Many years ago as a newly qualified civil engineer I went to my first proper site knowing everything!! My new boss was much cleverer. I spent 6 months as a chainman helping a proper engineer, I walked miles carrying a huge wooden tripod and a bloody great wooden box containing a theodolite; I really hated them and severely abused them whenever possible, all to no avail as they were still there and working next day.
After starting a degree course in photography and obtaining some very expensive gear I bought a Manfrotto tripod for £150, although I never felt happy with my gear sitting on this on the rocks, or up a mountain in a gale on the west coast of Ireland.
A decision was made to combine the rigidity and strength of the theo legs with a quick release head for my cameras.
First you need the legs and I went online and found a shop called eToolShop and bought a lightweight, rigid Surveyors aluminum tripod for £25.99 – if you can’t collect it’s a further £9.95 for delivery. However, if you search through eBay you’ll undoubtedly come across second-hand ones; but make sure you have the flat top type, just to be awkward some makers have their own designs which will make things difficult for you (Kern is one to avoid).
Most surveying instruments have a 5/8″ instrument thread, which is not much use on a camera. I found a badly damaged builders laser at the car boot sale, fortunately for me, the damage was to the legs and I just needed the tribach (this is the top part of the laser or the bottom part of the theodolite). The tribach has 3 adjusting screws and fits nicely to your theodolite legs . Mine cost £2. A surveying instrument repair shop will probably have an old one for a few quid.
Now the awkward part as you need to machine a piece of aluminum to fit on top of your tribach to hold a camera mount with a sliding plate. If you go to a machine shop to have this made, they’ll charge £85-£100 an hour. Find a retired engineer, or ask at your local model-making club and you will find that you can get it made for a few pounds; failing this join a night class in metalwork and make it yourself!!!.
When i decided to try multiple flash I went to the car boot sales and bought 5 cheap tripods (much cheaper than flash stands). When I looked closely I found the 50 pence Miranda one had a Giotto camera mount with a sliding plate an MH652 – I wonder why?. This worked perfectly. If you don’t want to carry lots of tripods fit a 3/8 – 1/4inch adaptor to your quick release plate and most pan and tilt tripod heads will fit right on.
All of this happened as I had a college project for panoramas, with perfect control over camera level at 360 degrees it was really good.