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Thread: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

  1. #1

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    Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    For some time, I've been interested in identifying a way to make close-up photographs, including overhead photographs:

    • that could be used outdoors as well as indoors;
    • that will support a 4x5 camera as well as a medium format or 35mm camera;
    • and that's portable.


    I envisage using the setup with a full-size tripod, but also with the short ground tripod in the first photo below. The problem, in particular for overhead shots, is keeping the tripod legs out of the image and from affecting the image either by casting shadows or by blocking part of the light.

    Ground Tripod:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I think that I've come up with a solution, and I'm interested in how others have solved this problem. It took me some time to figure out the Gitzo solution that I've adopted, so I've included enough detail below to perhaps save others some time. I purchased the components from B&H this morning, and I'll post a follow-up this weekend.

    Gitzo makes a clamp on a panning base that will turn a tripod centre column into a lateral arm. It's made this clamp for decades, going back to before Gitzo made carbon fibre tripods. The clamp looks like this:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The clamp requires one of the centre columns for Gitzo's Series 5 tripods, which are the most robust tripods that the company makes. Gitzo makes four centre columns for its Series 5 tripods. With the "Rapid" and Telescopic" columns, one simply slides the column up and down. For the Standard and Long "Geared" columns, one uses a crank to raise and lower the column. The crank is attached to a gearbox, which in turn meshes with teeth on the centre column.

    While the panning base and clamp require a Series 5 centre column to work, this can be mounted on any tripod with a decent sized flat plate. I expect it to work fine with my Gitzo Series 3 tripod and with the Really Right Stuff ground tripod pictured above.

    Gitzo Series 5 Rapid Centre Column (carbon fibre):

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    Gitzo Series 5 Long Geared Centre Column (aluminium):

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    I was attracted to the Long Geared Column's longer travel compared to the standard Rapid and Geared columns, and I think that incremental, geared travel will be helpful for close-up photography. I would not use the Telescopic column as a lateral arm.

    As is always the case with Gitzo, these components are expensive. That said, I'm not particularly surprised at the prices. The market for these components is probably quite small. Over the last few days, I looked at the second-hand market, and I think that a significant amount of money can be saved by purchasing used.

    In my case, B&H had both components, sold as a single unit, at a used price that was extremely attractive. The centre column is an older version (G529 in the screen capture below), but apparently in excellent condition. I expect to receive the components on Friday, and I'll post an update, probably this weekend.

    Old Gitzo Catalogue, G541 panning clamp and G529 Long Geared Centre Column
    (highlighted in green):

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by r.e.; 29-Jul-2022 at 03:40.
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  2. #2

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    I've used one of the giant 10' tall Gitzo Series 5 tripods with a 5' telescopic center column to get my 35mm dslr mounted on a remote controlled pan/tilt head up about 12'. It takes very little wind to move a 5' center column. It meets my needs well enough that I have no intention of replacing it.

    I suspect a cinema style boom would be much easier and more stable.

    Good luck with your endeavor.

    jeff

  3. #3

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Keller View Post
    I suspect a cinema style boom would be much easier and more stable.
    More efficient and more stable for what you were doing, but definitely not portable and completely unworkable with a ground tripod. That's a Blackmagic Cinema Camera on the tripod in the first photo. A cinema style boom is exactly what won't do what I want. The centre column that I've purchased has 60cm (2') of travel, not 1.5m (5'), and I plan to use it as a lateral arm, not as a multisection vertical monopod.

    It sounds like you were using Gitzo's 4-section Telescopic Center Column (GS5513XLS, maximum height 2m/6.8') which as I say above I would not use as a lateral arm.
    Last edited by r.e.; 27-Jul-2022 at 14:22.
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  4. #4

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    While there don't appear be a lot of related threads, there have been a couple in the last two years on shooting overhead. I didn't piggyback on them because their focus was a bit different (portability, short tripods and outdoor use were not significant considerations), but here are the links:

    Any Tips On Photographing From Overhead On A 4x5

    Overhead still lifes

    There are a fair number of threads about geared centre columns, but I didn't come across anything about their use as lateral arms. There's some helpful information about geared centre column build quality and characteristics.
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  5. #5

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    If you want to shoot subjects directly overhead, perhaps a 45-degree prism might answer.
    In the before times, there were devices like the Spiratone "Circo-Mirro-Tach" that threaded into the filter ring of your lens. Probably not the best optically, and no doubt long gone form the market... but the concept seems workable.

  6. #6

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Sampson View Post
    If you want to shoot subjects directly overhead, perhaps a 45-degree prism might answer.
    In the before times, there were devices like the Spiratone "Circo-Mirro-Tach" that threaded into the filter ring of your lens. Probably not the best optically, and no doubt long gone form the market... but the concept seems workable.
    Yes, mirror solutions for overhead shots are discussed in the two links in post #4 just above. It appears that the Spiratone may be available on eBay fairly regularly.

    There are also references in the links to Manfrotto's 131 Lateral Side Arm, which B&H says is its bestselling tripod arm.
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  7. #7

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    Looks like I'll receive the Gitzo clamp and centre column tomorrow. In the next few days I'll post photos of the setup using a Leica 35mm digital camera and an Arca-Swiss 4x5. One reason that I want to post about this is that there's very little information about these components, apart from vendor descriptions, on the internet, and almost none, at least that I could find, about using them together. The two references that I came across, both brief, were from people who use the Gitzo clamp and one of its Series 5 centre columns as part of their field setup for macrophotography.

    The photo below is from a B&H customer review of the clamp. I believe that the centre column is a short version of Gitzo's geared column (note the gear crank), but it may not be the current version. There's also a comment (don't recall from where) from someone who says that a geared column helps him quickly get rough focus:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I sometimes use my Leica with a Leica bellows (not made for a long time) and a 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar that, separated into two halves, is a macro lens. Live View means that I don't need the paraphernalia that used to be necessary to use a Leica bellows. It would be interesting to mount the camera/bellows/Elmar on this setup. One reason that I wanted the longer of the two geared columns is that it will give me latitude on counterweight placement.
    Last edited by r.e.; 30-Jul-2022 at 02:31.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    I use a very heavy duty Horseman rail on Majestic Head and tripod

    Gives me geared movements up down, in out



    Horseman Optical Bench by TIN CAN COLLEGE, on Flickr
    Tin Can

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    Quote Originally Posted by Tin Can View Post
    I use a very heavy duty Horseman rail on Majestic Head and tripod

    Gives me geared movements up down, in out
    @Tin Can, how much does that weigh? Does it fit in a backpack?

    I decided to finally address this a few days ago when I was using the ground tripod shown in post #1 to make an overhead photo of the microcontroller that Raspberry Pi released at the end of June, the Pico W (for wireless). I'm thinking that your Majestic and Horseman Optical Bench setup might have been overkill. The Pico circuit board is 21mm x 51mm/0.8" x 2"

    I was outdoors because I had a background that I liked, and excellent natural light that saved me messing around with indoor setup (two stands, a crossbar and a clamp) and artificial lighting. Dealing with keeping the tripod legs and shadow out of the shot was a nuisance. I decided that it was time to find another solution.
    Last edited by r.e.; 31-Jul-2022 at 03:10.
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  10. #10

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    Re: Portable Solution to Make Overhead (90) Photographs

    I think that this style of counterweight would be perfect for this application. Off-the-shelf prices for weights have gotten hard to swallow, but I'd like to try these. As far as I can tell, Matthews and Kupo are the only makers of this style.

    Matthews Boa Bags:

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    Kupo Wrap & Go:

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    Last edited by r.e.; 28-Jul-2022 at 16:37.
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