In my quest for a lighter and more portable plein air set-up I’m currently experimenting with a carbon fiber photography tripod and paint box.
The camera tripod I settled on is a Sirui T-025X with their C-10X ball head. It was originally recommended to me by plein air painter Paul Rafferty who has used one to great success for a year now. Sirui is a Chinese company who, apparently, used to make photo equipment for Gitzo (the very expensive Italian company) and are now making tripods with their own brand name. The tripod folds up to be tiny and weighs only 1.54 lb (0.7 kg) -slightly less than the Fome aluminum easel I’ve been using for a while. (For anyone thinking of getting the Sirui, you can find one on Amazon and support my site).
To use sight-size one’s panel or canvas should ideally be at eye-level. This puts the surface quite high off the ground where stability becomes an issue. On the other hand, after years of working on canvas, I don’t really mind a little give while I’m applying paint. Even with my extremely light backpack hanging off the supplied carabiner, this set-up becomes stable enough for me to paint comfortably.
I also don’t like the pochade-box-on-camera-tripod system that most plein air painters use. With sight-size it means the paints are right under my nose. The solution for me is to use a mast to get the panel high enough, and attach the paint box to the bottom. For the mast of this set-up I picked up a pre-made carbon fiber slat, drilled a hole with a 1/4″ drill-bit, and bolted it to the quick-release plate of the Sirui. The Sirui quick-release plate has screw threads out, so one can switch to a longer bolt without permanently affecting the tripod. One could drill a hole in the aluminum or steel mast of the Fome easels and get an even stiffer design. I settled on a shorter mast to be able to pack it in a suitcase easily. With the taller camera tripod it is still big enough for my 11″ x 14″ (25 x 35 cm) panels in a vertical position, even if I have the easel set up downhill.
I’d love to be able to triumphantly declare that the carbon fiber painting box was a great success and is the future of plein air painting equipment. Unfortunately, after an annoying amount of time and money spent, I have to admit that a $5 dollar Ebay cigar-box works just as well. Leo Mancini-Hresko has written a good blog post on making one. The carbon fiber isn’t any lighter or sturdier, and it lacks the charm to boot.