You probably know that tripods can make a huge difference in getting sharper pictures, but buying a tripod definitely isn’t as exciting as buying a new camera or lens. Owning a good tripod is a bit like flossing—you know you should do it, but other things just get more attention. Still, a good tripod will go a long way for improving your photography. Here are some things to consider before purchase:
1. The cheapest kit lens with an inexpensive camera will outperform the most expensive “pro” lens if that camera and kit lens are always shot from a tripod and the pro lens never is.
2. A quality tripod and head aren’t that different in price versus a cheap tripod and head when compared to the price of a camera.
3. A quality tripod is an investment that will last a very long time because it doesn’t go out of date.
MATERIALS AND DESIGNS
Today, most photographers are looking at carbon-fiber tripods. Carbon-fiber models are lightweight, durable and very portable. They have a high strength-to-weight ratio and offer excellent dampening. Basalt tripods are similar, a little heavier, but cost less. Metal-alloy tripods offer a good value for the money, although they’re heavier.
In addition to materials, consider the design. Three-section tripod legs are sturdiest and most rigid, while four-section legs allow the tripod to collapse to a smaller size for packing.
In addition to tripods, there are several support alternatives. A monopod is a fast and easy support when you can’t use a tripod and is common with sports photography. Another good support for photographers is a beanbag. Commercial beanbags are filled with plastic pellets for support and make a highly portable camera support that can be taken almost anywhere.
While you can buy a tripod and head together, most tripods allow you to put your choice of head on it. You have four choices:
Ballhead: Great for quick and easy positioning of your camera.
Pan-and-tilt head: This type allows you to precisely position your camera in one plane at a time.
Fluid head: Ideal for video use (see the sidebar on fluid heads).
Gimbal head: These can hold a big telephoto loosely so it can be rapidly positioned for wildlife and sports.