THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TRIPODS
I suspect many photographers have a guilty feeling lurking inside that they should really be using a tripod more often. While the remarkable high-ISO and image-stabilisation capabilities of modern cameras allow handheld shooting in incredibly low light using a tripod will let you select the lowest ISO for the best possible image quality or use long exposures for creative effect.
The problem of course is that tripods are big, heavy, and awkward to set up – or at least they always used to be. The good thing is that if you’ve become allergic to tripods after lugging around a chunky metal beast weighing several kilograms, the latest offerings are lighter and more portable than ever before.
Technology and design have advanced massively in recent years. Carbon fibre has gone from being an expensive luxury to a mainstream material, providing both lighter weight and superior dampening of vibrations. Many models are available in both materials, and I’d always recommend carbon fibre if you can afford it. Also where three-section legs were once considered de rigueur, four- or five-section models are now standard giving a shorter folded length that’s more convenient to carry, especially when combined with reverse-folding leg designs. Anti-twist leg locks make setting up quicker than ever, while the Arca Swiss dovetail pattern has emerged as the de facto standard for quick-release plates.
In a market that was once dominated by Manfrotto and Gitzo, there’s also a wider range of to choose from. Newer names such as Benro, 3 Legged Thing, Feisol and Sirui provide innovative products at competitive prices, while longer established such as Vanguard and Velbon also have some fine offerings. Naturally the general rule is that you get what you pay for.
As expected with all this competition, there’s a wider range of tripods and heads on the market, but this means that choosing the best option for your needs can be confusing, to say the least. Read on for our overview of what’s available, and our recommendations for the best kit on the market.
Decent tripods don’t have to weigh a ton or cost a fortune, and it’s possible to get lightweight but sturdy tripods for under £100. Compromises include a lower maximum height and recommended load, meaning these tripods are best suited for use with smaller or mirrorless cameras with tilting screens, and not ideal for shooting with large lenses. Our top pick is the Benro Slim Carbon Fibre tripod + N00 ball head kit which extends to 146cm, packs to 51cm, and weighs just 1kg. At just £89, it’s an absolute steal. Another great choice is the Vanguard which uses a unique swivelling column to fold down to 38cm, while extending to 145cm. Weighing 1.5kg, it can be bought for as little as £80.
If you’re jetting off on a city break, or plan on carrying a tripod around all day long, then an ultra-light and compact travel model is desirable. Five-section legs and two-section centre columns allow good-sized tripods to fold down to carry-on friendly dimensions. For an ultra-portable option the carbon-fibre Sirui MyTrip MT5-C is hard to beat: it folds to 31cm and weighs just 0.9kg including a strong ball head, but can extend to 1.3m. Its aluminium counterpart, the MT5-AK is slightly heavier but half the price, at £109 vs £219. If you need a full-size alternative, take a look at the 3 Legged Thing Punks Brian (£219), which extends to an impressive 1.87m but folds to 41cm, and weighs 1.45kg including its ball head.