If you’ve already spent a little fortune with your latest camera, you might ignore the need for a tripod to complete your entire photographic experience. Fine. But while you make a move from good to great picture taking, a camera tripod or monopod will avoid a series of blurred images.
The choice of your tripod or monopod is to be taken seriously because they generally last longer than your camera. As vibration is the best enemy of every single photographer, we would like to help you select the right equipment according to your needs.
As there are hundreds of models to select from, let’s first look at the benefits of tripods:
- They offer ultimate camera stability and prevent blurred shots.
- They enhance your macro experience.
- They allow long exposures in low light condition and permit imaginative effects.
- They work nicely outdoors, under wet or windy conditions for landscape photography;
- They relieve fatigue triggered by carrying heavy camera equipment.
Monopod or Tripod?
- A monopod is a single expendable leg accessory, incredibly convenient when traveling light or where space is limited. Sports or wildlife photographers will value the independence it delivers to them. On the flip side, it will never be as stable as a tripod.
- A tripod is three-legged, supporting an adjustable central column and its customized video or photo head. Tripods are made of high-quality materials and ensure rock-solid stability and efficiency.
We have listed the top eight features to evaluate to enable you to make your own choice.
Three materials are generally used in tripod construction: aluminum, carbon fiber, or basalt fiber:
- Aluminium is the entry-level choice. It’s less expensive while being robust.
- For optimum portability, the newest carbon fiber tripods are preferred. They’re half as heavy as aluminium, easier to handle in cold weather, and better at absorbing vibrations. The downside is their higher cost.
- Not long ago, basalt fiber was utilized but some reviewers are concerned about durability and robustness in the long run.
Choose a tripod in line with your existing digital camera kit with the heavy lenses or flashes you may have (or upgrades you might consider in the future). Tripods must support a maximum load exceeding your camera equipped with the heaviest lens and flashgun. All serious manufacturers provide a maximum load that their tripod will support.
Most tripods weight between 1kg/2.2 lbs and 3kg/6.6 lbs. This is an essential criteria for travellers who want to avoid excess baggage allowance. For all others, consider that the heavier the tripod, the more discouraging it will be to transport over long distances.
There are three height features you need to take into consideration:
- Maximum height: the overall height capability when the legs and center column are fully deployed. Note that the center column introduces a lot of instability in an otherwise stable environment.
- Minimum height: the height when all legs are folded. This will become useful for those interested in macro photography or shooting at floor level.
- Closed length: once the tripod is collapsed and to match your bag size
You should pay attention to the number of section legs. You will observe manufacturers offer three, four and even sometimes five leg sections. The more sections, the more compact your tripod will be. On the other hand, the more sections, the greater opportunity for vibration.
The heavier the tripod, the more sturdy it will be for resisting wind and vibration. On the other hand, a heavy tripod will be harder to carry, and lighter tripod will encourage you to use it more often.
Leg Locking System
Your ability to open and fold back rapidly will depend on the leg locking system. You will find three major options for leg tightening:
- Tube twist grip mechanism: generally heavier, more stable and durable; mechanism can be a little difficult to operate in extreme weather
- Spring-loaded lever action: tends to be simpler and faster to operate but is more fragile and a little less durable; metallic components can rust overtime. Mind your thumbs!
- Pulling the legs downward to open and lock in any position, with no screws or lever. More expensive but worth the experiment.
This is where controversy continues among the photography community. In general, the center column tends to transfer unwanted vibrations. But be aware that a center column will not enable low to the ground shots.
Note that you will find a lot of tripods with an integrated head; they have very limited use and are beneficial mainly for compact cameras or occasional use. We can only advise to invest in a tripod that has a base plate and a mounting screw for an external head.
There are two major families for tripod heads:
- 3-Way Pan/Tilt heads permit horizontal or vertical camera orientation. They are preferred by those doing landscape, macro photography or video. They are generally supplied with one or two handles for ease in manipulation and offer exceptional stability.
- Ball heads allow 360 degree panoramic rotation and are favored by wildlife photographers, but not exclusively. Ball heads are greater in offering complete freedom with your movement.
We can undoubtedly recommend you to opt for the quick-release plates or bubble level indicator as part of your tripod head selection. We found those options quite handy in our quest for the best shot.
In summary, tripods and monopods provide more stability than handheld shooting. We advise you make them part of your photography bag. We do not intend to advocate one specific supplier, but those top five suppliers remain highly regarded by specialists: Manfrotto, Gitzo, Giottos, Gorrillapod, and Velbon. You may like to explore other cheaper alternatives but hopefully, you will not have to compromise on vibration-free overall performance, robustness, or flexibility.
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