acted somewhat as a filter. I've played with the mechanism since and don't notice or see anything odd. However rust could have formed inside where I can't see. Also the three sheets exposed after the fall all came out fine including one the next day.

    Bill, your dark cloth speculation is certainly something to consider however in this circumstance the breeze though consistent was rather light and not gusty. Far lighter than would have concerned me on a firm surface. If an odd gust of wind had occurred we would likely have noticed since we were only about 150 feet away at most behind some trees. Also my custom darkcloth that elastically hugs around my rear standard is not a broad rectangular cloth at all but rather uniquely tubular with a rather small surface area that I put my head into with better light shielding. ...David

  7. #7

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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    David, the darkcloth that created my disaster was a small BTZS hood which, like yours, fits tightly around the GG with elastic. Apparently it doesn't take much of a puff if the tripod is set up in an even slightly unstable position.
    I was very happy that the Busch is a metal body, as one corner hit on the hard surface, and I think a wooden body would have been seriously damaged. After cleaning all the dirt and blowing it out with compressed air and re-lubing, it is even smoother than it was before, but I occasionally feel a little piece of crud on the focusing track.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  8. #8
    Doug Dolde
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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    I had the wind topple mine in Death Valley one time...fortunately no damage done...view cameras are pretty hardy.

    Death Valley really blows

  9. #9

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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats

    David, I know that area and it is very remote! Good thinking, I'm glad you saved the day. Last year I broke about 1 inch off my groundglass along the 5 inch dimension at the start of a several day backpack in the Sierra. Luckily, I was able to photograph anyway.

    I have a friend with a canon dslr that I backpack with sometimes, and I know he must have thought I was a dinosaur with my view camera, until he saw the results.....

  10. #10

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    Re: tripod topples over...view camera splats



    Just received the above pic from my brother. A digital compact camera pic as I was pouring water scooped from the pond into a Ziploc bag onto the front standard and lens in order to wash the mud and sand off. I cleaned all my lenses more thoroughly today in preparation for hitting the road for another Sierra backpack and scrutinized the Copal shutter that got wet and it still seems quite fine. As Doug commented, large format gear is rather hardy. Compared to everything else except maybe a pinhole camera haha. I'd say its weakest element is the groundglass which is certainly a serious concern. ...David

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