Recently someone sent me a question about tripods and I thought it was time I wrote something about them.
If you are serious about photography then there is one piece of equipment that is almost as important as your camera and lens; your tripod. There are many different types of photography that you might do where it is essential that you have a tripod. Then there are types where you don’t need it all, and some where it would be better if you used it, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Some photographers value their tripods and will make sure they get something that is good and sturdy. Others think they aren’t so important and just get something cheap and basic. Today we are going to look at when you should buy a tripod and how to decide what is the best one for you.
Tripods in the Field.
There is no getting around it, there are some types of photography that would be impossible without a tripod. If you want to photograph the Milky Way, it is a definite must and the same with Long Exposures, you can’t do them by simply holding the camera. You can put the camera down on a sturdy surface, but then you face other obstacles. Using a tripod is best way to go.
On a bright sunny day, you can do without a tripod. If the light is good and you can get a fast shutter speed and low ISO then you should be able to hand hold. I do that as well, if I don’t have to use a tripod then I don’t.
There are times when the light is okay, but your shutter speed is a little slow and you might want to hand hold the camera, so you turn up the ISO so you don’t have to use the tripod. Of course then the problem you get is you start to introduce noise into your images just because you don’t want to use your tripod.
If I am out taking photos and I don’t have my tripod with me, then I will up my ISO to get the shots I want to get. If I have my tripod with me and I know that I will have to put my ISO up to high, then I choose the tripod. The advantage of using the tripod is that you can always use the lowest ISO possible, so you get no noise, or as little as possible. Once the camera is on the tripod the shutter speed is irrelevant.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen and heard from people that have tripods that are cheap, wonky, and just don’t work well. We spend hundreds, even thousands on our cameras and lenses, then go and buy a cheap tripod and hope that we can get good photos with it. It goes back to that old saying, you get what you pay for.
There are so many things that people don’t think about when they are buying a tripod, and we are going to take a look at some of those now.
How often do you think you will use it?
If it is rarely, then something basic, but solid, is all you will need. If, however, you know you will be doing lots of photography where long exposures will be important, then getting yourself a very good tripod is one of the best things you can do.
How much money do you want to spend on it?
This is where many people get stuck. They think, “I don’t use a tripod much, I will just buy a cheap one”, then, when they really need it, they find it isn’t stable enough, it wobbles, or the tilt on it won’t hold firm enough and it drops every time they take photos. The worst is when you go to use it and it just breaks so you are stuck with no tripod and can’t do anything.
There are different levels of tripods, but if it doesn’t look sturdy, don’t buy it. Set it up and give it a shake, if it wobbles then don’t buy it.
Do your research, look at tripods that are available and then look at what the internet tells you. I am a big believer of reviews, see what others say about what you want to buy.
Think about how heavy your camera is. A small cheap tripod might not be good enough to carry your camera, it might be too light and not good enough for your camera. You don’t want your camera falling onto the ground because the tripod wasn’t strong enough for your camera.
What sort of conditions will you be shooting in?
If most of what you do is indoors, occassionally outdoors, but in urban conditions, then the type of tripod you will need will be very different to someone who shoots outdoors in wild windy conditions.
If you are the first type of photographer, then a small lightweight tripod would be fine for you, though that doesn’t mean cheap. Maybe a carbon fibre travel tripod, or something similar. Though how heavy your camera is will always be a factor.
If you follow the second type of photographer, then the biggest most solid tripod that you can afford is the best way to go. Something that is heavy enough that it will cope with strong winds, though also having a hook on it so you can hang your camera bag on it can be great too. It has to be be able to withstand severe weather conditions.
What should the tripod be made of?
This is personal. Most are made of aluminium, but there is also carbon fibre. The latter is stronger and lighter, but it is also more expensive. I guess it all becomes a matter of budget.
What about more than one tripod?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself for sometime now. Is there anything wrong with having more than one?
I got my first tripod about 20 years ago. It was an aluminium one, and very basic. It was a good weight, but the legs were done with screws to tighten them and loosen them.
As I got older my hands have found the screws harder and harder to use, so, just over a year ago, I decided to start looking for a new one. I knew I wanted carbon fibre, and I didn’t want screws on the legs, I wanted the lever locks.
I ended up going for a tripod that is much taller than me when it’s all set up. The man in the shop said I shouldn’t get it because it was too big for me, but it has turned out to be great. If I’m on a hill looking down, then the tripod can be put up so I can see through it at my height. I like the extra versatility the height gives me.
The downside to this tripod is that, since it is very big, it can be heavy. Sometimes I wish I had a second one that’s smaller for when I am just going into the city and the wind won’t be a factor.
So I have two tripods, three if you count my old one, which cover me for lots of different situations. Just as we have different lenses for different types of photography, why shouldn’t we also have various tripods for different types of photography?
We tend to get the best cameras we can afford, the best lenses, we take so much care with taking the photos, but then leave it all up to chance with the tripod, an important tool for taking photos. When it comes to getting a tripod, think about what sort of tripod you will need for the photography you are going to do. Do your research, make sure it got good reviews and will be perfect for you, well, as much as anything can be. Finally, if you think you need more than one, then get more than one. I can’t tell you how many you need, that is up to you and how many different situations you shoot in.
In the end, budget will always determine what you get, just get the best possible one you can afford.
Photos today are all ones that I had to use a tripod for.