The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Camera Tripod

Camera Tripod

Why Do You Need a Tripod?

You’ll almost always need a steady camera for all types of photography. That’s where tripods come in handy. In case you are looking for specific scenarios, you need a camera tripod for;

Flexibility. Besides holding cameras, tripods also serve as light stands. They can hold flash units, reflectors, and slaves. They offer the flexibility you need to take the most professional photos and videos.

Stability for night time shots, close up objects and telephoto lenses. As natural light reduces, you need to adjust shutter speed and exposure according to it. A slow shutter speed (recommendable for night settings) can increase the risk of the camera shaking. And it increases the risk of taking blurry photos.

Close up objects also demand minor to no movements. A camera tripod eliminates camera movement improving picture quality in the process.

When using telephoto lenses, it is hard to keep the camera steady when using a telephoto lens. The lenses magnify vibrations from the wind, the camera shutter, or the photographer. Their slow greatest aperture demands slow shutter speeds. This can result in blurry shots.

Nature photography: It takes a lot of patience to capture perfect shots of animals in nature. Instead of waiting for hours, you can use a camera tripod to capture moments in a quick fashion. They will be easy and on demand. You can set your camera on a tripod and use automatic motion detection features. This helps to capture “nature moments” anytime without having to wait.

Self-photography: Photographers aren’t confined to the back of the lens. If you need to take pictures of yourself i.e., portraits, you place your camera on your tripod and set the timer.

Tripod Components: What is a Camera Tripod System?

A tripod system refers to the components that make up a tripod. Tripods have four main components:

Tripod legs: This is a rather obvious but essential tripod component. Most tripod legs are of steel, aluminum, carbon fiber or basalt. Some are a combination of one or more of these materials. Aluminum and carbon fiber are popular materials for making tripod legs. They are lightweight and strong. Tripod legs also feature different designs and devices. This offers a wide range of motion and setting/adjustments.

Tripod head: This component holds the camera or lens in place. There are a variety of tripod heads available today. The most common being the pan-tilt, ball-head, and gimbal head. These heads are compatible with most cameras and lenses in use today. Besides securing your camera or lens in place, the tripod head you select must offer smooth pans. It should tilt and have 360-degree maneuverability.

Center column: Tripods also have a separate leg running through the middle. This center column or center post allows you to raise the tripod head further. Center columns are essential when you need to increase the height of your tripod. You need a well-designed camera tripod to avoid common center post issues. This includes slight vibrations when using longer lenses.

Tripod feet: Tripods need feet that offer a firm grip. Most tripods come with rubber tips. Yet, there are more options favorable for different shooting surfaces. Good tripods allow photographers to change the feet for indoor/outdoor use. Rubber feet, featuring suction cups are ideal for indoor use to keep the tripod firmly in place. This is true when placed on slippery surfaces. Spiked feet are popular for outdoor use.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Camera Tripod

There are many camera tripod varieties available today. This makes purchasing a tripod a daunting task for many. Knowing the main tripod components isn’t enough. Here are the main factors to consider.

Tripod weight and Construction

The tripod you select should be easy to transport. You should choose a light tripod made of strong, lightweight material like carbon-fiber. It should be durable. But, carbon-fiber tripods are expensive. Your next best bet is an aluminum camera tripod if the price is a concern. But you still want a strong and lightweight tripod. Aluminum is light but heavier than carbon fiber. It is better than steel in regards to weight and durability.

Tripod legs shouldn’t weigh more than 5 pounds. Carbon fiber and aluminum tripods are your best bet in this regard. They weigh approximately 3-4 and 5-6 pounds without the head. Yet, remember to account for other factors affecting weight, such as size.

The camera tripod you select should also have a stable construction. There are many durable and heavy tripods on sale today that lack stability. Tripods should be able to withstand occasional knocks and bumps. And harsh weather like outdoor winds. The tripod construction should balance. Make sure the camera and lens weight is evenly distributed for ultimate support. You should do a quick test to see if the tripod you are about to buy can withstand knocks. They are inevitable in the field.

Weight rating

You also need to choose a tripod that will be able to handle the weight of your camera. Tripods have a weight rating that lets you know exactly how much weight they can handle. A wrong rating can cause the tripod to fall and damage the camera and lens. The tripod should handle at least 1.5 times the weight of your heaviest lens and camera. You should account for the weight you exert on your tripod as well when using the camera. When you rest your hand on the tripod when shooting, the tripod should handle such load.

Height

The tripod you choose should also match your height. You shouldn’t bend to use your camera. A higher level (a little above your eye level is OK) since you can adjust most tripod legs downwards. But, a short tripod will be tiring to use. This is true if you need to look at the viewfinder constantly to take shots or videos. In a nutshell, the tripod you buy should match your height. Adjustable tripods are the best. What’s more – the tripod should be foldable/easy to carry.

Attachment system

All modern cameras have a thread on the bottom for attaching to tripods. Heavy lenses have the same thread. Threaded systems make it easy to attach cameras and lenses to a tripod. You need to rotate the tripod or camera to attach them. Manufacturers of lenses and cameras attach small removable plates. This makes the attachment process much easier and convenient. It allows for tight and secure attachment of lenses and cameras on tripod heads.

Arca-Swiss quick release has become the standard among camera and lens manufacturers. The release system, made of aluminum, allows fast attachment without rotating anything. This is comparing to removable plates. Cameras can attach by sliding into a simple locking mechanism. It offers vibration-free operation and quick-release action for detachment. I recommend getting a tripod with an Arca-Swiss quick release system. This allows for quick, easy, secure, and firm operation. But, you should be willing to part with more money.

Disadvantages of Using a Tripod

Like anything else, tripods have their cons too. Here’s why you should reconsider using a tripod;

Inconvenience. There are many lightweight tripods available in the market today. But they still add some weight to your gear, especially when you include a tripod head. Tripods will still occupy space and demand transportation by hand. This is even if they are small and collapsible. Tripods are also hard to use in some instances i.e., crowded environments.

Costly: There are tripod systems that cost more than $1,000. Although some may cost less than $1,000, the best tripods are expensive.

Potentially time-wasting. Tripods can take a few seconds or minutes to set up depending on factors like design, and size. Unfortunately, you can’t afford to waste a few seconds, in most cases, if you want to take memorable shots.

Camera and lens damage risks. You can also damage your equipment if you don’t know how to use the tripod. Or when you have an unstable/cheap tripod system.

Which Camera Tripod Should you Buy

You are now familiar with the most important aspects of buying a camera tripod. You should have a rough idea of the tripod you should buy. If not, it’s important to come up with a budget first, and then make other considerations later. To avoid wasting money and time, start with a cheap tripod if it’s your first. Yet, don’t compromise on durability and construction. You can find aluminum tripods featuring integrated heads cost $150 or less.

Starting with a cheap tripod is recommendable since it takes time to learn how to use a tripod. You will also save money. In case you realize your photography work doesn’t need extensive use of tripods. It is better to learn with a cheap but good tripod than spend a lot of money on a tripod you won’t use or might need to change.

If you are looking to buy a second or third tripod, you can spend more. You won’t fear since you have a good idea of what you need. Seasoned photographers or videographers can spend on expensive tripods. They offer the best value for money. A carbon fiber tripod, featuring an arca-swiss release system, will provide a seasoned photographer a needed competitive advantage. Such camera tripods offer convenience, flexibility, and durability, which outweighs the initial investment.