Tripods are a tool that should be in every photographer and videographer’s arsenal. But what sort of tripod should I be looking at? Let’s explore the wonderful world of tripods as well as a few alternatives that might work even better.
What factors should I keep in mind?
When shopping for a tripod I might find myself overwhelmed by the sheer variety of options available. So when comparing brands what besides price should I be looking at?
One of the best considerations to consider is the weight capacity. How much can my prospective tripod hold? This is usually described on the box as the “maximum load capacity.” This becomes even more important if I decide I want a thinner tripod.
The size of the tripod, both collapsed and extended, is also important. How tall is it at maximum extension? And how short does it collapse? What about locking mechanisms? Usually, tripod legs are either twist to lock or use locking levers. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. For those unfamiliar with the two types, it’s a great idea to spend some time in a camera supply store testing different models.
Last comes choosing the material it’s made from. Do I want a plastic one to save money at the cost of durability? An aluminum tripod which is fairly inexpensive and durable but can be a little heavy? Or maybe carbon fiber which is both durable and lightweight but the most expensive?
Tripod or monopod?
Monopods are quite useful and often overlooked by people looking for image and video stabilization. Monopods are usually used by sports photographers to provide just enough stabilization. Given the fast shutter speeds, sports photographers use not much stabilization is needed to prevent image blur.
Monopods are cheaper than tripods since I’m only getting a single leg instead of three. And they can be extended and collapsed much more quickly than a tripod. But for a video recorder, they are a poor choice. A monopod is still better than shooting handheld but there will be a noticeable swaying in the video over time.
Popular alternatives to tripods
Image stabilization systems are almost standard now in today’s interchangeable lens cameras. They are built into either the lens or the camera itself and come in two flavors. Digital image stabilization uses software to help correct issues in the final image caused by unstable hands.
The second type uses hardware elements which cost more but are usually more effective. Usually, they have labels like IS (image stabilization) or O.I.S (optical image stabilization). But be sure to do your research because not all image stabilization systems work with video recording.
Suction cup mounts
Suction cup mounts are a quick and flexible way to get image stabilization that is sometimes even faster than using a monopod. These are usually made out of plastic and are flexible stalks that have a mount for a camera on one end and a suction cup on another. The stalk lets you position the camera any way I like and then ideally holds in place.
The major benefit of using a suction cup mount is that you can get your camera into an awkward angle easily in a fraction of the time it takes to adjust tripod legs. But suction cup mounts tend to sag after a brief period. The less expensive they are the less resilient the stalk tends to be. Also if your camera is on the heavy side it will also cause the stalk to sag towards the ground. For video recording, this is a pretty big negative. So proceed with caution when using these tool and be sure to test it before buying.
#1. Really Right Stuff TFC-14
Carbon fiber weave is one of the best materials I can have when it comes to tripods because it’s light yet strong. The Really Right Stuff TFC-14 also uses ratcheting angel stops to control the leg angle when the height needs adjustment.
As a travel tripod, it weighs in at a very petite 2.3 lbs. yet the maximum load is 25 lbs. This tripod can handle even the heaviest DSLR camera body and lens combinations. Fully extended the tripod is 47.6” tall and folds down to 17.2”. The twist lock design allows the legs to adjust further and instantaneously. And if macro photography and ground videography are important the legs can fold out to allow views from as low as 2.8” from the ground.
When stability is absolutely essential, such as when shooting video on a moving vehicle, the ballast hook on the center column allows you to add additional weight. Just don’t forget that adding extra ballast does count towards the maximum carrying capacity of the tripod.
#2. 3 Legged Thing Eclipse Leo
If you’re looking for carbon fiber for half the price of the TFC-14 the Eclipse Leo has a lot to offer. The weight capacity is an incredible 66 lbs. allowing for every sort of DSLR and lens combination. That level of sturdiness does mean that the tripod is slightly bulkier at 3.18 lbs.
The extra mass means extra height gain as well. The Eclipse Leo maxes out at 51.5” tall when fully extended. Yet it can collapse down to 13.75” for storage.
This tripod comes highly recommended if you often have need of both a monopod and a tripod. The center column can be attached to a single leg to give you an instant monopod design when you need stability on the move. It doesn’t give ground level shooting like the TFC-14 but the lower price, carbon fiber construction, and hybrid monopod design make the Eclipse Leo a strong contender.
#3. Joby GorillaPod 5K Flexible Mini-Tripod
When I need an extremely light tripod that can set up and break down instantly I sometimes use gripping leg style tripods. The main advantage they offer is that they can offer stability at incredibly challenging angles, such as the side of a fence or tree. They also set up quickly compared to snap tabbed or twist lock legs.
The GorillaPod 5K weighs in at only 1.06 lbs., ensuring there will be space in any photographer’s kit for it. However, the small size (maximum 15.2 in. of height) and cheaper construction make it better suited for budget photographers looking for creative composition styles. Still, stainless steel, aluminum, and plastic make for a durable construction that I can confidently use in the field.
The base GorillaPod 5K does not include a ball head, which means I can’t rotate the DLSR on top of the tripod, only attach it. But for $155.99 Gorillapod will include a ball head.
While there are a variety of different choices tripods remain the gold standard for image stabilization in videography and photography. Choosing the best match can be a bit challenging. So considering the above factors while spending time in the store experimenting will lead to the best results. Happy shooting!