Selecting the Best Tripod

Posted by Gary Ramey on January 31st, 2012

There are many different tripods on the market and selecting the best tripod to fit your needs can be daunting. The following is a list of criteria to consider:

  • Price
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Construction
  • Load capacity
  • Ease of use
  • Special features

The main purpose of a tripod is to provide stability and prevent camera movement. Keep that in mind as we look at each criteria.

Price

The price for a tripod varies dramatically from less than $5.00 for a tiny tabletop tripod to almost $800.00 for a professional tripod. The remaining criteria examine the question, “What are you getting for your money?”

Weight

The lightest tripod is not necessarily the best tripod. If a tripod is too light, it will not offer much stability. The wind can cause it to shimmy — you might as well handhold the shot. If you select a light weight tripod, choose one with a hook on the center post. You can hang your camera bag or something heavy from the hook and keep the tripod from moving in a breeze. I have a relatively heavy-duty Manfrotto tripod and I still hang my camera bag from it on a windy day. Read my review of my Manfrotto 055XPRO3 tripod. I recommend that you steer clear of ultra light weight, inexpensive tripods. Usually, they are light weight because they are flimsy. If you are planning on a hiking trip, it may seem like a good idea to carry an ultra light weight small tripod but don’t let weight be your only criteria. Even a carbon fiber tripod may weigh more than you think.

Height

I recommend that you get a tripod that is tall enough, when the legs are fully extended, for you to mount your camera on the tripod and easily look through the viewfinder without having to bend over or raise the center column. The center column gives you more flexibility in height but by trading off stability. Raising the center column a little is OK but if you have to raise the center column to its full height all the time, you need a taller tripod. The more the center column is raised, the more unstable it will become.

Construction

Tripods can be made out of a lot of different materials such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, magnesium, etc. The cheapest tripods may have very thin legs that will easily bend. If the legs flex when you push down on the tripod, rethink your purchase. I highly recommend steering clear of tripods with long thin legs. One time I took one on a trip and the legs bent in half the first time I tried to collapse the tripod.

Tripod legs are usually divided into three or four sections but there are a few tripods with five section legs. Many photographers prefer four sections because the tripod is shorter when collapsed than a three section tripod, however, a three section tripod is sturdier.

Professional (read expensive) tripods usually don’t include the head. The advantage is that you can have interchangable heads.

Load Capacity

The load capacity is how much weight the tripod can support. Be sure to get a tripod that can support your camera, tripod head, and largest lens.

Ease of Use

A tripod should be easy to quickly extend and collapse the legs. I prefer the type with snap lock levers — flip the lock open to extend and collapse the legs — flip the lock closed to lock the leg in place. Some tripods use a screw type mechanism that can become stripped easily and others may even use a little spring loaded pin.

A quick release plate is manditory.

Hopefully, the tripod will have a built-in level. The level on a tripod can be used to ensure that the tripod itself is level. Some manufacturers include levels on the tripod and a separate level on the head. Read my post about using levels.

Special Features

Many tripods have retractible spiked feet. If you plan to take photos with your tripod on grass or soft ground, spiked feet can help stablize your tripod.

My Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod has a center post that can be pulled out and mounted horizontally. This makes the tripod more versatile because the camera can be suspended over a subject.

Summary

What it boils down to is that almost any tripod is better than no tripod. The following are some inexpensive tripods that will provide stability without breaking the bank.

Image
TitleSunpak 620-020 TripodSunpak 620-060 TripodSunpak 620-080 Tripod
BrandSUNPAKSUNPAKSUNPAK
EAN009072960020900907296006050090729600803
FeatureTravel tripod designed for compact still or digital cameras and camcorders
3-way pan head with tilt reference scale and separate locking controls
Quick-release mounting plate with retractable video indexing pin
Gearless lift-and-lock center column permits quick height adjustments
Extends from 18.5 to 49 inches; 19.7 inches when folded; weighs 37 ounces
Versatile camera tripod with extra quick-release mounting plate for second camera
Quick-release platform with integral bubble level for precise leveling
Second circular bubble level at critical tripod collar for precise alignment
Precision-geared center column with 1/4 x 20 accessory mounting stud
Coated in distinctive champagne finish; adjusts from 20.3 to 58.3 inches
Three-way fluid effect panhead
Lightweight aluminum legs
Quick Release head
Versatile camera tripod with extra quick-release mounting plate for second camera --- compare to SunPak Medium Duty 64.6" tripod
Quick-release platform with integral bubble level for precise leveling
Second circular bubble level at critical tripod collar for precise alignment
Precision-geared center column with 1/4 x 20 accessory mounting stud
Adjusts to more than 60 inches tall; supports up to 6 pounds, 9 ounces
ListPrice$39.99$49.99$79.99
Model620-020620-060620-080
PriceToo Low to DisplayToo Low to DisplayToo Low to Display
Rating4.5 out of 5 stars4.4 out of 5 stars4.2 out of 5 stars
ReviewsRead ReviewsRead ReviewsRead Reviews
LinkMore InfoMore InfoMore Info

 

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