How to Buy a Tripod - Digital Photography School

How to Buy a Tripod

This post is a continuation on our Tripods Series (you might like to read our introduction to tripods first).

Head to your local camera store and you’ll be confronted with a massive range of options for tripods. They come in all shapes, sizes, weights and have an array of accessories and options for connecting to your camera. How should you select one? Here are six things to keep in mind:

1. Weight

A tripod’s weight should be considered from two perspectives. Firstly remember that you (or someone else) is going to need to carry it around with you. If you are going to use it for traveling or will carry with you a lot you might want to go for a lighter option. Secondly weight is important as you consider what you’ll be putting on it. If you’re using a small camera with no accessories you’ll not need anything too weighty but if you have a DSLR, use larger lenses and add a flash to it you will probably want to invest in something that will take the weight.

2. Stability

Weight doesn’t always equal stable. Test the tripod out with your camera on it if possible. Test it fully extended to see how stable it is. Will it be sturdy on a windy day? Will it take the knock of someone bumping it on the way past?

3. Leg Locks

There is a lot of variety between manufacturers when it comes to the mechanisms used for locking legs into place. A lot of it comes to personal preference but you will want to ensure that whatever method you choose you pick something that is easy to use and adjust but that will be strong and hold in place with the full weight of your camera on it. I personally like the flip locking that Manfrotto tripods offer (I’m told Bogen also has similar ones).


4. Leg Sections

The number of sections in a tripods leg can be a factor. Choose one with only two sections and you’ll probably have a longer thing to haul around when it’s folded up. Of course two is good because there’s less messing around with extending and locking the legs. Three sections will give you a smaller folded up tripod (and some believe a more sturdy construction).

5. Height

Depending upon the type of photography you do, your height requirements will be different. Think ahead about the maximum height you’ll need but also when testing a tripod see how it operates at it’s minimum and how big it is when it’s all folded up (portability). I generally attempt to get a tripod that has a maximum height that I can look into without having to bend (there’s nothing worse than a full day of leaning over to check the framing of your shots).

6. Tripod Heads

One of the key things to think about with tripods is how they attach to your camera. There are numerous options available and it is worth thinking ahead and testing the options as the tripod head not only keeps your camera on the tripod but will determine how much flexibility you have once it is attached.

My preference with tripod heads is to have something that is removable so that I can quickly move to hand holding the camera and to have something that enables me to have as much flexibility as possible when the camera is attached.

There are two main types of tripod heads:

  • ball and socket – these are great in terms of flexibility and moving your camera around but I personally find them a little bit too fiddley. They are very smooth though and have a very nice feel to them. An example of the ball and socket head is the Bogen – Manfrotto Midi Ball Head with RC2 Rapid Connect.
  • pan and tilt - these are great for locking into position and are generally more affordable. They are not quite as fluid to move around and take a little getting used to use but I quite like them. An example of the pan and tilt head is the Bogen – Manfrotto 3029 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head.

Tripod heads can either be bought with a tripod as a complete set or separately.

Hopefully the above factors will help you to work out what type of tripod is best for you. If you have a tripod feel free to add your own buying tips and suggest what type of tripod you like best and why.

PS: I know people will ask me what type of tripod I use. I’ve always been a user of Manfrotto tripods and monopods but there are plenty of others around. The models that I have are currently not being made but you might like to check out the bestselling tripods at Amazon for an idea of what others are buying.

Tomorrow I’ll continue this series of posts with an Introduction to Monopods to be followed by one on Alternatives to Tripods.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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