KIT CHECK: RICK + AIRHED (3LEGGED THING)
I want you to picture a photographer who travels a lot ... a photographer who has a penchant for shooting in locations that are hard to get to ... the size and weight of their gear is crucial to their work.
Gear is too big? It's not going to fit in the pack.
Kit is too heavy? You've got a slow photographer on your hands.
Now, I want you to picture the same photographer, specifically the face ... it's a man, he has a dark beard and a blonde moustache (I know, weird, right?) ... bald head, always wears a cap. Scowls a lot, not because he's angry, but because he can't see past the end of his nose, it's more like a grumpy squint. You see where I am going with this?
No? Oh. Ok, I am getting you to picture me.
Anyway, back to the story, when I am working, I pride myself on being able to keep up with my subjects (be it on the approach or on a rope or whatever ...), I hate being the weak link in a day out shooting ... in fact, I point blank refuse for that to be the case. It is a rarity that I have the luxury of an assistant, the best studio set can't replicate the grit and beauty that shooting in the mountains brings. So the deal is this, I have got to be ON IT all the time.
As with all problems I face, I look for solutions.
Let's talk about tripods.
3 Legged Thing are a British company, founded by self-confessed metalhead and funny man (don't tell him though) Danny Lenihan along with a band of merry men (and women). Based out of Stagsden, near Bedford, they have been making some of the most interesting tripods around for a little while. One thing I particularly dig, they carve their own path and tend not to worry about following trends or crowds. They do what they think is right, what they think is cool and I have come to find that they do it really flipping well. And when people doubt or disagree with them, they do things like this:
Since February I have been shooting with "Rick" – yes they do give their gear actual names, this one is named after 'The Young Ones' character – and Airhed (the head, aka 'the bit on the top', go figure).
Rick & his Airhed have been with me pretty much everywhere since I got him ... to the conglomerate walls of Montserrat and the pockety paradise that is Margalef in Catalunya; to the magnificent granite stadium that is the Val Di Mello in Italy, the French Alps and of course ... multiple locations in the UK too (North Wales, Lake District, Peak District to name a few).
**Cut to the chase Lonsdale**
I am getting there. Honest.
So, real talk, how does Rick actually perform?
Well, he's bloody light. A combined (head & body) weight of 1200g means it weighs a touch more than a filled Nalgene bottle. Pretty good, right? 3 Legged Thing made Ricks legs & central column from carbon fibre. We all know how light that is!
He packs down bloody small too. I mean, look at him?
The legs invert around the central column to create a short, neat package, which EASILY fits into the bottle pocket on the side of my pack. It also fits through the tripod sleeve on my EDM too and with a cheeky hack (lots more of these to come) even works as a slick over-the-shoulder option. Belting.
Functionality is of paramount importance. When it comes to shooting, especially in the mountains, I need stuff to work, no questions. I have to admit, when I first started to use Rick, it took a day or two to get used to him. I wasn't used to his subtleties and intricacies ... but once I learned them, well, Rick is just great. As with any photography equipment, you need to know it inside out if you want to work with it. Practice makes perfect.
One feature I am particularly keen on with Rick is the twist lock aka ParaLock system on the legs & central column ... they work very well. They are much nicer for packing than the clip-style locks found on other tripods, which I have find tend to snag a lot, wrapping themselves around slings, ropes, mesh of pack pockets etc. They also work great with gloved/cold hands – another 'must' for the mountains. They are also VERY strong, gripping the carbon fibre shafts solidly. No slippage going on here. Watch the little video of me trying hard to make them fail below.
Airhed is super simple, with one knob at the bottom to allow 360º rotation on a horizontal axis (great for panoramas, panning and tweaking camera position); one knob to loosen the ball itself (allowing full movement of the camera); and one to control the plate mount. More great design ... it is instantly compatible with any Peak Design plate. YES 3LT!
I have found that the knob for tightening the plate sits quite tight to the camera; meaning that adjusting it (basically attaching or removing the camera) requires a little more care/effort than a standard quick release plate. Especially when working with swollen (common when I am climbing & working) or gloved (common in winter) fingers.
In all seriousness, if you can't work this out by just looking at the design then you probably shouldn't be allowed to operate a camera, or heavy machinery, or a car ... it's a friction based system and as long as you take that into consideration when you are working, it works great. It has been absolutely no problem for me – and I also came up with a neat solution so that I am doubly sure my camera is safe ... after all I am incredibly clumsy & probably shouldn't be allowed to operate anything expensive ever ... more on that story later.
One thing I do like from the gear I use, is a good feature set, allowing for multiple uses. Someone in the 3LT design department does too by the looks of things because Rick (& all of the tripods in the collection) are bursting with additional features. Strap in folks, this is about to get exciting.
Monopod + head. A monopod is a bit like a tripod, but just one leg. You knew that already, right? Good. So, one of the three legs on Rick (and all 3LT tripods) unscrews from the main body and becomes a monopod! SICK!
If I need to get the camera higher than my subject (great at bouldering competitions for example) without a ladder ... or to stabilise the camera very quickly on the go, this is a great solution. I can remove Ricks Airhed and attached it to the monopod. He doesn't mind, honest. Which means I can angle the camera however I desire. This configuration is a great option when I REALLY need to cut down on weight. Attaching the Airhed directly to the top of the monopod (which is very easy to do) means the camera is quickly mountable to the system and is easy to position in any angle for shooting. Decent.
Flippable centre column. As someone who is generally photographing small people on big rocks, this isn't a feature that I use often. However ... my kid brother (the better looking, more intelligent one of us – don't tell him) is a scientist and budding wildlife photographer. When he's shooting macro, this setup is CRUCIAL. Rick goes from standard 'heads up' to inverted aka 'heads down' in a matter of seconds. And it looks something like this.
Foot options. All tripods that I have used in the past have had rubber feet, which has worked ok for me, but there has been a bunch of of occasions where the rocks are wet, moss covered, iced over, too steep for the rubber feet to really gain any purchase making some shooting situations impossible for a tripod. End of story? Hell no. 3LT come to the rescue again with interchangeable feet. Claws, heels and stilettos make positioning any of 3LT tripods incredibly easy and incredibly secure.
Monopod as a boom. I mentioned using the Monopod option with Airhed earlier, sometimes the monopod on it's own can come in handy too. As my camera & lights all have a Capture Plate™ attached to them, I just screw attach a CapturePRO™ to the top and I have an instant quick release.
This can be slightly limiting for use with a camera, in that it only gives one angle, flat, but when attaching a speedlight this is not an issue due to the lockable head rotation. Win. With a light attached to this system it is now easy to elevate it to a better position (or better still give it to an assistant to do that for me - which happens ... almost never).
The Monopod also works great as a ready-made sjambok (NB: Do not try this at home – you will go to prison).
So that highlights a few of my favourite features that Rick comes with ... now I want to show you a couple of 'adaptations' or 'hacks' that I use day-to-day to really get the most out of the tripod.
Attached the two anchors to Rick. One on the D-ring beneath his central column, the other on the tri-mount plate. This now gives you attachment points at both ends of the tripod and means you can easily attach any PD strap for easy carrying and comfort. Simple, secure and sexy. What? It is!
You're now ready to march around with the bare essentials and still be able to roll hands free.
Like that? Love it.
Safety back up. I call this "Liam-proofing". Like I said, I am a clumsy fother mucker. I trip-up, drop stuff and lose things pretty much all the time. It sucks. I read somewhere that it directly correlates with having a higher level of intelligence or something. Anyway, pertaining to my high-level intellect, I am also quite pragmatic about my clumisness and try to put methods in place to stop me wrecking myself or my gear.
So, this is a method to stop me trashing my camera & lenses after forgetting to attach my camera firm enough to the plate mount ... or in case I don't attach it tight enough.
And this is how to put it together. Soooo easy.
That is all there is to it. Simple really, but it has saved my bacon (that's a code word for camera) once and I am hoping it will be redundant from now on, rather safe than sorry. Another benefit of using Cuff like this is that it makes a great cradle for my phone when using it as an intervalometer (pic in gallery at bottom of this review).
3/8" head hack. One thing I really like about the whole 3LT system is that it is completely modular. What I mean by that is ... you can take it all apart and reconfigure it exactly how you need it. One example of this ... Airhed is mounted to the tri-mount plate via a 1/4" threaded screw bar that goes all the way through the head into the main column itself (do I sound clever yet?). By dismantling these three components, you will see that the 1/4" screw ALSO has a 3/8" tip on the other end. Flip the screw bar around ... et voila. This is now directly mountable to LOTS of different pieces of gear, from your camera itself, to wireless triggers, to light stand attachments ... the list goes on.
There are number of other hacks that the folks at 3LT (and their fans) have developed too. Check out the 3LT Facebook page for videos, tips and tricks .
So in summary, Rick + Airhed were a great addition to my kit bag and continue to join me on my global travels. Lightweight, robust and easy to use ... I would highly recommend him or any of his brothers as a solution to your next tripod upgrade problem. OK? To finish this comprehensive analysis of Rick and how I use him I thought I would give you some snapshots of what he looks like 'in the field'.
RICK IN ACTION. Some shots of the mini-beast on tour. Click on the images below to see them enlarged and with info. Enjoy, LL
TOP TIP. Like I said somewhere earlier in the review ... the 3LT facebook page is full of useful information ... like this "how to" video on cleaning the ParaLocks (the bits that hold the legs together & allow them to be adjusted).
[NOTE: the RICK + AIRHEAD is no longer available from 3LT. Bummer. You can still pick them up online from some of the big photography retailers. How about this though? >> The whole 3LT range has been now been updated/replaced with the fantastic new Equinox series - keep your eyes peeled for a review on one of the latest and greatest from that line coming soon. Also, any accessories from the 3LT Punks range (which Rick was part of) can be used on the Equinox series too. So the posh stabbers are as versatile as ever! LL]