The Newbie’s Information to Tripods


The trusty tripod has remained comparatively unchanged as cameras and lenses turn out to be more and more extra superior and sophisticated. Positive, producers use more and more extra subtle supplies, resembling carbon fiber, however the elementary character of the tripod has stood the check of time. A tripod has three legs and is a worthy addition to any photographer’s equipment. There’s not a lot else to say, is there?

Not so quick. Whereas the concept of the tripod is easy sufficient – it stabilizes your digicam so you possibly can seize sharper photographs – a photographer seeking to buy their first tripod can rapidly turn out to be overwhelmed. There are lots of choices, and for those who don’t ask your self just a few vital questions that can assist you slim down your selections, you’ll be misplaced in a sea of three-legged help techniques with no help system of your individual to information you.

On this information, we’ll cowl the fundamentals of what a tripod is, what it does, find out how to use it, and maybe most significantly, how to make sure you decide the fitting one on your wants.

Desk of Contents

What’s a Tripod?

This part is brief and candy. A tripod is an easy piece of drugs with three legs and a head. You connect your digicam to the tripod head with a plate, which may very well be a primary common plate or custom-built on your particular digicam, and the tripod legs preserve your digicam secure.

That is Actually Proper Stuff’s Ascend Tripod with built-in Ascend tripod head.

For a lot of entry-level and even some mid-to-high-end tripods, they arrive with the legs and a tripod head in a equipment. The top is commonly – though not at all times – detachable. As your finances will increase, it’s usually the case that you need to buy tripod legs and a head individually, additional complicating your buying determination and increasing your choices.

A digicam securely mounted to a tripod head.

Some tripods additionally embrace a middle column. This column can lengthen up from the legs to make your tripod head sit increased. In some instances, heart columns may even come out to the facet of the tripod, permitting you to have your digicam get very low to the bottom. In case your heart column doesn’t slide out to the facet, the underside of the column will restrict you from getting very low because the column will hit the bottom.

On the backside of your tripod’s legs are its ft. From the underside, it’s ft, legs, after which head. You could possibly take into account a middle column a torso if it helps the corporeal metaphor. Tripod ft aren’t thrilling, however they’re to not be ignored. Some tripods have changeable ft, permitting you to make use of rubber ft, spikes (for sand), or claws (for rocks and ice). Good ft could make a tripod extra secure on completely different surfaces.

To summarize rapidly, all tripods encompass legs and a head. The adjustable legs lengthen and collapse to vary the peak of your tripod and be certain that it’s degree on uneven terrain. Further peak can generally be achieved utilizing a middle column that sits between your tripod head and the legs. Your digicam attaches to the tripod on a tripod head. You regulate the tripod head to regulate your digicam’s orientation and angle.

Why Do You Want a Tripod?

The first purpose to make use of a tripod is to shoot sharp photographs at slower shutter speeds. That is helpful when capturing in low mild or while you wish to seize long-exposure photographs.

Picture stabilization techniques, in cameras and lenses alike, have come a great distance. Nonetheless, they aren’t ok to allow you to shoot a gradual handheld shot at sluggish shutter speeds, like one second or longer. You may improve your ISO to shoot at a sooner shutter pace. Nonetheless, to attain the very best picture high quality, you need to shoot at low ISO.

Past lengthy publicity pictures, utilizing a tripod even at sooner shutter speeds when you possibly can handhold your digicam ensures extra constant outcomes. Plus, a tripod is a must have accent if you wish to seize a number of exposures for HDR pictures or publicity bracketing, or a number of photographs to sew collectively a panorama.

There are different causes to make use of a tripod apart from picture high quality and lengthy publicity pictures. When utilizing a heavy, lengthy lens, resembling a telephoto lens for sports activities or wildlife, it’s good to take the load of your gear off your arms and shoulders and use your tripod. You may also use a tripod to seize self-portraits utilizing a self-timer or distant or experiment with completely different methods resembling mild portray. Additional, for those who intend to report video, having a secure video will dramatically enhance the standard of your work.

Tripods may also make life as a photographer simpler in different methods. You may fastidiously compose photographs on a tripod, whereas holding a digicam in the identical spot for very lengthy could be tough. Your tripod additionally frees up no less than certainly one of your arms to carry an off-camera flash or reflector, which could be useful when photographing portraits. If you happen to get a tripod that may get very tall or low to the bottom, it’ll be a lot simpler to seize completely different views.

Drawbacks to Utilizing a Tripod

There’s no such factor as free lunch in pictures. Whether or not it’s regarding a lens’ most aperture and weight, or a digicam’s decision and capturing speeds, there’s at all times a tradeoff. That’s additionally true of tripods.

Maybe the most important difficulty is that it’s extra gear to hold round. Ideally, you’ll use a photograph backpack with a strap on your tripod. Even so, a tripod is extra stuff. In case you have a big metallic tripod with a rugged head, not solely is the tripod one other piece of kit to lug round, nevertheless it’s additionally heavy.

Tripods are available in a variety of sizes. Whereas a taller tripod is helpful, it’s additionally heavier and bigger when collapsed, which makes it much less handy for carrying.

Together with the scale and weight considerations additionally comes basic inconvenience. If you happen to’re round many individuals, you might not have the area to arrange your tripod. I’ve been at busy panorama pictures places, and there wasn’t a lot room between different photographers and tripods, plus my tripod. If you happen to’re photographing sure occasions, like live shows or sports activities, you may not even have the ability to carry your tripod into the venue.

Lastly, even for those who go for a “low-cost” tripod, extra on that later, it’s nonetheless an additional expense. In order for you a high-quality tripod from a preferred producer, you possibly can simply spend greater than $1,000 when you’ve gotten the tripod legs and an acceptable tripod head. Don’t fear. You may get a wonderful tripod for lots lower than that, however a tripod can nonetheless be a large expense, particularly for somebody simply getting began and people on tight budgets.

Setting Up and Adjusting a Tripod

The way you arrange your tripod relies upon a bit on what kind of tripod you’ve gotten, however it doesn’t matter what fashion of legs and tripod head you’ve obtained, the first focus stays the identical: stability. Essentially the most secure tripod is one that’s degree. You usually gained’t be capturing on a degree floor, so you need to change the size of your tripod legs to compensate for uneven terrain. You might also wish to make your tripod legs wider, if area permits, enhancing stability.

It’s additionally vital to concentrate to what you’re placing your tripod ft on. If you happen to’re in a rocky space, be sure to don’t have a tripod leg on an unsteady rock. A spot that will appear protected can turn out to be problematic as quickly as you add weight to your tripod.

I usually put my tripod in water, in sand or on rocks. In all instances, you need to make certain your tripod is secure earlier than you add your gear. If you get your tripod moist or soiled, make certain to scrub it as quickly as doable.

It’s all too simple to stumble upon your tripod or fall sufferer to a gust of wind, so taking the time to make sure that your tripod is as secure as doable is a worthwhile use of time. In case your tripod is a slight nudge away from tumbling sideways, presumably breaking 1000’s of {dollars} price of drugs within the course of, you’ll want you’d been extra cautious throughout the setup course of.

As for adjusting your tripod’s peak, photographers have assorted preferences. Nonetheless, I at all times begin by extending the bottommost tripod leg part. The requisite adjustment lock is inside attain if I have to make the tripod taller later. I don’t wish to bend down to regulate a tripod leg if I don’t have to. By altering the bottom portion first, you additionally keep away from having your adjustment mechanism, whether or not it’s a twist lock or a clamp lock, in water or mud for those who’re in shallow water or moist areas. It’s important to maintain your leg adjustment mechanism as clear as doable.

Completely different tripod legs embrace completely different adjustment mechanisms. This Actually Proper Stuff tripod contains twist locks, which implies that you rotate the adjustment one method to unlock the leg after which rotate it again the opposite method to lock it. There are additionally clamp changes, which use a spring-loaded mechanism to loosen the leg for adjustment.

If I exploit a tripod with a middle column, which I used again once I began with pictures, I’d regulate that final and solely when crucial. Utilizing tripod legs to attain the suitable peak is at all times a good suggestion. Don’t use a middle put up for added peak for those who don’t have to as a result of it’s a lot much less secure than having your tripod head flush with the highest of your tripod legs.

Completely different Tripod Heads

The fashion of tripod head you’ve gotten determines the way you regulate it. For many freshmen, the choices are considerably restricted in scope however not utility. A standard alternative, particularly in cheaper kits, is a pan/tilt head. It contains separate stress knobs that release motion for side-to-side and up-and-down changes.

Manfrotto XPRO 3-Manner, Pan-and-Tilt Head with 200PL-14 Fast Launch Plate ($200)

A standard alternative amongst panorama photographers is a ball head. That is my tripod head of alternative. Your digicam sits on prime of a ball, because the title suggests, and there’s a mechanism to loosen it so you possibly can freely regulate your digicam’s orientation. Whereas a pan/tilt head requires a number of knobs to attain a variety of movement, a ball head has only a single mechanism for its motion.

Actually Proper Stuff BH-55 ball head

There’s additionally a gimbal head. That is used primarily for telephoto lenses. It’s an costly possibility. A gimbal head is designed to stability a heavy lens round its heart of gravity, offering stability when panning or transferring your lens up and down, resembling when photographing birds in flight. This isn’t a very good possibility for many freshmen as a consequence of its inflexibility.

Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Tripod Head II with Fast Launch Base ($595)

There are some tripod heads designed particularly for panoramic pictures. You are able to do panoramic work with a extra regular tripod head, however a particular pano head makes it simpler. Like gimbal heads, specialised panoramic gear isn’t urged for freshmen in search of a flexible tripod.

Nodal Ninja 6 with Nadir Adapter ($400)

What to Look For (and Keep away from) When Shopping for a Tripod

A tripod is mainly only a head and three legs. How costly may that be? Almost all tripods run the gamut from underneath $100 to virtually $2,000. Choosing the most affordable finish of the worth vary is tempting. Nonetheless, it’s normally a mistake.

After I say “low-cost tripod,” I don’t solely imply the worth. Low cost additionally refers back to the construct high quality and really feel. A tripod with many plastic and rickety elements could do the job when utilizing light-weight gear in a peaceful surroundings, however what in case your gear is heavy, the terrain is uneven, and there’s a average breeze? What if it’s freezing exterior, the tripod will get icy, and a plastic piece breaks? These are the conditions when a “low-cost” tripod can fail. If you happen to don’t pay the worth for a very good tripod appropriate to your wants, you’ll ultimately pay the worth within the type of broken digicam tools.

That’s to not say you need to spend some huge cash to get a top quality tripod. For instance, Peak Design is a really respected firm, and its Peak Design Aluminum Journey Tripod is $380 (the carbon fiber model is $650, by the best way). Different firms like Okay&F Idea, Manfrotto, Magnus, Benro, Oben, Sirui, Vanguard, and extra make widespread, trusted tripods for even much less.

Regardless of your finances, you need to take into account a tripod’s load capability, most peak, minimal peak, folded size, and weight.

Load capability: Your tripod must comfortably help your gear and any gear you might buy within the subsequent few years. It’s a good suggestion to present your self respiratory room, though respected makers ought to meet their promised scores.

Most peak: Your tripod should even be tall sufficient to be helpful on your peak. All else equal, the taller, the higher, because it’ll be simpler to degree it at a cushty peak on uneven terrain.

Minimal peak: The tradeoff is that generally, the taller your tripod could be, the taller it’ll be at its minimal peak. A low minimal peak is useful if you wish to do macro work and get down and shoot from low angles.

Folded size: Like minimal peak, the folded size is commonly affected by a tripod’s most peak. The taller a tripod, the longer the folded measurement. The folded size issues on your backpack. Ideally, your tripod will match inside or on an outdoor compartment of your pictures backpack.

Weight: Weight is one thing that you just pay a premium for. All else equal, as a tripod’s weight decreases, its worth will increase. If you happen to intend to do any mountaineering, you recognize weight is at a premium. The heavier your tripod, the more serious you’ll really feel after a protracted day. Equally, the extra weight your tripod holds and the taller its max peak, the extra it’ll weigh because it contains longer legs and certain a extra vital, sturdier tripod head.

For particular tripod suggestions, try our picks for the very best tripods in the marketplace.

Ought to You Begin With an Entry-level Tripod?

If you happen to don’t personal a tripod, you most likely aren’t positive how a lot you’ll use a tripod. Photographers on this state of affairs ought to go for one thing underneath $300. Whereas I can – and shortly will – espouse the advantages of a really high-end tripod, that a lot of a financial outlay doesn’t make sense at first. So, you need to keep away from shopping for the most affordable tripod you’ll find as a result of it’s doubtless of poor high quality, and you need to keep away from shopping for the most costly one till you recognize that you just’ll profit from the relative benefits that make it so costly within the first place.

Not each photographer will profit from the highest-end tripod. Many photographers could choose one thing smaller, lighter, and extra reasonably priced.

Over time, you’ll both understand that your entry-level tripod is ideal on your wants, otherwise you’ll have discovered what qualities your tripod lacks that you’d personally recognize. If you happen to fall into the latter class, the following step is to straight to a high-end tripod. If you happen to can’t afford it, it’s price saving up for.

In my case, my tripod would possibly as effectively be glued to my facet as a result of I hardly ever depart house with out it. It’s as important to me as my digicam and lens. I may make the case that it’s much more vital as a result of it should outlast each digicam and lens I buy for a very long time.

It took me spending just a few years with an aluminum Manfrotto tripod to understand how invaluable a lighter design, rugged ball-head, twist-lock leg adjustment mechanism, replaceable ft, and a user-repairable design are to me. I ended up promoting that tripod to a photographer who was getting began, and I’m assured they’ve gotten a variety of nice use out of it.

Utilizing my first tripod in varied conditions and locations made me understand I wished a taller tripod. Sadly, a extra rugged, extra usable, lighter, and taller tripod means “dearer.” I ended up spending almost $2,000 for my Actually Proper Stuff TVC-34L tripod legs and BH-55 ball head.

To some, it appears ridiculous to spend that a lot on a tripod. In spite of everything, you possibly can purchase a pleasant new digicam or lens with that cash. That’s honest. Nonetheless, after utilizing a reasonable tripod and discovering out that it doesn’t suit your wants, it makes little sense to maneuver as much as a barely higher tripod. Quickly sufficient, you’ll once more understand {that a} high-end tripod is a greater possibility.

The high-end tripod vary begins at round $500 and goes as much as greater than $1,500. On the decrease finish of the spectrum, that’s lower than almost all fashionable mirrorless cameras or lenses. You usually pay extra as you go for longer tripod legs and extra rugged ball heads, however you might not want these options or would possibly outright not need them as a consequence of needing a extra compact, lighter tripod.

You Get What You Pay For with Tripods

I’ll wrap up with simple recommendation that applies to no photograph gear greater than tripods: You get what you pay for. An excellent, high-quality tripod serving your wants will outlast your digicam and your lenses. With common upkeep – like taking it aside for cleansing – your tripod will final a few years, even many years. Spending rather a lot on a top-of-the-line tripod is a troublesome tablet to swallow, however it should pay for itself by means of a few years of dependable service.

Nonetheless, you don’t want to start out on the prime, both. The most effective recommendation I can provide is to find out what your gear weighs and determine in order for you any particular options, like an exceptionally tall (or brief) tripod and attempt to resolve what kind of tripod head is best for you. Determine your wants first, after which discover a tripod to suit them. Don’t attempt to function in reverse and suit your must a tripod. There are lots of good choices throughout a variety of budgetary constraints.

When you’ve discovered what you need from a tripod and picked one, use it for some time and see the way it works. You could discover that the primary tripod you decide is the right one for you. If not, there are a lot extra to select from, and you’ll doubtless profit from a top-of-the-line tripod. A substantial upfront value on one thing as simple as a tripod generally is a robust tablet to swallow, however few items of drugs are extra vital.


Concerning the writer: Jeremy Grey is a photographer and author based mostly in Maine. You’ll find extra of his work on his web site.


Picture credit: All images by Jeremy Grey.

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