Tripods are one of the most important accessories that any photographer, professional or amateur, should have but knowing which Tripod to buy is often an overwhelming experience.
First of all, what is a Tripod and why do you need it? A Tripod is a three legged stand which you can fix your camera on while taking pictures, rather than hand-holding it. Now comes the why part. Why would you need to fix your camera on anything at all and why cant you just take all the pictures while holding the camera in your hand.
There is primarily just one reason to have a Tripod. Well there is actually a second one as well but the main reason to own a Tripod is to keep your camera very still while you take a picture. The second reason is that some of the lenses are way too heavy, like super telephoto ones, and holding them in your hands for way too long will shift your focus from composing your photos to relaxing your muscles.
Why do you need to keep your camera still can be due to multiple reason, some of which are listed as below.
1. To get sharp and focused images while shooting in low light conditions.
2. To keep the camera steady and eliminate the risk of blur while taking long exposure shots, that is while the shutter speed is slow.
3. Since you can risk slow shutter speed with a Tripod, you wont be forced to used a high ISO and hence no risk of noise in your pictures.
4. To take your own pictures, self portrait that is. Mount the camera on a Tripod with a timer on or drop the shutter with a remote.
5. To take extreme close up pictures or during macro photography when you are zoomed in so much that even a slight movement would ruin the picture.
6. When you deliberately want to slow down the shutter to imply motion, like shooting a waterfall.
There can be several other reasons but they will pretty much revolve around what is listed above. The biggest disadvantage of a Tripod is that they are like a big log of wood that you have to carry around with you. I mean you are already carrying a bulky DSLR with a huge lens and then on top of it, you got another heavy piece accessory to swing on your shoulder. No matter how compact and light weight some companies claim to have made them, they are still an inconvenience to carry around, to set up and then to pack when you are done.
A Tripod consists of 3 different body parts,
1. Head – This is where you fix your camera on the top
2. Legs – It got three hence the name Tripod.
3. Center Column – I call it the spinal cord of the Tripod. It runs through the center of the Tripod and can come in handy when you need a little more height than what the legs can offer.
On basis of its head, a Tripod is generally categorized into following categories,
1. Ball head – Take a look at the picture below for better understanding. Due to the ball-shaped construction these are easier to rotate in any direction. Its like the ball and socket joint of a human shoulder making it easier to swivel in all directions. They have only one control to either loosen or tighten the movement and provide a very smooth operation.
2. Pan Head : This is what you will find in most of the cheaper tripods. They have 2 different controls. One for moving the lens up and down, that is like nodding your head while saying yes, and a different control to move the camera towards left or right, like when you move your head when you say a no.
3. Gimbal head : These are specially designed for heavier lenses, like a telephoto or super telephoto, best suited for sports or fast action photography. They stabilize the camera very effectively and do not require a control to be tightened or loosened when you want to move the camera in any direction.
Some of the factors that you should consider while shopping for a Tripod are,
1. Weight – Both in terms of how much the Tripod weighs itself and how much weight it can support. A bulky Tripod that weighs a ton can be a nuisance to carry around. Pick up the Tripod in your hands before you buy it and feel its weight to make sure that you are comfortable with it. If possible and within budget, got for a Tripod made of carbon fiber as they are the lightest. The next best option would be the aluminum ones, a little heavier than carbon-fiber but lighter than steel. Don’t get me wrong when I say heavier tripods are a nuisance because they are in fact needed for video equipments but for a DSLR, lighter the better.
Apart from this, check how much weight it can support. To be precise, go for a Tripod that can support twice the weight of your camera and heaviest lens put together. Otherwise it can all come crashing down the moment you put more weight than it can support and can damage your camera.
2. Head – Check which kind of head system you would prefer to have. Pan-head are the cheaper ones, ball-head a little expensive and Gimbal head are the most expensive ones.
3. Height – Buy a Tripod that can at least bring your camera to your eye level while you stand straight.
4. Compact – This is another thing to look at very closely. You do not need a Tripod that is a hassle to pack with rest of your luggage. Find one that can easily fit in with your other photography equipment.
5. Stable – When I say stable, I mean really firm with no vibrance or risk of falling off due to wind, specially when its legs are fully extended and the head is at its maximum height.