An online book of Common Sense Photography, by Rhett Stuart

How to Pick the Best Tripod


The worst way to pick a tripod is to figure tripods are almost worthless, it will be used just once in a while, and they are all the same so why bother with paying for a really expensive one?

Next, buy a really cheap tripod for about $80, or one at a garage sale. Use it for a few years and complain about how lousy it works. Don’t use it much because it doesn’t work that good, and it is hard to use.

Then buy a more expensive tripod, one for $100-200 with a ball head. Use it more but, the tripod shakes sometimes with the larger lenses you have, and the ball head slips and goes out of position sometimes. Complain some more and don’t use it that much unless you are forced to.

You hear from your friends how much they like their expensive tripod and how often they use it. You look at their pictures up close on the monitor and notice how their photographs are so much sharper and clearer then yours. Realize the big key to getting better pictures is spending the money on a nice tripod. Realize the tripod you pick will make more of a difference in your photographs then all those nice lenses you have been collecting.

Now realize the value of paying all that money for a nice tripod. Go out and buy a Gitzo carbon fiber for example.

The best way to pick out a good tripod is to realize their value before wasting years of your life and some money on bad tripods. Save all that wasted money and time by spending the money up front for a nice tripod and head. All those nice lenses don’t work that well without a GOOD tripod! Tripods can be easy to use, and make photography more enjoyable!

Gitzo carbon fiber tripods are excellent. Older aluminum Gitzo’s work well, and can be purchased used. Try and get one without the center column post. Try and avoid the ones with a center column. The center column starts vibrating when it is extended more then 4-5 inches. The tripod head attaches directly to the tripod top.

Get a tripod that will match your height so you don’t have to bend over much to look though the viewfinder. There are also imitation Gitzo’s available for less money, and work nearly as well, but sometimes cost nearly as much.

Tripods are more effective big and heavy. Large heavy wooden tripods work best. But the problem with large heavy tripods is they won’t end up being used! The key is to get a tripod large and sturdy enough to do the job, but light enough to easily carry around.

Lightweight tripods are very useful for carrying around on hikes and backpacking. Some have a hook on the bottom of the center post to hang a camera bag or backpack to stabilize the lightweight tripod.

There is no one tripod to use for everything. Larger tripods work best, but are heavy to carry long distances. Lightweight ones are much more convenient for field work requiring some hiking, but have more vibrations! Get a smaller one for hiking with a lightweight head, and a larger heavier one for super steady shots.

Acratech ball head products work well for back backing since they are light weight. They were originally designed for by a southern California machinist who was tired of carrying heavy tripod heads on pack trips.

Arca Swiss, the original ball head maker, makes a really great Z1 ball head with a ball that is odd shaped, it is elliptical. The more the camera gets sideways the more pressure the elliptical head puts on the ball head clamp and the tighter it gets. There have been some complaints about their ability to work in really cold weather.

Really Right Stuff also makes a good ball heads and tripod attachments. They are also works of art! The engravings are done with lasers. They are made by a small company based out of San Luis Obispo, California on the central coast. Watch out for Really Right Stuff on E-Bay, their earlier products were not made that well. Buy it new to avoid problems!

Nodal Ninja 3 is a good lightweight tripod head for panoramas that is reasonably priced.