Do you need a tripod for your phone or camera, or are wondering if you might? Maybe you want to start shooting sunsets, try out astrophotography, or get a great time-lapse. For all of those, your camera requires a stable platform to prevent blur. This introduction to tripods will get you on your way!
Introduction to Tripods
We will go over tripod choices. Although I usually shoot travel + landscape, the information is fairly general for any photography style. First of all, there are two pieces for your consideration when purchasing a tripod: The tripod itself and the head.
What is a Tripod?
A tripod is a three (tri) legged stand that supports a camera or other item. You will want to consider the height and weight of the tripod along with other factors, such as the weight of your camera.
What is a Tripod Head?
The part of the tripod system that connects the camera to the tripod. The two main types are:
- Ballhead – 1 screw loosens allowing rotation in many directions, similar to your shoulder socket.
- Pan / tilt head – 2 screws allow separate pan and tilt adjustments.
Many tripods include a tripod head. However, most tripods allow removal of the head, so that you can attach a different head.
Now, the various aspects to consider when purchasing a tripod.
Everyone has a budget. What is yours? Tripods range from $20 to $1,000+ USD. Your priorities will determine which tripod is within your budget. I highly recommend you include a ballhead in your budget, also.
A ballhead allows the camera to rotate easily in all directions, while on the tripod. Ballheads can cost as much or more than the tripod. Some tripods come with a ballhead, while others do not.
Do you have a phone, GoPro, mirrorless, or DSLR camera? For your first tripod, get one that will hold your biggest and heaviest camera with its heaviest lens.
The reason I have tripods for each of my cameras is because sometimes I actually shoot with multiple cameras simultaneously. For example, I have a tripod for my phone, so that I can set up a time-lapse while shooting other images on my DSLR.
Your preferred tripod height is determined by (1) your own height, and; (2) the angles you prefer shooting from. It is no fun bending over a short tripod for an hour-long sunset!
Most tripods have 3, 4, or 5 leg segments per leg. Leg minimum and maximum lengths vary by tripod. Also, the center pole may extend up and down. However, do not count on the center pole for windy conditions– unless you are paying a lot of money, the center pole may be unstable for a heavier camera.
The best weight for a tripod will vary by activity.
Light weight tripods are best when traveling or backpacking. Heavy tripods are best if you shoot a lot of landscapes, especially when the wind is blowing. A wobbly tripod will give you a blurry photo.
No one wants a tripod that tips over!
If you use a heavy lens, take its weight into account. When purchasing a tripod, specifications indicate what weight or type of camera it can hold. Read the details.
Other Tripod Features
Landscape vs. Portrait Format
Tripod heads allow the camera to be flipped 90 degrees.
A ballhead has a notch cut-out that allows the camera to flip 90 degrees. And, a pan-tilt head allows a 90-degree turn for portrait orientation. So, check the head you are considering purchasing.
Use a bubble level for ensuring that the tripod is level on the ground.
When purchasing my first tripod, I really wanted the bubble level feature. In the end, I’ve never owned a tripod with this feature. I level my camera using the in-camera grid and level. However, some photographers swear by this feature for ease of setup.
The locking mechanism on the tripods legs are either snap locks or twist locks.
At first I only wanted snap locks for speed of set-up. Then, someone showed me how to tighten and loosen the twist locks quickly during set-up by twisting the locks on all 3 legs at once (separate the legs after the locks are loosened). Now, I have no preference of leg lock type.
Material – Aluminum or Carbon Fiber
Aluminum is heavier than carbon fiber. However, it is also much less expensive.
Aluminum – Heavier weight, so better for suboptimal conditions, like wind.
Carbon Fiber – Lighter weight, so better for travel.
Tripod Foot Spikes
Similar to the points on the tip of ski poles, these spikes provide stability.
The bottom of each leg may end in a sharp point on the bottom of each leg. Just stab the points into the ground for stability in wind or on dirt, snow, or sand. And, especially in moving water at the beach or in a river.
Gear I Own
I love the Joby BallheadX and move it between my tripods. (Spoiler: it’s a ballhead that also allows panning!) It fits on various tripods– just screw it on. The GorillaPods pack small and light. However, the legs do not extend, so you have to find something to set it up on.
GorillaPod for small cameras, including phone, GoPro, and more
Terra Firma tripod is made of carbon fiber – it packs light at just over 3 pounds, and costs under $100. The legs are 4-sectioned. Also, it is very narrow when the legs are folded together, so I put it in the outside water bottle pocket of my backpack. This saves space inside my pack! When hiking, I cinch it down with the cinch strap on the side of the pack.
One Last Tip on Tripods + Tripod Heads
If at all possible, try out various tripods. This Introduction to Tripods will help a lot. However, feeling the weight, seeing the size, making sure it fits in your bag are all essential. So, order from a place with an excellent returns policy and try a few! Then, spend a weekend testing them out.
Any Questions or Recommendations?
Please comment below!
Machu Picchu Photography Gear – packing list
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