When you are new to photography, whether you are using an old film camera or a modern digital SLR (a.k.a.”DSLR”), for a moment, you may be content simply to ramble around with camera in hand.
For some circumstances, you can often get away without using a tripod and, in fact, getting your camera mounted on a tripod can inhibit how creatively you use the camera to make your photographic masterpieces.
I will cover some typical example scenarios, and then discuss your options when it comes to purchasing a tripod – if it be a more traditional aluminium or carbon fiber tripod, or one of the alternative tripods, such as a Gorilla Pod, an Ultra Pod II, or a camera beanbag.
Why You May Want to Buy A Tripod
For every situation where a tripod is needed, it’s needed in order to avoid introducing undesirable vibration in your camera, especially during long exposure photographs, where the camera’s shutter will be available for a second or more, during which time any vibration will be picked up and, most likely, be represented as blurring of your topic (s) in your final image. Landscape photography is one such sub niche that always benefits from using a good quality tripod.
Another area of photography where you will want a tripod is if you’re researching light painting – this time, not only are you going to be using longer exposure times, you are also going to have to rest your camera on a stable platform, while you either stand off to one side using a flashlight, or go in the frame, painting light in your scene. Once more, a tripod is your friend for this particular task.
Anytime you need to keep your camera at a specific angle – whether it be absolutely horizontal (like for landscape photos) or vertical (like for portrait photos of people) or any other angle in between – a tripod is the ideal tool for the job. Being human, there’s only so long you can hold your camera at a totally still position, before you begin to fatigue… and that is when you’ll wish you’d had a tripod to take the strain. Providing you have a good tripod that can comfortably hold the weight of your DSLR camera (and perhaps and external flash on top), then it’ll keep your gear at the angle you want it, so long as you want it.
It’s good to have a tripod when doing product photography – many times, I will take the pictures without using a tripod. But it can quickly become a chore to maintain a bulky DSLR, and that is when I’m glad I have the choice to stick the camera on the tripod, so that I can just concentrate on arranging the products to get the best shot.
Types Of camera tripod
Okay, so now that you are hopefully coming about the benefits of having a tripod, another issue is which sort of tripod to get?
Today, the way I see it, there are really two types of tripod:
These have three legs (hence the term”tri”pod) piled in sections that fall down on top of one another, to maintain the tripods compact when storing them or when travelling with them. When you’re using these tripods, the legs can be eased out to a required length and then locked in place, for the specific height you need. Locking the legs is either done by means of a spin-lock system (where you rotate rings to lock the legs so that your tripod won’t collapse unceremoniously to the ground ), but some have quick-release locks (with flaps which may be flicked open or securely closed).
One of the crucial decisions you will need to make is whether to get an aluminium tripod, or one constructed from carbon fiber. Aluminium tripods will be cheaper to purchase than carbon fiber variations, but the carbon fiber tripods will weigh less, which makes them the better alternative for people who like to go trekking with their camera equipment and would like to take a tripod along as well.
Keep in mind, because carbon fiber tripods are so lightweight, you’re likely to need something to weigh it down, so that the end won’t introduce unwanted vibrations – good carbon fiber tripods, like the 3LT”Brian”, which I own, possess a hook underneath the central column, onto which you can sling your camera bag, for additional ballast.
There are three distinct kinds of alternative tripod that may interest you; they have their advantages and disadvantages, compared with a conventional tripod, and I have one of each.
The advantage of this kind of tripod, over a more traditional tripod, is that, because of the unique structure of the legs, the Gorilla Pod is better suited to putting on all kinds of awkward and uneven surfaces – such as, rocks, grassy hillsides, etc.. You could also wrap the 3 legs around tree branches, posts, railings and the like, to place your Gorilla Pod at all sorts of different heights… that there are suitable objects available to do this. That’s one of the benefits of a normal tripod: you’ll generally have enough height variations (by expanding or contracting the legs), to set your camera up in a fairly decent height. One thing you should know of are the subtle variations of Gorilla Pods, as one type will only match the mounting bracket of larger DSLR cameras. I have both a Panasonic FZ1000 (bridge camera) and a Panasonic GH4 (DSLR, but a micro four thirds camera, so smaller than larger, full frame DSLR, such as Canon’s 1DX) and neither of them will fit on the initial Gorilla Pod. I had to purchase a Gorilla Pod Zoom, which fit both cameras.
This is the smallest tripod I have ever owned. It’s three strong plastic legs, which are NOT height adjustable. But what it lacks in height, it makes up for in both portability and flexibility. This item is super lightweight, so it’s fantastic for trekking about with. The one slight drawback is that the Velcro strap isn’t all that long, so you’re limited to attaching it to things not much bigger than the size of a thick man’s wrist. However, it is so lightweight and compact, and is really brilliantly versatile, that it has a permanent place in my camera backpack; it comes with me wherever I go with my camera gear and, if I think I can get away with it, I will prefer only this one Ultra Pod II (and my Gorilla Pod, which is also similarly compact, but is superior to the Ultra Pod II on irregular and awkward surfaces), than lugging around a milder, more traditional tripod.
The final tripod alternative isn’t really a tripod, at all… it is a camera beanbag. I have a 1kg variety (though different weights and sizes are available) and it’s good that you don’t need to fiddle about screwing in your camera… just plonk down the beanbag, mush your camera down on top of it so you get it flat (okay, so there’s still a little bit of fiddling), and then you’re ready to start snapping. You could even place it on top of your car, for example, and not have to worry about scratching the paintwork.
Thus, if you had to buy just 1 tripod, which is it? I am tempted to say the Ultra Pod II, since you don’t need to fiddle about with adjusting multiple leg segments before you are ready to get started photographing stuff. However, as much as I really like that lightweight tripod alternative, you can’t beat the height adjustability of a traditional tripod. If you end up wanting to take it out and around, and if your budget can stretch to it, an excellent carbon fiber tripod is most likely the one to go for. However, if you’ve got extra cash going spare, I really do find it great to be able to select between using my Gorilla Pod Zoom, Ultra Pod II, and my more traditional carbon fiber 3LT Brian tripod – if I need the height, I will use the 3LT; if I believe I can get away without this bigger tripod, when going out with my camera gear, I really do want to travel light and take both the Ultra Pod II and Gorilla Pod Zoom, which give me enough options to find a suitable solution for where to put my camera to get some interesting shots.