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DIY Underwater Tripod


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#1 uwxplorer

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 06:50 PM

Underwater tripods are available for videographers. AFAIK, they are all in the $400-$500 ballpark and have different features that make them well adapted for the job, but ideally, one would want to try them out before buying one. That's rarely possible.
So I did what everybody does: I tried a cheap topside tripod I did not use anymore (Dynex DX-NW080 ~ $20) in the pool. and although it did not explode or rust instantaneously, it did not allow me to get close enough to my subject when I tried to use my macro lens (I use a Sony CX550V in a Light&Motion Stingray G2+ housing with a flippable macro lens that can be used only with the flat port).
Indeed, what is needed is something that allows you to get low and close to your subject. But sometimes, the nudibranch you want to shoot is sitting on a boulder and underwater tripods I referred to above usually won't allow you to reach that far. They are also limited to a minimum height anyway (about 6 inches for the unit discussed here).
So before I jumped the guns and bought one of the existing dedicated tripods for a lot of (potentially wasted) money, I went into a brick and mortar photo and video store and took a close look at the (topside) tripods they had on display and played with them. That's the nice thing about brick and mortar stores that you can hardly dream of doing online (I am writing that for the next generation of readers, who probably will have to look up "Brick and mortar store" to understand what I am talking about).
I actually found quite a few that could get pretty low. 11" is about as low as I could find, and I found one which was relatively affordable and looked sturdy enough: Cullman Nanomax 250. It's available online for ~$50 but I bought it where I found it (for more) considering that I had been able to try it and occupy their floor space for quite some time...

Edited by uwxplorer, 12 February 2012 - 07:43 PM.


#2 uwxplorer

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 07:07 PM

I had already purchased a tripod adapter for my L&M housing for ~$50 from my local underwater photo & video store and used it to try out the tripod with my camera gear.
That's what I got back with (shameless plug for one my recent videos):



Nothing groundbreaking but I was nonetheless encouraged despite the fact that I had spent most of my dives trying to adjust my buoyancy (and therefore had very little time to actually shoot!).
This is due to the fact that this Aluminum tripod is very light (if not buoyant) and my housing with lights is about neutral. So I needed to use some of MY weights to load the tripod, which made me too buoyant and unable to stay level with my housing... Not good.
So I decided that my next attempt would involve PRELOADING the tripod so that I did not have to worry about that (although I would now have to worry about my BCD's lift capacity). I estimated that I would need about 10 lbs to make this thing stable (we have quite alot of surge and current here in SoCal).
Fast forward to last week, when I visit my local dive shop and spot 3 black bars on the floor. Are these weights? Are these 3.3 lbs weight? Are these affordable? Are they by any chance exactly the size of my tripod legs? (*)
The answer to all of these questions being a resounding if hardly believable yes (I paid ~$40 for all three), I went back home and put everything together...
The next series of picture shows the result.

(*) these were discarded "Cylinder weights" from Bright Weights (which I am sure cost a fortune if bought as such, but since the kit had been lost, they sold me the weights... by weight).

Edited by uwxplorer, 12 February 2012 - 07:46 PM.


#3 uwxplorer

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 07:17 PM

OK, here are all the parts:

The weights (~$14 each):

weight.JPG

The tripod (~$50) with one weight attached, as well as the ring, strap and quick release clip I use to attach it to my BCD when not in use (~$15 in any dive shop):

tripod.JPG

The tripod with the weights attached to the legs (using inexpensive cable-ties). The ruler shows a top height of 11" in the "spread leg" configuration:

11_inch_height.JPG

The L&M tripod adapter (~$50. I know... but this allows you to attach the housing to ANY tripod):

L_M_Adapter.JPG

Edited by uwxplorer, 12 February 2012 - 07:48 PM.


#4 uwxplorer

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 07:23 PM

And finally a couple of pictures with the housing installed (using the tripod head adapter shown next):

Tripod_Adapter_top.JPG

Rear view with the housing tilted down ~45 deg, resulting in a ~12" distance from flat port to ground.

L_M_on_tripod___back_view.JPG

Front view with the housing fully tilted down, resulting in a ~7" distance from flat fort to ground.

L_M_on_tripod___front_view.JPG

#5 uwxplorer

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 07:40 PM

A few comments are in order:

- you may have noticed some rust on the tripod adapter. There are actually a few other places where I have seen some too, and I did not expect anything else, considering that it is NOT an underwater tripod. However, I don't see that this will compromise the functionality of the tripod.

- the legs have a simple yet clever mechanism at the top which allows selecting the "Spread leg" configuration shown in the pictures above, or the "Straight legs" one, which one might want to use for a wall shot (possibly). Here is how that looks like:

leg_angle_adjustment.JPG

One basically rotates the little knob at the top (big fingers bad luck) 180 degrees. They lock in place with the help of a little ball and spring mechanism (I took it apart to check this out).

- that brings another worthy comment: this is German quality and you can take this thing apart and put it back. It will work (this is how I managed to slide the ring/strap/clip shown in one of the pictures above).

- Of course, as for any topside tripod, you have about 3-4 ft of extensible telescopic legs at your disposal, if needed (and that comes handy if the topography is not level, for instance).

- the tiltable head controls are not of the highest quality, but good enough for the job, at least with my housing being approximately neutral with its lights attached.

- I removed a detachable central rod that you can crank up or down to raise the tiltable head, as I obviously don't need that extra degrees of freedom, and moreover, it did protrude downwards (you need to remove it to switch to the "Spread leg" configuration).
The remaining part (visible in some pictures) is locked tight to the tripod, but I would not trust this to carry the weight of the tripod, hence my solution to carry it from one leg.

Anyhow, I intend to learn as much as I can about macro shooting with this relatively simple and inexpensive DIY tripod, before I invest (maybe) in a dedicated underwater tripod...

Edited by uwxplorer, 12 February 2012 - 07:42 PM.


#6 Bert S

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 08:15 PM

Have you had a chance to try out your tripod yet?

#7 uwxplorer

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 07:28 AM

I had concluded that nobody was really interested... :-) so I lost track of that thread! I have actually changed a few things to make this rig more practical (way too heavy in the config I described). I'll try to sum this up soon...

#8 uwxplorer

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Posted 01 January 2014 - 10:32 PM

Revisiting this old thread to conclude.
The permanent weights idea was a bad one. Way too heavy to carry along and a potential buoyancy hazard.
Instead, I strapped one metal ring to each leg and carried 3 clippable two-pound weights which I have on my BCD when swimming around (after removing the corresponding weight from my BCD pockets), and clip onto the tripod when setting up a shot. The weights are not necessary for my buoyancy at depth, so I simply need to dump some air from my BCD when I set up the tripod. When I want to move to some other place, I unclip the weights one at a time and add a bit of air in my BCD to compensate. I suppose that in a less surgy environment, less weight would be necessary to stabilize the rig.

#9 Rui_Guerra

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 05:33 AM

I'm also reconfiguring my tripod weight but I'm following a different route:

 

If the camera is neutral and the tripod is not that much heavy, we have a stability issue in surge and the first though would be to carry more weight, but that may not be the best thing to do especially in more deep dives. And in shallow water with surge we can't remove weight from us or we'll be too buoyant.

 

How about if we change the weight of the camera IN THE WATER? Usually we add some floats to the camera arms to make it almost neutral which is a bad thing when we need to put it in a tripod. So if we can remove those floats from the camera then maybe the camera alone (with no floats) and the tripod alone (with no weights, but with the legs flooded with water - if needed, make a small hole in the top part of each leg) will have all the weight they need.

 

To achieve that, maybe we can use the floats atached to a clip so we can remove and replace it when need. If we can't clip it to the BCD (due to the added bouncy that it will give), we can clip it to a rock with a simple piece of least band from a car tire.

 

Another solution will be a variable weight system where we can put more air inside or remove it all together (like a small lift bag), but that will be more work with any depth change that occurs during the dive. The rigid floats don't have that variation.


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#10 uwxplorer

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 08:03 PM

Good thinking except that a heavy camera on a light tripod is not going to be very stable. Flooding the tripod leg is going to make it heavy and my experience is that it is very cumbersome to haul around. Unfortunately, I don't think there is a one seize fit all solution... I have a hard time picturing juggling with floats, but I'd be curious to see your solution when you have put it together (and tried it!).
:-)
My only point was that, rather than investing in a"dedicated" underwater tripod, which might be far from ideal in any case but definitely very expensive, a home-made tripod can do a pretty descent job at a more reasonable cost. I wanted to experiment with macro before I committed to an expensive piece of kit and it appears that this might do the job in the foreseeable future. It is definitely more tedious than wide-angle though.

#11 Rui_Guerra

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Posted 03 January 2014 - 01:06 AM

Yes, I see your point of view. For years I also had used the weighted tripod version (legs filled with granulated lead) and no doubt it was stable but cumbersome to haul around, especially out of the water. It was a cheap supermarket tripod, and not very good.

 

After that I've bought a Gitzo one, and it stills work fine, after many, many years of underwater and on land use. It's not cheap but defenitively cheaper then a dedicated uw tripod and much more versatile, although not so 100% water-resistant, of coarse. And with this one just made a hole on top of each leg to let the water came in for added stability. Some times I've used a 2 or 3 Kg weight suspended under the central column (if there is some space between it and the bottom) or a 2 Kg neckless that I just put around the top part of the tripod legs (it's the same thing that free divers use around the neck in swimming pools to trim the body position), but not any more because I've found that I really don't need the added weight.

 

Above water the tripod weights around 4 Kg (with the head), underwater a little less, so it's stable. I tend to use it with the legs very spread apart for added stability if the surge is strong.

I have used several times without any weight added and with the camera rig with the floats on, without any problem. So when I find the opportunely to try it without any floats in the camera I expect that it becomes even more stable.

 

My only doubt is the use of the camera rig  by hand (in regular photo situations) with floats clipped to it, floating over around, that I suspect that I'll not like that much...


Edited by Rui_Guerra, 03 January 2014 - 01:09 AM.

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#12 kc_moses

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Posted 06 January 2014 - 11:45 AM

Something to worth consider, it's definitely more stable then a gorilla pod, which I tried and failed big time:

 

http://www.amazon.co...ag=cheesycam-20

 

 

I'm making my own like the XIT404 tripod, but just buy a few more ball head, clamp and leg and you're in business. I haven't get the new setup wet yet, time will tell.