So you have a camera, a lens, and maybe a few filters.
What else do you need to complete your kit?
There are a lot of accessories you can buy, but the most essential is a tripod.
Not to be harsh, but if you shoot without a tripod, you're not doing your images any favors.
That isn't to say that you can never get a good photo when shooting handheld; but on a tripod, your camera is much more capable of getting tack-sharp images than if it's in your hand.
That's because a good tripod gives your camera a stable base. That's not to mention that without touching the camera, you won't induce camera shake which renders blurry photos.
No one wants that...
The question is, what features should you look for in a new tripod?
I've put together a list of considerations to make using Sirui tripods as examples. I've used these tripods before, and they offer great build quality, a host of features, and a good price.
Basic Features to Consider
When shopping for a tripod, there are essential features to look for that will impact how you can use the tripod.
Height and Weight
When considering the height of the tripod, it's important not just to focus on the maximum height. Naturally, you want something that puts your camera at your eye level when taking photos like portraits, but you also want something that allows you to get lower to the ground for things like landscapes that benefit from including foreground interest.
The Sirui T-1005X tripod shown above has a height range of 4.9 inches to 51.2 inches, giving you excellent range for different types of photos.
Weight is also a factor.
Some tripods, like the T-1005X, are made of aluminum. These tripods tend to be on the heavier side (though some are quite lightweight) and are usually better suited for things like portraiture where you won't be moving the camera and tripod around a lot.
On the other hand, some tripods are made of carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber is strong, yet lightweight, helping to cut down on the weight you have to carry without sacrificing how much weight the tripod can hold.
Speaking of which, when considering weight, it's also necessary to examine how much the tripod can hold.
If you have a full frame camera and a big lens, you'll need a tripod that can manage more weight. Conversely, if you have a crop sensor camera and a prime lens, you don't need as robust of a tripod.
When it comes to stability, there are a couple of features that help tripods stand up to things like rough terrain and windy conditions.
The Sirui N-3204X tripod shown above has three different leg angle positions, which is handy when shooting outside on uneven terrain.
What's more, it has retractable metal spikes in each of its feet that serve as added protection against slippage when on uneven or slippery terrain.
If it's windy out, having a center column hook is a very handy feature as well.
Just hang your camera bag from the hook (or a bag of rocks, sand, etc.), and it helps anchor the tripod to the ground to prevent blowing over.
There are different leg locking mechanisms, each with their pros and cons.
On the one hand, there's twist-and-screw locks that provide the most protection in terms of staying locked in place, but naturally, they take some time to lock, and adjustments are a little more involved as well.
On the other hand, flip locks, like those pictured above on the Sirui EN-2004, are much faster to lock into place and adjust.
On cheap tripods with flip locks, there is sometimes concern that the lock will disengage. However, if you go with something like Sirui that has a reputation for excellent build quality, this is not an issue.
Some tripods come with an attached head, usually of one of two varieties.
A pan-tilt head is a less expensive attachment so it's more budget-friendly, but they aren't as flexible in terms of how you can manipulate them for different types of photos.
A ball head, like the one shown on the Sirui ET-1004 tripod kit above, is much more flexible in terms of the movement of the camera
The ET-10 ball head shown above (and others like it) gives you adjustments for locking and panning, giving you more fine control over moving the camera. But that added control means that ball heads are more complicated to use than pan-tilt heads.
As mentioned earlier, aluminum tripods tend to weigh more, and with that added weight, they're more difficult to carry around. If you'll be moving a lot, a carbon fiber tripod is typically the way to go.
But you also need to consider the collapsed size of the tripod when thinking about portability.
The Sirui ET-1204 aluminum tripod shown above collapses down to a mere 16.5 inches high, making it a great fit for many camera bags.
If you have a smaller camera bag and you need to pack your tripod, you'll need to consider the folded length when deciding on the tripod for you.
Types of Tripods
With some basic features out of the way, let's have a look at three primary types of tripods to further help you decide what's best for you.
If you shoot with your mobile phone, a point-and-shoot camera, or a compact camera, a tabletop tripod might be a good bet for you.
Tabletop tripods obviously have the benefit of being extremely small and lightweight, and they're versatile too.
The Sirui 3T-35K tripod shown above can also be used as a handheld pole for taking photos and videos with better stability.
Naturally, these little tripods won't fit the bill if you shoot with a DSLR or are taking professional portraits. However, for informal photos like family pictures or selfies, or if you want to get a shot very close to the ground, these tripods can be the perfect addition to your photography kit.
The beauty of travel tripods is that they give you the stability and height you need, combined with a small collapsable size that's ideal for packing the tripod in a bag.
Generally speaking, a travel tripod is one that collapses to less than 22-inches. Anything smaller that that should fit into your camera bag or carry on without issue. The Sirui T-2205X shown above collapses down to just 14.6 inches.
Because they are smaller and lightweight, these tripods are ideally suited for use with a compact camera or a DSLR with a smaller lens. Though some travel tripods can support larger DSLRs and lenses, be sure you check their load capacity before purchasing so you're sure to have a tripod that can effectively handle your camera and lens.
For beginners, mid-range tripods likely represent the upper echelon of tripods because they offer all the features and support you'll need for just about anything you want to photograph, but without being in the upper-tier of prices.
Mid-range tripods are more robust than travel tripods, and typically have a higher maximum height so you can stand up straight when taking a photo.
Because they are more robust, mid-range tripods are also heavier, and by virtue of that, are also sturdier.
That extra sturdiness might be of particular interest to you if you tend to take photos in windy locations or if you dabble in videography. They are also ideal for pursuits like bird photography, wildlife photography, and sports, again, because they are the sturdiest and most stable of the bunch.
When it comes down to it, selecting a tripod will depend on many factors: your price range, the type of photos you take, and the features the tripod has to offer.
However, if you consider each of those factors carefully, you can more easily select a tripod that works well for you and will do so for years to come.