Lightweight tripod
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Introduction - weighing features against price.

Choosing the best budget tripod for your DSLR camera is going to be a balancing act between three things: the type of photography you are expecting to do, the features which will be most useful to you personally and price.


The tripod I use the most is an old Benbo Trekker tripod which was a favourite with nature photographers when I bought it. Since my main subjects were nature and macro photography it was ideal. What was it about the design of that particular tripod that made it so suitable? The main attraction was that it was jointed in such a way that the camera could be placed in almost any position, even very close to the ground. It was light and compact when folded so it was easy to carry through woods and meadows. It was extremely durable (and as good today as when I bought it) being made of carbon fibre with sturdy flip joints. I could stand it in mud or water with no ill effect, well, not to the tripod. It cleaned up more easily than I did!


It had another useful feature – it had clever feet! Its rubbery feet, which gave good grip on rocks or other smooth surfaces, could be screwed upwards to reveal pointed metal feet for better anchorage on soft ground. People don’t always think about feet when they are choosing a tripod. At its fullest extension it was higher than I could use without something to stand on. Sound perfect? Yes, for me, it is. Because it suits the type of photography I do most. In more recent years its versatility has proved useful in studio situations as well. But, and this is a big “but”, it vibrates in the wind. On an exposed moorland or beach it limits my options because I have to keep my shutter speed higher than I would on a heavier, sturdier tripod.


What type of photography do you do?

Think about the type of photography you will be doing most. There are probably more factors to consider when choosing a tripod for photography than you have realised. Lower down you will find a list of features which can vary from tripod to tripod.


Here is a list of some of the most popular photographic subjects. A sturdy tripod is essential for a few, the night sky being one obvious example. In street photography or candid (un-posed and unannounced) shooting, a tripod can be more hindrance than help. In some urban situations, the owners of the site don’t allow a tripod to be set up. You would have to get special permission in these locations. This doesn’t only apply to shopping centres (malls). Even out in the open air the land is owned by someone. There is most likely to be a restriction on sites that are obviously part of a coherent development. It’s usually okay to set up a tripod elsewhere providing you are not causing an obstruction.

Take a look through this list. You need to consider what you are likely to want a tripod for before you go to the next step.


Types of photography and popular subjects for photography:

Landscape

Nature photography

Portraits

Still life

Studio photography

Macro (close up) photography

Night scenes

The night sky

Street photography

Candid photography

Cityscapes and urban subjects



Factors to consider when choosing a tripod.

Now that you have an idea what type of photography you will want a tripod for, it’s time to look at exactly what you are going to need or find useful. The obvious trade-off is between weight and strength. It’s likely that the pleasure you get from photography will lead you to want to try out more and more techniques and subjects. If you can afford it, I would recommend buying two tripods to cover you for all situations. I expect that most of you who are beginners will only want to choose one to start with, so that is the choice I want to help you with in this article.

Weight

Strength, sturdiness and the weight of your equipment

Height

Tripod head options

Twisted or flip locks

Feet

Ease of putting up and folding down

Length when folded

Carbon fibre or aluminium

With or without a centre column

Possible positions

Can it convert to a monopod

Price



Something a little different.


Joby produce a multi-jointed tripod called a Gorillapod. They come in different sizes to support various weights. The model pictured here will hold 3Kg so would be the size of choice for a DSLR.


Visit Amazon for info on models and pricing.

When do you need a tripod?

There are two main reasons for using a tripod. The first is to hold the camera steady for exposures longer than you can hold the camera still. The second is for when you need to take two or more shots from exactly the same position. Before photo editing software was able to align images automatically, a tripod was essential for bracketing exposures for HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. Nowadays you probably select the HDR option when shooting with your phone’s camera without giving it a second thought. A DSLR can give you a far better HDR photo than the average phone if you bracket several exposures, and if you don’t want to lose any of the edges (from auto alignment), a tripod is a great asset.


There is another related technique which requires the camera to remain in the same position, and that is focus bracketing, useful with static subjects that you want to appear sharp from front to back. Editing software such as Adobe Photoshop makes the magic happen, combining the sharpest bits into a single image.




ESDDI Camera Tripod


Camera Tripod, ESDDI 64 Inches Aluminum Tripod with Monopod 360 Degree Ball Head Lightweight Compact Tripod for DSLR Canon Nikon Sony for Travel and Work

The main factors to consider for different types of photography.

Landscape

Portability and stability are paramount here. Look for a tripod that will stand securely in various types of terrain and cope with whatever the weather may produce.

Nature photography

For wildlife photography you will need a tripod sturdy enough to hold a long heavy lens. For close-up or macro the need for ease of positioning kicks in. Weight and portability are vital considerations too.

Portraits

A tripod is not essential for portraits, but it is useful for composing studio shots where you want to keep the camera in position while you arrange your model and set. Generally you only need to consider the weight your tripod will be carrying – and don’t forget to take into consideration the weight of the lens as well as the camera and anything else you may want to add.

Still life

Most photographers would probably use a tripod for still life. The lighting used is not usually bright enough for hand-holding the camera, and you will want to keep the camera in a fixed position while you work on your still-life arrangement and lighting.

Macro (close up) photography

It is possible to shoot close-up hand-held with a fast lens at full aperture, but the focus is so fine that even breathing throws it out. If you have to manage without a tripod, take a burst of shots at the fastest your camera will allow so that you can pick the one with the best focus. If shooting outdoors, choose a tripod which will stand up to the wind because you really don’t want the camera to rock at all.

Night scenes

There are tricks for capturing night scenes hand-held, but a tripod is extremely useful, giving you a full choice of camera settings. If you want to use a small aperture to get everything in focus the shutter will have to be open a long time, making a strong tripod essential.

The night sky

For long exposures such as star trails you will definitely need a robust tripod so it will probably be quite heavy. The large lenses needed to capture the moon require a strong support, although long exposures blur the moon because its movement across our line of vision is so magnified, the longest recommended shutter speed being 1/60sec! It goes without saying that if you intend to photograph through a telescope you will need a specialised mount. The telescope will be on a tripod and the camera attached to the scope.

Street photography, cityscapes and urban subjects

The comments above under the section “What type of photography do you do” apply here. You may not be allowed to use a tripod. The less obtrusive your gear is, the more likely you are to be challenged.

Candid photography

No tripod. It wouldn’t be candid photography if you set yourself up with a load of gear. The exception may be if you were somewhere people wouldn’t look such as a balcony above.

AmazonBasics 127cm (50") Lightweight Tripod with Bag

Ideal starter tripod from Amazon

Mactrem Travel Tripod


MACTREM Professional Camera Tripod DSLR Tripod for Travel, Super Lightweight and Reliable Stability, Ball Head Tripod Detachable Monopod with Phone Mount Carry Bag, 21.5"-62.5", 33lb Load

Conclusion

Decide how much you can afford to pay for a tripod first of all. Next, weigh up which features are going to be most important to you. You could make yourself a checklist of essential items and another list of desirable features. Then, when you start looking at actual models, look at customer reviews. Look at what people say who have given a high rating (treating the first few as possible set up comments) and then look at what people say who have given a poor rating, sometimes their reasons are things you would not be concerned about. When you finally choose the best tripod for you, may it give you many happy hours of photography.


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