If you have been involved in photography for a while, chances are you have collected a few things. One is camera bags. Trying to find the PERFECT camera bag is difficult and often a different bag is required for different things, but I digress. The other you may seem to collect and go through are tripods. I believe the perfect tripod is not quite as elusive as the perfect bag. In saying that I believe a GREAT tripod can make a big difference. Now I’m not the first person to write about this and I won’t be the last, but I thought I would put my thoughts on the matter forward.
There are a few things to consider when buying a tripod, and going cheap may cost you more in the long run.
If you are in a studio environment and do not travel much then the weight may not be such an issue, but getting something too heavy can still be troublesome. You do not want something lightweight and flimsy either. It needs to be sturdy, but manageable.
You must make sure your tripod is able to carry the weight of your gear. A full-frame DSLR and a large zoom lens can way in excess of 10 pounds, so making sure your tripod can handle the weight of your gear is vital. My first ever tripod, many moons ago, was light and cheap and within months I had stripped the screws in the head and it was no longer functional, thankfully my camera never fell.
Personally, I like a ball head that has two-axis control. This means I can swivel the camera in all directions and get all angles — including portrait — but I can also spin the head once the angle is locked in place.
This might depend on WHAT genre you are shooting. I like having a swivel arm I can extend out from the main tripod, fantastic for flat lays. If you are only shooting landscapes this may not be such an important point. However have the main arm that can invert and put your tripod and camera down low, maybe something you might want to look at.
I really do believe you need a tripod that can at least extend to your height and perhaps even a bit higher. One reason is it can save your back. If you are taking portraits or landscapes, you do not want to be hunched over trying to get photos, you should be able to comfortably stand and look through your viewfinder.
I have two tripods I regularly use. I have a big sturdy Vanguard Alta Pro for the studio, while I have a Manfrotto which has the horizontal column for flat lays. They are sturdy, a good height and have great flexibility. The weight in the studio is not a problem.
However, when I travel, they do not fold up compact and are quite heavy to carry around for extended periods of time. When I travel I have a Benro, which is small, compact, lightweight and fits easily into a suitcase or carry bag. It does not have the flexibility of my Vanguard or Manfrotto, nor the stability, and requires weight to make it sturdy in windy conditions. However, the Benro is light carbon fiber, which is perfect for traveling.
It is vital to do some research on what tripod is best for your use, talk to other photographers who shoot the same genres as you and find out what they love and what they don’t about their tripod of choice. Make sure it can do what you need, you are happy with the overall feel and weight and it is strong enough to handle your gear. The right tripod is an investment and you will have it for years.