A tripod is used to stabilize or elevate the camera. A tripod has three legs and a head to mount the camera on it. A tripod becomes an essential accessory while shooting with a slow shutter speed. In a normal photographic situation a tripod also plays a major role while framing the image in a more precisely. Use of tripod allows more precise control on your image quality. Therefore it should be considered a must have accessory for any photographer.
There are many advantages of using a tripod.
- It allows you to shoot in with a slow shutter speed without affecting the image quality.
- You can use lowest possible ISO to achieve better image quality.
- Your framing or composition becomes more precise.
- It becomes easier to take bracketed image with same composition to create HDR image.
- Night shoot and Astro-Landscape becomes possible.
- Allows you to take self portrait or a group picture when you would like to be in.
- Allows you to shoot extreme close-up and macro.
- Allows you to shoot smooth silky waterscapes.
- Allows you to shoot time lapse images.
- It becomes much easier to shoot panoramic shot without wasting many pixels.
- It takes the heavy weight from you so that you focus on being more creative.
Before buying a tripod we must understand the various components of a tripod.
Tripod Legs: Three legs, collapsible in 3 to 5 steps, mainly made out of aluminum, steel or carbon fiber.
Tripod Head: The component where the camera sits.
Quick Release Base Plate: A plate that connects the camera with the tripod head.
Centre Column: Another extension in between the tripod legs to elevate further.
Tripod feet: The bottom part of the tripod legs. Can be modified according to indoor or outdoor use.
A good tripod is going to last for a longer duration, if not life time. Therefore it is considered to be an important decision and has to be well thought and researched.
Length: The collapsed and expended length has to be considered according to your own height. The expended height along with the camera on top should be at your eye level. It becomes physically more comfortable to compose the image. The collapsed height of the tripod should be small enough to carry. The more sections in the legs will allow you to fold your camera to a smaller height. It is very important for travel photographers who like to travel with a small pack. However, more sections take more time to expand. Therefore it has to be well thought.
Load Capacity: How much load the camera can take. I mean the weight of the camera with your heaviest lens plus some extra weight like filters etc. It is recommended to have a tripod which can take at least 1.5 times of weight of your camera for better stability. You might encounter windy situation where you would need to hang extra weight to get better stability.
Weight of the Tripod: Very essential for those who like to travel light. A studio tripod may be heavy. Tripods are made out of steel, aluminum or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber tripods are the lightest of the lot with equal amount of strength. Unfortunately they are expensive. A travel photographer must consider this very seriously because an extra bit of weight becomes very difficult to carry while walking or hiking in the wilderness.
Type of Head: Most commonly used tripod head is a ball head. However there are many specialized breed of tripod heads available in the market.
Leg Lock: Leg locks are available in Twist (twist the leg to pull it out, twist it in reverse to lock it in position), Lever (open a lever to pull a leg out, close it to lock it) and custom options. This affects your speed of assembly.
Speed of Assembly: You will encounter many situations where you would like to take image quickly. Speed to fix the tripod including the speed of head adjustments should be quick enough so that you don’t miss any chance.
Centre Column: A centre column is a nice thing to have in your camera however it is not advisable to raise it because it reduces the stability of your camera. There are many tripods these days which offers a 90˚ turn to your centre column which allows you to take a top down shot.
Tripod Feet: This allows you to change the tripod grip according to the shooting location. Rubber feet will give you better stability on a smooth surface and pointed sharp feet will give you better stability in outdoor use when the surface is soft.
Budget: The most important factor. Although a decent tripod is expensive, but considering it as a long term investment, one should give it a thought to invest in a good quality tripod because at the end of the day what matters is the quality of image you get out of your camera.
There are many examples including myself where a photographer invests decent money on a good tripod and are still using it. My tripod is almost 15 years old. Photographers more into landscape, architecture, still life etc. needs to be very careful in choosing a tripod. Occasional user also would not like to be less creative, be it a star trail, or a silky smooth waterfall. Eventually it all narrows down to the creativity and the quality of image.