Note: this is Part II of a two part article on tripods. Read the first part here.
The last time out, I discussed the reasons why you should use a tripod and some best practices for setting up your tripod.
Today, I'm going to give you a brief overview of what to look for when purchasing a tripod, in terms of tripod composition and which type is best suited for your photography style.
I'll also tell you about the different types of tripod heads that are available to complement your camera and lens type.
So let's jump right in!
What to Consider Before Purchasing Your First Tripod
Before purchasing a tripod, check its stated weight load to make sure that it can hold your camera and lenses without any problems.
This is especially important if you have a full frame DSLR and long, heavy lenses.
Studio photographers often like heavier tripods to really make sure the legs are anchored well to the floor, while travel and nature photographers who do a lot of hiking naturally prefer strong, yet lightweight tripods.
Much of the weight of a tripod will come from the type of material it's constructed from.
Tripods components are manufactured from either carbon fiber, magnesium or aluminum.
A carbon fiber tripod is preferred for general use by many photographers because of the combination of added rigidity and strength without an increase in weight.
A tripod composed of carbon fiber weighs about 30% less than other types without any loss of strength. The lightest tripods of all are composed of carbon fiber with magnesium castings.
Aluminum is the most common material for tripods as it offers good strength and light weight at a reasonable price.
Studio tripods are composed of large diameter aluminum tubing and capable of supporting 20 or more pounds of equipment.
While some tripods come in a kit with a head, it's more common that the legs and heads come separate.
This allows you to choose the right combination that fits your needs.
Tripod Head Choices
Entry level tripods often come in a kit with the head included. But higher end tripods and their heads (camera plates, too!) come separately.
This gives the photographer more choices to find a tripod head that suits their particular needs and shooting style.
To follow is a general overview of the different types of tripod heads available.
The Ball Head is the most popular type of tripod head (my personal favorite), and often found included in tripod kits. They are easy to adjust since you only need to tighten the screw once you’ve got your camera in perfect position.
One thing to look for is a ball with a relatively large diameter. This will help you make more precision adjustments, and prevents camera sag after the locking screw is tightened.
Another advantage to ball heads with a larger diameter is that they can usually handle a bigger weight load.
A spirit level is also a nice addition to make sure that your camera is level to the ground.
The biggest disadvantage to the ball head type is that it’s more difficult to make minor adjustments in position compared to other head types.
This type of head is quite similar to the ball head, but it has a handle that makes adjustments with more precision and ease.
If you like the ease of use of a ball head, you might like the pistol grip even better, since it's easier to to get your camera to the exact angle you want.
Many pros prefer this type of tripod head to the common ball head.
Pan & Tilt Heads
While you can move a ball head in any direction, pan & tilt heads limit you to two axises: vertical and horizontal.
A pan & tilt head allows you to lock the other axis for smoother tracking of objects in one plane .
An example of when to use this type is when capturing sports on a field, like soccer or football.
This type of tripod head is easier to make fine adjustments with than a ball head.
A gimbal tripod head effectively moves the camera’s center of gravity to the side of the head, rather than balancing it on top.
This type of tripod head is used for wildlife and aviation photography where long lenses (400 mm and more) are used extensively. The weight of these lenses are too much for other types of tripod heads to balance.
A gimbal head has a center post with an arm extending from it to better balance the weight of large lenses.
Gimbal heads are similar in function to pan & tilt heads.
Other Tripod Types
This type of tripod is ideal for uneven surfaces and travel because you can bend and wrap the arms around objects.
Gorillapods are surprisingly strong ( the heavy duty model is able to bear up to 11 pounds.)
You can also purchase clips to use Gorillapods with iPhones and iPads, which makes them super convenient for video making on the fly.
While not technically a tripod since they only have one leg instead of three, monopods can be handy when you need extra support and stability for your camera, but you don’t have the space to extend three legs.
Monopods are ideal for situations like wildlife photography where you need to move around a lot because it takes far less time to adjust one leg than three.
If you need to use a large heavy lens with a monopod, attach the monopod to the lens with a tripod mount ring instead of to the camera body for more stability.
This also prevents the monopod from rotating in your hands.
Want to Know what I use?
My go to tripod is the Manfrotto MK190 series with the compact ball head. I've used it for years and it's traveled the world with me. It's about a $260 investment but well worth it!
One step down from the 109 series would be this Manfrotto MK290. It's a bit more cost effective and a great all around tripod.
Wondering Which Tripod is Right for You?
Still unsure which is the right tripod and/or tripod head for your needs? Our friends at B & H Photo & Video to the rescue!
Check out their article on recommended full-sized tripods by clicking here.
Or if you’re interested in travel tripods, then check out B & H’s suggestions by clicking here.
Thanks for reading! What’s your favorite type of tripod? Let me know in the comments below
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