The Photography & Filmmaking Education Resource
0 Me Search
1 914-347-3300

Learning Center

PhotoVideoEDU Tripod Buying Guide


Browse Library by

BY Aimee Baldridge September 10, 2014 · Published by PhotoVideoEDU

Having the right camera support can improve the quality of your images and expand your shooting options. There are hundreds of options available. Check out our guide to find out which features will match your shooting style (and your budget) best.


One of the first items that any serious photographer or filmmaker should consider buying after the camera is a tripod. Having the right camera support can not only improve the quality of your images by eliminating camera shake and vibration—it can also give you more flexibility in the camera techniques you can use and the settings you can shoot in.

Stabilizing and positioning your camera with a support lets you take long exposures, control your camera from a remote device or computer, or shoot from points of view that might be impossible to achieve handheld. For most serious video work, a tripod is an essential tool.

Tripods have two main parts: the legs and the head. Although there are cheap tripods with integrated heads, most models you’ll want to consider have separate heads and legs. They're sometimes sold together in kits, but you can also purchase the legs and then choose a head separately, to get the most appropriate one for your gear and style of shooting. Read on to find out what you should consider when selecting the legs and the head.

The Legs

When you’re selecting a set of tripod legs (or a monopod), take these characteristics into consideration:

Carrying Size and Weight

Consider how often and how far you’ll carry the tripod. If you want to carry it in a bag, measure the bag interior and make sure the tripod will fit with a head on when it’s folded up. If you’re carrying it with a camera backpack, consider whether the model will be easy to carry in the bag’s tripod loop or holder. Also make sure that the tripod you select doesn’t have any protrusions that will make it difficult to carry in your bag, such as a large handle.

  What to look for:

Carbon fiber legs are made of layers of carbon fibers around a hollow core.

Material: Carbon fiber and aluminum are the most popular materials for tripod legs, and carbon fiber is the lightest of the two. Carbon fiber legs also provide excellent rigidity relative to their weight and size. Some ultracompact tripods are made of aluminum and are very lightweight, but they provide less strength and rigidity than carbon fiber legs of comparable size. In some cases, other metals and alloys are used. They are usually comparable to or heavier than aluminum.


Some tripods, like this Benro MeFoto Transfunctional Travel Tripod, have a removable leg that works as a monopod.
Design: Having more than three leg sections allows a tripod to be very compact when folded but still offer a reasonable extended height. Some legs are flat instead of round in order to achieve an ultracompact design when folded, and some designs allow the legs to fold up 180 degrees to achieve a very short folded length. A monopod is obviously a very compact option. For the best of both worlds, look for a tripod with a removable leg that can be used as a monopod.

Load Capacity

How heavy is your camera with your heaviest lens, a flash unit, and any other accessories you use mounted? Check the load capacity specs of the tripod you’re considering to make sure it can support that amount of weight.

  What to look for:

Having fewer leg segments increases stability and allows the tripod to support heavier gear.

Material: While there are specialty tripods for very heavy cameras that are made of wood or steel, standard tripods made of carbon fiber, aluminum, and alloys meet the needs of most photographers, with some models that can bear weights in the 50-pound range.

Design: Limiting the number of leg sections to three generally allows a tripod to support a heavier load.

Setup Speed, Adjustability, and Minimum/Maximum Height

Some tripods are quicker to open and set up than others, and some allow you more flexibility and precision in the angles at which you can position the camera. Tripods also vary widely in terms of how high they are when fully extended and how low they can bring the camera when at their minimum height.

Look for a low minimum height if you’re going to be shooting close to the ground or a tabletop, and look for a high maximum height if you’re going to be standing and shooting for long periods, as with sports events and landscape photography.

Take out a tape measure and measure the distance between the floor and the level where you’ll usually want your camera to be, and then compare that with the maximum height of the tripod you’re looking at. Don’t count the center column extension. There are occasions when raising the center column to get extra height is helpful, but because you sacrifice stability for height when you do that, it’s not something you should plan to do routinely. Think of the center column as something that you can raise a little to make fine adjustments to the camera height.

  What to look for:

Flip locks make it quick to set up or collapse tripod legs. 

Design: The main design element contributing to the speed of tripod setup is the leg lock type. Flip locks are quicker to open and close than twist locks. In terms of adjustability, a tripod with a removable center column or no center column will often let you shoot very close to the ground. A reversible center column or head mount will let you mount your camera under the tripod legs so that you can shoot very low. Some tripods have adjustable horizontal mounts that allow you to use the center column as an arm. A monopod can be a good option for shooting styles that require a combination of support and motion, such as panning.

A reversible center column lets you mount the camera under the legs.

Features: Tripod legs that can be independently set at different angles offer more flexibility in shooting angles and can also provide more stable support on uneven ground.



You can spend under a hundred dollars on a tripod or over a thousand. A well-designed and carefully manufactured tripod will obviously cost more than one that’s been slapped together from a basic design. However, some materials are simply more expensive and will boost the cost of any tripod, regardless of its design and construction.

Naturally, manufacturers tend to match high-quality design and construction with more expensive materials such as carbon fiber. That means if you buy a carbon fiber tripod, you’re likely to get good quality all around, whereas if you buy one made of less pricey materials, you should pay closer attention to whether the design and construction are up to snuff. Aluminum and alloy tripods run the gamut from cheap, flimsy models that are best avoided to extremely well-made ones that are worth investing in.

Stability and Vibration Damping

A good tripod doesn’t just eliminate camera shake caused by your movement. It can also reduce the effects of the movement that occurs within the camera when you take a picture, resulting in a sharper image. Its legs damp the vibration caused by the mirror slap of an SLR, and they absorb any vibrations created by elements in the environment.  Some materials are better than others at damping vibrations.

The tripod’s design and the strength, rigidity, and weight of the leg materials both contribute to the tripod’s overall stability. Some materials are less flexible than others, which means that they’ll do a better job of holding the camera absolutely still in a strong wind and remaining impervious to vibrations.

  What to look for:

Some tripods have feet that are interchangeable with wide rubber shoes to increase stability on smooth surfaces. This monopod from Benro has a swiveling wide rubber foot to combine stability with flexibility.

Material: High-quality carbon fiber has excellent damping properties, strength, and rigidity, but because it’s lightweight, carbon fiber tripods can be more susceptible to strong wind. Metal tripods often have more weight to give them stability, but their damping properties and rigidity vary according to the specific metal used. In general, metals provide less vibration damping than carbon fiber.

Design: Having more than three leg segments usually lessens the stability and the overall strength and rigidity of the tripod.

A weight hook at the bottom end of the center column will let you increase the stability of the tripod by attaching a weight.
Features: A grooved center column can increase the stability of the camera when the center column is raised. Some tripods have a weight hook at the bottom end of the center column so that you can attach a sandbag or another weight to increase the tripod’s stability. If you shoot in areas with smooth flooring, look for a tripod with rubber feet. Some tripods have feet that can be replaced by wide rubber shoes for a better grip on smooth surfaces or metal spikes for a firm hold in soft ones.


Performance in Extreme Conditions

If you’ll be shooting in extremes of temperature; in a wet, dusty, salty, or sandy environment; or in high wind, you’ll want to select a tripod that’s made of a material that will make it easy to handle and doesn’t have any design elements that will be damaged or difficult to use in the environment.

  What to look for:

Metal tripod legs can be easier to handle in cold weather when they're covered with foam pads.

Weatherproofed twist locks are a good choice for working in extreme conditions.

Material:  In cold weather, metals such as aluminum not only get cold but also stick to warm skin—an unpleasant and even potentially harmful experience. Likewise, in very hot weather, metals can become unpleasantly hot to handle. Carbon fiber is a commonly selected alternative to metal legs, since it doesn’t get too cold or hot to handle and never sticks. Although some carbon fiber legs have been reported to become brittle and susceptible to breaking in the cold, this is only likely to happen in very extreme cold, not in typical winter conditions. Look for a tripod that doesn’t have metal parts that can rust if you’ll be in a wet or salty environment. In high winds, a heavy metal tripod is sometimes a better choice than carbon fiber.

Design: Leg locks that twist instead of flipping open are often preferable in extreme conditions, because the locks don’t have metal parts that can rust and are less likely to get jammed by sand or debris. Look for leg locks and other parts that are weatherproofed to keep debris and moisture out. 

Some tripods have feet that are interchangeable with metal spikes to increase stability on soft or slippery ground.
Features: If you’re shooting in high wind, a tripod with a weight hook in the center will let you hang a bag of sand or another heavy object to increase the tripod’s stability. If you opt for a metal tripod, look for one with foam pads on the legs to make them easier to handle in the cold. You can buy pads separately if the tripod doesn’t come with them. Some tripods have feet that can be replaced with spikes to increase stability on sandy, soft, or icy terrain.


The Head

The kind of head that's best for you depends on the type of shooting you do and the gear you do it with. Make sure you choose a head with controls and knobs that are smooth and easy to operate, and that it holds the camera firmly in place when locked into position. As with tripod legs, you should always check the load capacity of a head before buying it, to make sure that it will be able to support your heaviest gear.

Most heads come with a quick release plate that stays attached to your camera’s tripod socket and simply snaps onto the head when you want to mount the camera. A locking lever lets you release the camera from the head when you’re done shooting.

Ball Heads Ball heads have a ball-and-socket design that allows you to tilt and swivel the mounted camera in any direction, with very fine control over camera positioning. Because they generally have just one lever for loosening and locking the grip on the ball supporting the camera, they make adjusting the camera position very quick and easy. Some ball heads have a greater range of motion than others, so make sure the one you choose allows you to position your camera as desired.

Ball heads are perhaps the most popular type of tripod head, and work very well for most types of photography. They are also compact for carrying.

Special features to look for on a ball head include:

  • bubble level
  • panning control knob that lets you lock the vertical position of the camera in place and swivel the camera from side to side
  • 360-degree scale around the base of the head for precise positioning
  • adjustable level of tension between the ball and socket, especially if your camera and lens are on the heavy side

Pan Heads

A pan head gives you separate controls for adjusting the tilt, swivel, and rotation of the camera. Pan heads are useful for types of photography and videography in which you want to lock the position of the camera but still be able to move it smoothly on one axis. Naturally, that includes panning shots. Pan heads are also useful for creating composite images, such as panoramas, in which each frame needs to be taken from a precise camera position. Changing the whole camera position is a more arduous process with a pan head than with a ball head because there are separate controls for each axis.


Special features to look for on a pan head include:

  • bubble levels
  • 360-degree scales for precise positioning on each axis
  • vertical camera positioning that allows you to turn the camera orientation 90 degrees
  • folding or removable handles for a compact carrying profile


Gimbal Heads A gimbal head is used for supporting cameras with the very long, heavy telephoto lenses used in sports, bird, and nature photography. It supports the camera and lens at their center of gravity to provide stability and give the gear a weightless feel. Gimbal heads make tracking fast-moving subjects along vertical or horizontal axes smooth and easy.

Special features to look for on a gimbal head include:

  • calibrated scales for precise positioning
  • large control knobs to allow easy use with gloves



Tilt Heads A tilt head is most commonly used on a monopod, because it combines compact design with some of the flexibility in camera positioning that larger tripod heads provide. A tilt head allows you to tilt the camera but doesn't offer a wider range of adjustability. It's designed for quick adjustments to the tilt angle, with just one control knob.

Special features to look for on a tilt head include:

  • bubble level



Video Heads A head that’s designed to support a camera shooting video usually has one long handle so that you can easily pan and tilt the camera to follow the action in your scene. Video heads are designed to provide especially smooth movements for tracking subjects. Some video heads called fluid heads use lubricants to achieve this.

Special features to look for on a video head include:

  • bubble level
  • variable tension control
  • removable handle for compact carrying
  • left and right handle mounts to accommodate left- and righthanded shooters











Tools and Gear

Back to list

to top

New to PhotoVideoEdu? SignUp now to see EDU discounts!

Log In
With Social Account
You can use your social services accounts to login to our system, but if you're logging in the first time please select if you are a



With E-mail