Got your spankin’ new dslr camera and lens? Guess what your next purchase should be.
Tripods are a basic necessity for most, if not all photographers. It should be your third major photography purchase, a camera body and a non-kit lens being the first two.
You need a tripod if you want to photograph:
The ambient light level in a home often is deceptive. The human’s eyes are much much better than a camera’s lens at adjusting to low light. What seems like “normal” light often can be a very low-light environment for your camera. If you want to avoid using the harsh flash, you’ll need a tripod to compensate for the longer shutter speed. If you try to hand-hold, you risk having camera shake. Common uses for tripods:
- Interior photographs of your home
- Portraits and Pet portraits
- Food photography
Sunsets and Dawns
As bright and vibrant as the setting and rising sun can be, it’s not always enough light for a camera. To compensate for the low light level, it’ll need a longer shutter speed. Which means you can’t hand-hold the camera.
To get a crisp, clear sky, your camera needs to be rock still. Even your breathing will be enough to create motion blur.
Working with macros means you have to contend with a razor in depth of field (DOF). Your breathing can be enough to rock the camera out of focus.
Of course, if you want to do selfies, you can’t simultaneously hold the camera and pose in front of it. You’ll need a tripod — and a remote.
When you’re photographing wildlife critters, sometimes you’ll wait for hours for one to show up. Plus your odor might spook them. Having a camera, tripod, and remote combo lets you relax and chill at a safe distance.
Want milky, silky water? Or long exposure shots of traffic zooming by? A tripod will be essential for any long exposure pictures.
These are 7 scenarios off the top of my head in which you’ll need a tripod, and there are, no doubt, other ways in which a tripod can be useful.
Are you a smartphone photographer?
You should absolutely grab a tripod for your smartphone. In addition to the reasons listed above, a tripod can function as a selfie stick, and some of them come with gimbal holders, allowing you to create cool photographs and videos with your smartphone.
Criteria for Choosing Your Tripod
You’ll want to consider a few factors when shopping for your tripod. Some are flexible (like your budget), while others aren’t.
In general, stay away from the ultra-cheap big-box store tripods. Except for the ones for smartphones, if the price is under $25, avoid them. The sub-$25 options are usually all-plastic or plastic-aluminum combos, which means they’re not going to be very sturdy and stable.
Remember, when you’re shooting with a slow shutter speed, which you will in many of the situations listed above, you need your tripod to be rock steady. It should not vibrate nor move in light winds.
Prices will range from $50 to as much as $2,000.
You’ll need to decide just how you’ll be using the tripod, and how often. If for example, you just want to experiment with portraits at home or an occasional astrophotography, a heavier-but-budget-friendly option might be more suitable.
And on the flip side, if you want to photograph people professionally, doing lifestyle or on-site portrait, it might be worth investing in a lighter option that’s easier to move around.
In general, stay away from all-plastic and plastic-aluminum construction. The high-end pro tripods are made of carbon fiber material or a magnesium alloy material; this makes them very lightweight yet stable.
The more budget-friendly ones are made of a combination of Aluminum, Magnesium, and Titanium-Alloy, often referred to as A.M.T. This combo is heavier than carbon fiber, but much more stable than rinky dinky aluminum-plastic combo.
If you’re a hiker and you want to photograph landscapes or portraits out in the boonies, every ounce of weight can be critical when planning what to pack.
And on the flip side, for an occasional use or for at-home studio where your tripod won’t need to be moved often, weight isn’t as crucial.
When you’re trusting a piece of gear to not drop your $1,000 camera and $700 lens, you should want to buy from a trusted company known for quality products.
Here’s a short list of brands with a good reputation among photographers:
- Really Right Stuff
- 3 Legged Thing
- Slik Pro
- Joby GorillaPod
The following recommendations should be used as a guide, rather than a firm Buy This! Note: I’ve selected options that come as a complete package; you may prefer to buy the heads separately.
|If your budget is …||Consider this option||Or this||This, also|
|$||Slik Pro 700DX||JOBY GorillaPod 5K Kit.||Manfrotto MKCOMPACTACN-BK Action Tripod|
|$$||3 Legged Thing Corey Tripod||Manfrotto MVKBFR-Liveus Tripod||Benro Aero 4 Angel Tripod|
|$$$||Oben CT-3481 Carbon Fiber Tripod||Feisol Travel 4-Section Carbon Tripod||3 Legged Thing Leo Carbon Fiber Tripod|
|$$$$$$$||Gitzo Safari Series 2 Tripod kit||Manfrotto 509HD Video Head Carbon Fiber Tripod||Induro CT-414 8x Carbon Fiber Tripod|