The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod

12/06/2019 8:00 PM

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod

How to decipher tripod specs

Tripod models can vary quite a bit. When you’re flipping through the manual, look out for these terms.

 

Max payload or load capacity - This refers to the maximum weight a tripod can hold. If you put a camera that’s heavier than the max payload on the tripod, you run the risk of breaking the tripod – and damaging your camera and lens. When you’re buying a tripod, think of how much your camera weighs with the heaviest lens and flash attached, and choose the one that can handle that weight.

 

Closed length or collapsed size - This is the length of the tripod when it’s folded out. If you’re planning to store your tripod or take it travelling, pay special attention to these specs.

 

Max height or size - On the flipside, this is the length of the tripod when the leg and centre post are raised as high as they can go. When you pop your camera on a tripod, the viewfinder should be at eye level – so buy a tripod that’s as tall as you. If you’re looking at a tripod with an attached head, the tip of the head should line up with your jaw.

 

Quick release plate - This plate is a small accessory that screws into the bottom of your camera to make it easier to mount and dismount your camera from your tripod. It saves you from constantly screwing and unscrewing the tripod, so it’s great when you’re on location.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod

Leg sections - Tripod legs are made up of sections, and the number of sections will determine how long it will take you to set up for a shot. Tripods with fewer leg sections are usually more stable, but those with more sections have a smaller closed length – making them ideal for travel.  

 

 

Leg locks - The separate leg sections are fitted out with locking mechanism. There are two types of locks: flip locks and twist-leg locks. Flip locks are quick and easy to use, while twist-leg locks take a little longer to lock in place – but they’re considered to be more reliable.


Materials - You can choose between an aluminium or carbon fibre tripod. Carbon fibre tripods are lightweight, durable and don’t rust, and because of that, they’re usually more expensive. Cheaper tripods tend to be made from aluminium, which is heavier than carbon fibre.


The lowdown on tripod heads

The tripod head holds your camera and lens, and it sits on top of the centre column. There are a bunch of tripod heads to choose from, and nine times out of ten, it comes down to personal preference. In other words, the best tripod head is the one that suits you.

These are the four types of tripod heads:

Ball heads - Ideal for quick and easy adjustments, a ball head has one control that loosens or tightens the grip. So, if you want to change the composition of your photo, all you need to do is unlock one section. Ball heads are flexible and smooth, but they can be tricky to use when you just need to make a minor change.

Joystick or pistol grip head - Similar to a ball head, a joystick head allows you to make all the changes in one movement – but instead of unlocking a screw, you simply squeeze the trigger on the hander. It comes down to personal preference.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod

Three-way heads - This type of tripod head gives you a greater level of control over your camera composition. With a three-way head, you can play around with small adjustments to expertly frame your photograph, but it takes more time.

 

Fluid head - Designed with a sealed liquid, fluid heads move smoothly through adjustments. They’re great if you’re using your tripod to film video.

 

The cheaper tripods tend to have non-replaceable heads, while top-of-the-line tripods allow you to attach a separate tripod head. If you decide to buy a different tripod head, make sure it can support the same amount of weight as your tripod legs. That’s where those specs come in handy!


The difference between tripod feet

As you might have guessed, the feet are at the bottom of the tripod legs. Some tripods have rubber, non-slip feet, which help to steady the tripod on most surfaces. We usually recommend tripods with rubber feet for indoor shooting. Other tripods have feet with adjustable metal spikes, and those are better for shooting in the great outdoors.

 

The more advanced tripods allow you to switch out the feet to suit different situations, but unless you’re planning to shoot in icy, slippery or rainy conditions, the standard rubber feet should do the trick.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod

The main types of tripods

There are thousands of tripods on the market, and they fall into one of these categories:

 

 

Mini or tabletop tripods - Small and lightweight, mini camera tripods are best for everyday use and travel, as they can be easily stored in a backpack or handbag. If you’re thinking of shooting selfies (for a change!) and group photos at parties or events and don’t want to lug around a heavy tripod, a pocket tripod is perfect. They’ll support a digital compact camera.

 

Ted’s Top Pick: Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tripod with Ball Head  

 

Travel tripods - Beginner photographers tend to go for travel tripods. They’re sturdy enough to handle a mirrorless or DSLR camera with standard or short telephoto zoom lens, but they fold down to a small size and they’re not too cumbersome. If you’re exploring long exposures, capturing the great outdoors, and working on careful composition, a travel tripod is ideal. If your kit is on the heavier side, or you’re shooting in a windy area, keep a close eye on your tripod in case it tips.


Ted’s Top Pick: Manfrotto Befree Advanced Travel Tripod and Vanguard Veo2S 204AB Travel Tripod

 

Medium and heavy-duty tripods - These high-end tripods offer the best support and protection for your camera. They’re heavier and more expensive, but they work just as well in the studio as they do outdoors. They’re also better at eliminating those small vibrations, which is great news for anyone aiming for critical sharpness. They can be tiring to carry around, so plan out your adventures or bring a buddy to help you!

 

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod

Ted’s Top Pick: Manfrotto MK290XT + 3 Way Head and Manfrotto MK190GO + 804RC2 3 Way Head

 

Monopods - Monopods have just one leg, meaning you can’t rest your camera on them and step away. Their primary purpose is to stabilise your camera so that you can sharpen your shot. They lend themselves to slower shutter speeds and longer lenses, so they’re a favourite among sports and wildlife photographers.

 

Ted’s Top Pick: Manfrotto MMCOMPACT Monopod Black


Our advice?

Buy the sturdiest tripod you can carry, and choose the one that suits the type of photography you do and the gear you use. For example, if you shoot streams, waterfalls and landscapes in coastal areas, pick a tripod that can withstand the elements and keep the camera and lens steady in moving water. On the other hand, if you focus on urban photography, a lighter model might be enough.

A good tripod makes a world of difference

Just like your camera, a tripod is an investment that will improve your photos. If you’re ready to experiment with long exposures, landscapes and portraits, drop by your local Ted’s Cameras store. Our expert team will help you to choose the right tripod for your specific needs.


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