Wednesday, November 30, -0001

Tripods & Supports

The best gear for getting stable shots and smooth video

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Technologies like image stabilization and high-sensitivity sensors have made it easier to shoot handheld, but they have also made it easy to forget that a tripod is the most dependable way to gain absolute sharpness in any situation and at any shutter speed. Tripods keep the excess noise produced by these high ISO levels minimal at the same time that they provide a way to work creatively in a variety of other situations, including long exposures, motion blurs and extremely low levels of light. With a tripod, you can lock the camera in place, even at unusual angles, an absolute necessity for working with products, macro photography, still life and multiple exposures or sequences. Tripods and mounting systems also are great learning tools for photographers because they force you to slow down compositions to finely tune your framing before you ever take the shot, which is a really good way to reduce postprocessing time, as well.


Most tripod leg sets are available in two- or three-section designs that can come with or without spreaders for bolstering stability with heavier loads. When looking at which set of legs may be right for you, a few of the most basic considerations are working height, maximum weight capacity and build material.

The working height of the legs often is dependent on the number of sections. For the most part, the higher the tripod's maximum working height, the greater the weight of the tripod itself, something to consider if you find yourself shooting in remote locations. Tripods are available in kits that include the tripod head and other accessories, but they're also available separately for mixing and matching the benefits of different legs and heads.

Benro's inexpensive AD71FK5 Video Tripod Kit combines the Dual Stage AD71F tripod legs with the Fluid Motion K5 head for a complete tripod system that can support heavy video cameras or DSLRs with long telephoto lenses attached up to 11 pounds. Pan arms can be fixed to either side of the K5 head for ambidextrous control over panning and tilting, and the head includes adjustable tension with Pan Drag and Tilt Drag Lock Levers. Quick-flip leg locks allow fast setup, and the dual-stage, three-section floating leg system includes a midlevel spreader with a 60mm bowl. Estimated Street Price: $195.

With the ability to fold down to less than 14 inches while weighing less than three pounds each, Gitzo's 6X Carbon Fiber Traveler series of tripods are compact and lightweight, thanks to the 180ยบ folding mechanism that allows the head to house within the folded legs. The legs are available in four or five sections with G-Lock twist-lock mechanisms that help to strengthen the rigidity of the legs while providing fast setup. The center column is removable for shooting close to the ground, and the Traveler can support a camera with a 200mm telephoto lens attached. It's available with or without a center ballhead. Estimated Street Price: Starts at $679.

Manfrotto's 057 Series of pro tripods can carry very heavy payloads of up to nearly 40 pounds, making it ideal for use with both photography and video systems. The removable rapid center column is designed to increase system stability, and the included low-angle adapter converts for low-to-the-ground shooting. (The 057 Series also is available with a geared column that allows the tripod height to be adjusted without extending the legs further.) The four-section carbon-fiber tubing with user-adjustable flip locks reach to a very tall height of 80.7 inches, while the three-section model achieves slightly more than five feet. A series of matching 057 Magnesium Ballheads also are available. Estimated Street Price: Starts at $749.

SLIK's affordable PRO 500 HD tripod kit includes the SH-736HD fluid-effect, two-way pan head that simulates the advantages of a fluid head at a much lower cost. The pan-and-tilt drag controls are separate from the pan/tilt handle locks for adjusting the amount of tension during panning and tracking, and the PRO 500 HD also includes a gearless column that converts to a shorter column for low angles and macro photography. The padded three-section legs are constructed from SLIK's A.M.T. aluminum-magnesium-titanium alloy for greater strength than conventional aluminum legs. They collapse to only 27 inches and extend to a maximum operating height of 64.9 inches. Estimated Street Price: $149.

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