10 Best Travel Camera Tripod – Our Top Picks
If you’re serious about photography, you know how important a good tripod is when it comes to getting the best possible shot.
Even if you’re not a particularly serious photographer, the benefits of a decent tripod are plain to see: at the most basic level, they allow you to set up your camera to produce the desired effect, and improve the quality of your results by giving the camera a stable platform to rest on.
Whether amateur, professional, or somewhere in between, if you’re using a digital SLR camera you need to be using a decent tripod. If you’ve already made a serious investment in your camera and lenses, it makes no sense to skimp on the tripod. If you do, you’re trying to build a mansion on the sand – using quality materials on a shoddy foundation, which will only end in disappointment.
If you haven’t yet taken the plunge and purchased a quality tripod to match your camera, be prepared for a bewildering array of choices.
Tripods are simple in theory, but in practice there’s an amazing diversity of styles, materials, and niche features for specialist photographers. With hundreds of makes and models to pick through, it’s worth taking your time to read around and think about your photography needs before splashing out.
So what is the best tripod for photography?
Carbon fiber is the most popular tripod material among serious photographers today. If you do your research, buying a tripod can make a real difference to your photography, making it a sound investment for anyone interested in achieving superior results.
Below are the best carbon fiber camera tripods available on the market today.
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|Name||Weight (kg)||Maximum Height (m)||Our Rating|
|Best Tripod for Travel: Induro CLT103||1.28||1.49||9.6 / 10|
|Most Adjustable Tripod: ZOMEI Carbon Fiber Portable Tripod||1.32||1.58||9.4 / 10|
|Best Tripod for Video: K&F Concept TC2534||2||1.68||9.4 / 10|
|Best Tripod Ball Head: Zomei Z699C||1.63||1.49||9.2 / 10|
|Most Used by Professionals: Manfrotto 190||1.65||1.6||9.2 / 10|
|Best Tripod for DSLR Video: Zomei Z818C||1.5||1.65||9.2 / 10|
|Best GoPro Tripod: Vanguard VEO 265CB||1.5||1.5||9 / 10|
|Best Cheap Tripod: Neewer Carbon Fiber Tripod||1.5||1.68||9 / 10|
|Best Lightweight Travel Tripod: Vanguard Alta Pro||1.32||1.56||8.8 / 10|
|Best Mini Tripod: Sirui T-025X||0.77||1.68||8.8 / 10|
1. Best Tripod for Travel: Induro CLT103
The Induro CLT103 is made up of nine interwoven layers for unprecedented strength and durability, and it also makes this tripod lighter than most of its competitors. The quality of materials used by Induro doesn’t stop at the carbon fiber, however: the leg locks are made use a strong magnesium alloy in place of the plastic often used in cheaper models, and interchangeable rubber feet and steel spikes are provided to enable setting your tripod up on almost any terrain.
The CLT103 Stealth is even fitted with an underslung hook for attaching ballast in the event you need more stability – when working in rough weather conditions, for example. This is a high-quality, durable and lightweight tripod: it’s not cheap, but it’s very much a case of getting what you pay for. With a hex key and strapped carry case included as standard, the Induro CLT103 is a truly professional-grade piece of photography equipment.
- The Stealth carbon fiber pattern used in the construction of the CLT103 is made up from 9 separate layers of carbon fiber woven together, giving incredible strength and durability while making the tripod one of the lighter carbon fiber options on the market.
- Magnesium alloy leg locks allow you to extend and angle the CLT103 as you want during setup. The choice of material for the leg locking mechanisms also serves to ensure that this is a tripod which can give you many years service.
- This tripod has a lockable and detachable center column, giving you options across a number of different situations and shoots.
- The legs on the CLT103 can be fitted with either rubber feet or stainless steel spikes, allowing you to set up and shoot on almost any terrain.
- Induro have included a hex key and a high-quality carry case with a shoulder strap along with the Stealth CLT103, making sure you’re ready to go as soon as you’ve made your purchase.
- The underslung hook on this tripod allows you to attach ballast to further increase stability.
- The CLT103 has a ball head for maximum flexibility, featuring an aluminum top plate with a secure set screw to keep your camera held securely in place at the angle you want.
2. Most Adjustable Tripod: ZOMEI Carbon Fiber Portable Tripod
The manufacturer Rangers claim this is a tripod fit for a professional photographer, and they’ve certainly gone out of their way to back that claim up. The Professional Carbon Fiber Tripod has separately extendable legs and feet and at maximum extension can reach a height of 1.58 m – more than enough for almost any photographic task.
One leg is detachable if you want to switch from a tripod to a monopod, and the flexible ball head can be adjusted to pan left to right; great for video or panoramic shots.
This Rangers tripod is more expensive than other options on the market, but it also isn’t quite at the same high price point as most professional models, making it a reasonable choice if you’ve decided it’s time to up your photography game.
The Rangers Professional Carbon Fiber Tripod comes complete with a smart protective cover for the tripod head, a carry case with carry handle, and an underslung hook for attaching ballast.
3. Best Tripod for Video: K&F Concept TC2534
K&F Concept make some high-end photography gear, and the TC2534 is their mid-price entry into the market for carbon fiber tripods. True to form, K&F Concept have packed this tripod with features: it’s got everything you’d expect, including a quick release system, ball tripod head, rotation handle, detachable central column and monopod, and it can be easily folded for ease of transport.
K&F haven’t stopped there, however: for added security they’ve fitted a double-secure clip to make sure your camera stays precisely where you want it, and have constructed the tripod with an inverted central axis to aid macro-photography.
If you’re a keen amateur or aspiring professional, and want something quality that’s still portable, the K&F Concept Carbon Fiber Camera Tripod is a solid choice. It even looks a bit different, with a smart gold pattern on the extendable legs.
- The inverted central axis of this tripod is a feature designed with macro-photographers in mind, allowing real fine-tuning of your camera and lens setup to bring out detail of your subject matter.
- The ball tripod head is fitted with a rotation handle for ease of use, a quick release system to make detaching your camera a simple and immediate task, and a double-secure clip for those conditions when you want your camera held firmly in place.
- The TC2534 has a 4-section center column, another boon for macro-photographers, although it is detachable when on shoots where stability is the number one concern.
- The tripod can also be used as a monopod.
- The legs on this K&F Concept tripod are extendable and foldable for ease of transport, and the tripod comes packaged with a carry bag to make taking it with you even easier.
- With a maximum extension height of 1.68 m, this tripod can be set up to shoot almost anywhere. It’s also a good choice for particularly tall photographers who are fed up of having to bend to use their camera’s viewfinder.
- The tripod features an automatic stability suspension system, keeping the tripod upright in the face of uneven terrain and unpleasant weather.
4. Best Tripod Ball Head: Zomei Z699C
Zomei are a Chinese manufacturer of camera equipment, with the Z699C being a relatively inexpensive option for photographers looking for a carbon fiber tripod. It’s marketed as a travel tripod, with collapsible legs to facilitate carrying, although at 1.63 kg it’s not the lightest carbon fiber tripod out there.
For the price, however, it’s versatile: it’s got a ball head for 360-degree flexibility, and each leg is individually adjustable with five separate sections which can be extended or retracted as necessary.
It’s even got dampeners in the legs themselves to help the tripod automatically adjust to the weight of your camera, and the longest leg can be unscrewed to serve as a more mobile monopod. The Z699C is a sound choice as an entry-level carbon fiber tripod, and comes complete with an integrated spirit level and a carry case.
- This carbon fiber tripod is fitted with a ball tripod head, allowing you to rotate your camera through any angle with ease.
- The ball tripod head comes complete with a secure clip enabling you to fix your camera firmly in place once it’s attached.
- This tripod’s legs have built-in dampeners, which help the tripod automatically adjust to the weight of your camera setup.
- The Z699C has an integrated spirit level, which comes in handy when setting your tripod up on uneven ground. You can always use an external spirit level, but having one built into the tripod itself is a real convenience.
- Zomei package the Z699C with a carry case, making it easy to transport the tripod to your next shooting location.
- For a carbon fiber tripod, the Z699C is available at an affordable price point. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but it strikes a balance between affordability and value for money.
5. Most Used by Professionals: Manfrotto 190
When it comes to professional photography equipment, Manfrotto are a name that’s a hallmark for quality. Nothing with the Manfrotto name attached is going to come cheap, but the name comes with the promise of a certain quality, and the 190 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Camera Tripod is no exception.
Designed with professionals in mind, the tripod has 4-section extending legs with spring-loaded lever action, quick lock and quick release mechanisms, and an integrated rotating spirit level that moves with you as you rotate your camera.
Each leg on the tripod is individually adjustable and detachable with the aid of an intuitive selector, and this foldable tripod even comes with a Manfrotto Easy Link plug for connecting to various Manfrotto accessories (LED lights for night photography, for example).
At 1.65 kg it might not be the lightest carbon fiber tripod on the market, but it’s light enough for most people to carry with ease. The maximum extension height of 1.6 m means you should have no trouble setting up this Manfrotto tripod, whatever shot you need.
- This tripod comes complete with a detachable center column, offering you choice between fine-tuning and rigidity.
- The 1.6 m maximum extension height is plenty for most photographic tasks.
- Manfrotto have designed this carbon fiber tripod with professional photographers in mind, and all their products are made according to rigorous safety and quality standards.
- The 4-section extending legs are locked using a spring-loaded lever, making setting the tripod up and taking it down a quick and efficient task.
- Each leg of this tripod is individually adjustable, with a simple selector allowing you to quickly and clearly switch between legs during setup.
- The tripod ball head features a quick lock and release action, further increasing the speed with which this tripod can be ready for use, and sits above a built-in rotating spirit level which lets you check the tripod’s stability from any angle.
- Manfrotto have built an Easy Link plug into the 190, meaning it can be used with any Manfrotto photography accessories, including lights for night-time photography and motors for automatic panning and tracking.
6. Best Tripod for DSLR Video: Zomei Z818C
Chinese manufacturer Zomei make a wide range of photography equipment, and the Z818C is one of their midrange carbon fiber tripods. With individually adjustable 5-section legs, a fully flexible ball tripod head and a quick release system, complete with a safety catch, it’s got all the essential features you should look for in a carbon fiber tripod.
The legs themselves are fitted with dampeners, allowing the tripod to adjust itself to the weight of your camera setup once attached. Like most modern tripods, one leg is detachable if you need the added mobility using a monopod brings, while the integrated spirit level helps when it comes to setting your tripod up on an uneven surface.
Zomei have thrown in a hex key and a cover for the tripod head with the Z818C, so they certainly can’t be accused of not providing value for money. This tripod has even got an attractive and unusual look, being finished in an appealing metallic blue. If you like your photography equipment to look professionally serious, this won’t be a positive; but the Z818C is still a solid offering at a reasonable price.
- This carbon fiber tripod has a ball head for maximum flexibility and rotation, helping you get the shot you want.
- With a maximum extension height of 1.65 m and a weight of 1.5 kg, this is a fairly typical carbon fiber tripod in terms of size and weight. It’ll almost certainly be tall enough for your needs, and light enough to carry around without trouble.
- Each leg on the Z818C is individually adjustable and can be extended through 5 sections, making this an eminently adjustable tripod and a good choice for photographers who like to tinker before shooting. The legs even have built-in dampeners, enabling the Z818C to adapt to the weight of your camera setup.
- The tripod head has a quick release system for speedy setting up and taking down, while also offering the option of using the secure clip for keeping your camera and lenses safe.
- This tripod has an integrated spirit level, helping you work out when you’ve got your setup just right.
- Zomei have included a hex key, carry case, and tripod head cover with the Z818C; nice touches that improve this offering’s value for money.
- One leg of the Z818C can be detached and used as a monopod – this is a real benefit for travel and tourist photography as it greatly improves your mobility.
7. Best GoPro Tripod: Vanguard VEO 265CB
Vanguard is a brand name known by professional photographers everywhere, and the VEO 265CB is an undeniably impressive bit of kit. You’ll pay a premium price tag to get the VEO 256CB in your kit bag, but you’ll be getting a premium product. In fact, you won’t even want to put it in your kit bag, because this tripod comes packaged with a heavy-duty nylon carry case of its own.
This tripod is an impressive all-rounder: its legs are made up of 5 separate sections for maximum adjustability, and are fitted with dampeners and stainless steel locking mechanisms for longevity. With a higher-than-average load capacity of 8 kg, the VEO 265CB is suitable for travel and heavy-duty camera work, and its ball head features a quick release system and panoramic capability.
Vanguard’s attention to detail goes right down to the little things, with the VEO 265CB even having a rubber-coated rotation handle for use in any weather. As well as offering more heavy-duty versions of the VEO, Vanguard also produce the 265CB in aluminum if you’re looking for something a little cheaper.
- Weighing about 1.5 kg and with a maximum extension height of 1.5 m, this is a solid carbon fiber tripod which sits firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of size and weight. It’s light enough to be carried around and tall enough for most shots, making it a solid choice all round.
- The tripod’s legs can be extended through 5 sections, and have been made with built-in dampeners and stainless steel locking mechanisms.
- The black-and-orange detailing on the VEO 265CB is unusual for a camera tripod, but it’s an attractive and professional look.
- The VEO 265CB has a higher-than-average load capacity for a carbon fiber tripod, being able to handle camera setups weighing as much as 8 kg. Unless you’re doing some truly heavy-duty work, this will be more than enough for your needs.
- The ball tripod head features a quick release system, for ease of setup and use. It can also be adjusted to enable panoramic shooting, and comes equipped with a rubber rotation handle for use in any weather.
- This tripod has an integrated spirit level, important whenever setting up your tripod and particularly so on difficult terrain.
- Vanguard have packaged the VEO 265CB with a high-quality nylon carry bag and a hex key for setting up and customizing the tripod.
8. Best Cheap Tripod: Neewer Carbon Fiber Tripod
Neewer may not be one of the best known names among photographers, but their Carbon Fiber Tripod is their attempt to change that.
The first thing you’ll notice about this tripod is the price: this is available at a truly budget price point when it comes to carbon fiber, making it well worth considering for anyone looking for their first carbon fiber tripod. As you might expect at such a low price, the Neewer Carbon Fiber Tripod doesn’t do anything unique or innovative, but it has everything you could reasonably expect from an entry level tripod.
Its extending and lockable legs are comprised of two sections for flexibility, and are topped with a ball head with an integrated spirit level. This tripod even comes fitted with rubber feet to help balance the tripod and keep the carbon fiber from scratching. Neewer package it along with a carry bag so you can fold it up and take it traveling with you. If value for money is your number one concern, Neewer’s Carbon Fiber Tripod has to make your shortlist.
- The Neewer Carbon Fiber Tripod has an integrated underslung hook for attaching ballast, meaning you can keep this tripod stable even when the wind’s blowing.
- One of the tripod’s legs can be detached and used as a monopod.
- The tripod’s legs can be extended and locked through two different positions, increasing your options when it comes to setting up for the shot.
- The tripod is topped with a ball head for maximum flexibility, complete with an integrated spirit level to ensure stability.
- The legs of the tripod are fitted with rubber feet, improving the sturdiness of the tripod when set up and protecting the carbon fiber from unattractive scratching.
- Neewer include a carry bag; a small touch perhaps, but more than some more prestigious brands include with their products.
- With a maximum extension height of 1.68 m, the Carbon Fiber Tripod is a great choice for macro-photographers and particularly tall individuals. The tripod’s overall weight of 1.5 kg is typical for a carbon fiber tripod, meaning it’s lightweight and easy to carry around.
- Price: this tripod is available for a budget price while still ticking all the boxes for what a carbon fiber tripod is supposed to do. If you’re looking for an entry-level carbon fiber tripod, this is an option worth considering.
9. Best Lightweight Travel Tripod: Vanguard Alta Pro
Vanguard are a China-based manufacturer who are targeting the mass market with the Q-666C. This is a basic but functional carbon fiber tripod with extendable and foldable legs, an adjustable ball head and a center column. The center column is not itself detachable, but one leg can be removed to serve as a rudimentary monopod if you need additional mobility.
Impressively for a budget offering, the Q-666C comes packaged with a good-quality carry case and a separate protective cover for the tripod head, which are not always included, even with the more expensive models.
If you’re a professional photographer, you probably already know that this Vanguard offering probably isn’t for you; but if you want an affordable carbon fiber tripod to take traveling or on vacation, the Q-666C is worth a look.
- This is a decent budget entry into the carbon fiber tripod market. Put simply, there aren’t many carbon fiber tripods available for less.
- Impressively for such an affordable model, Vanguard have included a few extras with the Q-666C. A carry case, separate tripod head cover, camera case and carabiner are all included, further padding out the value-for-money factor.
- The tripod ball heads top plate can be adjusted to fit your camera snugly, increasing the strength with which the tripod will hold it in place.
- In terms of size and weight, this is a fairly typical carbon fiber tripod: extendable up to 1.56 m in height, weighing 1.32 kg, this is a lightweight and easy-to-carry tripod which can be set up to handle most shots.
- One leg of the tripod is detachable, allowing you to use it as a monopod on those occasions when a tripod is too cumbersome or time-consuming.
10. Best Mini Tripod: Sirui T-025X
The Sirui T-025X Carbon Fiber Tripod stands out as a contender for the smallest and lightest tripod on the photography market. When fully folded, this tripod is 31 cm in length, and it weighs a barely-noticeable 770 g. This is despite having a maximum extension height of 1.68 m – more than many tripods weighing at least twice as much.
If portability is your primary concern, the T-025X has to be one of your top considerations. Naturally, such a radically low weight does have an effect on stability, but Sirui have planned ahead and fitted this tripod with an underslung for attaching ballast.
If you need to set up for something where you’re going to stay in place a while – panoramic or time-lapse shots, for example – you can attach ballast to this tripod’s hook, to make it as rigid as many larger (and more expensive) models.
Regarding price, this is somewhere between the entry-level and professional models: for photographers on the move, whether amateur or professional, the T-025X is one of lightest and most portable money can buy.
- The Sirui T-025X is claimed to be the smallest and lightest tripod on the market, and there’s no denying the impressiveness of its stats. When fully folded, this tripod is 31 cm in length, and it weighs a mere 0.77 kg. If you want a high-quality tripod to take traveling, there aren’t many tripods that travel better than the T-025X.
- The tripod has a ball head for maximum flexibility and legs which can extend through a total of 5 sections up to a maximum height of 1.68 m. The T-025X isn’t just portable; it’s extremely flexible.
- The legs on the T-025X are foam-coated, for ease of carrying when the tripod is fully folded.
- One drawback of such a light tripod is the loss of stability, particularly in difficult conditions. Sirui have included an integrated underslung hook for attaching ballast: just a plastic carrier bag with a few full water bottles inside can make a big difference to the tripod’s stability when it’s windy out.
- Built from carbon fiber with some machined aluminum components, the T-025X stays lightweight and portable without sacrificing anything in terms of durability.
- Sirui have included 2 hex keys – helpful for those of us who make a habit of misplacing tools.
A Brief Overview on Camera Tripods
The role of a tripod is fundamentally simple: it increases stability, allowing more specific and minute adjustment of the camera and its lens.
This increased stability is vital for photographers in a number of different ways: it comes in handy in low light conditions and at low shutter speeds, where even the slightest knock can ruin a shot; provides support when using a heavy camera and lens combination; and reduces vibration caused by the camera’s mechanisms.
Tripods dampen vibrations by sending them through their legs and into the ground, aiding composition, fine detail focus and self-photography, while opening up unusual angles and breath-taking shots which simply couldn’t be accomplished unaided.
Suitably for a device which works so simply, tripods have a basic design. They consist of three legs that support a plate, to which a camera and lens can be attached. The tripod’s legs should be extendable and lockable, and the best tripods will have the ability to pivot.
If you’re using an SLR, you need a tripod: it really is as simple as that, and if you care enough about your photography to shell out for an SLR it’s worth going one step further and investing in a quality tripod to accompany it.
Compact camera users won’t enjoy the same benefits from a tripod, and are in fact advised not to spend too much on one: compact cameras simply aren’t powerful enough, and don’t have a wide enough range of features to truly benefit from the stabilization offered by a high-end tripod.
If you know you would benefit from a good tripod, you should be aware that your search is just beginning. There is a surprising amount of variation between tripods, with some being particularly suitable for certain styles of photography: even among the more conventional tripods, there’s a real range to be explored.
The thickness of the legs, the weight of the tripod, its height and flexibility, the type of head or mounting plate – all of these will vary from tripod to tripod, sometimes quite widely, making it even more important to have a rough idea of what you’re looking for before you even think about opening your purse or wallet.
These aren’t merely aesthetic differences: a tripod with thicker legs will give you better stability but increase the tripod’s weight, making it great for heavy camera work but not much use for travel photography. Your needs and goals will determine which tripod is worth your time to consider.
As with any significant purchase, you’ll reap the benefits of doing your homework before committing to buy. As well as thinking about the size, weight and flexibility when it comes to tripods, there will be two major considerations for any photographer: the first of these is price.
Photography is big business, with the best professional photographers earning seriously impressive pay checks to match their work. As a result, the best photography equipment gets seriously expensive; and an item as fundamental as a tripod is certainly no exception. Everyone’s price range will be different, and how much you’re willing to spend will also depend on how much use you plan on getting out of the tripod.
The second major consideration is linked to the first – this is the material the tripod is made from, which has a real impact on the item’s price. There are three main materials used for modern tripods – aluminum, basalt and carbon fiber – and comparing the differences between these is a good way to start thinking about which type of tripod will be best for you.
Why Buy a Carbon Fiber Tripod?
It’s an important enough point to be worth repeating: if you’re a keen amateur photographer with an SLR camera, or any kind of professional (including the aspiring kind), you will benefit from having a good tripod.
A badly made tripod can do more harm than good, increasing your setup time without any noticeable improvement in quality; but a good tripod will make your job easier and show a real difference when it comes to results.
Of the three main materials used to make modern tripods, carbon fiber is now the most popular among professionals and serious amateurs. As in any field, however, photography isn’t immune to trends which come and go, and some traditionalist photographers who swear by their aluminum tripods claim carbon fiber is just that.
With that in mind, it’s worth asking: what are the differences between the different materials available, and what will they mean for you as a photographer?
- Aluminum is light and strong, making it the go-to tripod material for many years and remaining popular to this day. Aluminum tripods have the other benefit of being cheaper than both basalt and carbon fiber models to manufacture, making them a good option for a novice on a budget. Compared to either basalt or carbon fiber, however, aluminum isn’t actually all that light, so it won’t be the best choice if you plan on moving around a lot between shots. You should also be advised that aluminum gets very cold if you’re shooting in wintery weather.
- Basalt tripods are lighter than aluminum models, being made using a glass fiber inner core under a basalt exterior. This manufacturing process makes basalt tripods more expensive than aluminum, although still cheaper than most carbon fiber models. Unfortunately, basalt lacks the strength of either aluminum or carbon fiber, making it the clear loser in terms of stability and durability. For a mobile photographer looking for a cheap option, basalt can be a reasonable choice; but it too often finds itself in the unhappy middle ground.
- Carbon fiber is undeniably the most expensive material used in tripod construction, but it’s very much a case of getting what you pay for. It’s the on-trend tripod for good reasons: it’s super-lightweight (as little as 70% of the weight of aluminum), rigid and resistant to heat and cold. In extreme conditions (such as shooting on a mountainside or in the middle of a storm) aluminum remains a slight winner in terms of stability, but this is down to the metal’s higher weight as much as anything else. In almost any other situation, carbon fiber comes out on top in terms of weight and performance. For all but the most adventurous photographer (professional or amateur), a carbon fiber tripod will handle whatever you care to throw at it while delivering consistently good results.
Things to Consider
If you’ve decided you want to get on trend and invest in a carbon fiber tripod, there are a lot of things you’ll need to keep in mind while you’re comparing different models, including:
- The legs. The legs are the most important part of the tripod: in fact, they are the tripod. For that reason, when you’re looking at a tripod most of your focus should be on the legs. How thick are they? Thicker legs will dampen vibrations better but will increase the tripod’s weight, making it harder to carry. Thinner legs mean a lightweight tripod, but reduced stability and increased likelihood of the tripod being blown over in windy conditions.
- Leg-locking mechanism. It’s not only the size and shape of the legs that you need to consider, but how they lock into place. There are two main types of leg-locking mechanism: the spring-loaded lever is strong and quick to use, but vulnerable to rust and capable of causing injury if operated without due care and attention. Twist grips look better and are safer, but can be fiddly and aren’t as quick to operate.
- Maximum support weight. If you tend to use your SLR without too much customisation, you’re unlikely to push past the maximum support weight on any carbon fiber tripod, but if you’re prone to using heavy lenses you should check that the tripod is sturdy enough to take the combined weight of your camera setup once everything’s attached.
- Maximum extension height. As with the maximum support weight, the maximum extension height of a tripod is unlikely to be a deal-breaker, unless you’re engaged in some seriously long-range or niche photography. If you know you’ll want to push the tripod to its limits, however, this will be key information.
- Construction. The first question about construction concerns the material the tripod is made from: aluminum, carbon fiber or basalt. Assuming you’ve gone for quality in the form of a carbon fiber tripod, it’s worth looking at the overall construction of the item. Where has the manufacturer used different materials, such as plastic or steel? Where those materials have been used, is it to the tripod’s benefit or its detriment? Weight-bearing devices like tripods tend to only ever be as strong as their weakest link, so watch out for cost-cutting material replacements which may seriously limit your tripod’s natural lifespan.
- Tripod head. The tripod head is one place that some manufacturers cut costs by using plastic. Be very wary of plastic tripod heads: they’ll see a lot of wear and tear in the course of using your tripod, so any corners cut here are likely to have a real detrimental impact. Besides the material used, there are a few questions worth asking about the tripod head. Is it adjustable, and if so how easy is it to adjust? How quickly can the camera be attached and then detached? Does the tripod head enable any special effects? If you want to create stunning panoramic shots, for example, you’ll need a tripod with panoramic capacity. If you know you might only get one chance to take that perfect shot, you’re selling yourself short if you choose anything without a quick release facility.
- Center column. Does the tripod have a center column? These can be useful for fine-tuning a shot, making them particularly popular with macro-photographers, but they actually serve to make the tripod less stable. If you don’t think you’ll benefit from micro-managing your camera angle, try to avoid any tripod with an integrated center column.
- Extras. Some tripods have built-in extras which serve to improve functionality and value for money. Two of the most common are a spirit level, to make sure your tripod is as stable and balanced as you think it is, and an underslung hook for attaching ballast to improve the tripod’s stability. It’s also not uncommon to find hex keys and carry cases bundled in, adding a little value to the more expensive models.
- Your photography needs. This is the single most important point to consider before setting out to buy a tripod. The tripod which is best for you will depend almost entirely on what you want to get out of it. Macro-photography needs the ability to fine tune setup; long lens photography, and working in tough conditions, require weight and stability; traveling photographers prize weight almost as highly as rigidity and strength. If you know what effects you want to achieve before you start comparing tripods, you’re much more likely to find the right product to get you there.
- Price. For some of us, budget won’t be an issue. For the rest of us, it’s useful to have a rough idea of how much you want to spend before heading out into the marketplace. For a carbon fiber tripod you should be prepared to spend upwards of $100 for an entry-level model, with professional-grade kit starting at around $300.
Risks and Warnings
- As anyone who’s ever taken a tumble can tell you, legs don’t automatically make you stable. Even the best tripod will be wobbly if not used and set up sensibly: use a spirit level and think about the tripod’s center of gravity when setting it up to avoid unfortunate toppling. In general terms, the wider the spread of the tripod’s legs, the greater the stability.
- A well-made tripod will be easy to clean in the event you get it dirty: carbon fiber tripods can be simply wiped down with a damp cloth. Under no circumstances should you attempt to use strong cleaning products on your carbon fiber tripod, as this may cause damage to the exterior which will have disastrous long term consequences for the tripod’s structural integrity.
- Carbon fiber won’t rust, but be aware that most tripods will have at least some metal components, usually either aluminum or stainless steel. Aluminum isn’t rust-resistant, so be sure to keep it dry whenever possible and wipe down after use. Stainless steel will be rust-resistant out of the box, but the protective coating will wear down eventually, so you should keep an eye on any metal parts.
- The spring-loaded lever used to lock the legs in place on many tripods is quick and effective – sometimes too effective, if used in a haphazard manner. The speed and force with which a spring-loaded lever snaps close is more than enough to cause injury if you’re not paying attention.