Photography Tip—How to Choose a Tripod
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Although digital photography has essentially replaced film photography, a good tripod is still as important today as it was for Mathew Brady during the Civil War and Ansel Adams during the early 20th century. They didn’t have many choices compared to what you’ll find in your local photo store or online. Not only is there an overwhelming selection of tripods by shape, size and weight, but also a large number of accessories and optional equipment. Before you shop for a tripod, read the six tips in this PhotographyTalk.com article. You’ll save time making a choice and spend your money wisely.
The weight of a tripod affects your digital photography experience in two ways. First, it’s another piece of equipment you must carry. As you develop your photographer’s eye and improve your skills, you’ll want to use your tripod in the woods or during a vacation. Don’t overlook lighter alternatives; but they must still be judged, according to the other tips in this article.
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The second weight consideration is matching the tripod with the weight of the camera, lens and equipment you expect it to hold. If you’re shooting digital pictures with a compact camera, then a light tripod will be enough; however, if your rig includes a DSLR, a large telephoto lens and a flash unit, then you need a robust tripod.
A large or heavy tripod is not necessarily a stable tripod. When you shop for a tripod, take the camera, lens and flash unit with you that you plan to use on it. Attach your total rig to a selection of tripods, and then fully extend the legs to test their stability. With the tripod securely positioned, carefully bump against it to determine how much force is necessary to cause it to fall.
A tripod’s leg locks are some of the most important parts to test with the full weight of your equipment attached. With the legs locked in place, exert a bit of downward pressure on the tripod to test the locks’ capability to hold. You’ll also want to choose a tripod with leg locks that you find easy to use and adjust.
Look carefully at the number of leg sections in any tripod you’re considering. Again, the tripod you choose should be related to how you will use it and how much you are willing to carry. A tripod with just two sections is easier and faster to erect, but it’s a longer piece of equipment. Many photographers swear by a three-section tripod because they consider them sturdier. It will take more time to extend the legs, however; and there are more locks to go bad, but a three-section tripod is shorter.
The height of the tripod you choose is also a factor of the kind of digital photography you shoot. Another factor is your height. Generally, you’ll find it more comfortable if a tripod can extend to a length that allows you to peer through the camera without bending too severely. Again, test your tripod candidates throughout their entire height ranges, with your complete equipment rig attached. You want to make sure that the tripod is still stable completely extended. Keep in mind that the tripods that extend to the greatest height will probably be more difficult to carry, even when folded.
Another very important tripod part to compare is the head. Most tripods have either a ball and socket or pan and tilt head. A ball and socket head is usually more flexible and smoother. The advantages of a pan and tilt head are that it will securely lock in place and costs less. Be aware that you can buy a tripod and a head as a package or buy a head separately for an existing tripod. During your test of tripods, with your equipment rig attached, make sure to try the complete set of motions of the head.
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