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Once upon a time, the choices for portable video tripod legs were limited to one design: two-stage, dual-aluminum tube construction, with a ground or mid-level spreader, and that was it. Single-tube legs for still photo shoots have a few nice features, but just aren't designed to handle the situations that confront video shooters. This makes them unsuitable for most video work, and relegates them to extremely small compact camera use, or specialty shots where a bigger set of tripod legs just won't do. However, E-Image has a set of tripod legs that melds the best features of both worlds.
"The independent leg adjustments to height and angle allow for stable shots in a wide array of situations, such as on stairs, or on rocky terrain."
The E-Image 771CT is a four-stage carbon fiber tripod leg system with a combination 75/100mm bowl base. It's lightweight, at 7 pounds, yet able to support up to 55 pounds of head and camera, which is comforting if all you're into is specs. Nevertheless, when choosing the components that make your job easier and help you get the shots you're looking for, you have to go beyond just looking at specs and consider your style of shooting. These legs are extremely versatile, equally at home on shoots from independent documentaries, run-and-gun style shooting, news gathering, event, and narrative filmmaking.
One of the first features to notice about the legs is the combination 75/100m bowl, which is guaranteed to work with all current E-Image heads that feature a 75mm or 100mm ball, but may also support heads with leveling balls from other companies. Ball-head leveling is one of the major advancements in tripod design, and can really speed up leveling a tripod, especially in situations where making minute adjustments to the legs is difficult. The head fitting is cast from a single piece of aluminum alloy―including the leg supports―making the legs very stable, so they won't twist as you pan.
The legs extend up to 70" high, great for events coverage, concerts, or anywhere you need to set up a tripod to shoot above an audience. Having no ground spreader means you can set up on uneven surfaces, and not have to worry about the spreader causing wobble. The legs don't have a mid-level spreader―they don't need one, with each leg having built-in stops at about 60, 40, and 15 degrees. Each leg is independently adjustable, of course, which makes it easier to squeeze into tight spaces, or odd-shaped areas. The independent leg adjustments to height and angle allow for stable shots in a wide array of situations, such as on stairs, or on rocky terrain. A couple of nice touches to these legs are the foam padding about the top section of each leg, and the spin-down retractable rubber spike covers on the feet. The foot spikes are great for exteriors, especially soft ground, or the beach, and the rubber spike covers give you traction on hard surfaces, while protecting delicate interior floors.
"Having no ground spreader means you can set up on uneven surfaces, and not have to worry about the spreader causing wobble."
In addition to the almost 6' of height (without an attached tripod head), you can collapse the legs, and spread them so you can shoot as low as 8" from the ground. Creatively, this allows you to get those dramatic low-angle shots, and maintain pan/tilt functions without using a separate set of baby legs or a high hat. The head fitting incorporates a bubble level, so you can level the legs themselves for stability, and then use a ball level to create Dutch-angle shots.
So now that we've gone over the fine points of the 771CT legs, let's turn our attention to one of ikan's E-Image fluid heads, which pairs nicely with the aforementioned legs. Personally, I tend to prefer the 100mm ball over the 75mm ball, because it just feels that I have more room to balance the camera on the head, and still keep the camera over the head itself, and not have it extend beyond the footprint of the head. This is especially true when using a longer lens that forces me to move the camera further back to balance it. The wider platform and increased surface area of the 100mm ball provide more stability, without having to overtighten the head's tie-down. You may find that a 75mm ball suits your needs, and any of ikan's E-Image 75mm ball level fluid heads will do the job; it's merely a decision based mostly on your choice of camera.
So let's discus ikan's E-Image GH15 fluid head, which incorporates a 100mm ball for leveling, providing a wide base that supports up to 33 pounds of camera and accessories. The head features five grades of drag on pan and tilt, plus a zero setting for absolutely no drag. The heavier drag grades are useful for long, slow camera movements, providing resistance as you make your camera moves. For quicker moves, you adjust the drag to the lower settings for less resistance. The zero setting is completely free, which is great for those occasions when you want to impart sharp, hard moves to your shot, but just remember there's no resistance, so if you forget to lock the tilt axis and walk away from the camera, it will probably pitch forward or backward, and nobody wants that. Always remember to lock the head when you walk away―the GH15 has independent pan and tilt locks, so remember to lock them both.
This brings us to balancing your camera on the head. This is an extremely important process, since a properly balanced head will give you the best performance. While there may be extreme situations in which you wish to operate with the camera balanced either front- or back-heavy on the head, in general, operating a fluid head without the camera properly balanced just leads to fighting against the head, making for a tiring and uncomfortable shoot.
The GH15 head provides just under 6" of sliding balance adjustment front to back (2.9" forward, 2.9" back) with the included GB2 sliding camera plate. The 1/4"-20 camera tie-down screw rides in a sled with the spring-loaded locating pin and has almost 2" of sliding adjustment, while the 3/8"-16 tie-down runs in a separate channel with a little bit more than an inch of adjustment. This should provide you with enough balance adjustment for most situations, but if you need more adjustment than that to balance your camera, you will have to use an available sliding baseplate arrangement, such as ikan's Lightweight Baseplate / Dovetail Plate. As far as counterbalance goes, the GH15 features 10 steps, from 0 to 9, providing you anywhere from no counterbalance support, the 0 setting, to maximum counterbalance for heavy loads. With a little experimentation, you will find the counterbalance setting that you are most comfortable with, but you will most likely find yourself making small adjustments depending on the shot, and it is nice to have 10 steps of counterbalance to be able to fine-tune the head for each shot.
The fluid head's camera platform, on which the sliding camera plate mounts, features a safety catch, which prevents the camera plate and your camera from sliding off the head and smashing into the floor if you forget to lock the plate into the head. This is an important feature, and one you will appreciate the first time you need it. The head also features a 1/4"-20 accessory socket on the side, which is useful for attaching all manner of available accessories or accessory arms to the head itself. The head features pan-handle rosettes on both the left and right, allowing you the choice of right- or left-handed operation. One of the nice features of the pan-handle rosettes is that they are removable, and not cast into the head itself. So if, for some reason, one of the rosettes becomes damaged, you can replace it fairly easily, without having to have the rosette re-machined, or replacing the head entirely. It's a small feature, but worth noting, since not all fluid heads feature replaceable rosettes. The head only includes one pan handle, but you can buy an additional pan handle if you like two-handed operation or just want a spare. An illuminated bubble level on the head allows you to see the bubble level in dim light, avoiding the old flashlight-in-the-mouth trick as you try to level the fluid head.
The 771CT legs and the GH15 head make a great pair. Their payload capacities complement each other well, and if the combination fits your shooting style, then you’re all set. However, on their own, each one stands out―the 771CT legs for height range and combination 75/100mm bowl, which allows you to use either a 75 or 100mm ball head tripod; and the GH15 head with its wide 100mm leveling ball, sliding balance plate, and ten steps of counterbalance, which provide you with a stable fluid head from which to shoot.