Selecting an ideal DSLR camera tripod stand can be an overwhelming task whether you are a professional photographer or just a budding amateur in photography. It is the one area of modern photography that most have failed to master.
The tripod, on one hand, is a simple tool that steadies your camera when using it in poor lighting conditions and on the other hand, it is a piece of equipment with a dozen uses and variables that make it hard to narrow down just which type to get.
- How tall should your ideal stand be?
- What features make it more stable?
- Which materials make the lightest but strongest tripod stand materials?
In this guide, you will discover the intricate details about the DSLR camera tripod and what to look for to find one that is ideal for your needs and meets your budget.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Tripod
There are many different types of tripods. The most popular types that this guide will cover are three-legged tabletop tripods, compact travel tripods, lightweight tripods, medium-weight full-size tripods, large heavy-duty tripods, and special tripods.
1. Tripod Weight Rating
One of the first things to look for when shopping for the right tripod for your camera is the maximum weight it can support. If you have a heavy DSLR equipment, it would be a serious mistake to buy a tripod that can support only a few pounds. Find out how much your equipment weighs and shop for a tripod stand that can support at least twice the weight of your equipment. Do not forget that you can sometimes apply pressure on the camera or even rest hands on tripod setup, exerting more weight on it.
The weight that the tripod can support is often listed on its detailed specifications page. Make sure that you factor in future upgrades of your equipment—when you get larger battery packs, longer lenses for your camera, or when you buy bulky flash additions to your DSLR, which adds to the weight of the camera.
2. Tripod Height
It is recommended that you buy a tripod that matches your height to avoid having to bend to look into your camera’s viewfinder. The camera’s viewfinder should be at your eye level once it is placed on the tripod. It is still fine if it is higher because the legs of the tripod are adjustable.
If you are looking to buy a tripod with an attached head, its tip should be on the level of your jaw. If getting a modular tripod that comes with a separate head, the tip of the tripod should be of your shoulder level when standing straight.
Still on height, consider the height of the tripod when it is completely folded for storage and transportation. Does it fit in your carry-on luggage? If the legs are removable, then this may not be a serious matter to consider.
3. Tripod Weight and Material of Construction
The weight of the tripod is a very important factor when shopping for a DSLR camera tripod. You would not want to get a tripod that is too heavy as this a piece of artillery that you will need to carry around.
Usually, the weight of the tripod depends on the choice of the material used in its construction.
The most popular materials are:
Before the emergence of carbon fibre, aluminium was the strongest and lightest material that most tripods were made from. Aluminium is lighter than steel, and it is almost just as strong. However, considering that it is still metal, it is heavier in relation to other materials in the market. Some of the best things about aluminium tripods is that they are stable enough to support even very heavy TV cameras, and they are quite affordable.
Basalt is a relatively new material to be used in making tripods. The tripods made from these materials have glass fibre on the inner core for strength and layered with basalt layers on the outside. They are a great alternative to carbon fibre tripods largely because of the lower price. However, they do not compare to aluminium and carbon fibre tripods when it comes to rigidity and stability.
- Carbon fibre
Owning a carbon fibre tripod has become trendy, and for many good reasons. This material is up to 30 percent lighter than aluminium, will not stick to your hand when it is very cold and does not expand when it is hot. Although they are the most expensive of all, carbon fibre is a very strong material that can support much weight. If you are serious about investing in a DSLR tripod that you will use for years, then a carbon fibre material should be your first choice.
4. Tripod features
- Centre column
Some DSLR camera tripods come with a centre column while others do not. A centre column allows you to adjust the height of the tripod easily, but many users may find that it renders the tripod less stable. When it is at its lowest and locked tight, it is not a problem. However, it may get a little dodgy and may not handle vibrations when it is raised. The decision to go for a tripod with or without the centre column is purely based on personal preference.
- Integral Heads
A tripod that comes with an integral head can make your life very easy. The heads are attached to the tripod and are secure enough to eliminate vibration and detachment problems. However, these heads are often very basic in design and do not use standard mounting plates. On the good side, such tripods are cheaper and make a good financial sense when you want stability and flexibility at a good price.
- Leg locking mechanism
Tripod legs extend and lock using the twist grip or the spring-load lever mechanisms. A twist grip system is neater and safer of the two, but it can be a hassle when it is very cold or when you are wearing gloves. The spring-load lever locking mechanism has metallic components that may trap a finger if not properly used, but it offers a durable security system that will last the life of the tripod.
- Independent legs
Most tripods feature a design that lets you set the angles of the legs in two to three positions. If you need a tripod for some demanding areas of photography such as macro, you may need to find a tripod with a more creative leg setting such that you can even move each leg independently. When a single lever controls the movement of the legs, it is easier to adjust but poses a risk of collapse if you forget to lock it.
5. Tripod Legs Design
There are two forms of tripod legs: a tubular and non-tubular design. If you choose a tripod made from carbon fibre, you will get a tubular form that has a threaded twist-lock mechanism to secure the legs.
Aluminium, steel, and basalt tripods may feature different leg shapes and may come with a flip-locking mechanism. The shape of the tripod legs is often dependent on the maximum weight it can support. Tubular legs offer the most strength and stability.
6. Tripod Head
The tripod head is one of the most important parts of the tripod. The head is responsible for securing the DSLR camera in place and for controlling camera movement. When you buy a modular tripod system, it does not come with a head, and you have to purchase it separately.
When selecting a tripod or a tripod head, make sure that it can support as much weight as the tripod legs can. The three most common types of tripod heads available in the market are:
- Pan-Tilt Head
This head comes with a single handle that controls horizontal movement of the camera, or dual handles that control both horizontal and vertical movements. It is the most common type of head that most tripods come with.
A ball head has only one control that loosens or tightens the grip. It is a very flexible head that operates smoothly while the camera or lens is securely tightened in place.
- Gimbal Head
The gimbal head is a specialised tripod head ideal for heavy and long 300mm+ lenses. These heads perfectly balance the DSLR camera and is perfect for fast-action photography. This type of head is very easy to use, does not require constant tightening every time the camera moves and can be adjusted to face any direction.
7. Quick-Release System
All modern DSLR cameras come with a thread at the bottom that makes it easy to attach it safely to a tripod. The threaded system of attachment is an inconvenient and time-consuming system that has to be rotated to fasten or detach the camera. Manufacturers have come up with an easier system where you only attach a plate to the camera, and use a simplified quick release system to secure the plate to the tripod head.
While shopping for a tripod, it is important to find an attachment system that has a quick release but firm and safe mechanism. You should check to make sure that the attachment system is durable and effective. This is dependent on the material the plate is made of, which can be strong plastic or aluminium.
Also, check to make sure that the locking mechanism eliminates chances of vibration while the camera is in use.
The weight of a tripod does not always represent its stability. There are many tripods that are heavy and durable, but when used in certain weather conditions, are very unstable.
A tripod must be able to withstand forces such as wind, knocks, and bumps when it is set up. When shopping for an ideal tripod, stability is a feature that you cannot afford to overlook.
Otherwise, you may end up damaging and losing your DSLR camera if the head of the tripod detaches, or the front or back outweighs the other and the tripod stumbles to the ground.
Which Tripod Should You Buy?
Being familiar with the criteria for choosing the perfect tripod for you is the first step in getting it right; the harder part is comparing the many makes and types of tripods in the market to find one that meets your photography needs and is within your budget.
Most photographers often make the mistake of starting with the cheapest tripod they can find, and as they make mistakes and lose their cameras to accidents, or discover the unreliability of cheap tripods, they head back to the market and look for something better.
You do not need to go through this trial-and-error phase. What you can do is:
- 1. If you have never bought a tripod stand and are cash strapped, it is best to go for the cheapest aluminium tripod with an integrated head that costs less than $150. You should, of course, check all the other features listed above to make sure it meets your needs.
- 2. If you already bought a tripod, and would like to upgrade to something better, save yourself the effort, frustration, and money by finding the best professional-quality tripod that features an Arca-Swiss quick release system.
- 3. While comparing different tripods, it is wise to think worst case scenarios and make plans to buy a tripod that you are certain will do the job you want. Do not just go for the most fancy, or choose a brand name you are familiar with and hope for the best. Sometimes, it takes more than a couple trial and errors to find a tripod that easily fits into your photography style.
Most photographers look for a tripod that can work well in every job they do. A good tripod system will be costly, but quality does not always need to break the bank—especially when your DSLR camera is not so heavy, and you are not a professional photographer.
The durability of a tripod may depend on how frequently it is transported and used, be sure to compromise one thing or another to avoid an overkill purchase.
I hope this guide comes in handy to help you find the best tripod for your DSLR camera that will be a good value for money, and will help you capture the best moments safely.