The title makes it all sound so simple but believe me once you’ve entered the word “tripod” into Google and hit the enter key, you would not believe how many decisions there are to make. Having finally purchased a new one at the weekend I thought I’d share a few thoughts and considerations which may make it a little easier for the first time buyer.
Why Do You Need A Tripod ?
There are a number of reasons you may need a tripod but to keep it simple a tripod will steady the camera and avoids camera shake. That means you can …
1) Use a lower ISO and very small aperture to get maximum depth of field
2) Keep the camera steady for long exposures when shooting things like waterfalls and flowing water
3) Use your camera for night photography
4) Make sure that your images are spot on sharp particularly when doing macro photography
In addition it is a great way of forcing you to slow down and put more time and thought into the composition of your photos, which in turn leads to a better image.
What Should You Look For ?
This is where it all starts to get complicated so I’ve tried to highlight just the main points for consideration …
Construction – typically two types : 1) Aluminium which tend to be heavier but cheaper 2) Carbon fibre which are lighter but more expensive.
Height – being 6ft 4ins tall this was quite important to me as I wanted something that would bring the camera to eye level. I would definitely suggest you try in store even if you plan to buy on the internet. Of course the higher the tripod goes, the longer the legs tend to be … so the compromise to this can be size.
Load Capacity – although cameras have become a lot lighter they can still weight in around 6 to 8lbs with a large lens. Each tripod and head has a weight limit so check them out, compare to your camera, and do the maths to see if it will do the job.
Legs – The legs of a tripod have some kind of clamp to allow the extending/securing of each segment into position. Some tripods use a twist, others use a lever. You’ll want to play with these to figure out which you like better. I prefer levers because I find them much easier to use. You mights also want to check out if they can facilitate the centre column being adjusted to shoot straight down.
Heads – The really important bit and again two types which control the movement of the camera : 1) A pan/tilt head which provides the ability to lock each axis (tilt, pan, and roll) independently 2) A ball head which is simply a ball and socket joint. Loosen the head and you can move the camera in any direction. Most quality heads provide a removable plate that you can leave attached to your camera. These plates provide a quick-release mechanism that makes it easy to quickly get your camera on and off of your tripod. No matter what type of head you choose, you’ll want to consider its weight and portability when shopping.
Which One Should You Buy ?
As always it’s about personal choice and available budget but the one thing I have learnt about tripods it’s that buying cheap is a false economy. I started with one for under £100 from Jessops which had a head mainly constructed from plastic. At the time I thought it was a good deal but the tripod soon started to suffer from “creep” or “drop” with the head moving after I thought I had locked it into the right position. At best it was a pain in the best and at worst it meant I ended up having to take far too many shots to get the framing I wanted. Three years on I’ve finally given up with it and done what I should have done in the first place … brought a decent tripod.
Which one did I buy … a Manfrotto 055CX PRO3 with a 804RC2 head … not the cheapest but certainly one that will do the job !!