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Photography Tip – Tripods

Look at almost all the best landscape / cityscape / night shots out there, what do they have in common (aside from their fascinating look & feel)? Well, they were taken on a tripod!

Tripods are an essential part of any photographer’s gear. In fact, after you buy a DSLR & a decent lens, you should immediately consider an able tripod, simply because you can get much better results shooting with one than handheld.

I for one have shaky hands, and I bet there are a thousand photographers out there with similar problems. In fact, if I try to shoot at any shutter speed slower than 1/60th of a second, I would get poor results. So do I give up on slower shutter shooting? Definitely no! I just make use of my trusty tripod! :)

So then, let’s talk tripods.

Those mighty tools come in different forms; some are light, plastic-y & cheap, others are built of metal, heavy & a bit more expensive (yet still affordable), while of course we have those carbon fiber ones, extremely light, durable & expensive! So which one suits me?

Well, I could easily say “get yourself a carbon fiber tripod for your little point & shoot camera”, but then I wouldn’t be reasonable, would I? ;)

So then, let’s really get into those three different types of tripods to understand them well & figure out for ourselves which to go for.

  • Plastic-y cheapo tripods (produced by all sorts of Chinese companies): Those are the bottom of the line, you’d find them everywhere; even at supermarkets! They are made of cheap plastic, not very flexible (you can only extend the legs or draw them back in), they are extremely light thus convenient for carrying, they have a very basic screw-in plate & lock mechanism, & of course very wobbly when used with anything heavier than a point & shoot camera.

  • Metal tripods with replaceable heads (produced by tripod manufacturing specialists like Manfrotto, Bentro & Gitzo):Those are mid-range tripods, they are durable, sturdy, slightly heavy (can sustain weight), pricey yet affordable, compatible with all sorts of different tripod heads (which we will discuss below), very flexible (as you can literally move every leg separately to get the angle needed) & some even allow you to use them as a boom!

  • Carbon fiber tripods with replaceable heads: Those are the top of the line; the elite. Very light (yet can sustain lots of weight), like the metal tripods, they are flexible, durable, sturdy, compatible with many different tripod heads, the best!

Yet I did mention previously that we don’t always need to go for the very best, it is always better to evaluate our own requirements & needs, probably shop based on them.

But before I get to the conclusion on this tip, let me first highlight the different tripod heads that are used with the more advanced tripods:

  • Pan & tilt heads: Used mostly for landscapes & cityscapes, have 3 knobs responsible for tilting and panning operations, usually come with bubble levelers.

  • Ball heads: Used for all sorts of photography, work on a ball & joint system, flexible & moves in all sorts of directions, however, they are not convenient for specialist shots (when only one axis needs to be adjusted).

  • Pistol grip heads: This is a variation of the ball head, they come with a pistol-like trigger that makes moving the camera easier; very useful for portraiture but not for landscapes.

  • Specialized heads: Of course there are many other heads available in the market, but they’re too broad to be mentioned, thus we can simply say they are mostly used for video, time-lapse, macro & many other specialized shooting.

So now that we all know what different tripods & heads can offer, we should be capable of deciding what to go for, below are some examples of how we can come up with our decisions:

  • I use a point & shoot camera, I don’t need much flexibility, I take photos of landscapes, family & friends, not much of a budget: I should go for a cheapo plastic-y tripod.

  • I use a point & shoot camera, I need to have a flexible tripod, I am into cityscapes and landscapes, & I’m rich!: I could probably go for a metal or carbon fiber tripod with a pan & tilt head … I’m rich after all! :)

  • I use a small entry level DSLR, no heavy lens attached, I shoot all sorts of photos & have no preference towards any kind of photography, just having fun with my camera: I should probably get a chepo plastic-y tripod or a metal tripod with a ball head if I can afford one.

  • I use a small entry level DSLR with a high end wide angle lens, I shoot landscapes & night shots, I need something flexible & durable, can’t go over budget: I could go for a metal tripod with pan & tilt head.

  • I use a premium DSLR with lots of high end lenses, I shoot portraits landscapes, night shots, I travel a lot, need something flexible, light, durable & can hold the weight: Well, you shouldn’t be asking me if you really have all that!! but anyway, I would go for either a metal (which might be bothersome on travel) or a carbon fiber tripod (light weight is convenient for travel) … and I would actually keep on me two different tripod heads; a pan & tilt as well as a pistol grip head.

  • I use a high end DSLR with a macro lens, I shoot macro shots of insects, flowers, and all sorts of little things: I would use a macro head … actually, I would set up a macro rig! (better to google those macro rigs if you’re into that sort of photography … they give you fantastic results).

Alright, that’s all for today! Hope you learned something new :)

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