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In my opinion, this purchase, whether you spend a lot on it or as much as you can budget, is one of the top three purchases to make if you want to get into photography or videography. Price isn’t important, you just need something sturdy that will keep your camera still in a breeze or keep it still every time you touch it or the camera.
Tripods are particularly useful when slow shutter speeds or powerful telephoto or macro lenses are involved. It’s going to be the external stabilization your muscles cannot provide. It also frees up your hands for making adjustments.
It provides a method of holding your camera at exactly the right angle and keeping it absolutely still, so your images are pin-sharp and full of detail. This becomes essential in low-light situations, where the shutter speed needs to be slower.
Another style of photography that’s heavily dependent upon the use of a tripod is sequencing composite shots – where your subject is moving through the scene and you want to capture them several times to show the movement. Your shots are taken in a burst as the subject moves.
As a rule aluminium tripods are cheaper than carbon fiber, but they are also heavier to carry.
Look for a tripod that extends to near eye-level, yet allows you to shoot close to the ground as well. Clip locks on the legs are good for quick deployment, but twist locks take up less room. A good starter tripod should provide splaying of each leg independently. Some may offer a rising center column that can provide additional height.
Remember that you may need a heavier and more sturdy tripod as your camera equipment becomes heavier and your lenses get larger. You do not want your tripod to collapse and harm your investments! But most are light weight and still capable of holding up. For smaller cameras, you can even find compact tripods.
A little bit about monopods? Sure. A lot of tripods are actually made with the capability of becoming a monopod. By removing the center tube from the tripod support legs, you can easily carry the camera around on a “monopod”.
The type of Tripod Head is Important
A tripod head is the bit that goes between the tripod legs and your camera. Many tripods are sold as a kit with a head, but you can also buy them separately. You should always select a tripod head that fits with the way you shoot or the subject. A lot of tripods come with heads, and if you know you want that tripod but you may need to change out the type of head, be sure that’s something that can be done. Also, you may want to be sure the head can use an easy-release plate.
Ball heads can be used for any type of photography and are quick to use, but they are especially well suited to still life and macro photography. It allows for the most widespread use of angles.
A pistol grip head is similar to a ball head, but do not use a knob to loosen the ball. Instead, they use a pistol grip. Some photographers like how quick and easy it is to reposition the camera without fumbling with the tripod head. Keep in mind that pistol grips loosen over time, unlike traditional ball heads.
However, if you need to keep the horizon level in the frame, but need to tip the camera up or down, a ball head will not work. That’s why many photographers prefer pan and tilt heads, which rest on 2 axises. They are limited compared to a ball head, but that limitation is with a purpose – better control.
Fluid heads are the same as Pan and Tilt heads, with one minor exception. The fluid head also features “drag” which controls how much friction there is when panning or tilting. This makes it easy to get smooth moving shots when recording video.
For cameras with extremely enormous lenses, a gimbal head may be needed. Most commonly used for wildlife photography, gimbal heads hold the lens centered to the tripod with the flexibility to move as if you were hand-holding the lens.
I’m a beginner. And while I was looking for my own camera and accessories, I began writing up my research to share with others like me. This led me to write these articles sharing what most photographers – both amateur and professional – feel are the top picks among today’s cameras and accessories.
I’ll list them below, with relevant information. If you want the statistics of each camera, you can always click our links to go to the retailer website where you prefer to shop. I felt it was more important to share the opinions of those who had used the equipment.
You should purchase your chosen products from wherever you feel most comfortable purchasing camera products. I always look over reviews from multiple sources before I make a decision on a purchase. I share the most relevant information on my website, but it’s by no means a full endorsement. Be your own advocate, know your product, ask questions of the seller, get information in writing, and be clear on warranty limitations.
Top Tripod Picks of 2020
Hands down, the most recommended for quality on the listing of tripods comes back to this company. I included it in the specialty tripod article I wrote before – Manfrotto Pixi was well-reviewed. Well, all of their tripods wound up being mentioned on multiple research listings of 5 star and above quality and price.
First, I looked at the reviews for Manfrotto’s Compact Action Tripod. This unit comes with a clamp to add to your smartphone so that it fits properly into the circular ¼” screw quick-release. But, it can be used with lighter DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Like the Pixi, it has a scroll-wheel locking mechanism.
The Compact Action Smart head can be easily switched from photo to movie mode by operating the photo/movie selector. This is a relatively quick transition. This tripod only weighs 2.65lbs. These are all in the $50 – $150 range.
Now, by all means look at the other models in this series, because they each have specialized features that may be better suited to you and your endeavors. The more professional, larger, heavier models are going to have a larger price tag, but you can understand why. Still, most that I’ve seen come in less than $500. They even have a hybrid-camera/video kit.
82% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. By reviewer commentary, the big issues tend to be with the aluminum versions wearing out more frequently. People who have older models say they last for decades, but the newer models, particularly the aluminum are cracking and the thread wears easily. Also, buying from a third party that doesn’t provide good customer service might be an issue. With any high dollar purchase, though – I would be very wary of buying from a third party if I didn’t know their customer service was excellent.
Like I pointed out in a previous article, Gitzo tripods have a longtime reputation for high-quality craftsmanship. These are going to cost more than most, but I was hard-pressed to find any negativity about them.
Because of their well-known quality, I suppose your choice to purchase a Gitzo will be based on how much money you can invest in a tripod. Even the lighter tripods are over $500 and when you buy a kit with a head it can cost over $1000. Keep in mind, some photographers have thousands of dollars invested in their cameras and lenses; this is their livelihood. Therefore, they are willing to get a tripod at this price because they are more confident in it. I don’t have the money to invest here, but I wanted to include this as an option, in case you do.
The example I’m using for this review is the Series 2 Carbon Fiber Traveller 4 Section Tripod has 2 leg angles, a short column included for ground level shooting, a shoulder strap for easy carrying, 1/4″ and 3/8″ attachment to easily attach heads and accessories, raises from 17 to near 61 inches, weighs less than 3 lbs, and can hold as much as 26.4 lbs. It’s over $1000 on the manufacturer site when including a head, but I found them to be less expensive when I was shopping elsewhere.
87% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Some of the Traveler Kits seem to have bad parts – the pan knob and the rubber feet in particular were reported. Also, reviewers have complaints about Gitzo customer service, so keep that in mind. The rest of the reviews were generally positive and people were very happy with the lightweight design.
Another one of the companies mentioned in my specialty tripod article. Slik delivers light tripods for beginners with lighter cameras – to professional models. It also is one of the lightest video tripods weighing in at just under 6lbs, so it is ideal for hikers or frequent travelers. Oh, and they have a useful gimmick associated with some of their tripods – Slik Lite AL-420 Tripod with LED Center Column Flashlight or PRO 700 DX AMT Black are both under $200.
Like the other companies listed, these tripods come in various sizes, have different max weights, and can be made of aluminum or carbon fiber. You’ll also find them available with or without heads and other accessories. I do not see many of these priced over $400 – the ones that are priced higher are labeled as professional tripods.
89% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. Slik has some of the BEST customer reviews of any of the companies I’ve looked into. Considering they aren’t overly expensive and don’t have the following that Manfrotto and Gitzo have, that’s something to brag about! People were very surprised by the durability of these things. I would say, most of the negative reviews were manufacturer defects.
Giottos makes all kinds of camera equipment and so when I look through national retailers for this brand, it’s not as readily available. The professional-series tripods offer a great deal of flexibility for the photographer. You can get these with a straight center column or a cantilevering center column that allows unique positioning of the camera, plus each leg can be set to three different spread angles for greater versatility out in the field.
All in all, these seem to be a good purchase for the price point.
85% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. The reviews were good for the carbon fiber versions. People enjoyed the quality and durability of those models for the price (usually between $170 – $350) and only wished they could hold more weight – Max load is usually around 5kg (11lbs). The owners of the aluminum versions of these tripods were usually happy, but a few were disgruntled by the loosening of a leg here and there that they had to tighten and that the tripod comes with the option to add spike feet, but doesn’t come with the spiked feet. I will say that for Series 9384 & Series 8314 Carbon Fiber YTL Silk Road – there were only negative reviews, so buyer beware.
Davis & Sanford
To find a Davis and Sanford, you may need to look through the use of the parent company name – Tiffen.
These professional tripods use classic designs with all-metal construction for solid support. Keep in mind, that means they will be heavier than the normal travel tripods I’ve been looking at. However, it seems they are more stable.
They have a pretty good max weight potential (telephoto lenses anyone?) and they don’t have as hefty a price tag as I’ve seen elsewhere (most are under $250). Those that are more expensive are in the Pro-Series. Some of their models support up to 25 lbs. As one statement makes clear about a specific product:
The legs feature a 3-section, double-strut design that supports up to 25 lbs. As for the fluid head, it features a quick-release plate and an 18lb weight limit which is enough to cater to virtually any DSLR camera and most modern camcorders.
72% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. The critical reviews I saw were usually based on what could be described as product defects. Most of the reviews were positive. One reviewer said it was a great purchase, but that these tripods are not for tough work, they’re more for setting up to film something and not moving.
So take that into consideration before your purchase.
I’m going down the road to the cheap end of the spectrum, here. Victiv is a European company (I assume) that distributes their products. All of their listed tripods are lightweight aluminum. All of the tipods I saw came as kits. Each kit comes with something different. The 72 inch with the 3-way head comes with 2 quick release plates and can become a monopod.
The one that can become an 81 inch monopod and has the ball-head can carry a larger load (up to 19lbs) is also able to be adjusted for low angle photography and has an extra leg tube. The normal, smaller tripod comes with an extra quick release plate and phone adapter. They also come in a plethora of colors. So you have a lot of choices here.
None of the Victiv Tripod kits I saw were over $100. Most were under $45 – $80.
However, there were both pros and cons listed for these devices.
I have to say that these were the highest rated of all the tripods I researched. The company directs you specifically to larger retailers like Amazon and eBay. Though the company has distributorships in the US, China, and the UK, I couldn’t find a specific headquarters listed. The site is either in English or Italian and the pricing is in Euros.
Does this make me a bit nervous about purchasing this product? Yes – however those prices are amazing and so are most of the reviews – reviews from all over that had accompanied videos sometimes. So, I felt not all of them can be fake.
86% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. The reviews that were not so complimentary wound up being 2%. Some complaints included that the bag that came with it was too small or that the entire product was made of cheap plastic – which couldn’t be right – all of them are aluminum. Perhaps the customer was exaggerating? For one, they are made of lightweight aluminum and are made for travel. That’s good, but also it means that sometimes the parts wear easier.
Go to the dealers and look for yourself. If I got one of these, I would probably keep lighter cameras and my phone on them until I had truly tested them out.
“A woman-owned and operated company, Vanguard World is headquartered in Guangdong, China, and has branches in the United States, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and Japan.
Being focused on sporting and sportsmanship besides photography, they tend to make tripods that have features an outdoorsman photographer will enjoy and employ. Some of the coolest ideas in field tripods are their multi angle legs and center column.
They also have many items in lightweight, but extremely strong, carbon fiber. This saves weight while offering great strength and excellent thermal capabilities. The Vanguard seems to be popular with many nature photographers and videographers. It has the durability and functionality of a high end brand with reasonable pricing (most run $89 – $220).
76% of reviewers gave it a 5 star rating. For the stats, I used the Vanguard 263AB-100 3-Section Aluminum with SBH-100 QR Ballhead, Maximum Height 68″, Supports 15.4 lbs.
People liked that it had a very solid feel without being too heavy. They liked that it was intuitive in design. The few reviewers that had something negative to say about it spoke on not liking one model’s leg spread – that it made them nervous to leave the camera with a lens on it. Another had what sounded like a manufacturer’s product issue.
Several did mention the ball head not tightening as much as they liked or not moving smoothly – so be sure to check that if you purchase one and see if you can change out heads on these like you can on many others.
As I state in all my articles, the choice is yours in whichever tripod you decide to purchase. My only advice would be to do any additional research necessary to ensure it is the right tripod for how you plan to use it. If you are needing more information about what to look for in a tripod then be sure to check out my definitive guide on tripods.