Critical Design Presentation – Ultralight Tripod

For my final project for Aesthetics of Design, I want to make an ultralight camera tripod. As a semi-professional expedition photographer, I am always torn on the decision on whether or not to bring a tripod with me. My tripod is almost always the heaviest piece of camera gear I carry, and I frequently leave it behind for longer trips like backpacking or multi-day climbs. But I always end up wishing I had brought it, as stable time lapses and long exposure night photography are usually some of my best shots from a trip. 

This dilemma was particularly difficult this summer when I was hired by a guiding company to shoot photos and video of their expeditions on Denali, the highest peak in North America. While planning for this trip I knew would be carrying over 100 pounds of gear and food with me for the entire 24 day expedition, and this was before factoring in the camera equipment I would need to do my job. I really did not want to bring my two-pound tripod, already considered somewhat light. Why would I go to such great lengths to find lightweight jackets and skis when I would gain all that weight back with one heavy tripod? But when I thought of the time lapses I could capture of the sun circling the mountain and clouds flowing through the glacier valleys, I knew I would regret it forever if I didn’t bring it. I scoured the internet for lightweight tripods, but I couldn’t find any that were substantially lighter than the one I already had that weren’t made out of cheap plastic or completely out of my budget. This is when I had an idea.

I didn’t need to use 90% of the features of my heavy tripod. All I wanted was three legs, and a mount to connect a ball head. I didn’t need it to extend, I didn’t need multiple positions, and I needed it to be as light as possible. Being a mechanical engineering student, I designed a prototype in CAD and 3d printed a simple frame to connect to some carbon fiber tubes I had leftover from another project. This tripod performed very well on Denali, enabling me to capture shots that wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod while sparing me the weight for the entire expedition.

But it wasn’t perfect. For starters, the 3d printed frame contracted in the cold, making it impossible to get the carbon fiber tubes out. And I used carbon tubes I just happened to have from another project. They need up being too small and not long enough to really make an effective tripod. Also the only way to set up and lock the tripod to shoot was by tightening screws on the side of it, and when I wanted to pack it up, I would just take the rods out of the frame and they would all be stored loose in my backpack.For my project, I want to redesign this tripod out of more durable and stable materials, improve the design for usability, and implement a fluid, futuristic aesthetic for the whole project.

 

The Aesthetic I want to implement is part functional and part decorative. I want to emulate the structure of aluminum climbing cams. These pieces of equipment are designed to be as light as possible while still holding the impact forces associated with a climbing fall. As a result, they have interesting geometry, and their design is visually intriguing. I want to emulate this on the tripod by milling it out of aluminum, and drilling out any unnecessary material.

Image Links:

https://shop.climbonsquamish.com/black-diamond-camalot-ultralight.html

 

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11 Comments. Leave new

Hi Jack, I like your idea for this project! It’s a cool concept and I feel like it would help a lot to. And your sporty aesthetic fits well with what you would use it for.

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I think the triangular edged aesthetic makes this product look very sporty and slick. Have you talk to Cameron in the machine shop about using the CNC machine and getting his help on the design?

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Andrew Lapham
March 11, 2019 1:32 pm

Didn’t think this would be an aesthetic, but it definitely fits. Definitely hit up Cameron in the ITLL for help with the 5-axis. He is really good at designing complex shapes and structures. Excited to see the finished project.

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Nicholas Degenhart
March 11, 2019 1:32 pm

This is super cool, I like that you’ll end up with a usable object. Are you planning to use black carbon fiber once again? Depending on the specifics of the aesthetic you’re pursuing maybe you use some sort of unique color.

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Eleanor Pearson
March 11, 2019 1:32 pm

I like the futuristic aesthetic with all of the holes to make it lightweight. The triangles in the top piece sound like they will be really cool.

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Max Buechler
March 11, 2019 1:32 pm

The aesthetic works really well with the carbon fiber that you are already using, especially with the natural pattern of the surface of the carbon fiber. Have you considered putting a finish on the aluminum to better match the carbon fiber, or is it important to the aesthetic that it stands out from the rest of the tripod?

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Conrad Trybus
March 11, 2019 1:31 pm

The custom ball head would be tight. I hope that you are able to complete that part of the project. If ultralight is the objective it would be interesting to compare the weight of the existing carbon fiber + plastic one with the new aluminum one.

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Jared Campbell
March 11, 2019 1:31 pm

I like the robust and lightweight material decisions. Is this a 3 axis gimble? Do you plan on using this gimble in mostly static cases or maybe for vlog purposes and shots that involve movement?

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Hussam Alzahrani
March 11, 2019 1:31 pm

Jack,
What a cool idea to use an idea from a previous project and revamp its aesthetic. I am interested to see how the final product will look like given the aesthetic you described. Will you stick with one color scheme?

Reply
Yousef Alqattan
March 11, 2019 1:30 pm

It’s good to see a project based on your passion. I like the minimalist aesthetic and hope you have good luck building your tripod

Reply
William Benson
March 11, 2019 1:30 pm

You have a good inspiration and background for this project. I hope you take the aesthetic and use it to the max. The 5 axis CNC sounds like it will be fun to use.

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