When you first start shopping for a tripod, you might be a little shocked by the price range: there’s some for $20 and then there’s others for hundreds of dollars.
So, what’s the deal with that huge price range? How could something so simple cost so much? Three metal legs for $500?
I’ll admit that when I first got a digital SLR, I went ahead and got one of those generic $20 tripods. I tried to use that thing once, and after watching my camera slowly slide down after I kept locking it in, I decided to invest in a good tripod.
The good part is that you don’t necessarily need to spend $500 on a tripod. There are some very good ones for about $150, and they’re monumentally better than those generic tripods.
Here are two of the biggest benefits you’ll experience with a “good” tripod:
#1 – More stability
The job of the tripod is to keep your camera still, so it’s important to have a stable tripod. Stability means that once you lock in your camera on the head of the tripod, then your camera completely stops moving. How much your camera slides and/or shakes after locking it in will vary with the quality of the tripod and head.
If you’re already using a pretty good tripod, and you still notice a lot of sliding and/or shaking after you lock in your camera, then make sure your tripod and head can handle the amount of weight you’re putting on it (multiply the weight of your camera and lens by three, and this number should be less than the load capacity of the tripod). And, if you’re using a long lens, you might need a tripod collar for the lens, since the center of gravity shifts sometimes with those longer lenses (generally anything longer than 200mm needs a collar).
#2 – Quick to set up
A good tripod will also be designed so it’s very easy and quick to set up. This is really important in nature photography, because many of those special moments don’t last too long.
Before you invest a lot of money in a tripod, I’d recommend trying out a few different designs at a camera store. See what design works best for you. For example, some people really like tripod legs with latches, while others prefer the legs that you can just screw loose.
Try one out for yourself
If these benefits still aren’t enough to convince you, then I’d highly recommend trying out a few tripods at a camera store, or borrowing one from a friend. I still remember how amazed I was after trying out a Manfrotto tripod for the first time… and then being amazed even more after trying out a Gitzo tripod and Really Right Stuff ballhead.
There are a lot of good tripods out there, but here are a few I can personally recommend:
- Manfrotto 190XPROB with a 496RC2 head (great affordable tripod)
- Gitzo 1542T with a RRS BH-30 head (very lightweight) – Read my review!
- Gitzo 2531 with a RRS BH-40 head (very stable)
Maybe it’s not too late to ask Santa for one of these?
What did I miss?
If there’s another benefit that you’ve found with using a good tripod, or if you have any good tripod stories, please tell us about it by leaving a comment below. Thanks!
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.