Thinking of buying a tripod? Don’t know where to start? Whether you’re into landscape or macro, products or architecture, a tripod will, sooner or later become an essential piece of kit in your arsenal.
One of the first things to think about is probably your budget. With so many options available on the market, it can be hard to work out what you need, but having a clear idea of how much you have available to spend can help – although a rough rule of thumb, you get what you pay for!
To help you narrow down your selection, here are a few things to think about:
Two things to think about when it comes to weight, firstly the tripod itself (and the head, more on that later). Do you plan on trudging up hill and down dale for miles on end? In which case, you’ll probably want to look at carbon fibre rather than an all metal construction as the weight is significantly less. However, the downside is reduced stability, for example in strong wind, so check that the tripod has a hook onto which you can hang your bag or rucksack, or even a bag of rocks to help keep it stable. If weight isn’t an issue, then go for all metal would be my advice.
Secondly, when it comes to weight, make sure the tripod and head combination you choose is up to the job of supporting your camera and lens combination. The last thing you want is it all sagging slowly as you shoot, or worse toppling over.
OK, so all tripods have legs, three of them in fact. But the number of sections varies. Three sections are quicker to setup than four and are more stable, but four sections collapse to a smaller size making storage and transportation easier. Take a look at the feet too, if you’re shooting on soft ground or a slope, you might want spikes.
If you shoot outdoors, in cold temperatures, make sure there’s some kind of grip, typically rubber – grabbing a metal tube in freezing temperatures with your bare hand isn’t fun.
Something else to look out for is whether the legs have the ability to be splayed at different distances. This can provide the ability to get low down to the ground for another angle of view.
Not all tripods are created equal; some extend to huge heights for specialist applications. But do make sure you choose one that meets your needs. Many will have a centre column that gives extra height, but take care as this can introduce movement, and that can mean your images are not as sharp as you’d like.
Some centre columns can be moved to the horizontal plane allowing you to use your camera to shoot straight down, up or in portrait orientation – again take care, the weight of the camera and lens can cause the tripod to topple over – try using a counterbalance to avoid this.
Budget tripods will often include the head, i.e. the top part of the tripod to which the camera actually attaches. Some really budget ones have the camera screw directly onto the tripod – best avoided though. Look out for heads with a quick release plate, i.e. a plate attaches to the base of your camera (or lens) and then allows you to quickly attach or release the camera from the tripod.
If you select a tripod that does not include a head, then you have another choice to make, from a wide range. There are heads that allow very fine adjustment to compose your image, heads that allow very quick, but less accurate adjustments and a whole load in between. My advice is do your homework, understand your needs and budget and then research what’s available to meet your needs within your budget – and wherever possible, I’d recommend seeing it all in the flesh, not just a photo on a website.