The best tripods are light, flexible and sturdy. We’ll look at all these and a little more in this gear guide on what to look for in your first tripod.
Weight – material
Tripods are either made of lightweight aluminium or evener lighter carbon fibre. Depending on your budget, the best option is to go with a carbon fibre tripod, as these offer superior strength and are much lighter than their aluminium counterparts, meaning they’ll be easier to carry for longer distances as well as easier to manage when setting up and packing down. The only downside of a carbon-fibre design is the potential for stability issues in windy situations.
If you don’t have the budget, don’t be dismayed. Aluminium tripods are just as good as carbon fibre tripods, but you’ll definitely notice the weight difference once you get trekking up that hill for those fantastic sunrise photos. The upside to aluminium tripods is that the added weight will help ensure the wind doesn’t have as much of an effect on your camera’s stability when you’re taking shots.
Flexibility – lock positions and the centre column
Beginner tripods will most offer fixed locking positions. More flexible options will give you the option for multiple locking positions, allowing you to mount the camera closer to the ground with the legs spread out more horizontally, and allowing the legs to be set up in different positions for more difficult terrain.
A removable centre column will allow you to mount the camera upright or up-side-down. Mounting the camera up-side-down would be ideal in situations where you want to get a really low angle shot. Depending on how creative you are and the type of shot you’re after, you can decide how best to mount your camera with the centre column.
Sturdiness and rigidity
Most tripods will come standard with rubber feet. These are key to ensuring your tripod stays where you put it, and will make a huge difference on smooth or slippery surfaces. If you so happen to be shooting on a really slippery surface where rubber won’t grip, you could opt for tripods with retractable spikes in their feet. These are great for REALLY slippery surfaces and uneven terrain.
In terms of rigidity, it’s important that your tripod is solid and sturdy when you’ve set it up and locked all the extensions and joints. Take the time to feel the quality of the materials the tripod is built with; checking all the locking mechanisms to ensure they are solid when closed and that the joints are stiff and solid as well.
For extra sturdiness and rigidity, look for a small hook built into the bottom of the centre column. In windy or shaky situations, you’ll be able to hang your camera bag or a weight of of it to steady the tripod and increase stability.
Speaking of solid lock mechanisms, another consideration to make is the type of lock mechanisms your tripod has. There are two types – flip locks and screw locks.
Flip locks use a flip mechanism that you flip out or press in to release or lock the extension, respectively. Screw lock mechanisms require that you loosen the screws to release the leg extension, and tighten it to lock the leg. Both options are great, but for faster and more solid setups, the screw lock types are the better bet.
This is something I personally overlooked when I bought my first tripod, so I can attest to how important this is. I stand at about 1.89m in height, so just about 6.2ft. My first tripod extended fully to 1.6m, or 5.2ft. This meant that I was bending down to look into my viewfinder half the time, so I’d end up finishing off a shoot with a sore back and neck.
Ideally, you want your tripod to be as close to your height as possible, so your shoots are as comfortable as possible with the added benefit of being able to get a higher perspective in your shots. Be sure, though, to check the tripods packed height in addition to its extended height. A small packed height means a more portable tripod – one that fits in your camera bag.
A great beginner tripod will have, at the least, aluminium construction, a single locking position, an invertible centre column, rubber feet and a solid feel, flip lock locking mechanisms and height as close as possible to yours. All this while being compact and easy to carry around and set up.
A great place to start looking is with Manfrotto’s world-renowned range. You’re guaranteed to find great offers for a high-quality product. For more to this gear guide on what to look for in your first tripod, check out our article on the Top 5 Beginner’s Tripods.