Multiple times a day, here at pictureline, we have customers who come in interested in a tripod, but don't know much else beyond that. Usually, the conversation leads with, "I want a tripod, but I don’t know what I need." Many times, the customer is so overwhelmed with the massive selection of tripods, monopods, and various heads to choose from that they don’t even know where to begin. It appears a frightening experience when presented with small and compact, to large and heavy. As long as you understand the components of a tripod and identify what it is you need in one of these incredibly handy three-legged tools, choosing a tripod can be a really simple and easy experience.
What to consider when choosing a tripod:
The unspoken "rule-of-thumb" is to consider a tripod that is generally at your eye level, giving you the ability to utilize your viewfinder comfortably. Of course, you're going to want the ability for more or less height, which is an important component of the tripods reach to consider.
Factor in the collapsed height of the tripod, especially for traveling convenience. The RoadTrip, as well as the Manfrotto BeFree line, are designed specifically for traveling photographers, collapsing to a small height and closing-up snuggly to fit easily in your luggage—and they come in a variety of colors!
If you're simply looking for the ability to stabilize your camera only, there are several options for table-top or flexible tripods. Check out the Benro Slim Travel Kit that is only 2.4lbs, making it perfect for a table-top device or for traveling. The Joby Flexible Mini Tripod is great for getting that unique angle by wrapping the flexible tripod to a tree branch, a pole or setting up on a jagged rock.
Tripod Weight, Weight Capacity & Construction
Weight is a significant factor when choosing a tripod. Most customers typically have an opinion when it comes to the weight of their prospective tripod, usually depending on what it is they are using it for. If you are particular to a lighter load, carbon fiber tripods will provide a lightweight, durable, and stable device. Unfortunately, the light weight comes at a higher price. Another great choice is aluminum, which is the generic material for most tripods. Considerably heavier than carbon fiber, it still provides stability and durability and is more economical.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when buying a tripod is using one that cannot support the weight capacity of your camera equipment. Don't get too caught up with a cheap brand simply because of the affordable price. The worst thing you can do is set up your heavy DSLR and lens on your new tripod and watch the entire thing collapse. Spend the extra money to get a durable, high-weight capacity tripod simply to protect your equipment!
A good tip would be to purchase a tripod 2x the weight capacity of your equipment for a couple reasons; first, in case you ever upgrade to heavier lenses or camera bodies, you don't have to upgrade your tripod as well, and second, for the weight you will be applying to the tripod yourself when using the viewfinder and adjusting perspective.
Tripod Legs, Feet & Centerpost
Depending on the maximum height of the tripod, there could be between 2-5 sections. The more sections, the taller the tripod at maximum height. When tripods have several sections, its collapsed height is generally much smaller than that of a two-section tripod, making it ideal for travel. For example, a 2-section tripod is much taller at its collapsed height and does not extend as tall. A 3-5 section tripod is much shorter at its collapsed height and can reach a much taller height at its maximum. Typically, tripods have rubber feet which work in most situations but having the ability to switch out feet to spiked or metal feet can be useful when you need better traction.
Most tripods come with a centerpost, a single leg that extends for increased height of the camera. This is utilized so you can adjust the tripod legs to their desired height, and still be able to adjust the height of the camera even more with an easily movable post. Some centerposts are equipped with a hook at its base to add a sandbag for stability, which is a great way to reach the maximum height without forfeiting security.
When considering a tripod, the head is just as important as securing a great base. Ball Heads can be maneuvered by loosening the dial and aiming your camera’s lens at the subject. With 360° adjustability, the ball head gives you the most movement and simplicity. 3-Way Heads provide a single, or dual handle for horizontal and vertical movement, which allow for much more controlled adjustments. Ball and 3-Way Heads are the most common heads among photographers, but other options include Gimbal Heads, Fluid and Video Heads (used primarily for videography) and Pistol Grip Heads.
A monopod can be a great addition to your camera bag when a full-sized tripod is unnecessary. When stability is needed, but freedom and flexibility can’t be compromised, a monopod is extremely useful. Much less expensive than a tripod, a monopod is very affordable and even more lightweight, easy to set up and portable. Not designed for long-exposure photography, a monopod can be used at sporting events, portrait sessions, nature photography, and in locations that do not allow tripods.
Check out the Manfrotto Xtreme Multi-Pole and the Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Monopod for standard monopods. For a quality, lightweight monopod, The Gitzo Traveler Monopod is a trustworthy choice. The Mefoto RoadTrip and Globetrotter also offer a 2-in-1 tripod with a detachable monopod leg, allowing you to take both your tripod and monopod with you in one simple device!
Choosing a tripod doesn’t need to be a daunting experience. With all the possibilities a tripod allows you, it can be a fun toy! When trying to determine what you need when it comes to these three-legged friends, be sure you understand the couple aspects of the tripod discussed above. Through a swift process of elimination, you’ll have quickly worked out what works the very best for your specific needs.
To view the complete list of tripod products we carry at pictureline, visit our Tripod section on the website!