Even if you have very steady hands and a stabilized lens or camera, for the sharpest images possible, using a tripod or other camera support is the only surefire solution. Camera supports also are indispensable for keeping your camera in place for meticulous compositions; and if you’re a fan of HDR or other techniques that require multiple exposures of the same scene, keeping your camera’s position locked down is absolutely essential. There are so many different types of tripods and camera supports that finding a great model for your needs isn’t difficult—there’s something for every photo and video situation.
There’s nothing more stable than the classic design of a three-legged tripod. Flashpoint F-1228 carbon-fiber tripods provide the sturdiness that you need at an affordable price. The four-section leg set will extend to a maximum height of 60 inches, and the tripod’s weight of only 3.3 pounds can support up to 17.6 pounds, which is ideal for combining with the 11-pound maximum capacity of the Flashpoint F-2 magnesium-alloy ballhead. Estimated Street Price: $179 (tripod); $56 (ballhead).
A good companion for today’s weather-sealed camera bodies, the Gitzo Ocean Traveler GK1581OT tripod is designed for photographers who spend a lot of time braving the elements. It features stainless-steel castings, a first for tripods, and Ocean-Lock, the next generation of Gitzo’s G-Lock leg-lock system. The Ocean-Lock uses inserts at both ends of the carbon-fiber leg tubes to help prevent water, sand, dust and debris from entering and ruining the legs and locking mechanisms. The stainless-steel center ballhead also can be disassembled for cleaning, and extra grease is supplied to lubricate the head once it has been rebuilt. Estimated Street Price: $1,200.
Cameras are extremely sensitive to motion, and often working environments also have vibration from the surfaces on which you’re placing your tripod. Tripods constructed from wood are exceptional at minimizing this type of vibration because wood dampens movement from the ground up, too. Wood also is better for extremely hot or cold environments, where the surface of metal tripods can be uncomfortable to handle because they heat up in the sun or conduct cold to bare hands. The Berlebach BE3042 two-section wood tripod legs have a leveling ball and center column for 30 degrees of angle correction, and a version is available with a camouflage finish (BE3042C) for nature, bird and animal photographers. Estimated Street Price: $315 (BE3042); $385 (BE3042C).
Modern tripods can carry more weight while weighing less themselves due to a variety of advancements, including hybrid material construction, new manufacturing processes and chemical finishes. Thanks to durable magnesium castings that reduce the weight of their tripods by about 30 percent, the Giottos MG four-section series of magnesium and carbon-fiber tripods, the MG8240B and MG8250B, are ultra-lightweight at only 1.9 and 2.3 pounds, respectively—yet they can hold a maximum load capacity of 6.6 and 11 pounds each. The leg tubes are made from tough carbon fiber, and the tripods are easily maneuverable, with three leg positions and quick-release locks. Estimated Street Price: $335 (MG8240B); $385 (MG8250B).
The three-section 055CX3 tripod from Manfrotto uses 100-percent carbon-fiber leg tubes for rigid construction and a convenient carrying weight. The aluminum center column includes an adapter for conversion to a short column, which is great for keeping low-to-the-ground shots and macro photography tack-sharp. Estimated Street Price: $349.
The advantage of ballheads over pan-and-tilt heads is that they can provide a free range of panning, often in 360 degrees on a 90- to 180-degree axis, which gives plenty of tilt for shooting in any direction you’d like. The Hydrostatic Head series from Manfrotto adds a unique hydraulic friction and locking mechanism to the classic design for holding the camera solidly in place. The head can support loads of up to 35.2 pounds, and there’s adjustable tension control for a smooth experience. Models with quick-release plates for easy removal from tripods also are available. Estimated Street Price: Starts at $229.
The Slik PRO 340 BH tripod with SBH-200DQ dual-level ballhead has two bubble levels to assist in keeping a camera exactly level, even on uneven surfaces. The tripod reaches almost six feet, but it’s also designed to be compact for low-to-the-ground shooting with a minimum height of just over 20 inches and a gearless center column that can be converted for using the tripod at only 10 inches above the ground, ideal for macro shots. For strength, aluminum-magnesium-titanium-alloy legs provide a 40-percent greater strength-to-weight ratio than standard aluminum legs. The PRO 340 BH handles up to 8.8 pounds of equipment. List Price: $239.
A monopod is a solution for stability that isn’t limited by the setup and pull-down time of a tripod in between shots. It’s also lighter and easier to handle, making it ideal for sports, nature and animal photography. The trade-off is that a monopod doesn’t offer the absolute stability of a tripod. Monostat of Switzerland offers a family of wonderful monopods, each featuring ART (Anti Rotation Tubing) with a unique Swivel Toe Stabilizer that allows you to rotate and angle the monopod easily without losing steadiness. Estimated Street Price: Begins at $165.
The Sunpak Tri-Monopod series combines the best of both worlds by providing a tripod and a monopod in one package. The center column removes from the base for use as a convenient monopod. The three models start with the affordable 6601TM with a load capacity of 4.4 pounds and a maximum height of 61.4 inches (monopod mode). The 9002TM supports 6.6 pounds at the same height, and the top-of-the-line 757TM supports up to 11 pounds at 62.6 inches. All three models include a three-way, fluid-effect panhead with a quick-release plate; the 757TM also sports a bubble level. Estimated Street Price: $34 (6601TM); $46 (9002TM); $112 (757TM).
Unique Support Systems
There are some camera-support systems that defy convention. Novoflex, for instance, has a leg up on the tripod design with the QuadroPod. The QuadroPod includes a modular tripod collar design that’s available in three setups—without the center column, with the center column or a variable model that includes adjustable removable/attachable aluminum or carbon legs, which can be added in either three or four sections as three or four legs. Thanks to the four-leg spread, the QuadroPod can support up to an incredible 110 pounds in any direction, as opposed to tripods where the heaviest portion of a camera (i.e., the lens) must be positioned over a leg for the best weight distribution. The introductory QuadroPod model is full-sized with three-section aluminum legs and no column. List Price: Begins at $798.
A shoulder mount is another way to keep your camera steady with rifle-like anchorage in the crook of your shoulder, especially helpful when shooting with large telephoto lenses.
The BushHawk 320D, available in Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony mounts, uses a trigger to fire your camera via an included shutter-release cord while you hold the system comfortably with a double-handed grip. The shoulder mount is padded, and there’s a tough, neoprene, adjustable-grip strap for right- or left-handed shooting. The BushHawk 320D kit also comes with a window pod for shooting from a car, a sling strap for easy carrying and a black nylon bag for the kit with a small hard case for cords. The Professional Kit version adds a quick-release system. List Price: $250 (Deluxe Kit); $315 (Professional Kit).
The Gorillapod from Joby is distinct and versatile, thanks to its construction. The legs are composed of articulating, adhesive balls that can be used as a tripod or to wrap around many different types of surfaces like tree trunks or railings. The Gorillapod is available in a range of sizes for accommodating mobile devices, compact cameras, video camcorders and D-SLRs with or without lenses. Joby also has released the Joby Ballhead for use with D-SLRs and zoom lenses. The Joby Ballhead pans in 360 degrees, with a 90-degree tilt for perfecting your framing, while the slim-line quick-release clip with bubble level keeps the camera connected and level. There’s also an adapter screw that makes the Joby Ballhead compatible with both 3?8-inch and 1?4-inch threads for use with other tripods, as well. List Price: $44.
Beanbags offer fast setup and better flexibility for steadying cameras on uneven surfaces. Kirk Enterprises offers two bean bag-like products. The Fat Bag camera support is an ideal solution for shooting on the road, with a saddle shape that fits the contours of a car window. The Fat Bag is filled with crushed walnut, and you can adjust how much cushioning you need by emptying shells from or filling shells into the bag. The Fat Bag is available full or empty to save on shipping costs. List Price: $39 (empty); $42 (filled).
The Kirk Enterprises OmniPod combines the benefits of a beanbag with a standard threaded screw for attaching securely to the camera. The OmniPod is longer than many bean bags at nine inches in length to accommodate longer lenses, and the built-in bubble level ensures even framing. The OmniPod also is available with an optional two-inch Quick Release (QR) clamp. List Price: $24; $74 (with QR clamp).
Now that D-SLRs are offering high-definition video, tripod manufacturers are offering photographers many of the same options that high-end video-support systems have been offering video professionals over the years. VariZoom, primarily a video product manufacturer, is the maker of the FlowPod 3-in-1 DSLR camera stabilizer system. The FlowPod can be used in three positions—as a monopod, in a low-mode mount for close-to-the-ground shooting and as a stabilizer for reducing movements during video tracking or panning shots. List Price: Starts at $599.
Video camera tripods require a higher maximum weight capacity and fluid heads that provide better control to avoid vibration and jarring movements when panning or tracking. The Manfrotto 701HDV,547BK Video Tripod System Kit provides a fluid mini-head for accommodating up to 9.5 pounds and aluminum legs for support of up to 33 pounds altogether. The midlevel spreader helps the legs to stay rigid in uneven or rough terrain when shooting in the field, and a soft case is included for carrying the entire system. Estimated Street Price: $300.
(HP Marketing Corp.)
|Gitzo (Bogen Imaging)
Manfrotto (Bogen Imaging)
Monostat of Switzerland (Accurate Sales)
(HP Marketing Corp.)
Slik (THK Photo Products)
Sunpak (ToCAD America)