Thought you could get by without a tripod? Ha! Not so fast, shaky hands. A camera tripod is crucial in lots of genres of photography, and generally agreed upon as a standard piece of equipment. There are a few factors to consider when buying a camera tripod: size, weight capacity, head type, locks and feet, and material. Scroll down to learn more about which features make the most sense for you.
There are two sizes you need to consider when it comes to your camera tripod: collapsed size and extension size. Collapsed size lets you know how small you can make your tripod, which is especially relevant for transportation purposes. If your collapsed tripod won’t fit in your bag, then it can’t do you much good on the go. Some photographers suggest that you find a tripod with an extension size that matches your own height. That way, you never have to bend over to look through the viewfinder.
Whether you’re rocking a point and shoot or a big DSLR, load capacity matters. Don’t confuse it with the weight of the tripod itself. Load capacity refers to how much weight the tripod can hold. If the weight of your camera is heavier than the load capacity of your tripod, you can damage both the tripod and camera. Check how much your camera weighs (along with any lenses, flashes, etc. that you plan to use) and choose a tripod with a corresponding load capacity.
The camera tripod head secures your camera and lets you control its range of movement. There are four major types of heads: ball, pan/tilt, gimbal, and fluid. Ball heads can move 360 degrees. They offer flexible and smooth maneuvering and a simple design. By comparison, pan/tilt heads are the most common tripod heads and provide only horizontal and vertical movement. They’re typically suitable for beginners, and are usually found on less expensive tripods. Meanwhile, gimbal heads are specially made for balancing larger camera and lens combinations. Fluid heads are a type of pan/tilt with a hydraulic damping system to create a smoother range of motion for video.
Locks and Feet
Available in twist and lever, as well as a few custom options, leg locks prevent the legs from retracting when you load your camera onto the tripod. While flip locks are quick and easy to use, twist locks offer better weather sealing and are less likely to loosen over time. At the end of each leg, there is also a ‘foot.’ There are a few different types of feet, from spike, which suits outdoor shooting, to rubber, which is most common for its non-slip capacities.
Tripods are made of a few different materials. The most common are wood, aluminum, and carbon fiber. For an ecological option, wood provides a durable, vibration resistant choice. However, wood camera tripods tend to be heavy and non-compact. Aluminum, on the other hand, provides a better strength-to-weight ratio. However, it also gets colder and hotter than the temperature tolerant wood. Expensive carbon fiber is usually only available in high end tripods. Not only is it temperature tolerant like wood, but carbon fiber also features solid vibration dampening qualities for reduced shake.
It might seem difficult to pick the best tripod to suit your purpose. If you’re a beginner photographer, a lightweight aluminum tripod with an appropriate load capacity should fit you fine. We recommend the Manfrotto Befree Travel Tripod. If you’re looking to upgrade, a more expensive carbon fiber, like the Manfrotto 290 Xtra Carbon Fiber Tripod, is a better choice. Be picky! Try a few different tripod types until you find your ideal combination.