Camera Tripod Buying Guide

Taking awesome photographs doesn't have to be the province of professional artists. Anyone can produce studio quality work if they have the right tools for the job at hand. Few photography accessories play as crucial a role as the tripod, which is a portable platform that enables individuals to take hands free photographs with minimal shake and motion. This buying guide will give individuals the practical knowledge that they need to choose a tripod that best fits their personal needs.

Types of Camera Tripods

Professional/Duty Style Tripods

As their names suggest, studio tripods are designed for the exacting demands of professional or studio photography. In order to enable use with the widest variety of cameras, professional tripods are generally the largest members of the tripod family and are usually able to handle the heaviest of cameras and lenses. In order to provide the best platform possible, studio cameras often come with heads that are of the highest quality and flexibility. Individuals interested in commercial applications such as advertising and studio photography would be well served to look into the benefits these hardy tripods offer.

Tripods for Medium Duty Tasks

Next of the tripod totem pole comes the medium duty tripod, and while not quite on the same level as professional ones, are very capable and offer a good alternative for all but the heaviest of camera equipment. This ability makes them ideal for outdoor and nature shoots as well as studio level tasks that include video camera work. Their general weight and strength as well as their greater height gives them a clear advantage when compared with smaller tripods. Another common benefit that medium duty tripods provide is the wide variety of head types that are available, including brands that allow users to customize the head for their specific needs.

Travel Style Tripods

Coming in third place on the list are travel tripods, which as their name suggests are of great value for their portability. Even though many travel style tripods will collapse down to an impressively small size, many brands offer superior height capability at the same time. This blend of characteristics makes them a perfect choice for outdoor activities that include hiking, mountaineering, cycling, and more. Because of their general design, travel style tripods do a good job supporting medium and small size film and digital cameras. Mid-size zoom lenses are usually fine to use as long as they aren't on the heavier side.

Tabletop Style Tripods

Filling a vital role in the portability department, table top tripods offer small size and light weight construction that makes them extremely easy to pack for trips. Not generally designed for outdoor use, many tabletop varieties work best in situations where there is a flat surface present. They tend to elevate cameras about a foot off of the surface, and this makes them valuable for group photos. Most come with timers that allow users to join the shot, and even create effects like pan. The relatively low elevation makes them prime candidates when pictures that are close to the ground need to be taken, including gardening and close up shots.

Pocket Style Tripods

Coming up next in the lineup are pocket style tripods. These represent perhaps the ultimate in small size, light weight, and portability. When they collapse they generally measure no longer than four to six inches, and this makes it easy to store them in a handbag or even a large pocket. They make it simple to not only produce a steady platform for taking shake free footage, and also allow users to include themselves in group photos. Most varieties are capable of supporting compact style digital cameras, and really come into their own when taking cell phone pictures.

Pay Attention to

Tripod Head Style

Most of the tripods discussed are compatible with one or more tripod head types. These include pan and tilt heads and ball heads. Pan and tilt heads allow the lens to swing through a horizontal arc and feature great precision when panning. Ball and socket construction characterizes ball heads, and this gives them the advantage of being able to move through a very large range of motion. This gives users the freedom to take pan photos from the positions of their choice and can result in spectacular shots. Many ball style heads also have a pan and tilt feature for horizontal movement, but may be a little less precise than dedicated pan and tilt heads, depending on the brand.

Tripod and Head Load Capacity

It is of utmost importance for users to be sure that their tripods and heads are both in agreement over the weight of equipment. Practically speaking, this means that the tripod and the head should be able to comfortably support the same amounts of weight. For example, a tripod that is rated to support 20 pounds of weight at maximum height on a windy day should have a head that is capable of carrying at least 20 pounds. Keeping this in mind can help prevent tripod or head failures that too often can result in damage to cameras and lenses.

Ease of Use

This is a key consideration, and often depends on the needs and abilities of the individual user. In many cases, this is expressed in how easy it is to deploy the legs of the tripod and which mechanisms are used to accomplish this. Common types of leg fastenings include the twist style and the lever style. The twist grip style is probably the fastest to use, and only requires the user to twist the joint in one direction to extend the leg, and in the opposite direction to secure it. These tend to be of great use in lighter tripods, but may require greater strength to secure. Lever style fastenings flip to one side or the other, and while they may take slightly longer to manipulate often offer superior levels of tightness, making them vital for heavier loads.

Type of Base

Prospective tripod users should think carefully about the most likely environments in which they will be working. If they will be doing a lot of outdoor work in varied environments and weather conditions, they would do well to include spiked bases in their list of accessories. In contrast, studio work often calls for rubberized bases that maximize stability.

Tripod Material

This is another key consideration, given that tripods are available in a variety of available materials. Carbon construction is popular among serious photographers and offers superior levels of strength, durability, and portability. Aluminum is a good middle of the road option that generally costs less than carbon, but offers faithful performances. Wood is yet another widely used material and is popular for outdoor use.

Top Brands and Product Lines

Canon Deluxe Tripod 360

This travel style tripod features a 4.4 pound load bearing capacity and extends up to 62". Suitable for consumer use.

Gitzo GT5542LS Systematic

This 4 section tripod is made of carbon fiber, supports a whopping 70 pounds of equipment, and extends to 65". Suitable for general and professional use.

Manfrotto 709 Digi Tabletop

Features a 4.5 pound weight bearing rating and a ball style head. Suitable for general use.