Many photographers think a tripod is a tripod, a necessary evil if you want to get sharp pictures when using long lenses or long exposure times. But a tripod is more than a camera-steadier, and tripods vary greatly in design, features and versatility. In addition to preventing camera movement from blurring your photos, a tripod locks in your composition so you can study it, and so you won't accidentally change it as you squeeze off the shot. Here's a look at some of the top models on the market today.
Adorama Flashpoint Carbon-fiber tripod legs are much lighter than aluminum, more stable and dampen vibrations better, but they're generally costly. Enter Adorama's Flashpoint line of three carbon-fiber tripods. The three-section F1128 model extends to 55 inches, compresses to 18.5 inches (making it ideal for travel) and weighs just 2.64 pounds, yet can support almost 10 pounds. The intermediate F1228 model employs a slightly wider-diameter leg (7⁄8 vs. 3⁄4 inches), has three sections, extends from 20 to 60 inches, weighs 3.3 pounds and can support 17.6 pounds. The top-of-the-line F1328 model uses a one-inch leg diameter, extends from 21.5 to 63 inches, weighs less than four pounds and can support up to 24.2 pounds. All feature rubber double-grip twist locks that can be adjusted for friction and bubble levels atop their magnesium-alloy top leg mounts. Estimated Street Price: $169 to $299.
Benbo Trekker MK3 The latest in Benbo's unique line of "bent bolt" tripods, the Trekker MK3 is a lightweight version of the popular Benbo No. 1 tripod. The legs and center column can be swung through 360 degrees, making it possible to mount the camera steadily just about anywhere. A geared main joint ensures secure locking of the legs. The drawn-aluminum MK3 extends to 61 inches, collapses to 33 inches and weighs 4.5 pounds. List Price: TBA.
Berlebach Model 8043C and 8023C Camouflage Berlebach's wooden ash tripods offer solid support and terrific vibration damping. They're also easy to handle in hot and cold weather, and look great. The new Camouflage models are painted in a forest green camo pattern for better concealment in the field. The Model 8043C extends from 20.5 to 68.9 inches, can support up to 17.6 pounds and weighs 6.17 pounds. The Model 8023C extends from 20.5 to 69.3 inches, can support up to 22 pounds and weighs 6.2 pounds. Both are three-section tripods that come with center columns and leg locks that can be used in mud, sand or water. List Price: $315 to $390.
Cullmann Universal 3150 XXL The Cullmann Universal 3150 XXL Tripod, available from R.T.S., provides extra height for subjects like weddings, wildlife and commercial photography. It extends to seven feet and includes a removable 3030 tripod head. A self-clamping screw provides easy camera-height adjustment and prevents the center column from free-falling, while a cobalt gray anodized finish means reflection-free shooting. Trapezoidal legs provide stability and are sealed against water, dirt, sand and the like. List Price: $189.
Giottos MT III Series The unique center column of the Giottos MT III tripod series can be used upside down, reversed or even as a lateral arm for shooting down and close to the ground. It revolves in a complete horizontal 360-degree rotation and swings 180 degrees in the vertical. The three-way universal head is included, and the series features a removable rubber foot with an internal metal spike for more secure grounding. A bubble-level and retractable hanging hook add balance. The anti-twist locking system of the hand-assembled carbon-fiber legs is designed to be sand-proof, and the legs come with nonslip neoprene sleeves for comfort in handling in all temperatures. List Prices: $110 to $250.
Gitzo Carbon 6X Tripods Gitzo developed the first carbon-fiber tripod in 1994, and now adds to its latest 6X multilayer carbon-fiber technology a new state-of-the-art locking system and advanced center-column design. The new cone-shaped G-Locks (gravity locks) are stronger, faster and 20% more rigid than standard twist locks and actually lock more strongly as more weight is applied. A new ground-level feature makes for quick and easy low-level shooting. The four-section Mountaineer GT2540 unit shown features four-section legs, extends from 11.42 to 56.36 inches (with center column down) and weighs just 3.13 pounds yet can support up to 25.46 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $625.