If you are new to the realm of photography, you may have just recently discovered that your steady hand is not always good enough and that you need to invest in a tripod to perfectly capture that image you’ve been wanting. However, you don’t want to get a tripod that is not compatible with your camera.
Are all camera tripods the same? While all camera tripods will generally work with any camera type, that does not necessarily mean that all camera tripods are the same. There are a number of important factors to consider when buying a camera tripod, such as the following:
- Tripod head
- Tripod height
When purchasing a camera tripod, it is important to have a clear understanding of what type of photography you are interested in doing and where you will be doing it. It is also important to know what kind of tripod head your camera uses before making your purchase, so it may be helpful to take your camera with you when buying your tripod.
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What is a Tripod Head?
The tripod head is the part of the tripod system that attaches the camera to the tripod legs. At the top of the tripod head will be a small bolt to which you can screw your camera in place.
Most modern cameras will have a ¼ inch female thread on the underside, which will be attached to the tripod head.
More expensive tripods will have a ⅜ inch attachment to the head. If this is the case, a special adapter may need to be purchased in order to ensure that your camera attaches securely to the tripod head, as the tripod head is generally attached to the legs and cannot be removed for most tripod models.
The head will have bearings so that you can rotate your camera at different angles once attached to the legs, securing it in place once the desired angle is reached. Most modern cameras will also have settings that allow you to take photos hands-free so that you do not inadvertently move your camera while capturing the image.
It is important to have a tripod that is close to your height, so you are not constantly stooping over to look through the viewfinder. When you put the camera on the tripod, it should be at eye level in order for you to easily look through the viewfinder at the image you are trying to capture.
When shopping for tripods, the tripod head should be at your jawline or higher. If you do a lot of traveling photography, the height of the tripod should be given extra consideration. There are plenty of foldable models on the market that allow for your tripod to be stored in overhead stowage bins on flights or to easily fit into the trunk of your car.
There are several factors that can contribute to a tripod’s stability. Cheaper models may be less stable and not capable of supporting as much weight. However, some of the sturdier models can be heavier, which can be a drawback if you have to take your camera deep into the wilderness for a shoot.
All tripods are designed to support a certain weight. If attempting to use your camera with a tripod with an insufficient weight rating, you run the risk of the tripod collapsing, causing extensive – and expensive – damage to your camera.
While a lower weight rating may support your camera for some time, it will eventually wear down over time and no longer be able to support your camera, most likely giving out when you least expect it.
Therefore, it is a best practice to make sure that your tripod has a weight rating of at least 1.5 times the weight of your camera and heaviest lens.
The additional safety net is added because when using your camera, you will apply a little bit of weight beyond that of the camera as you rest your hands on the tripod during adjustment or adding accessories that will help you capture the image, such as a flash when taking photos at night.
There are two types of tripod legs: tubular or non-tubular.
There are not really any advantages or disadvantages to either of these leg types, and it will largely be up to the photographer to decide which features are most desirable for his or her style. Each has its own unique feature.
- Tubular legs – these are made from carbon fiber and will come with a thread-twisted lock system that helps secure the legs
- Non-tubular legs – these are made from steel or aluminum. They typically have a flip-lock system that will secure the tripod’s legs
Tubular legs will typically offer the most support and stability, which can be an important consideration if you plan on taking your camera into rugged terrain.
In addition, your tripod’s legs may have multiple sections, depending on how high it is. Shorter tripods will come with as few as three sections to the legs, while taller tripods may have as many as five. The more sections the tripod has, the less stable it will generally be.
Different tripods will come with different types of feet, some of which can be adjusted to improve stability for certain conditions. Tripod feet designed for indoor use will generally be made of plastic or rubber to provide traction without scuffing surfaces, while outdoor feet will have metal spikes in order to better dig into the terrain in slippery or icy conditions.
When to Use a Tripod?
Tripods are best when you are photographing motionless objects or scenes, such as plants, food, or architecture. It allows the photographer to capitalize on low light scenarios by eliminating noise (vibrations of the shutter). When photographing people, animals, or anything else with motion, a tripod is generally not necessary.
When shooting motionless objects, very slow shutter speeds can be used. A tripod is necessary because even the slightest vibration will cause a blur when the shutter speed is slow. Motion snapshots require a fast shutter, so a tripod is not necessary, as small vibrations, such as a slightly shaky hand, will not be enough to influence the quality of the photo.
What Kind of Tripod Should You Buy?
After having a clear understanding of what kind of photography you plan on doing, finding a head that is compatible with your camera, and locating a model that is close to your height, there are a few other factors to take into consideration.
- First, if you are a new photographer and do not have an overly expensive camera, you will likely want to go with a tripod that costs under $150. While you should not cut corners on your tripod system, it does not make a lot of sense to have a tripod that costs more than the camera itself. While cheaper, this tripod should offer plenty of support
- If you want to get something more expensive, try getting something with a quick-release system. This is an adapter that screws into the tripod head and then locks in your camera, which can save you time from having to constantly screw your camera in and out of the tripod head
- Think about the worst possible scenarios when buying your tripod. If you think there is a chance that you may be doing photography that requires you to be out in the snow and ice, look for the model that has the features to hold up in these conditions