Nowadays, many people are interested in photography. Some people just post beautiful pictures on their social media accounts, some keep a more professional blog, and some arrange photo exhibitions of their work. In all these cases, in addition to the camera, additional tools and accessories are required to create beautiful and high-quality content. One of them is a tripod. In what cases it is needed, and what you should pay attention to when choosing it, we tell in this article.
What is a tripod?
The construction of a tripod usually includes the following parts:
- head — the part on which the camera is attached;
- center post — a separate leg that runs through the middle and allows you to raise the tripod head even higher;
- tips — good tripods allow you to change tips depending on the conditions of use.
When do you need a tripod?
A tripod is usually needed in the following cases:
- shooting photos with long exposure without blurring the picture;
- shooting panoramas: a series of shots is taken, after which the images are glued together in a special program. The 3D tour is also filmed using a tripod. In this case, several panoramas are combined (for example, a virtual tour of a museum);
- shooting night objects (stars, moon, etc.);
- shooting landscapes, such as sunrises and sunsets, which are quite difficult to photograph without a tripod due to poor lighting conditions;
- time-lapse shooting (a series of photos): using special settings (or in manual mode), a picture is taken every 10 seconds. After that, for example, from a series of 100 photos, you can make a 4‑second video;
- shooting yourself if there is no one to help (settings are made, a timer is set);
- macro photography (flowers, insects, etc.);
- shooting at difficult angles / angles;
- shooting video without vibration.
Now there are both expensive and not expensive manufacturers on the market. Moreover, almost each of them has tripods of different price ranges in their assortment: from budget to premium. To reduce the cost of the product allow, first of all, the materials used.
The most budgetary are tripods made of plastic. But they are also the least reliable, they will not withstand a heavy camera. It is believed that the less plastic in the design, the stronger it is. Some good inexpensive options have a metal base and plastic fittings.
More durable, but at the same time inexpensive, are tripods made of aluminum or its alloys. Such devices are still light, but allow you to use a camera with a heavy lens.
Devices made of composite materials (primarily carbon fibers) are considered more expensive and more durable. Carbon fiber is lightweight and durable, able to withstand heavy loads.
And finally, the most expensive devices are made of steel. They provide super accurate fixation, nothing will play and stagger. Their disadvantage (in addition to the high price) is a lot of weight.
Legs and number of sections
There are two types of tripod legs: tubular and non-tubular. All carbon legs are tubular and threaded for fastening, while the metal tripods can be fitted with a variety of flip-lock shapes. Depending on the maximum height, the tripod legs can have from 3 to 5 sections. The more sections, the higher the tripod and slightly less stable, but at the same time more compact when folded. Usually, those who transport the instrument by car choose heavier steel tripods of 3 legs. Travelers, on the other hand, prefer lighter models from 4–5.
The number of sections also affects the height of the tripod. There are desktop options (up to a meter) and floor (above a meter). The higher the tripod, the more convenient it is, since it is possible to choose the position from the lowest to the highest (again, this increases its dimensions). Usually, a human-height height is enough, since it is already inconvenient to go higher: in order to change the camera settings, some kind of stand is required. At the level of human growth, for example, landscapes are filmed, and macro photography is carried out from a lower angle.
Cheap and expensive tripods usually have different types of leg clamps. The latter tend to wear out and loosen over time. This does not only apply to collets, which after some time just twist tighter. If the tripod has ordinary latches, you need to choose those that are adjustable, because the plastic will wear off over time and stop holding. Self-locking leg clips can be a nice bonus as they don’t need to be held down when folded up.
Some advanced models allow you to change the tips — you can simply unscrew them. There are different types of tips for indoor use (rubber or plastic) and outdoor use (metal spikes). Unless you plan to shoot in rain, snow, ice, or other extreme conditions, the standard rubber tips that come with the tripod are sufficient.
Some models are also equipped with a center stand, a leg that sits in the middle of the tripod and allows you to change the height of the camera by simply moving the leg up or down. However, in our opinion, it is better to choose devices without it, since it negatively affects stability and creates additional vibrations. If you choose a device with a center leg, check that it can fully lower to the level where the legs of the tripod meet. It should never fluctuate at the lowest level.
It is best to purchase a tripod that fits your height. After installing the camera on it, the viewfinder should be at the level of your eyes. It is normal if it is higher, since it is possible to reduce the length by adjusting the legs. If it is much lower than eye level, you will have to bend over all the time, which is very tiring, especially if you are constantly looking into the viewfinder in anticipation of some action.
If you have a tripod with a non-removable head, its tip should be at jaw level. If with a removable head, the legs should end approximately at shoulder level.
Another factor to consider is the height of the tripod when folded, as this affects the ease of transport.
An important factor when shooting is the stability of the tripod. The installed tripod must withstand not only the wind, but also occasional gusts. Before shooting, make sure that the camera does not overbalance the tripod, otherwise the equipment may be damaged.
Stability depends primarily on two factors: weight and leg width. The heavier the tripod, the more stable it is. But since you often have to carry it on yourself (and this is quite difficult), it is better to choose something in between. In addition, the wider the legs, the better in terms of stability. But wide-spaced legs limit the height of the lift. Thus, the user either sacrifices height and gets maximum stability, or vice versa.
The tripod head is the most important part of the system as it is responsible for holding the camera securely and controlling its movement.
The cheapest models are equipped with non-removable heads. However, if such a head breaks, the tripod will have to be thrown out. Slightly more expensive tripods already have the ability to use an interchangeable head with a ⅜ inch mounting thread (although there are quarter inch ones, they are usually equipped with a special adapter for ⅜). There are three main types of such heads (each has its pros and cons):
- spherical — the most popular, it is compact, able to withstand heavy loads and allows you to quickly install the camera in the right direction. It usually has a two-screw design and allows you to easily pan 360 degrees horizontally and control the tilt angle. With this type of head, it’s nearly impossible to shoot videos that require any camera movements because they’ll be too sharp. However, for shooting video in a certain direction (static frame) throughout the entire video, such a head is suitable. These heads are especially popular in studio shooting;
- 3D or 3‑axis — allows you to shoot both photos and videos (you can more smoothly tilt or turn the camera along with your head, as well as separately make changes in three different planes). It allows you to set the frame very accurately, but takes up much more space;
- 2‑axis video head — differs in size (the most compact ones) and smoothness. However, they do not have horizon tilt adjustment, which can significantly complicate the shooting process. Although they do not tilt 90 degrees to the side, they move smoothly in 2 planes: horizontally and vertically, providing high-quality and smooth panning, which is important for receiving cinematic video. That is, when shooting a video where there is movement, you need to choose this type of head.
You should also pay attention to how the tripod is attached to the camera. In cheaper versions, a screw is directly screwed in, while in more advanced ones there are special platforms that always remain under the camera. Thanks to them, you can shoot and put the camera on a tripod very quickly without wasting time. It is better to choose an Arca Swiss format camera platform, since a large number of accessories are produced for it.
The head is selected not only according to the diameter for the tripod, but also for the camera, but not according to the maximum weight of the camera, but according to the average, since the head will not hold the maximum weight very stable. The advantage of all types of interchangeable heads is the ability to replace it with a new one with the appropriate thread in the event of a breakdown.
One of the manufacturers that offers inexpensive but high-quality tripods is the Russian company Raylab. Let’s briefly talk about the design features of some models from the brand’s assortment.
Raylab MT is a compact tripod made of durable ABS plastic and aluminum alloy. It is suitable for use with smartphones, action cameras and cameras weighing up to 2 kg. The gadget was equipped with a ball head that can be adjusted in all axes, with screw fasteners and a universal platform. The legs move apart, which allows you to securely fix the camera in the desired position. The working height is in the range of 16–19 cm. If necessary, the device turns into a monopod, which is great for reportage conditions and video shooting in cramped conditions. Thanks to its small dimensions (when folded 14.5 cm in height) and low weight (only 0.11 kg), the device can be taken with you on your travels.
Unlike the aforementioned model, the MTF-SC is able to support cameras weighing up to 3 kg. It comes with a smartphone holder. The design of this device consists of a ball head, a built-in phone holder platform and flexible legs with a rubberized coating that prevents slipping on the surface. The working height is in the range of 12–27 cm. The advantage of this model is the ability to monitor the correct positioning using a bubble level.
The Raylab MT-SC is also designed to work with smartphones, action cameras and cameras weighing up to 3 kg. Compared to the previous two models, this tripod has legs with two sections and five adjustable positions. It can be adjusted to almost any angle and conditions.
Another model Raylab RL-8018FS is a video tripod. It is designed for video shooting with cameras and cameras weighing up to 5 kg. The legs of this model are made of aluminum tubes, and the clips are made of ABS plastic. It uses a special video head that can be adjusted in terms of rotation speed (there is a limiter that monitors smoothness) and horizontally (by 360 degrees) and vertically (from ‑70 to +90 degrees). The stand is equipped with a Manfrotto-standard quick-release platform, and a metal telescopic brace provides quick attenuation of vibrations and does not allow the legs to move apart.
The Raylab Travel 55 portable tripod, with main components made of aluminum alloy, is designed for use with cameras weighing up to 4 kg. Full control over the shooting process is provided by a 3D head with the ability to move in each of the axes and movable legs that can be adjusted in a wide range of lengths. Other features that have a positive effect on shooting include a quick-release platform for easy camera replacement, a special counterweight hook to achieve the necessary angles, and a bubble level to control the tilt of the camera relative to the horizon line.
The main material used in the production of the compact Raylab Travel 63 is also aluminum alloy. Like the Travel 55, this tripod is designed for use with cameras weighing up to 4 kg. It greatly simplifies the shooting process thanks to a 3D head with independent adjustment in three directions (the camera rotates smoothly with a convenient handle), a quick-release plate with insurance against involuntary detachment, legs with increased mobility, which allows you to set up a tripod on almost any surface and a bubble level. . An additional advantage is the availability of clip-on clamps for the three sections of the supports. They allow you to easily adjust the required tripod height, and together with the retractable center stand, provide shooting from the required angle.
The aluminum alloy Raylab Pro 65 also has a load capacity of 4kg. This model was equipped with a replaceable ball head, clip-on clamps and a quick-release platform. The most correct installation of the camera is guaranteed by a bubble level and a special positioning scale. It is possible to use the Pro 65 as a monopod. In this case, the height range is from 48.5 to 165 cm. Shooting from a minimum distance from the ground is ensured by the possibility of reversing the installation of the camera. Quick adjustment of the required height and angle is provided by legs with four adjustable sections with independent clip-on clips. The tripod can be used on both flat and inclined surfaces, the horizontal position of the camera is maintained in both cases.
Summing up, we can say that the price is primarily influenced by two factors:
- materials used;
- head type.
And the three main characteristics that you should pay attention to when choosing a tripod are:
- tripod weight, which affects stability, and maximum load;
- head type.
It is better for a beginner to start with cheap options. They are usually light and compact, come with a case and are ideal for travel. If it doesn’t work out for you with photography, it’s not a pity to throw out such a tripod, if it works out, you can buy another one.