A tripod is often considered by photographers to be an unnecessary piece of equipment. However, I'm here to tell you that it is a fundamental and even life-changing part of your toolkit that will modify the way you take pictures for the rest of your life.
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Obviously, tripods will be more or less useful depending on what kind of images you love to take. In some photography genres, generally in those where you have to walk around and move a lot whilst shooting, a tripod may just slow you down and won't be of any help. With genres such as landscape and portrait photography, where you can have the time to stop for a second and think about the composition and settings, a tripod can be a very valuable asset to have, especially if you want to shoot in low light conditions.
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In this article, we'll take a look at the best tripods that are currently on the market. Don't make the mistake of thinking that the good ones are only the most expensive models because I can assure you that even if you are on a budget, you’ll be able to find a surprisingly good tripod for your money.
Before we get into the list though, let's talk about why you need a tripod and what you should look for when you are in the market for one!
Why Use a Tripod?
Take a look at the image below. I wouldn’t have been able to take it without the help of a tripod. Why? Because I used a couple of photography techniques known as long exposure and focus stacking.
Taking this image involved keeping the camera still. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
To use these techniques, I had to keep the camera still for a couple of seconds, in order to achieve the long exposure effect on the river. I also had to take multiple exposures with different focus planes in order to obtain the full depth of field of the image, from the flowers in the foreground all the way to the mountains and the sky. If you are able to do all of this this whilst standing perfectly still and not moving an inch.. then I'll commend you. This article is not for you, human tripod.
However, if you are like the rest of us mere mortals, then you’ll probably need a tripod in order to do all of the actions that I've mentioned above. This is exactly why tripods are so useful to have!
Lots of photography techniques require the use of a tripod. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
Many commonly used photography techniques aren't possible without the help of a tripod. Long exposures and focus stacks are just a couple of them. HDR images, bracketing and low light shots are other situations that come to mind where you need to keep the camera still in order to achieve sharp and usable images.
Think about night sky and star photography. While you can still boost your ISO to take a decent image handheld, it will be quite noisy and the image quality won’t be the best. With a tripod, you can keep your ISOs low and get a more detailed image overall.
Shooting in lowlight conditions requires the use of a tripod. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
Now, apart from all these technical advantages of using a tripod, there’s one more, hugely important, reason – that is, it will make you think.
Let’s be honest, sometimes carrying a few kilograms more on your back whilst travelling, hiking or walking can be a painful sacrifice. A tripod can slow you down. Sometimes, it may be too tall and you’ll have to lower it. Other times, it might be too low and you’ll have to open one more section. There may even be situations where you'll struggle to get your tripod legs even and struggle to find the right composition.
These are the reasons why using a tripod will make you think. You’ll spend more time thinking about where to place it in the first place, how to frame the picture, at what distance you should stand from your subject and so on. The result will be a more thoughtfully composed image.
Shooting with a tripod will allow you to place much more consideration into your composition. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
When shooting handheld, you won’t give the same amount of attention to what you should include in the composition and whatnot. In fact, you'll likely end up seeing the mistakes you've made when it’s already too late and you are behind your computer screen rather than out in-field. By using a tripod, you’ll be able to focus solely on getting the best possible picture whilst you are out. You'll also be able to see if you are making any mistakes in real-time.
What to Look for in a Tripod
Now that you know the reasons why you should use a tripod, it’s time to examine the most important criteria that you should take into consideration when you’re about to buy a new tripod.
Taking a shot like this involves carrying a tripod on a long hike! Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
When it comes to tripods, one of the most important things you should look at is the material they are made from, since not all are the same. You’ll mainly encounter two different materials: aluminium and carbon fibre.
Aluminium tripods are generally much cheaper and also heavier. This means they are sturdier tripods available at a better price, but they can also put your back to test if you have to walk for long distances.
On the other hand, carbon fibre tripods are lighter but more expensive. They're the best compromise between stability, sturdiness and weight on your back but all of this comes at a price.
Aluminium tripods are heavier than carbon fibre tripods. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
A carbon fibre tripod can cost as much as twice the price as the same tripod in aluminium. It’s not pocket money that you're playing with!
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Weight goes hand-in-hand with the type of material that the tripod is made from. Carbon fibre tripods are lighter than their corresponding aluminium versions. But how will this affect the kind of photography you generally practice? Actually, can tripod’s weight affect your photography at all? That’s going to depend entirely on you.
Consider how much weight you are willing to carry. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
If your photography sessions revolve around a lot of walking or hiking, then you might want to save some weight and buy a carbon fibre model. Your back is going to be grateful for it! However, if you don’t walk for long distances but you need something that will take the weight of your camera and provide a steady surface from which to shoot, then you can easily opt for an aluminium tripod instead.
Height from the Ground
There are tripods that, when completely open, can rise up to almost 200cm from the ground. There are also some that won’t go higher than 130cm. Before deciding which one is better for you, take into consideration that the higher the tripod can go, the more it will probably weigh in order to be stable when fully open.
You may or may not need some height from the ground. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
To make a wise decision, check out the shots you have taken up until this point and pay attention to the height at which you've shot the majority of them with. Personally, I shoot a lot from almost ground level, while sometimes from eye-level too. For this reason, I use a tripod that can go up to 170cm, which is a good compromise between lightness and height from the ground.
You don't always have to shoot with your tripod fully extended. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
Remember also that if you have a tripod that can go all the way up to 180cm, it doesn’t mean that you'll have to use it completely open all the time. You can still go lower. The opposite is the case if you have a tripod that can only go up to 130cm, as you won't ever be able to go any higher!
Maximum Load Capacity
A crucial factor when you are about to buy a new tripod is the maximum load capacity. When you look into the features of the models you are interested in, you’ll notice that all of them will have way more load capacity than the amount you actually need. You should give due weight to those numbers though. If the manufacturer says that the model can bear up to 8kg, then you’ll have a hard time making it stable if you really decide to put 8kg onto it. Personally, I wouldn’t put more than 2kg (head included) onto an 8kg tripod.
If your tripod is not able to carry the weight of your camera, then it may fall over while you're trying to take a shot. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
While this is not a general rule, be sure that your chosen model has a high load capacity if you plan on putting some heavy lenses onto it!
Top FIVE Tripods for Photography in 2020!
So, this is it! We finally arrived at the chapter you were all waiting for: the list of the best tripods!
Since I wanted to make a fair comparison, I've chosen the best tripods based upon great quality to price ratio, rather than focusing on the best possible features, so that you’ll be able to find a tripod whatever your budget may be.
#5. Manfrotto MT 055 X PRO3
The quality of Manfrotto's products, combined with the wide offer that the company presents, makes them arguably the most popular tripod producer in the world. The 055 model, available both in aluminium and carbon fibre, is one of the pillars of the company. It has been out since 2007 and is currently in its MT X PRO3 version.
Manfrotto MT 055 X PRO3. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
This tripod has a maximum height of 170cm with the central column lifted and a maximum load capacity of 9kg. Overall, it’s one of the best tripods for medium reflex and mirrorless cameras, with the possibility of attaching some heavier telephoto lenses. The quality to price ratio is great, with the aluminium model priced at around 200€.
#4. Benro A1980F
Benro is another big player in the tripod market. The A1980F is surely one of the highlights of their line up, as it’s a true bargain for the price. For roughly 150€, you’ll get a light aluminium tripod that will weigh 1.8kg (700g less than the Manfrotto 055!), carry up to 6kg and go up to 157cm with the central column extended. Not bad, eh?
Benro A1980F. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
You’ll struggle to find another tripod as good as this in the same price range! If you are not planning to put some heavy lenses on your camera, then this is probably your best choice.
#3. Gitzo Mountaineer GT 2542
Any tripod list isn't complete without a Gitzo. This company produces some of the finest tripods you’ll find on the market but they all come at quite a hefty price. You’ll find many professional photographers using Gitzo tripods, as they are generally considered to be the sturdiest and most resistant to all kinds of weather conditions.
Gitzo Mountaineer GT 2542. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
The Mountaineer series is probably the one that is most focused on outdoor photography and suits people who don’t want to make any compromises. The GT 2542 is part of this series and it will take up to 18kg on its legs, whilst going up to 167cm with the central column extended. As it is made completely of carbon fibre, it weighs just 1.68kg (less than the Benro)! Your pocket will be lighter too after buying it, since having this incredible tool will cost you around 700€.
#2. Rollei Compact Traveler No. 1
If you are looking for a small tripod that is perfect for travels or walking around with no heavy weight on your back, then look no further. The Rollei Compact Traveler No.1 will offer you all of this and much, much more at just 70€ for the aluminium version or 120€ for carbon fibre.
Rollei Compact Traveler No. 1. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
With a maximum load capacity of 5kg, a maximum height of 134cm and a weight of just 1.17kg (aluminium) or 0.98kg (carbon fibre), it’s the unsung hero of the tripod world. If you need to travel light but still have a sturdy tripod, then this is it!
#1. RRS Versa Tripod Series 4, 43 MK2
Really Right Stuff is a company that made its way onto the tripod market with some truly state-of-the-art tripods. There are no compromises of any kind here. 'Absolute quality' are the only keywords.
RRS Versa Tripod Series 4, 43 MK2. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
With a weight of almost 2.8kg, you can load this carbon fibre tripod with up to 45kg and open it up to 161cm. Obviously, this is not the best tripod for long hikes or light travels. However, it is perfect for studio photography or other genres where you may have to use heavy equipment (such as medium format cameras, heavy lenses, etc) and you can’t afford to get a single blurry shot.
This model comes at a stunning 1300€ price tag but you’ll hardly find something that will do the same things at a cheaper price!
A tripod is one of the most important pieces of gear that you can’t afford to leave home when you are traveling or shooting. Having one will simply extend the types of pictures that you can take, from photos in low light to images with filters and so on. You can safely say that a tripod, a simple tool made of three legs, will boost your creativity and your photography possibilities by far.
To make a long exposure like this, you'll definitely need a tripod. Photo by: 'Leonardo Papèra'.
I hope that I've given you some valid reasons to consider about why you need a tripod and that you'll be able to find the perfect model to suit your needs in this list!
About the author: Leonardo Papèra is a landscape and nature photographer based in Italy. You can find more of his work on his website or by following him on Instagram.
What kind of tripod do you use? What were the criteria that went into choosing that particular tripod? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below!
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