One of the most important investments a traveler can make in buying accessories for a camera is the tripod.
When I go to look at tripods anyone who knows me makes an excuse to not come along that day. I embarrass them. Only the salespeople, who know I’m about to spend big bucks with, want to be near me.
I set up every tripod on display and fill up the whole aisle with them. My cameras come along with me and we give each tripod a thorough going-over. And I’m rough on them, sometimes breaking them in my demonstrations. So, if the salespeople know I’m coming ahead of time, they hide all the cheap ones in the storeroom, way before my arrival. You can be a little more discreet and look at one at a time, just make sure you bring your camera along and maybe your shortest and longest lenses. You’ll have to try on your camera to the tripod just as if you were buying a pair of boots. You wouldn’t buy boots without trying them on, would you?
Here are my top ten tips for buying a tripod:
1. Cost: Everyone wants to get the best deal they can but, a cheap tripod will not enhance your photography. The little $10.00 aluminum ones are good for nothing, unless you plan on taking all your photos while it’s set up on your coffee table. For a point and shoot camera you may get by spending under $50.00. If you have a DSLR, plan on spending at least $100.00. There’s always the used option for saving as long as you know what to look for.
2. Folded height: For travel, you want to know how small you can make your assistant. Will it fit in a suitcase, backpack or a carrying case that you can wear comfortably on your shoulder? Make sure it’s not so large that you can’t carry it on a plane.
3. See how much it weighs; you’ll more than likely be wearing it a lot in your travels. The best tripods made are wooden but, they are extremely heavy. Aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber have made modern tripods much lighter. Just make sure whichever you buy is sturdy.
4. Maximum Height: This is as important as minimum height. With your camera mounted on it, make sure you can elevate the tripod to eye level. If not, you’ll be doing a lot of bending over.
5. Maximum Weight: This is the maximum weight the tripod was designed to support. If you have 10 lbs of camera and lenses to mount on a tripod designed for a maximum weight of 8 lbs, it will bend or break. At a minimum, it will be moving while you’re trying to shoot.
6. Quick Release: This is a feature that allows you to keep part of the hardware screwed to the bottom of the camera and easily press a lever to install or remove it from the tripod. It’s a good idea to buy extra quick release shoes to mount on all your cameras, if you have more than one.
7. Ball Head: Some tripods come with this feature built-in, others you have to invest in buying them separately. The ball head allows you to Pan the camera (Follow a moving subject) smoothly without creating more noise in your photos from camera shake.
8. Center Post: The pole that can be raised or lowered on the tripod. It should be reversible so you can get lower to the ground for flower and macro shots. When it’s upright, look for a hole or hardware to attach weight to. Sometimes when it’s windy, even the weight of a camera bag will help steady the tripod when it’s vibrating in the breeze.
9. Look at the tripod’s feet to see how much room you need to set it up and check for rubber boots to prevent scratching floors or sliding on smooth surfaces. Some tripods have retractable metal spikes for steadying the camera when you’re on ice, soil or uneven terrain.
10. See how the leg sections and center pole are locked into position. There are knobs to turn, hand cranks or clamps you squeeze to raise or lower your tripod and secure it in position. Make sure you check them all out and find which style works best for you and your camera.
What will a sturdy tripod do for you?
If you’ve learned the basics of exposure, composition and focus, you will see a dramatic improvement in the quality of your photography. The reduction in noise will have your friends thinking you shot with a film camera. The best part: When you go shopping for a new tripod, you’ll have an excuse not to invite me along that day. Until next time, Happy Shooting!
A wildlife photographer living in Okinawa, Japan, Mike has been published in Apogee Photo Magazine, Boots N all, Brave New Traveler, Go Nomad, Matador Abroad and Trips, The Nihon Sun, Travel Thru History, The Okinawan , Wend Magazine and Photo Guide Japan. He has recently joined the ranks of travel writers, capturing Nature, Festivals, Castles and Cultural shots of the Ryukyu Islands to share with the world.