Every photographer from the cell phone snapper to the elite nature documentary knows that a wavering hand or heavy gust of wind can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. To accommodate these unforeseen forces, photographers began to adapt the artist's easel to hold a camera in place rather than a painting canvas. However, it goes further than simply being a stick to hold your camera though. Much like the majority of camera accessories, there are general and niche options available on the market today. So how do you decide which style tripod to get?
The Different Tripod Options
The world of photography has never been more accessible than it is today, with phone cameras capturing pictures with quality never imaginable for such a small device or extremely affordable high-quality mirrorless or DSLR's. This has led to more and more new photographers hitting the scene and sharing their favourite moments with the world. No one wants those moments to be blurry or fuzzy, ruining the shot altogether. Here's a look at the various kinds of camera tripods to get your shots stabilised and perfectly framed.
Being one of the more common tripod styles, the twist lock tripod uses a tightening mechanism on the joints of the leg to keep it in place. Utilizing this style of squeezing the legs to hold them in place allows for more precise adjustments of each leg, making framing even easier.
While being the most well known thanks to a majority of media showing photographers using it, the twist lock tripod has stayed in its dominant position thanks to the range of materials and quality levels you can purchase. This increased accessibility only serves to get more and more cameras stationary for perfect shots.
One area that some refer to in defense of not using a twist lock is that if one of the joints were to fail, the entire camera system attached to the head instantly starts falling towards the ground. While this can be an issue for any type of tripod based on quality, it's still good to know while shopping around.
The lever lock style of tripod is typically the one on the other side of the debate when discussing which style is best, lever lock or twist lock. When asking around amongst the staff, I didn't realise how heated the lever vs twist lock debate was.
Lever lock tripods will typically have the same options available in terms of size, material and ease of use with the difference lying in the mechanics of the joint supports.
Instead of using a twist to hold the legs in place, the lever lock tripod has small levers on each leg joint to stabilize. This is essentially an on/off switch for whether or not that section of leg is able to move. Some with larger cameras or need to utilize the full height of leg sections will opt for the more secure mechanics at the cost of easy fine tuning.
Much like the twist lock, lever lock tripods are extremely easy to set up and very portable, typically collapsing into a shorter and more compact profile that easily fits in most backpacks. Again, always remember that the quality of the tripod will matter more than the type of lock used.
Carbon Fibre Legs
Another, typically friendly, debate for photographers is whether or not to use carbon fibre or aluminum for the material of tripod legs. There is the cost, durability and weight comparison of both sides as well as the age old fight of traditional versus modern solutions. While carbon fibre was once only for high end accessories, it's popularity has grown the market presence making affordable options more prominently available.
The shift to carbon fibre was due to a few factors. One was the weight of the tripod, something that takes tolls more heavily for nature and sports shots as there is often a need to adjust the shot or follow a moving target across a large area. The stiffness of carbon fibre also means that those small gusts of wind causing your camera to vibrate slightly are fully compensated for.
Aluminium became the industry standard for tripod legs after wooden ones became too much to maintain and their possibilities limited by the materials physical properties. This more affordable metal may not be as stiff as carbon fibre, but the service life and durability it exhibits makes it a solid choice for any photographer.
One downside you may face with aluminium legs is a heavier build, making it more difficult to take with you on long hikes or day long shoots. Size-wise aluminium legs can be machined just the same as carbon fibre, leaving the main focus the weight and cost to make sure it fits in with your shooting style. Heavier camera owners can also notice a longer life out of their aluminium legs over carbon fibre.
Lending to the name, travel tripods are smaller and more compact versions of their larger siblings. These prioritize portability and simple set up over durability as they aren't typically used as the primary tripod. Often coming in under one kilogram, these are perfect to collapse into your bag and take with you for the day.
An important factor to remember when using a travel tripod or any smaller tripods is stability. With lighter material you'll find the wind impacts the camera more than usual, especially as you increase the height of the legs and centre column. This makes carbon fibre one of the more popular materials for travel tripods to keep it lighter but still steady.
Meant to be kept in place, studio tripods are the masters of stabilizing shots with absolutely no concessions. These tripods will typically be constructed of heavier materials focused on bearing any sized payload you can place on top. The centre columns will be larger and the leg joints will even opt away from both twist and lever locks, choosing to be one single size instead.
Taking to a crank system for raising and lowering the centre column is a path taken by heavy-duty studio tripods, allowing the user to more easily adjust the often heavy camera systems perched on top. That being said, there are travel sized studio tripods you can place in your pack for shots taken indoors or static top-down shots where you won't need to adjust the height.
Keep Your Camera Stable
No matter your skill level, amount of time invested or the number of shots you take, you'll want to have the right tripod for you. A great starting point will always be an affordable, entry-level aluminium tripod, comfortable shots while still having a wide range of motion.
As you take more and more shots, you'll find your tripod collection naturally growing. This is why it's extremely important to understand which tripod handles certain situations best. The last thing you'll want is to spend hundreds of dollars on a tripod that provides the same features and benefits as your current one. Save that money and put it towards other upgrades by shopping for your perfect tripod today.