A tripod is arguably the single most important accessory that a photographer has. Without a tripod, some photos will not be possible at all because a tripod isn’t just to take photos when it’s dark. Basically, any time that you want to capture something using a slow exposure you need a tripod. You won’t have the option of raising your ISO for these types of shots as you need the long exposure like for example capturing the smooth water effect. A tripod is an essential part of a photographers kit and as such, you should spend time really considering the different options before purchasing one. So here are 6 things to consider before buying a tripod.
Is it sturdy?
The number of times that I have seen people with expensive and heavy cameras using a flimsy tripod is astonishing. In fact, I can recall an incident when someone’s tripod fell forwards breaking their lens glass due to the fact that their camera was too heavy for their tripod. So the first and most important thing that you need to check is that your tripod can handle the weight of your camera. All tripods will have this information on their technical specifications but if you are unsure check with the manufacturer. Keep in mind that you are not always going to have a level surface and calm conditions. So if you find that your camera isn’t completely stable don’t risk it and buy a more sturdy and better quality tripod.
How big and heavy is it?
Following on from above, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should buy the most expensive and heavy tripod that you can find. On the contrary, often the best tripod for most people for everyday use is a slightly smaller and more lightweight model. After all, you have to carry it around all day so anything big and cumbersome is more tempting to leave at home. How small and lightweight the tripod can be will ultimately depend on what you are photographing and your camera. For example for landscape photography when at times you might be faced with very windy conditions, you’ll need something more heavy-duty. But if you are a city photographer you can get away with something smaller.
Can you carry it easily?
This might seem irrelevant but how easy it is to carry your tripod is a really important aspect to think about. Often the reason that amateur photographers give for not taking their tripod is that they are heavy and difficult to carry around. This might seem like a poor excuse but if you are hiking somewhere for hours, the last thing that you want is to have to carry an extra object. A good way to avoid having the excuse of carrying a tripod is to be able to carry it effortlessly like strapping it to your bag or even inside your bag if it’s small enough. Some camera bags these days allow you to strap a tripod onto them. So check out your bag and try to buy a tripod that can be strapped to your camera bag (or possibly buy a new bag that can carry your tripod).
What about vibrations?
I was recently asked a question by a newbie photographer about why his images were blurred even though he was using a tripod. I asked if he had made some of the commons mistakes that people make when using a tripod to which he answered no. It turned out that he was using an aluminium tripod rather than a carbon fibre one. What’s the difference? Well, aluminium tripods are generally cheaper than carbon fibre tripods but are also heavier in weight. But the key difference is that aluminium tripods can sometimes suffer from vibrations which in slow exposure photography result in camera shake (or blurred photos). So, if you can afford it, I would always recommend buying a carbon fibre tripod over an aluminium one.
Twist or clips?
You have probably seen that some tripod legs are extended by twisting the locking mechanism on each section, whilst some tripods use clips. Both have pros and cons and also their own dedicated users who prefer one over the other. Personally, I prefer the clips to twist option as I find it quicker and easier to extend and collapse the legs. But the disadvantage of the clips is that over time they because much stiffer to use. Of course, depending on your tripod choice you may not have the option of choosing one or the other. But it is something else worth thinking about before buying a new tripod.
Does it have a centre column?
The centre column isn’t something you should use all the time as it can mean camera shake and so blurred photos. But sometimes it can be useful and necessary in some types of shots. For example, if you to capture over the top shots of objects or food. It isn’t something that is a necessity and you can remove the centre column when not needed to reduce the weight of the tripod, but it’s worth having one just in case you need one.
A tripod is an essential piece of equipment and as such, you should take your time and do your homework before purchasing one. A good tripod will last you for years (I’ve had mine for over 10 years) so even though it might be an expense you could do without now, it’s an investment that will last a while. Use the tips above to help you buy the right tripod for you.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.