One of the most common questions I get is what tripod is the best. Six years ago I did a post on buying the right tripod, so I thought I would update some content. Here are your basic considerations:
-amount of use
There are a lot of tripods on the market ranging from $150-$1000 plus. First, consider size and weight. I have three tripods I use regularly, all depending on my photo trip. I bring a small tripod for travel photography, a medium sized one for most of my shooting, and a heavy duty tripod for long lens wildlife photography. You could compromise and just buy one tripod and be fine, it just might not be the perfect choice for each outing…but that works!
Does it extend to your eye level, or are you bending over to use it? Can you pack it in your suitcase? And just how heavy is it? Metal versions are heavier than carbon fiber.
Stability is important, especially for long exposure photography of any kind. Blurry photos just don’t work. Imagine stabilization is great for quick shooting, but you need a tripod for star photography, northern lights, macro, silky water…etc. How much do you use your tripod? I know photo journalists that barely use a tripod…they are documenting everyday news on the fly. Landscape photographers use tripods a lot, and so do most wildlife and sports photographers. The last on this list is customer service. If you buy any tripod over $500, and it breaks, who do you call? And do they answer? Customer service may not be a big issue with cheaper tripods, but it is on pricey ones. And if you have a local camera store, shop there first. If you buy a tripod there, and have a problem, you can bring it back and they can help.
What do I use? After trying so many different tripods through the years, I’ve settled on Really Right Stuff. I think of my RRS tripods as lifelong investments. They are similar in price to other top brands, but they are lighter and more durable in my experience than any other. And they are made in USA, so if you have a problem, you just call them up and they can help you out. No delays, and incredible customer service. But another reason I love RRS is their heads and custom camera/lens plates make them a full service company. I use L brackets on my cameras, which seamlessly work with their heads of any size. No strange plate shapes or funny buttons to push to attach my camera. Just put it on the tripod head and flip the level (or screw down the knob). No matter what body or lens, RRS will have a custom plate to work with it. No more plates coming unscrewed in the field.
Here are my three tripods. I’m six feet tall, so you can see size comparisons. My smallest is the TVC1 with BH-25. Great for a trip to Europe. I have to bend over to use it, but I might only use the tripod a few times. Next is the TVC2L with BH-40 head. The ‘L’ is the long version, so it goes above my head, perfect for northern lights photography when I might be aiming straight up for most of the night. The BH40 works for almost all my lenses expect the big telephotos. Finally, the TVC3 with RRS gimbal head. This is my biggest tripod, and great for wildlife shooting with large telephotos. Or I might swap out the head and use a BH55 for landscape work.
In the end you need to figure out what is best for you. And what I always tell folks is ‘if it works for you, then what else matters?’ Everyone will have different needs and uses, so make your choices based on your shooting habits. Just get out and shoot!