The tripod is more useful than you think. But it’s important to know your requirements before buying. There are so many models on the market. It is often hard to know which is right for you.
It is easier to streamline the production of many images if you want all images taken from the same height and angle. There i always less risk for blur when using a tripod.
The tripod is also necessary for:
- Night images
- Long exposure, like soften running water, light trails from traffic and similar.
- Higher quality in bad light situations. (You can use lower ISO settings).
- Deeper focal length than shooting on freehand will allow.
- Selfies. Not even professional photographers can be in front of and behind the camera at the same time.
The tripod marketplace is a jungle. There is no clear connection between price and performance. There is bad and good tripods in all price levels. An expensive tripod isn’t necessary better than a cheap one.
Look for a cheaper tripod, but examine the details carefuly
Most of us don’t think it’s reasonable that the tripod should be more expensive than the camera. So getting a cheaper model may pay off, if money matters to you. But there are some things you need to watch before buying.
Evaluate the tripods from the following criteria.
The size. Make sure you can use the tripod from high enough level. If you’ll need to take portraits of standing people you’ll need to be able to take from a rather high level if you don’t want the face taken from below. In most cases however, your own breast level is sufficient. The size when folded is even more important if you’ll need to carry the tripod a lot.
Weight. A really heavy tripod is great in the studio. The risk of blurred images decreases the heavier the tripod is. But every gram counts in the camera bag, especially if you are going to carry it a full day. Then you’ll appreciate a light tripod, preferably in carbon fibre, which is the lightest material and very strong.
Quick-release camera fittings is nice to have, but make sure it’s strong enough for the camera. Sometimes you’ll want to carry the tripod with the camera on, and then it’s a good thing if it doesn’t fall of. That is an always-eminent danger with cheaper quick release clips. A metal screw is much more reliant. Mounting the camera takes a little more time, but your camera will be much safer.
Level is a handy bonus feature
A level is handy to make sure you are shooting straight. It can save you a lot of time when editing the images, not having to straighten all images from a shoot. This is especially important when shooting interiors or architecture, where lines need to be straight.
Legs should be sturdy. Some tripods have one detachable leg that can be used as support. Locking the sections can be done by clip or twist collars. The latter are more durable and the clips is possible a source of problems in bad or cold weather.
Foldable legs or centre pillar is good if you want to shoot from really low positions or use the tripod for reproductions or photographing smaller objects. Just put the camera below instead of on top, and put the objects on the floor or a table. This is sometimes a very convenient feature.
The centre pillar is sometimes permanently on top of the tripod; others can be lowered through the centre. The latter is preferable but it may cost you some extra centimetres when the tripod is folded. Many tripods also have a little hook under the centre pillar where you can hang some extra weight for increased stability.
Head most important
The ball head is an important detail that is not always included. Make sure it is, or you may have to buy one separately afterwards. The ball head is an important and the most expensive part of the tripod. The bigger the ball head is, the smoother it operates. But the ball head is also a heavy part.
Manoeuvring. Tripods come with ball heads or pan tilt heads. You’ll prefer the ball head if you only are going to shoot still images. It takes less space and is quicker to work with.
The pan tilt head is preferable if you also like to shoot videos. The only way to know what is right for you is through trying the head with you camera on it.
Me? I have a big and heavy old piece in the studio and many light, cheaper tripods, most of which not so good. My favourite is a carbon fibre tripod that I try to bring with every time I might need it. It’s light and compact when folded and still a real tripod when extended.
There are also occasions when a mini tripod can be handy. Read a test of them here.