When you're a beginner photographer, your attention is likely focused on the camera and lenses you purchase.
But they aren't the only critical pieces of gear you need to put yourself in position to take the best photos.
You also need a good tripod.
The question is, what's the best tripod for beginners? That question is answered in this tripod buying guide.
Editor's Tip: To illustrate each point, I use Sirui tripods as examples. I use Sirui tripods myself, and can attest to their build quality and ease of use.
First Things First - Why You Need a Tripod
Clearly, a tripod is primarily intended to support your camera such that you can get sharp images.
After all, even if you've got the surest of hands, you cannot hold your camera as steady as it will be on a tripod.
What's more, with a tripod, you can venture into other areas of photography, like taking long exposures, time-lapse videos, panoramas or shooting in low-light situations that require a slow shutter speed. None of these activities is possible when you hold the camera in your hands.
Beyond that, tripods are actually a compositional tool.
By that, I mean that when you use a tripod, you have to slow down a little bit and take a few seconds to set it up, mount your camera, and compose the shot.
That few extra seconds can prove to be incredibly helpful as you frame the shot. Perhaps you notice a feature that you want to highlight, or just as importantly, perhaps you notice a feature you want to omit from the shot.
There are plenty of other benefits of having a tripod, but these are the primary reasons why adding one to your kit will be advantageous.
Tripod Buying Guide - What to Look For in a Tripod
Tripods today come with a wide variety of features that should be considered when making your purchase. Below, I explain a few of the most important features to look for.
Tripods today are most often made with carbon fiber or aluminum.
Carbon fiber is the lighter of the two, which is preferable for photographers that will be carrying their gear around a lot, like landscape photographers.
Aluminum is a less expensive material, though, so for beginner photographers with a tighter budget, an aluminum rig might be the best choice.
Whatever type of construction you choose, aim to find a tripod that weighs under about five or six pounds.
The lighter it is, the easier it will be to carry, and the easier it is to carry, the more likely you'll be to take it with you each time you go out to shoot.
The Sirui N-1004KX tripod shown above is an aluminum tripod that can hold up to 26.5 pounds of gear, but weighs just 3.1 pounds, making it an excellent tripod for beginners.
Height of the Tripod
When thinking about the height of a tripod, you have to consider two different factors.
First, think about the extended height of the tripod, that is, how tall it is when the legs and center column are extended.
The closer it is to your height, the more comfortable you will be when using it. In other words, bending over all the time to look through the viewfinder will only cause your back to hurt, so get a tripod that's as close to your height as you can.
The other factor is the tripod's folded height, or how tall it is when it's in its most compact state.
You want to be sure that whatever tripod you buy is small enough to fit into your camera bag.
The Sirui W-2004 tripod shown above has a maximum height of 71-inches - which is more than enough extended height for most people, but its legs fold up 180-degrees so it's also extra compact for carrying.
Again, the more convenient the tripod is for you to carry around, the more likely you are to actually take it with you!
Tripod Locking Mechanisms
One feature that can make or break your ability to get the shots you want is how the tripod's legs lock.
Some tripods have flip lock mechanisms, while others, like the Sirui T-004X shown above, have twist locks.
Both types of locks have their benefits, but for my money, twist locks are the better of the two.
That's because flip locks can accidentally be disengaged, where a twist lock stays in place unless you physically twist to release it.
Twist-lock mechanisms are incredibly easy to use and quick, too, so you'll be sure to never miss a shot.
Other Tripod Features to Consider
There are several other considerations to think about when buying your first tripod.
First, check to see what kind of feet the tripod has. If they're rubberized, that's good news for you because they will prevent slippage and keep the tripod in its place.
Even better, consider a tripod with retractable metal spikes in its feet for even more stability on uneven terrain.
Second, consider a tripod that has multiple leg lock positions. This feature allows you to adapt the angle of the leg to accommodate uneven terrain as well.
A final feature to think about is the tripod's center column.
Not only should you consider how tall the center column is, but you should also consider whether it can be inverted or not.
An inverted center column allows you to get super-low-angle shots, as you can see above.
This will only expand your ability to get interesting shots and be more creative with the photos you take.
The Sirui ET-2204 tripod has all of these features - rubber feet with metal spikes, multiple leg lock positions, and a center column that can be inverted.
Tripods like this one certainly have more features than what a typical beginner photographer needs, but by investing in a tripod that you can use for the long-term, you'll have a great piece of kit that will serve you well, even as you enter the territory of being an enthusiast or expert photographer.
Final Thoughts - The Best Tripod for Beginners
Given the features I've listed above, the best tripod for beginners should be lightweight, have decent extended height, fold down to be as compact as possible, and have features like rubber feet, multiple leg lock positions, and a center column that can be inverted.
Many tripods, especially those from Sirui, certainly fit the bill when it comes to these features.
Better still, they have tripods that fit any budget.
So, though there's no one tripod that's the best, if you stick with the features noted earlier, you'll be in good shape now and in the future.