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Holiday 2012: Recommended Tripods (No Matter What Your Needs)

by Peter West Carey on 11/24/2012

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Unless your hands are as stable as a turntable, you would benefit from employing a tripod. For the longest time I shunned tripods because I thought they would cramp my style and freedom. Freedom is popular these days and I didn’t want to hand it over to a silly, three-legged device.

But it turns out tripods can really help certain types of photography. Landscape is one of them, so is portraiture. Products, architecture…just about everything except underwater (although I was tempted to try that on my last trip to Hawaii). If you’re thinking of picking up a tripod or two, let me give you some suggestions based on pocketbook size and intended use. Options listed here range from $3 to $1550.

Cheap And Light

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Starting at the low end/cheapo range, we have the Sony VCT-R100. You might get yelled at by some ‘pros’ for getting a kit like this but let’s face it; you’re low on funds and you want SOMETHING to help you take some night photos. It won’t be super stable. It won’t be super sexy. It won’t last more than a year, most likely. But it will be a step toward more stable photos and give you a chance to shoot some HDR as you learn the technique.

For A Few Dollars More

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Looking for something middle of the road? Not too heavy but also not too expensive? I’ve had great luck with Bogen/Manfrotto’s trusty tripods for over two decades and they are a reliable options in almost any situation. For a general purpose tripod, I would suggest a Manfrotto 3001BPRO tripod with 496RC2 head. This setup will cost about $200 and will last at least a couple of decades with normal use and care. This is a great setup for those knowing they want to use a tripod, are watching every penny and want the best bang for the long-term buck.

Road Warrior

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My personal favorite travel tripod is the newly released Benro MeFoto Transfunctional Tripod. Why do I love it so? It’s small!! Here’s my recent First Impression post where I gush all over the smallness and pack-ability of this tripod. It will shrink down to 15” tall which means it will even fit under the seat in front of you on your next flight. It’s not perfect, but the head is decent (and can be swapped out for your favorite) and it even has the ability to work as a monopod. I love this tripod so much, I purchased my demo model.

Lovers Of Carbon And Lightness

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I fell silently in lust with an Induro CT-214 carbon fiber tripod and PHQ-3 head while traveling through Peru last year. The kit was dreamy but a bit of a compromise. If you want a solid foundation without the weight and are planning on traveling, I would suggest this setup.

But if you want something for around town that won’t break your back (while making your wallet also lighter) try the larger CT-414. Packed down, it is 5” taller than the CT-214 which makes it more of a pain to take on an airplane, but it stands a nice 77” tall, meaning you will have to deploy those skinnier legs at the bottom less often, improving stability.

Super Duty

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Ready to hold some serious weight? Do you have a medium format camera or a gimbal head that needs a rock solid foundation? Grab your high-limit credit card and head over to Amazon to pick up the Miller Solo DV 1501 and DS-20 Fluid Head. As a combo, this unit will set you back over $1500 but it is rock solid. Ok, I’m really guessing here because I have never used a $1500 tripod. But short of going with a dedicated video setup with cross members and a Sherpa to carry it, this is a likely best bet. If you get one, let me know how it works for you.

Super Small

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If you want something super compact or are shooting video in tight places, a high-hat might be in your future. I don’t play with these a lot but have been eying the Induro Hi-Hat for some specific application with close up plant and forest floor shooting. It is easier to use than inverting a regular tripod’s main stem for upside down shooting and can practically fit in your pocket. It’s small enough to go everywhere with you but strong enough to support up to 200lbs. Plus, it’s kinda sexy.

When You Can Only Afford One Leg

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For the sports and birding folks out there, tripods can be a huge drag on mobility. But hefting a 13lb lens around all day also makes steady shots nearly impossible. And thus, the monopod finds its choice market. If you want some help with your camera’s weight but don’t want to add to it too much with a full sized tripod, a monopod will fit the bill. What’s more, most any monopod can take an appropriately sized tripod head to add some versatility.

Here are some options for Cheap: Dolica WT-1003 Middle Of The RoadManfrotto 680B Spendy: Gitzo GM5561T  And one that works as a hiking stick: Brunton Monopod.

The Tripodless Tripod

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One of the cheapest tripods you can buy is not a tripod at all. At less than $3, the POD is a beanbag with a bolt to attach to your camera’s tripod mount. Simple and effective, but it probably won’t last forever, the POD can be an easy solution when you can’t afford anything else. But then again, so can a balled up sweatshirt.

Flexible Options

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Don’t forget about the smallest of the small: Joby Gorillapods. These tripods have flexible leg sections to help them wrap around pipes, branches or just to balance on the roughest of conditions. Make sure you match the tripod to the weight of the camera you are choosing. The tripods listed below can handle either a point and shoot (first tripod) or a larger DSLR (second option).

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