Which camera tripod is best?
Even with all of the technological developments in smartphone cameras and digital SLRs, there’s still one old-school piece of photography equipment that can’t be replaced using a filter or fancy app: a standalone camera tripod. Still, the best way to shoot a steady photo, camera tripods extend three legs to give your camera a stable platform on which to sit. They offer convenient and user-friendly features that will never become obsolete.
For guidance and expert advice on choosing the best camera tripod, keep reading. We’ve created this helpful buying guide to walk you through the process. We even included reviews of some favorites, such as our top choice, the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB. Its sturdy build makes it one of the most dependable tripods on the market.
What to know before you buy a camera tripod
Tripods come in all different sizes, from tabletop to extended height. The standard height for most full-sized extended tripods is 60 inches. However, some tripods can be as tall as 72 inches or six feet. A good rule of thumb is that once mounted, your camera’s viewfinder should be just about at your eye level. That way you don’t need to bend down and strain your back to take photos.
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a tripod is its head design. The tripod head is the area where the camera attaches to the top of the tripod. It holds the camera in place, but it allows you to quickly remove the camera from the base of the tripod if needed. There are four primary types of tripod heads:
- Ball-and-socket heads are lightweight, adept at multidirectional movement, and can be adjusted in a hurry.
- Panorama heads are heavy, can move the camera 360º across the horizon, require calibration, and aren’t intended for standard photography situations.
- Pan and tilt heads can move horizontally or vertically, require more time for adjustments, and allow for tiny position adjustments.
- Three-way heads include diagonal movement and take a longer time to adjust than most other types of tripod heads.
If you don’t have a tripod with well-made legs, you’re likely to be disappointed with the end photographic result. Stable legs mean clear photos. These are the most common materials for tripod legs:
- Plastic legs usually come on the least expensive tripods. Though you’ll have basic tripod functionality out of a plastic-legged model, they don’t offer the stability of other options.
- Aluminum legs come in varying thicknesses; though, they are always hollow. The thicker the aluminum, the more stable your tripod will be. Aluminum is relatively lightweight and easy to transport. The lighter a model is, the less rugged it will be.
- Carbon fiber is the most durable type of leg available. It also happens to be the lightest. Carbon fiber tripod legs are rigid and strong. If stability is your primary concern, then carbon fiber tripod legs are the best option.
What to look for in a quality camera tripod
Some camera tripods come with a carrying case or bag included. This is helpful for storing your tripod or bringing it with you on a shoot.
Tripods are now more technologically advanced than ever before. Some include a Bluetooth-capable remote control. These can be connected to any camera with Bluetooth capabilities in order to take photos from far away as well as change settings.
How much you can expect to spend on a camera tripod
Most camera tripods cost between $15-$200. Tripods for $15 are generally made of plastic and allow for basic tripod functionality but minimal stability. For $100, you can expect to buy an aluminum tripod with sturdy build. A $200 camera tripod has carbon fiber legs, multiple features such as a Bluetooth remote, and offers the most heavy-duty frame available.
Camera tripods FAQ
How can I keep my camera tripod as stable as possible?
A. The farther your tripod’s legs are extended, the less stable it will be. Furthermore, try not to extend the center post too far because keeping a low center of gravity enhances stability. If you’re working in windy conditions, hang a bag or other relatively heavy object from the center of the tripod to weigh it down.
Do I need a camera tripod?
A. While everyone’s photo equipment needs are different, it’s difficult to imagine anyone not having a use for a camera tripod. They keep your camera stable in difficult conditions, and they allow you to shoot photos that you otherwise simply wouldn’t have access to.
What camera tripods are best to buy?
Top camera tripod
Our take: A head-turning tripod with 360º ball head movement.
What we like: Can hold 15 pounds of equipment. Lightweight enough to bring with you on long treks.
What we dislike: Leg-locking mechanisms were troublesome for a few users.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Top camera tripod for the money
Our take: A great budget model with versatile functionality.
What we like: Able to hold the camera in both landscape and portrait layouts. Double bubble levels make it easy to keep your shots straight.
What we dislike: Carrying case has no padding.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: Flexible and adventurous, just like the best photographers.
What we like: Smooth-moving ball head is strong enough for heavy cameras. Easy to attach for quick pics.
What we dislike: Joints may separate after extended use.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
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Adam Reeder writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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