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The Complete Tripod Buying Guide

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The Complete Tripod Buying Guide
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The Complete Tripod Buying Guide

A steady hand is the key to a perfect picture, irrespective of whether a shot is taken indoors or outdoors. However, not all professional photographers and hobbyists are gifted with a steady grip, especially when they have a heavy camera equipment to meddle with. The seemingly sleek and fragile tripod is a worthwhile investment, levelling the plane and offering stable support for the camera equipment. It enables the photographers to simply focus on the moment and the subject to be captured.

Tripod Basics

It is often been observed that tripods do not get the careful attention they deserve; choice of tripods have been mainly influenced by the prices. Given the importance of a level view field and stable equipment in photography, it is important to select the right tripod depending on several factors.



 

Weight Camera Equipment

The chosen tripod construction should offer enough support to all, if not most of the camera equipment used by the photographer. In fact, buying a tripod that can hold the heaviest camera in among those used can safely support the lighter models also.

Usage

Depending on the usage, whether that be outdoor shoots, indoor studios, home use, or other, buyers can go in for small or lightweight tripods, or opt for sturdy and heavier pieces.

Subject or Specialisation

The camera equipment and the angle of shots tend to vary based on the subject of the shoot. The chosen tripod should be suitable to cover the subject. Capturing still subjects and covering movement require a different type of tripod head.

The only common factor among tripods is their structure, which comprises of a head that holds the camera and the three legs supporting the head.

Tripod Construction

Tripods are made from different materials, and have been mainly available in aluminium and carbon fibre, apart from the more recent models that are made out of basalt. It is, however, important to avoid components made using plastic, especially tripod heads. While each material offers its own set of benefits, there are also a few drawbacks.

Material

Pros

Cons

Aluminium

Lightweight, portable, available in heavier composite variants, and is relatively cheaper than other sturdy materials. Offers better stability, especially when standing tall.

Metal exposed to weather conditions and need appropriate care while handling. Lightweight models may not be stable enough when used outdoors. Heavier metal composite offers greater stability but may, in fact, make it difficult to carry the tripod.

Carbon Fibre

It is light (roughly 40 per cent lighter than aluminium) and sturdy; capable of withstanding rough use, and not majorly affected by hot or cold weather conditions.

Carbon fibre is reported to get brittle in extreme cold.

 

Basalt (latest entry)

Made from fibre-glass core, coated with a basalt layer; these tripods are light and portable. They are affordable as well.

Not as sturdy as tripods made from carbon or even heavier aluminium composite.

Tripod Legs

Tripod legs are designed to bear the weight of the equipment while allowing a level view field, offering a perfect view of the subject. While tripod legs may look pretty standard, their stability and flexibility depends on the way they have been designed.

Sections

Each leg has 3 or 4 telescopic collapsible and extendable leg sections that make the tripod portable. However, the number of sections also influences the time and effort taken to unlock and lock them into place.

Locks
 

Two lock types are available to lock – unlock leg sections. Twist grip locks help rotate sections into place, are safest, can take time, and may not have any visible indications to go by. They may get difficult to operate in wet and cold settings.
Quick release lever locks are fast and popular, and the lever position indicates the lock status. Metal levers are prone to rust and can hurt the finger badly, if trapped.

Feet

Legs may either sport spiked feet to gain foothold on slippery terrain or have rubber feet that snap on to normal terrain, or even both can support all types of surfaces.

Angles

Adjusting the legs of the tripod will help fix the level of shot, while also ensuring that the camera is placed on stable ground. Usually a 90-degree splay angle is available on most tripods. Those who need extra flexibility to allow each leg to be adjusted independent of the other can opt for classic tripods that allow users to control leg positions using a single control lever. It is, however, important not to compromise the safety of valuable equipment while using such extra-flexible tripods.

Thickness of tripod legs also influences the stability and the weight of the structure. Few tripods also come with a central column that helps place the camera still higher. The column also facilitates ground level shots. Central columns usually support a hook beneath the column that can be used to add some necessary weight to balance the tripod, especially while shooting outdoors in harsh weather conditions. Camera bags and rocks often fill in for the additional weight.
There are select tripod models that support flexible or movable central columns, which enable users to switch from horizontal to vertical modes, stability of the unit in odd positions should be determined before mounting an expensive piece of equipment on such tripods. In few other models, the central column is removable, allowing the tripod to almost reach the ground.
It is important to check out the tripod leg features, and opt for an appropriate model to suit usage and equipment.

Tripod Heads

The next important factor is the head of the tripod that actually supports the camera. Depending yet again on the usage and personal preference, it is important to shop for a tripod with the right head.

Ball and socket

Helps cover action or subject across multiple planes. Can be quickly adjusted and locked in place in one move. They are relatively lighter, offer fine adjustments and occasionally are available with spirit levelers to level the axes.

Pan and Tilt

Offering a horizontal pan and vertical tilt facilities, this head supports sideways movement to level the third axis. Ideal for capturing both action and still shots.

Panoramic

True to its name, the panoramic head enables a photographer to seamlessly create a panoramic view around a given node.
This head is heavy, needs to be configured for each specific lens, and necessarily used only for panoramic shots.

There are tripods with integrated heads for those looking for budget tripods; however, tripods with base plates that support external tripod heads are certainly a value add.

How to Find a Tripod on eBay

Launch the eBay Homepage; highlight the Electronics & Technology category from the left pane and drill down to Cameras & Photography sub-category. Click on the Tripods & Support option on the left pane to view the products featured here.
Refine the results further by either moving to the Tripods & Monopods, Tripod Head or Other Tripods & Support option on the left pane to browse through the items under these headings.
Customise the display by filtering results based on the brand name, head type, material, leg sections and other relevant filters featured on the left pane.
Novice shoppers with limited knowledge on camera equipment and weight can also look for tripod heads that are specifically compatible with their camera brands to make the process simple. Simply refine the results by setting the appropriate Compatible Brand filter to view tripod heads for the selected camera brand.
Alternatively, key in Camera Tripod in the search text field on the eBay homepage and click on Search to get a listing of tripods featured across all categories at the site.
In addition to tripods, monopods and other fixtures can also be used to support lighter camera equipment. Tripods are more about stability and flexibility and, hence, it is better to check out the model in person at a local outlet before shopping for the best deal at eBay.

Conclusion

While most professional photographers and hobbyists may simply rely on their sense of stability to capture a perfect shot, tripods certainly will be missed when using heavy equipment or long lenses for long exposures, or even to get a good image in fading light conditions. The right tripod for the right kit helps focus on other nuances of photography, rather than be worried about stability, dampening vibrations, or a level plane. Carbon fibre tripods are certainly pricier, while allowing both portability and sturdiness outdoors. Aluminium tripods, on the other hand, offer the best of both worlds; lighter variants for casual or indoor use and heavier frames for professional use.
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