How to buy a tripod – the wrong way

(Repost Feb 2015 – first posted Aug 2009)

I say this, because I don’t know how to buy a tripod the right way – I found tripods extremely confusing, especially when buying one for the first time when I have never used one and had no idea what I was looking for.

I bought an Induro A2 kit and this is the process I went through:

– read obsessively online for reviews and articles about tripods
– establish that the two most preferred brands are Manfrotto and Gitzo
– establish these are also the most expensive brands
– find out that you usually buy the tripod separately and then you get the head to match
– discover that not all tripod heads are the same
– learn that not all tripods are created equal

Given I live in NZ where not everything is available, I had to find out what brands were available here. Turns out Manfrotto is fairly commong but Gitzo is not, but it is available. So I went looking for actual tripods in the wild and this is what I found out:

– Manfrotto and Gitzo tripods are actually quite solid and heavy – there are carbon fibre models available but they are still a noticeable weight (and carbon fibre is LOTS more expensive again)
– Induro have some aluminium frame tripods that were a lot lighter
– both of the Manfrotto and Gitzo models that were recommended (ie in my price range) and demonstrated for me were too damn short. I am only 5’6″ but they only seemed to up to about 5′ and that meant you had to extend the center pole up several inches for it to be at eye level (otherwise I would have to crouch down a lot and I have a neck injury which means that would be very difficult and painful) and this seemed to defeat the whole purpose of a tripod
– Induro had a model that was exactly the right height
– Gitzo legs screw and unscrew (this was recommended on a forum for people wanting to shot birds/animals as the quietest option)
– Manfrotto and Induro have the hinged clips that keep the legs in position, but the Manfrotto were quite loud and flappy but the Induro were quieter
– Gitzo and Manfrotto heads were available in ball and pan/tilt styles but both were very large and heavy

Article Ball vs Panhead with good explanation of the difference

– Wimberley heads are really funky – designed for the REALLY big heavy lens, but I really like the overall concept

Wimberley Head

-there are other brands of head that you can get entirely separately that are discussed on some of the forums I am on – one that was regularly mentioned is the Really Right Stuff range

– feet on the end of the legs are apparently important, some brands have spikes which are better for outdoor use and some rounded ends good for indoor use
weird foldable tripods exist – the Benbo Trekker is the one I hear mentioned the most and I kindof get my head around how it works – and they are available in NZ!

– some tripods have a setup where the centerpole can be swivelled out sideways, which could have its uses (from the image example, macro work or something down at ground level)

– some tripods have support bars from the centerpole out to the legs – I am not sure if this limits how far out the legs can spread (thats a good thing to check if the legs come up quite high apparently)

– monopods are also available, not as stable, but as I found out in my reading there are lots of places/situations where a tripod is not either allowed (museums and art galleries?) or would get in the way (sport games) but apparently a monopod will be overlooked!

– 4 legged tripods are now coming out – quadropod I think is the term

– some will come in a carry bag which is a nice touch, if only for storage

– take it with you when travelling on a plane in the cabin – apparently its easy to damage the legs and if they dont open or are bent thats the end of a good tripod

– its really important to make sure that your tripod and head combo are going to be the right gear to hold up your camera and lens together – a lightweight cheap tripod will not properly support a heavy lens

– the big lenses are mounted directly on the tripod lens mount – heres a really extreme example see how the tripod is in the middle of the lens and the camera is just hanging off the end! First time I saw this I freaked 🙂

– you can use other things for those awkward to reach places – bean bagsGorillaPod

SUMMARY

As you can see there is lots to consider – I bought the Induro A2 kit because:

– it was as tall as I needed it to be
– it was light
– came in a nice bag with a shoulder strap
– I could afford it
– I liked the way it felt to use and it did what I though I might want to do
– it would cope with the camera and lenses I was intending to get

Extra Notes – more useful articles on Tripods and how to use them

http://www.best-family-photography-tips.com/tripod-photography.html

Quest for Perfect Tripod Head article

http://shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/accessories/0609tripods/

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About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
This entry was posted in For Beginners and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to How to buy a tripod – the wrong way

  1. Scott Raun says:

    I keep meaning to pick up an original GorillaPod for my P&S. I really should do that sometime.

  2. Galen Evans says:

    Sounds like you went about it the RIGHT way and took just about everything important into consideration. For the benefit of your other readers, here’s a great article that describes how people often buy the wrong tripod to begin with in the interest of saving money, only to find out later that they should’ve thought it out and bought the right one to begin with:

    http://bythom.com/support.htm

    BTW, I was guilty of that. 😉

  3. lensaddiction says:

    Hey Galen – GREAT link – I feel a bit better about my decision as I dont have a 300mm lens but Im still thinking I might have made the wrong purchase ultimately 🙂

    BTW I checked out your website and you have some really nice pix

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  8. Leanne Cole says:

    I have a manfrotto carbon fibre one, it is quite heavy, and for some of the photos I’ve been taking lately, I’ve been so glad it was heavy, it is solid in strong winds, and sometimes I still hang my bag of it to give it more weight. A friend of mine has lots of trouble in strong wind.
    I also have, though not mine, a small manfrotto for doing photos when the wind isn’t an issue, like photos in the city.

    • lensaddiction says:

      yes i was surprised at how heavy some of the carbon fibre units were, and given they were only sometimes 500g lighter but over twice the price, i really couldn’t figure out why I should buy one.

      Since I did this original post I actually had to get new legs and I got Manfrotto, again the Al ones and I am quite comfortable carrying them and they come up really tall on a flat surface, with the camera on, its higher than eye height on me. Couldn’t understand why so many were so short!

      Mine doesnt have a bag hook which is a bit annoying.

      • Leanne Cole says:

        Mine goes really high, and the guy in the shop tried to talk me out of it, he said it was too tall for me, but I have been so gratefull so many times that I didn’t listen to him, especially when using it in crowds, and on slopes.

        Mine is big and heavy, I hate using it in the city sometimes, so a friend has lent me her little one, she hardly ever uses it, so it has worked out well.

      • lensaddiction says:

        Yes the extra height is very useful when the ground is uneven I find too

  9. Jen says:

    Dang! Wish I’d read this a week ago!

    • lensaddiction says:

      I think it was your comments on my other tripod post that reminded me I had also written this 🙂

      • Jen says:

        🙂

        I went into the camera shop – armed with knowledge – but then got flustered and discombobulated – and finally said, “what do you folks recommend”!

        It works pretty well — but I don’t like the part where the camera attaches. It is a bit touchy; have to be SO careful!

      • lensaddiction says:

        Thats not good, if its not stable I would take it back and compare with other models and see if that one has some issues?

      • Jen says:

        It’s stable, but … it’s supposed to be a “quick release” feature — and you have to be VERY careful that the tabs are lined up properly. If not…. disaster! I haven’t dropped the camera … but it scares me. So it’s probably just stupidity on my part, LOL

      • lensaddiction says:

        No that doesnt sound like you at all, that sounds like bad design, the head should be rock solid.

      • Jen says:

        It isn’t … hm….. thought it was just me. Perhaps I’ll have to revisit the camera shop!

      • lensaddiction says:

        I would go back, if your expensive camera is damaged due to a fiddly and much cheaper tripod head that would be upsetting! Take your camera in with you and MAKE THEM set it up and see if they have the same problem, check if other similar heads are the same and if not get a swap and if so see if you can exhange the head if you like the legs?

      • Jen says:

        That’s a good idea. Because the rest of the setup is decent — I just don’t like the attachment.

      • lensaddiction says:

        good luck!

  10. Rajiv says:

    Very good article, with excellent links. I use a Manfrotto. I have often considered a monopod, but I find that they make me sway.
    A quadruopod, you say?

    • lensaddiction says:

      Yes I tried a monopod but could never keep it steady either so traded it against my new legs when I bought them.

      I have to say I have never seen anyone here in NZ with a quadropod nor seen or heard of someone opting down that path. The extra leg might be more stable but it adds extra weight as well, and probably cost too!

  11. Robyn G says:

    This is a great read Stacey! There is much to take into consideration when buying a tripod and for me knowing what I wanted to use it for (style) was a big help in getting it right.

Love to hear your thoughts on my post!

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