How to choose the right tripod
Updated: Jul 19
Choosing a tripod for photography can seem like a task in itself with so many models and price points available. Should you go for quality, or pick a cheap and cheerful alternative?
Let’s simplify it: Choose well by reading reviews and buy at the top end of your budget.
Through my own experience over the years, I find when it comes to tripods you pay for what you get.
My tripod is a Manfrotto MK055XPRO3 with an XPRO Ball Head and 200PL Plate series. I bought it a couple of years ago and It cost around £229. That's a bit of a splurge, on a tripod you might be thinking, but for me, it was an investment and served me well whilst I was running my remote product photography business.
If you're considering buying a new tripod or even upgrading, let’s look at some things you might want to consider:
Starting with the tripod legs
A tripod which extends up to a good height is best so you’re not limited. Mine extends to 70 inches 170cm. (5 foot 2") which is pretty standard height-wise.
Next, the leg locking mechanism:
This is really down to personal preference, but I like the flip locks on my tripod as they allow for quick and easy height adjustments. Another leg locking mechanism you might want to look at would be the twist-lock system.
Horizontal extension arm:
This was a must for me. It can be used for both extra height or for when shooting flatlays and awkward angles. Unless you specifically seek out a tripod with integral extension (or boom
arm), most general use tripods won't come with one included. However, you can purchase an arm separately, if need be, but do check it’s compatible with your tripod.
Mine has an integral extension arm which remains fitted to the tripod and can be utilised by just a couple of clicks and a turn.
The tripod head:
Several to choose from, but realistically, you might want to decide between a pan and tilt head or a ball head.
Pan and tilt head:
This does what it says - lets you pan and tilt your camera when fitted to this type of tripod head. Usually, on a 3-way basis, you can angle your camera where it suits and pan easily if you happen to be shooting video content.
A no-brainer for me - much more freedom, you can literally utilise all angles with a ball head fitted to your tripod and quickly lock it in place. Mine came with the X-PRO Ball Head included. However, If you decide to buy a Manfrotto tripod look at the heads too, some models won't include the head and you'll have to purchase it separately.
When I was buying my tripod I wanted it to include a spirit level, but in all honesty, it's not something I really look at and tend to use my camera's built-in level instead. That's not to say you won't find it useful - if you think it would come in handy then check first as not all tripods come with one included.
This is one of those “can’t live without” items. My camera is on and off of my tripod more times than I care to remember on any given day, so a quick-release plate is an absolute must-have.
What is it?
It’s a metal base plate that screws into the underside of your camera (where you would ordinarily screw in your tripod). With a base plate attached when you want to use the tripod, simply sit the base plate into the quick-release clamp and you’re good to go.
It’s called quick release because that’s exactly what it does. Release or reattach your camera from, or, to the tripod in seconds with a push of a lever. Attach it just as quickly, but always double-check it’s “click locked” into position as you really don’t want your camera falling to the floor.
There’s no need to remove the plate - mine has been attached to my camera for as long as I can remember and it certainly saves a lot of time and effort when using the tripod.
Check the weight of your camera with your heaviest lens attached (you can find weights via the manufacturer's product details). Then, check the tripods' weight tolerance. The last thing you want is your tripod toppling over with your camera attached because it can't hold the weight. I’ve experienced this myself and damaged a lens in the process. It’s definitely one of those heart-stopping moments.
You may also want to consider the actual weight of the tripod itself. Mine is quite heavy but because I mainly use it at home or in the studio weight wasn’t too much of an issue for me, and it's definitely sturdy.
If you plan on landscape photography or where you’ll need to be carrying it around, you’ll
want to consider choosing a lighter-weight carbon fibre or travel tripod instead.
Your tripod should come with a small allen key so that you can quickly tighten any parts that might work loose over time. I keep a little muslin bag attached to my tripod to store mine in as I know it would be lost quite quickly otherwise.
I hope this helps you decide on the right choice for your next tripod purchase.