As there are hundreds of models to choose from, let's first look at the benefits of tripods:
- They offer ultimate camera stability and prevent blurred shoots;
- They enhance your macro experience;
- They allow long exposure in low light situation and permit imaginative effects;
- They accomplish very nicely when outdoors, under wet or windy conditions for landscape photography;
- They relieve fatigue triggered by carrying heavy weight and long telephoto lenses.
So, Monopod or Tripod?
- Monopod is a single expendable leg accessory, particularly convenient when travelling light or where space is limited. Sports or wildlife photographers will value the independence it delivers to them. Monopods are effortless and complement nicely your camera bag, however on the flip side, it will never be a stable as a tripod.
- Tripod is a 3 legs equipment, supporting an adjustable central column and its customised video or photo heads. Tripods are hobbyists and pros' best companions; they are made of high premium materials and ensure rock-solid stability and efficiency.
We have listed the top 8 features to consider, as to be able to make your own choice.
Three materials are generally used in tripods construction: aluminum, carbon fibre or basalt fibre:
- Aluminium is the entry level choice, it is less expensive while being robust.
- For optimum portability, newest carbon fibre tripods should be preferred. They are half as heavy as aluminium, easier to handle in cold weather and better at absorbing vibrations. The downside is the higher cost labeled to them.
- Not long ago, basalt fibre have been utilised but some reviewers are concerned about durability and material robustness in the long run. Whatever your material choice, tripod bag is a affordable and reliable way to transport and expand your equipment's life.
Choose a tripod in line with your existing digital camera kit, with heavy lenses or flashguns you may have (and/or upgrades you might consider in the future). Tripods must support a maximum loads exceeding your camera equipped with the heaviest lens and flashgun. All serious manufacturers provide a maximum loads their tripods will support. This feature become irrelevant for most DSRL camera owners unless very long telephoto lenses, large format camera or semi-professional video camera is used.
Most tripods weight are in between 1kg/2.2 lbs and 3kg/6.6 lbs. This is an essential criteria for travellers as to avoid excess baggage allowance. For all others, consider that the heavier, the more discouraging it will be to transport over long distances.
There are three heights feature you need to take into consideration:
- the maximum height: which describes the overall height capability when legs and centre column are fully deployed. Note that center column introduce a lot of instability in an otherwise stable environment. Any suppliers will present the maximum height with center column down measurement, which you have to consider in accordance to your eye level.
- the minimum height: which corresponds to lower height once all legs are folded. This will become useful for those interested in macro photography or shooting at floor level.
- finally, the closed length: once the tripod is collapsed and to match your bag size.
You should pay attention to the number of section legs, you will observe manufacturers offer three, four and even sometimes five legs section. The greater the number of sections, the more compact your tripod will be. On the other side, the more sections, the greater opportunity for vibration.
Like many things in life that's a trade-off, naturally, the heavier, the more sturdy to resist windy weather or ground vibration. On the other hand, heavy tripod will be harder to carry and lighter tripod will encourage you to use it more often. Tripods are giving superior stability in comparison to hands-shoot, now it is all about defining how stable you would like to be?
Your ability to open and fold back rapidly will depend on the legs locking system. You will find 3 majors choices for legs tightening:
- tube twist grip mechanism: generally heavier, more stable and durable; mechanism can be a little difficult to get the job done in extreme weather condition.
- spring-loaded lever action: which tend to be easier and faster to operate but is more fragile and a little less durable as metallic components can rust overtime. Mind your thumbs!
- recently, a third category surfaced with the ability, by just pulling the leg downwards, to open and lock in any position, with no screws or lever. It is be more expensive but worth the experiment.
This is where controversy continues among the photographers community, with every expression for strong love or detest opinion. In general, centre column tend to transfer unwanted vibration, for what is intended to be a very stable equipment. Additionally, you should be aware that centre column will not enable low to the ground shoots. In our view, to bypass obstacle or for macro photography, they can be utilised to access challenging angles unless wind is preventing you doing so. We do recognised that suppliers have made great efforts to overcome the lack of sturdiness with their columns. We can only advise to rely on tripods legs to adjust the camera at eye level. Some options are worth having, but only on exceptional occasion!
Note that you will find a lot of tripods with integrated head at great prizes; they have very limited use and are beneficial mainly for compact camera or occasional use. We can only advise to invest in a tripod that has a base plate and a mounting screw for an external head; moreover, with a removable head, you can upgrade your tripod in the future. There are two major families for tripod head:
- 3-Way Pan/Tilt heads will permit horizontal or vertical camera orientation. They are preferred by those doing landscape, macro photography or video. They are generally supplied with one or two handles for ease in manipulation and offer exceptional stability.
- Ball heads will allow 360 degrees panoramic rotation and are favourite for wildlife photographers, but not exclusively. Ball heads are greater in offering complete freedom with your movement. We can undoubtedly recommend you to opt for the quick-release plates or bubble level indicator, as part of your tripod head selection, we found those options quite handy in our quest for the best photo shoot.
Are you equipped with a compact digital camera?
For lightweight compact digital camera owner, Gorillapod gadgets are designed for you. They are ideal to carry around and can wrap around themselves for ease in transportation and storage. In our point of view, the only drawback is that you have to be quite careful with the balance, we will not suggest those if you own a heavy camera body or lens.
In summary... Tripods and monopods provide more stability than hands shooting and we advise to make them part of your best photography bag. We do not intend to advise one specific supplier, but those top 5 five suppliers remain highly regarded by specialists: Manfrotto, Gitzo, Giottos, Gorrillapod and/or Velbon. You may like to explore other cheaper alternatives but hopefully you will not have to compromise on vibration-free overall performance, robustness or flexibility.
We have prepared this monopod and tripod camera review with our independent hat on and this guide is not favouring any manufacturer in particular.