Camera tripod guide and recommendations
Camera tripod is a photography accessory that sooner or later almost every photographer needs. Whether you're into landscapes, wildlife, studio, macro, or any other photography field, you'll almost certainly need a tripod at some point. There are quite a few important characteristics to consider before you choose a tripod such as weight, size, price, durability, material quality, ease of use and more. During the years I've been photographing, I've had the chance to experiment with quite a few types of tripods and I've compiled the knowledge I've gained in a comprehensive article that will help you choose a tripod that suits you! My recommendations are mainly from the field of landscape and wildlife photography. In other fields there may be slightly different considerations, but I believe this will be beneficial for most photographers.
general use of camera tripod
Camera tripod is a useful accessory in almost any field of photography you can think of. In general, any photo taken with a shutter speed that is too slow for handheld shooting, will need a tripod (or other support) to take a sharp image. Even when the shutter speed is sufficiently fast and does not require the use of a tripod, it can be very effective as it allows for a very precise composition.
Tripods in variable height and leg angles on which a rail is mounted for motion time lapse photography.
camera tripod - key characteristics and considerations
There isn't one camera tripod that fits everyone and for every use! Just like different photographers have important considerations for the rest of their equipment such as cameras and lenses according to their use and needs. Some photographers need lightweight tripods for long hiking, there are those who need an inexpensive tripod for initial use, and there are those who need a very durable tripod even if it is heavy and expensive. What do you need? Only you will know. Here are some important considerations for choosing a tripod that will suit you:
The maximum height of the tripod from which we can shoot. Sometimes it depends on the height of the photographer himself, sometimes on a specific emphasis where we will want or need to photograph at a certain height and a certain angle (above a fence or a certain object). In general, tripods that reach a height of 1.5 meters or more should be sufficient for most photographers.
Shooting with tripods at almost maximum height | Photo courtesy of Idan Presser
A consideration that can be very important for landscape photography, macro photography and night photography in which relatively low shooting angles are used in many cases. In some tripods the central pole may limit the minimum shooting height. There are tripods where the central pole can come out and and mount upside down, come out and stand perpendicular to the body of the tripod and some have an option to screw out the lower part of the main pole - all these options can allow shooting from a very low height.
Shooting with a low angle tripod. Very common in landscape photography, night photography and macro photography.
A consideration that can be important for those who want a relatively compact tripod that will fit in a photography bag, or be attached outside the bag and not interfere with walking.
Folded tripod mounted on the side of a photography bag
A very important consideration depending on the equipment you plan the tripod hold. If the tripod is unable to support the weight of your equipment, its legs may collapse and become unsteady, or it may fall. If your heaviest equipment weighs 2 kilos, there is no reason to buy a tripod designed to carry 15 kilos. It is recommended that the tripod will be able to carry a little more than the heaviest weight you mount on it.
An important consideration for almost every person and for every use. For example, there are photographers who travel and hike with a lot of heavy gear, so they will prefer a relatively light tripod. In the case of a light tripod, its load capacity should also be taken into account. A light tripod can also sometimes be less stable in rough weather conditions such as wind. In such cases, sometimes there is an option to place a bag or something heavy on a special hook to stabilize it. On the other hand, there are photographers who do not need to carry the tripod for long distances and will have no problem with a relatively heavy tripod that will also be very stable and have the ability to hold heavy gear.
A consideration that mainly affects durability, load capacity and weight. Simple tripods are usually made of plastic. They are relatively light, but may break easily and during prolonged use. They are also usually not designed to carry more than a couple of kilograms. Tripods made of metal compounds (aluminum/titanium) or carbon fiber are often very durable. The load capacity is varied and is mainly affected by their size. Their own weight can range from extremely light to heavy depending the model. Tripods made of carbon fiber excel in high strength and durability, relatively light weight (depending on the size) and good load capacity.
Slik carbon fiber tripod
legs spread and angles
Affects the height range of the camera tripod, the stability and the possibility of placing the tripod in complex terrain. In general, you should prefer a tripod with large angles range and one where each leg can move separately. A large range of angles will allow to place the tripod at minimum and maximum height. Separating the angle of each leg will allow to place the tripod in an uneven ground where we may need one leg with a certain angle/length and another leg with different angle/length.
Tripods mounted with different leg angles and length
leg joints and diameter
Here we will mainly check the number of joints, the diameter of the legs and the locking type of the joint. A smaller amount of joints usually makes the tripod more stable (but sometimes longer when it is folded) and vice versa. The diameter of the legs mainly affects the strength and stability of the tripod. A leg with smaller diameter will be less stable and may move under heavy weight or under the influence of wind and waves. There are 2 Main lock types for joints - twist lock or flip lock. This is a slightly less essential consideration and mainly a matter of convenience.
A consideration almost as important as the body of the tripod itself! There are 2 main types of heads - ball head and pan/tilt head. In both types it is important to check the load capacity , self weight and the type of connector to the camera. Ball heads are very common today and seem to be comfortable for most people, as they allow free movement in all directions. In the high-quality heads, there is independent separation for movement in the rotary horizontal axis (right/left) from the other axes, as well as a coarse and fine locking that allows the exact position of the camera. The main advantage of a pan/tilt head is the ability to separate the movement of all axes, which for example is very convenient in photographing panoramas. The disadvantage of pan/tilt heads is that it is usually larger than a ball head. Similar to the load capacity of the tripod itself, the load capacity of the head is just as important. Here too, it is recommended to choose a load capacity slightly higher than the maximum weight that will be mounted.
camera tripod price
An important consideration for almost everyone. As with most photography equipment you know, here too you will usually get very simple and low quality tripods at low prices, or high quality tripods at high prices. Prices for tripods start from around 50$ and can even reach hundreds of dollars depending on the quality and brand. You may find surprisingly high quality tripods in reasonable price if you research enough. Later in the article I will list some recommendations.
Eventually, to find a tripod that will suit your needs, you need to take these considerations into account and find a balance between what is necessary and what is possible! Sometimes you will find a perfect match and sometimes a relatively good compromise.
camera tripod brands and recommendations
There are quite a few brands in the tripod world and a huge variety of different tripods. I didn't try them all of course, but I got to use quite a few types and also experimented and got to know the tripods of photographers whom I guided on trips, workshops and landscape photography courses that I guide. Well known and leading brands that most of you will see are: Slik, Manfrotto, Gitzo, Really right Stuff, Sirui, Benro, Peak Design, Leofoto, MeFoto and more. I won't go into detail about each brand specifically, but it is important to mention a few specific brands: