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Things to consider before buying a tripod – How to Choose A Tripod?

Zach Dischner / Foter.com / CC BY

How to select a tripod – Tripod buying Guide

Selecting or Choosing a tripod is not as easy as it seems. There are many things you have to consider before buying one. For example, price, sturdiness, weight, hight, capacity, materials etc. Lets discuss some most important ones.

Price vs Sturdiness

Tripods come in various prices. Cheaper varieties which are smaller and offer less vibration dampening can be bought at $30. On the other hand more expensive models can set you back by several hundred dollars. For regular snap shots like family & group photos, just to hold the camera you don’t need an expensive tripod. But when you involve your self into a little bit more serious photography, today or tomorrow, you’ll feel the need of a good tripod. In fact, in that situation an ordinary tripod will do more harm than not using a tripod at all.

Regardless of whichever DSLR you use, you need your tripod to be firm and hold the weight without flexing or bending. One of the main purpose of buying a tripod is to capture absolute shake free & vibration free sharp images. If your tripod doesn’t serve you that, there is no point buying a tripod. A good tripod can serve you for many many years. So, it’d be wise to invest on a good tripod. Thats why photographers who care for their work or depend on earning from it, spend their money on expensive Gitzo. In pricing vs sturdiness, sturdiness always wins.

Loading capacity

Different tripods have different weight bearing capacity. It is better to choose a tripod that can handle a little more extra weight than your actual equipment weight combined. For example, if total weight of your equipment is 5kg, go for a tripod that can handle 7 kg or more. That will guarantee extra stability.

Weight

Modern professional DSLR cameras are extremely heavy. A professional body such as the Canon 5D Mark III weighs around 860 Gms with no lenses attached. If you’re shooting landscape and regularly use a tele lens such as the EF 70-200mm f/4-5.6L IS USM then the lens alone can weigh around 1050 gms. Together with battery pack, filters and any teleconverters attached the total weight of the camera can be easily around 2.5 kilos. It is thus imperative that one should consider the total weight that he is going to suspend on a tripod and accordingly buy something that is sturdy. A lot of photographers also prefer using a sling bag which is suspended from the three legs of the tripod and allow the photographer to place additional weights to dampen the camera shake when it is clicked. Internal mechanism of a camera includes the movement of the mirror which shifts up when the shot is being taken. This can cause the image to blur even if the camera is mounted on a tripod. As such it is imperative that the tripod absorbs the vibration of the camera.

Materials

The composite material that the tripod is made with thus assumes critical importance. Manufacturers use various materials for tripods such as aluminium & carbon fibre. Usually aluminium tripods are cheaper but heavy. On the other hand, carbon fibre tripods are light, but expensive and can absorb vibration better than aluminium. A lot of times photographers work in difficult conditions where the elements can test the sturdiness of the tripod. Shooting wildlife in really remote locations one would need as much steadiness as possible from the tripod. Carbon fiber is thus a very popular choice and one that is increasingly being used in applications where lightweight yet sturdy material is necessary. This same material is used in automobiles and other applications. They are very light and yet very sturdy. Another benefit of Carbon fiber is it can tackle vibration better.

Height

Height is a critical factor when selecting a tripod. If you’re 6’4” purchasing a tripod that is less than 5’5” means you will always have to bend down to take pictures. Height can also be advantageous when you want to shoot from a higher angle.

Ideally you would want to have a tripod that has a good height (at least of the same level as your eyes) and be flexible enough so that it can stoop down to ground level to shoot macro as well.

Sections

Sections mean more than just the utility of being able to extend the tripod, but more sections means when you fold it becomes shorter and compact enough to be carried inside a bag or slung over the backpack via a hook. More sections mean more height which can be used in different shooting requirements. However, it has a disadvantage, it takes longer to unfold all section. So, tripods with fewer section like standard 3 sections, are much quicker than the a tripod with 4 sections to unfold. So you have to choose between convenient size vs speed.

Center column

The center column mounts the head which in turn supports the camera and the lenses. They can extend and thus even with a smaller tripod (height) one can extend the central column and then get the shot. A slinging central column can also help a photographer to shoot at very tight angles. Some tripod systems don’t come with a central column. This could be a detrimental aspect as that means less maneuvering options. But less moving parts means more sturdiness. Some new tripod like Vanguard Alta Pro 284 CT has a innovative Multi-Angle Central Column system. Which features more maneuvering options.

Tripod Heads

They are as important as tripods. Usually they come with the tripods as a kit or you can buy one separately. There are different types of tripod heads available and have their own advantages & disadvantages. For example regular heads, ball heads, grip heads etc. Choose the one that suits your shooting style. But in terms of stability and sturdiness I must say that you get what you pay for.

Anyone with a interest in photography will eventually consider buying a tripod. It is possible to create great images without a tripod, but a tripod can take your photography to the next level. Image stabilizer system can not replace a tripod. Without a tripod there is no other easy ways to get those long exposure shots (water falls, fireworks, Light trails) right. Its a tool for perfection. This is the upgrade, people serious about their photography, should consider first. Before buying a tripod think about long term and invest on sturdiest one you can afford.

Read more: An introduction to tripods