Consider where and how you will use a tripod before buying. Look for adjustable feet and a soft ground spike for outdoor use. Professional tripods have a replaceable head, while size and weight are important for portability. Look for a locking mechanism and a smooth or geared center post. Prices vary from less than $100 to over $500.
The first step in deciding which tripod to buy is to analyze where and how you will be using it. While most tripods come with adjustable feet that can be used on any hard surface, only a few also have a soft ground spike. If you plan on shooting outdoors, it might be worth spending the extra money on a tripod that has both features.
The next thing to consider in a tripod is the head type. Cheaper tripods usually have a fixed head, while professional tripods come with a replaceable head that can accommodate different cameras and be tilted side to side and up and down. Ball heads use a ball joint that moves smoothly in a circular motion.
Size and weight become important when a tripod is used for outdoor photography and needs to be carried around. A good tripod should reach at least eye level, but still fold down to a size that’s easy to carry and store. When it comes to weight, heavier tripods with tubular or closed-section legs tend to be more stable, while lightweight tripods have the advantage of portability, but tend to perform poorly on uneven terrain. A new generation of tripods is now made from carbon fiber, which is lightweight but significantly more expensive than traditional aluminum tripods. A good quality tripod costs an average of eight pounds.
Another important feature to look for in a tripod is a locking mechanism. It consists of a simple switch that locks the legs in place, so there’s no risk of the tripod collapsing in the middle of a photo session. A similar lock switch, called a quick release fitting, is sometimes attached to the camera and used to lock it into the tripod head.
The tripod center post is available in smooth and geared options. A smooth center post can be lowered or raised by hand, while a geared center post can be extended using a small hand crank on the side. While there aren’t major differences between the types of center posts, the geared post can be lifted with one hand, a definite plus when time is of the essence.
Prices for a tripod vary depending on many of the factors mentioned above. A simple tripod for amateur photography can be purchased for less than 100 US dollars (USD). The Gitzo 1325 tripod, a favorite choice among wildlife photographers, costs around USD 530.