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Without a Leg to Stand On

January 8, 2022

I love my Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod. It has been a long-term relationship.

It was a Christmas gift in 2009. I still don’t know how we afforded purchasing it. I was in grad school, maintaining two households (one in Ohio, one in Texas). It was everything I thought I wanted or needed for the field because my monopod was not working as I had hoped in terms of stability, but carrying my heavy but dependable metal tripod was not a workable option for hiking. For what it is worth, that older tripod is still in use today, though a permanent resident in the blind at the Lj√≥smyndir Ranch.

While I got it when I was still living in Ohio, I really started to use the thing when I landed in San Antonio about 18 months later. It took some time to wean myself off of the monopod, but as I did, I found that my dragonfly, damselfly, and butterfly images had become noticeably sharper.

It however, has not been without its share of issues. I detailed in my June 2014 blog post (gawd I’ve been doing this for a while) that I had a problem where I lost a tripod foot which led to me losing a tripod shim. It took some time, but I got replacements for both and away I went.

So during my weekend where I wanted to shoot Big Boy, I had another tripod misadventure. I was shooting at Doug Kissel Fishing Ponds in Limon, Colorado. First time there. Didn’t really have great situational awareness. I was walking around the two primary ponds, not really paying attention, when I heard an very unsettling sound of structural failure. I looked down, and I noticed that the lowest segment of one of my tripod legs had found its way into a gap the metal fence posts around one of the ponds. Brief examination showed that there was a small, but noticeable and functionally significant crack in the strong, but light, carbon fiber.

There were probably a few, foul words uttered softly under my breath.

A brief examination of the damage seemed to show that it was not immediately terminal, but it certainly wasn’t fully functional. It hopefully would make it through the weekend. But it was not going to survive very long.

Granted, it isn’t in really good shape to begin with. One of the legs has lost a good deal of its tension. All of the identifying information has rubbed off by now. It has seen far better days.

But this has been my shooting companion in at least 15 states. It has helped me make some marvelous images. It has been more supportive of me than my last two relationships. The thought of losing it hurt.

What hurt nearly as much was the next time I went to use the tripod at Walden Ponds in Boulder County. I took out the tripod, tried to adjust it, and when I touched the cracked portion of the tripod I got a sliver in my index finger. Thankfully my shooting companion had a pair of tweezers with her and the day was not a loss. But I knew that the “take it easy” approach to continuing to use this tripod was not going to work. Either find a spare part or replace the tripod.

Manfrotto to the rescue again.

A visit to their website quickly revealed the illustrated part breakdown for this somewhat ancient tripod. I made a quick phone call to their tech support folks. They didn’t have the leg segment in stock, but they pointed me to a website that did. About $50 later and a number of weeks in transit (it was in England), and the spare part was in my hands.

It took a few weeks more to find the time to go and do the needed surgery on the tripod. Work/life balance. But when time made itself available, the repair was simple. One Torx screw removed from the tension lever. Pull the leg out, being careful not to let the shims hit the ground. Remove the tension lever. Pull the new part out of the packaging. Put the tension lever on the new leg. Put the shims on the new leg. Carefully slide the leg back into the middle leg segment, making to sure to align the shims so it will go in smoothly. Replace the Torx screw and tighten up the tension lever. Fifteen minutes. Easy as can be.

Will I replace the tripod? Probably. It has lived a good life. But I’m hoping to have it for at least one more shooting season.

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