How to Choose the Right Tripod

Tripods are an essential tool for a multitude of photography and video genres. Tripods can even be common place in less expected settings like portrait sessions which are typically more run and gun. Many photographers make the mistake of investing heavily on their cameras and lenses, and then buy a cheap tripod to hold it all. Like a cheap glass filter in front of a $3000 lens, don't hamstring yourself by sticking a cheap, unstable set of tripod legs under all that expensive camera gear.

tripod set up to capture sunset

When it comes to choosing a good tripod, there are quite a few factors that come into play. Once we nail down exactly what you need, the selection process becomes simple. Before we dive into what options are out there, here is a quick recap of the most common applications:

Reasons for A Tripod


  • Increase sharpness when using slower shutter speeds and low ISO's
  • Support heavy camera gear
  • Eliminate camera shake
  • Help frame your shot/Compose your image
  • Take HDR shots or panoramas for exact framing
  • Shoot Astrophotography or anything taken with limited light availability
  • Set up self-portraits or group photos
  • Capture smooth video pans

Genres that Primarily Use Tripods

There are several types or genres of photography that normally require the use of a tripod. If you are interested in any of the following below, it might be time to invest in a tripod.

  • Landscape
  • Astro
  • Macro
  • Wildlife
  • Architecture
  • Sports
  • Studio/Portraits

Tripod Components

So, what makes up a tripod? Well in most cases, there are four components—the tripod legs, head, feet, and often a center column. Let's take a look at what roles each contribute below:

Legs

The legs are the meat of the tripod and can determine overall stability. Most legs come in two types of materials—aluminum and carbon fiber. A carbon fiber tripod is stiffer, stronger, lighter, more vibration resistant and more weather resistant than an aluminum tripod, hence the reason why it tends to cost more.

gitzo tripod set up

Head

There are four common types of tripod heads—ball heads, 3-way heads, gimbal heads, and video heads. We will focus on the first two. A ball head is the most common style of tripod head. Photographers who want simplicity and ease of use typically end up using a ball head.

On the other hand, a 3-way tilt head is great for increased stability and applying precise movements, especially when lining up panoramic shots, or when adjusting just the vertical tilt after the horizontal pan has been locked down.

Feet

Some tripods have the ability to interchange the feet. This can help when dealing with slippery terrain or environmental conditions. Some photographers like to change out the feet based on if they are shooting indoors or outdoors. Typically, feet can be either rubber or spiked to firmly place your tripod in grass, dirt, ice or snow.

tripod feet options

Centerpost

Not all tripods come with a centerpost, but for those that do, it is a separate leg in the middle of the tripod base used to raise and lower camera height, and sometimes can be adjusted to a 90-degree angle for overhead shots. For the most stability, we recommend trying to keep your camera as close to the base as possible.

Factors to Consider


Weight

If you are planning on pursuing landscape photography, most often than not you will be hiking a decent amount. This is why weight can be a huge deciding factor, especially when just the smallest increase can make quite a difference on long strenuous hikes. For those out and about, having a heavy tripod can be a burden.

Not only should you consider the weight of the tripod itself but also the payload or load capacity. Make sure your tripod is strong enough to hold your camera gear. Worst case scenario, your camera takes a tumble.

Height

When determining the best tripod height, try to find a tripod that matches your height or higher. Your lower back will thank you later when you don't have to bend over every time to take the shot.

In addition to being lightweight, the best travel tripod will have the ability to consolidate into a folded position. This folded length can help photographers attach their tripod to a backpack or bag.

If you are interested in macro photography or any kind of photography where you need unique angels, find out how low the tripod can get. Some tripods have a leg lock mechanism that enables the legs to be extended out to position your camera low to the ground.

peak design travel tripod low height

Speed of Set Up

As a photographer, you never want to miss the moment. How long it takes you to set up your tripod depends on the leg levers. Most tripods now come with twist levers, that have a quick extension with a quarter-twenty turn. Lever locks look more like a clip or clamp style. When deciding between the two, most of the time it just depends on preference.

Tripod Plates

The type of tripod plate is determined by the brand you choose. Manfrotto and Peak Design have their own proprietary plate. All other brands will be Arca-Swiss type.

Additional Features

Some tripods come with extra bells and whistles. These additional features are added bonuses such as:

  • Monopod conversion
  • 90-degree center column
  • Built-in bubble level
  • Reverse foldable legs

Which Tripod Will Fit My Needs?

Now that we've gone over the reasons why you'll need a tripod, the tripod components and what factors to consider, you should have a better idea of what kind of tripod you need. With so many tripod options available, we've helped by narrowing down our best tripod options.

We carry quite a large assortment of tripods here at pictureline. In terms of brands, we stock:

There is a tripod for every type of photographer and every budget. Although, if you're looking for a cheap tripod that is going to fall apart after using it twice, go ahead and buy the $45 tripod on Amazon. When it comes to buying a tripod, you get what you pay for, and we make sure to stock the best of the best.

It can be a little intimidating to photographers starting out when they see that there are tripods for over $1,000. For example, the Colorado Tripod Company Vector, Really Right Stuff Ascend, and the Gitzo Mountaineer are three of the best tripods around and the reason why most of the pros are investing in them.

If you're looking to start out with something that's a little less likely to hurt your pockets, we have quite a few options as well. Let's take a look at some of our top picks and why we would choose each one.

Benro Mefoto Roadtrip

The Mefoto Roadtrip is one of our favorites here at pictureline. For someone looking for a travel-friendly option on a budget, this aluminum tripod is a no brainer.

  • Travel Friendly: Yes
  • Max height: 61.61" Folded height: 15.35"
  • Weight: 3.59lbs
  • Load Capacity: 17.63lbs
  • Legs: Twist Lock
  • Features: Ballhead included with separate controls for pan lock, drag and friction + monopod conversion
  • Type: Arca-Swiss
  • Material: Aluminum

Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Alu 3-Section Tripod

This Manfrotto tripod is a classic for anyone looking to do in-studio work. With the 90-degree mechanism, it is the perfect tripod for small product or food photography. These tripods are made to last and we have several in our rental department that have withstood wear and tear for years.

  • Travel Friendly: No
  • Max height: 66.93" Closed length: 24.02"
  • Weight: 5.51lbs
  • Load Capacity: 19.84lbs
  • Legs: Flip Locks
  • Features: 90° Center Column Mechanism, The Easy Link allows to add accessories to the tripod
  • Type: Manfrotto
  • Material: Aluminum

Colorado Centennial

The Colorado Centennial tripod is an incredibly sturdy carbon fiber tripod and even has a load capacity of up to 50lbs! It comes with 2 bubble levels, leg adjustment tools and a carbon fiber center column.

  • Travel Friendly: Yes
  • Max height: 61.5" Closed length: 24"
  • Weight: 4.2lbs
  • Load Capacity: 50lbs
  • Legs: Twist Lock
  • Features: Ballhead included, 2 Bubble levels - one on included Arca plate, TSA Compliant 20.5" Collapsible Length without head
  • Type: Arca-Swiss
  • Material: Carbon Fiber

Benro Induro Hydra2

If you are a landscape photographer looking for a lightweight, waterproof tripod that can withstand rugged terrain and your adventurous lifestyle, the Benro Induro Hydra2 is a perfect fit.

  • Travel Friendly: Yes
  • Max height: 60.23" Folded height: 16.69"
  • Weight: 3.3lbs
  • Load Capacity: 37lbs
  • Legs: Twist Lock
  • Features: Waterproof, 3 Built-In Allen Tools, Bubble level
  • Type: Arca-Swiss
  • Material: Carbon Fiber

Peak Design Travel Tripod 

For the photographer who wants an extremely sleek and portable tripod, the Peak Design Travel Tripod is the way to go. This is the lightest professional tripod in our lineup, weighing in at only 2.8lbs! 

  • Travel Friendly: Yes
  • Max height: 60" Closed Length: 15.5"
  • Weight: 2.8lbs
  • Load Capacity: 20lbs
  • Legs: Flip Locks  
  • Features: Built-in mobile mount magnetically stowes in the center column and anchor attachment points for carrying with Peak Design straps
  • Type: PD, Arca-type
  • Material: Carbon Fiber

Colorado Vector

For photographers looking to stabilize heavy camera gear like large telephoto lenses, telescopes or star trackers, this tripod will blow you away. For how solid it is, it is incredibly lightweight. The best part is the price. For a sturdy tripod with similar characteristics to the Gitzo mountaineer, it's only 799!

  • Travel Friendly: No
  • Max height: 70" Closed Length: 29.5"
  • Weight: 4.9lbs
  • Load Capacity: 142lbs
  • Legs: Twist Levers
  • Features: Easily put gimbals, telescopes, star trackers, etc.
  • Type: Arca-Swiss
  • Material: Carbon Fiber

Tripod Feature

Mefoto Roadtrip Manfrotto 055  Colorado Centennial Benro Induro Hydra2  Peak Design Travel Tripod  Colorado Vector 
Travel Friendly  Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Max Height  61.61" 66.93" 61.5" 60.23" 60" 70"
Ballhead Included  Yes No Yes No Yes No
Closed/Folded Length  15.35" 24.02" 24" 16.69" 15.5" 29.5"
Weight 3.59lbs 5.51lbs 4.2lbs 3.3lbs 2.8lbs 4.9lbs
Load Capacity 17.63lbs 44.1lbs 50lbs 37lbs 20lbs 142lbs
Leg Levers Twist Flip Locks Twist Twist Flip Locks Twist
Plate Type Arca-swiss Manfrotto RC2 Arca-swiss Arca-swiss PD, Arca-Type Arca-swiss
Material  Aluminum Aluminum Carbon Fiber Carbon Fiber Carbon Fiber Carbon Fiber
Feet Features Rubber, spiked Rubber Rubber, spiked Rubber Rubber Rubber, spiked 
Removable Feet Yes No Yes Yes No Yes
Number of Bubble levels  1 1 2 1 1 0
Waterproof No No No Yes No No
Monopod Conversion  Yes No No No No No
Price $199.99 (review price) $365.82 (review price) $399 (review price) $474.95 (review price)

$599.95 (review price)

$699 (review price)
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