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Choosing the right tripod can be an overwhelming experience; there are so many choices! Aluminum or carbon fiber? Lightweight or heavy? Three leg sections or four? Buy for the equipment I have now, or for the equipment that I might get down the road? Here are a number of things to consider when choosing a new tripod.
Since many cameras and lenses have
you no longer have to use a tripod
in most cases. Having to carry one is a pain and As a result cripples creativity. Digital
has all but Killed The Tripod.
Only use a tripod for still subjects either at
night or when you need long
shutter speeds of about 1/60 or slower.
You don't need a tripod until the shutter speed is long. Today VR OS and IS lenses also help obsolete them. Long shutter speeds only
occur at night, you have a cheap lens, or if you are at f/22 for a lot of depth of field.
Bring out a tripod and everyone thinks you're a
professional photographer and then crowd around you as if you somehow have the
only good spot from which to make a
Tripod Leg Types
– Most common
– 3-section more stable than 4-section
• Carbon Fiber
– More easily damaged
– Special purpose (large format)
– Dampens vibrations well
Tripod Leg Manufacturers
• Most popular for pros and serious amateurs:
• Many others are more concerned with gizmos and gadgets than making a
• Bogen/Manfrotto 3021N
– Good aluminum legs for all-around use
– Heavier tripods are available for studio only use
– Lighter tripods are available for serious hiking
• Gitzo GT2330
– Gitzo has many other models
– Talk to a Gitzo user
Tripod Bonus Features
• Leg angle adjustment
– Legs splay out to get tripod low to the ground
• Remove ˝ of Bogen 3021 center column to get lower
• Built-in Level
• Padded Legs
– Option for many tripods
– Cheap: pipe insulation & duct tape
– Won’t freeze your hands in cold weather
– Can rest your tripod on your shoulder when carrying
If you are serious about
long telephoto shots or
low light and
night photography, a
quality tripod and an even better tripod head may represent your best
digital camera accessory. The importance of a good tripod can not be underestimated when you demand the ultimate
Number of Leg Sections
Tripods with 3 leg-sections over 4 leg-sections are best for most applications. Let's consider two equivalent Gitzo® mid-range models: the 3 leg-section GT2530 and the 4 leg-section GT2540. The top tube diameter is the same for both models. But since each leg section has to telescope into the previous section, the fourth and final leg section of the GT2540 is quite narrow. In practical terms, the final leg section of the GT2530 is about the width of your thumb, while the final leg section of the GT2540 is about the width of your index finger. Lastly, tripods with 3 leg-sections have only two joints per leg. In general terms, the fewer joints, the better the support; the fewer joints, the less hassle.
But there are times when a tripod with 4 leg-sections is a good choice. If travel and portability are premium considerations for you, tripods with 4 leg-sections always collapse into a shorter closed length. This can often mean the difference between fitting in that carry-on suitcase and leaving your tripod behind.
Aluminum or Carbon Fiber?
- Greatest weight to stability ratio; today's high-performance models deliver excellent stability even when ratio of head-to-leg mass drops to about 1.5.
- Easier to handle in extreme cold since the leg sections do not get as cold as aluminum.
- Dampens vibration faster than aluminum.
- Typically half the weight of a comparable aluminum model.
- Typically twice the price of a comparable aluminum model.
Height & Center Columns
Remember that this means maximum height and minimum height. Want to have your viewfinder at eye level? Choose a tripod that can extend at least to within about 6-inches of eye level (that remaining 6-inches will be taken up by your ballhead and camera). Want to be at ground level? Choose either a tripod without a center column, or one of the Gitzo Mountaineer models with removable center columns.
- Typically half the price of a comparable carbon fiber model.
- Typically twice the weight of a comparable carbon fiber model.
Choosing a tripod with or without a center column is a matter of personal choice. Some shooters prefer the Gitzo Systematic series that come with no center column (but they accept a range of Systematic accessories, including optional center columns). Others prefer the versatility that a center column delivers; it sure is handy to just raise the center column a bit when you need that extra inch in height rather than adjusting each leg section. Note that if you do choose a tripod with center column, you'll Best Prices for the best support when your center column is not fully extended (so choose a tripod that is tall enough without the center column fully extended).
Remember that selection of a support system stems from three inputs: personal bias, load, and surroundings. Your goal is to have a solid support system that is more than the sum of its parts. A well-crafted support system is built from the ground up with quality components that enhance the genuine needs and preferences of each shooter. Tripod legs, head, quick-release clamping system, camera and optics—a well chosen combination, used properly, will yield the finest results with every
A tripod is only as good as the
head that sits on top of it. Arguments over which type of head approach the Mac vs. Windows level of fervor at times, with ball head fans swearing that
three-way panning heads can’t touch them, and the reverse. Well, you’ve got plenty of choices no matter which way you go, but
ball heads are clearly gaining in popularity with many more new options on display.
Full size Tripod prices run from $8.95 for the Zeikos ZE-TR26A 50-Inch Full Size Tripod to the Manfrotto 519,542ART Video Kit with 519 Head, 542ART Tripod legs and MBAG100P Padded Tripod Bag (Black) at $2,809.90
Look for a tripod that will, with the tripod head and camera attached, be tall enough for your height without extending the center post. The Bogen 3221/3021 is a good choice if you're less than 6' tall.
Get a tripod that will go to ground level. This is important for close ups and for landscapes.
Make sure your tripod has independent leg movements. In other words, no braces between the legs. The legs should also be able to swing out 90 degrees (or close to that)
A tripod, especially for outdoor work, is nothing to scrimp on. A tripod that is perfectly adequate for indoor work on a flat surface can be a challenge to use in an outdoor environment where the ground is seldom flat and solid.
Bogen/Manfrotto 3021/3221. Same tripod 3021 is silver, 3221 black. $140-187, depending on features.
3001 Shorter, different leg locking mechanism. $87-140 depending on features
Gitzo Very good, expensive. Carbon Fiber and aluminum tripods.
GT3530LSV, G1325—carbon fiber, tall enough for a 6’ person, three leg sections
1320—aluminum, tall enough for a 6’ person, three leg sections
GT3540LS, GT3540LSV. G1348 --carbon fiber, tall, 4 leg sections.
GT1530, GT1540, G1257 and G1258—carbon fiber. For shorter people, 3 and 4 leg sections
A light, flimsy tripod with you is miles better than a big, heavy tripod at home. I have a reasonably nice "professional" tripod, which I very rarely use because it's too big to lug around on foot, and only barely fits into a fairly large suitcase. Knowing what I know now, I might as well not have bought it; the light ones I have get the job done almost as well and they're with me a lot more. So if you're not sure of what you want, go for the smallest and lightest tripod that could possibly work. You can always add a heavy one later if you need it -- and you will almost certainly use the light one as well.
You may want to consider browsing the following manufacturer websites for detailed information about their tripod offerings.
Their websites may offer more information, including product data sheets, than what is available on product
packaging. Note that this list is for informational purposes only: