a camera tripod, if one is purchased at all, is for many photographers
a bit of an afterthought. Many hours will no doubt have been devoted to
researching every last little detail before the purchase of a camera,
with test reports on the Internet and in magazines read and re-read.
But a tripod? Well, they've all got three legs, which is the cheapest?
In reality there is much more to consider than
that when choosing a tripod. In
fact, the difference between a good tripod and a poor one can
potentially have a greater effect on the quality of your images than
the model of camera used. And choosing the right one is
not as easy as you might think.
outdoor photographers like me in particular, the important features of
a tripod all contradict each other. What we really need is a big,
small, heavy, light, short, tall, rigid, flexible tripod, which of
course doesn't exist! Whichever model we choose will, however much we
pay, be a compromise. The best we can hope for is to find a reasonable
compromise based on our own individual requirements.
When trying a
camera tripod in a shop extend all the legs fully. Note what type of
has and how effective they are.
locks are generally quicker to use but
screw locks tend to
protrude less (an issue when wanting ultimate compactness or working in
dense undergrowth where levers might be more prone to snagging) and are
more wear resistant. Levers can work loose over time whereas the best
screw mechanisms tend to self adjust for wear. Be wary of any mechanism
which seems to be either too loose (probably won't last long) or too
stiff (difficult to use, particularly with cold hands).
With the legs fully extended press firmly on the collar where they join
and note if any of the leg sections flex or buckle, then twist to check
for lateral rigidity. Legs usually come in either three or four
sections; the former tend to offer greater stability but the later are
Inspect the rubber feet; they should appear durable and hard-wearing,
thick enough to allow for wear over a period of time and rigid enough
not to induce any wobble of their own but not so hard and smooth that
they will be likely to slip on rocks.
Note how high
the camera tripod is without extending the centre column; this
is always the most stable way to use a tripod and a decent working
height is useful. Also check the minimum working height,
if you like to take low-angled landscapes or are a macro photographer.
Check how stability is affected when the centre column is extended;
does it lock securely and is there any wobble or vibration?
Consider whether the tripod will be versatile enough for your style of
photography and to use on the type of terrain you frequent. On rough
ground legs that adjust independently to multiple angles are a huge
benefit and for nature photographers in particular a centre column that
can be moved in the horizontal axis is a real boon.
are buying the head separate or it comes with the tripod make sure it
is sturdy enough to match the legs.
flimsy head with play in it when fully tightened or which will not
lock firmly with the weight of the camera is a weak link which will
undermine the whole system, no matter how sturdy the legs are. Look for
one which won't twist by hand in any plane when fully locked.
Regardless of which type, ball and socket, pan and tilt etc., all the
movements should be smooth, well dampened and lock firmly with no
“creep” as you finally tighten the knob or lever.
my opinion the selection of a camera tripod requires as much care, if
more, than the choice of a camera. It certainly shouldn't just be an
afterthought along the lines of, “Oh, any one will do, the cheaper the
better!” Buy right first time and you may never have to buy again.
Until, of course, your priorities change!