Choosing a tripod for your landscape and travel shoots can be an overwhelming experience, given how many different models exist. So, what are the key criteria you might want to watch out for when buying a new tripod?
Nothing is worse than a tripod that wobbles and twists when your DSLR is attached to it and you try to get a sharp shot. Nothing? Well, what’s even worse is when it’s windy and your tripod topples because it’s not sturdy enough to hold your camera under difficult weather conditions (which is often the case if you’re taking photos along the coast as I do).
So, what’s the solution? The answer to this question depends largely on what kind of camera you’re shooting with and how much you lens weights. If you’re shooting with a DSLR, you want to get a tripod that is stable enough to hold both the camera body and, let’s say, at least a 70–200mm zoom lens. Because you won’t always shoot with a prime wide angle lens attached to your camera. Think about it this way: once your tripod is fully set up, it has to withstand not only wind, but also occasional bumps and knocks that might happen when shooting outdoors. For me, sturdiness is the most important criterion when it comes to choosing the right tripod. And, as buying a good tripod might be a long-term investment, you’ll also want to leave some room for bigger and heavier lenses.
Sturdy and lightweight – isn’t that a contradiction? No. It just depends on how much money you’re able and willing to spend. Today, you can get tripods made of a number of different materials. Aluminum, carbon fiber, even basalt, to name a few. While tripods made of carbon fiber are by far the lightest, I’m using a basalt tripod that’s almost as light as those made of carbon fiber. And here’s why weight matters to me: I take my tripod on most of my international trips. I can fold it in a way that it fits into my suitcase (most airlines won’t let you take your tripod as carry-on luggage anyway). And in case you want to take your tripod with you while you’re traveling, weight matters. Also, if you’re used to attaching your tripod to your backpack and you don’t want to get a sore back, every ounce matters.
Now, what about stability? My tripod features a metal hook that is positioned at the end of the extension column exactly in the middle of the tripod. It serves at adding weight to stabilize the tripod on windy days. I frequently attach my gear bag to that hook which adds extra stability.
3. Ease of use
When you’re in the field and you need to set up your tripod quickly, the ease of use will make a huge difference in whether you’ll hate or love your tripod. Many times, I’ve been in a situation where getting the tripod set up quickly was essential for getting the shot. Think of changing weather conditions or of an animal that might dissapear while you’re twiddling with your tripod’s legs. Here’s my recommendation: instead of buying a tripod directly online, go to a camera shop (yes, those still exist) and try different models. Unfold and straighten the legs of each of them and play around with different systems. My Gitzo GT2830 Series 2 Basalt 3 Section Tripod features twist locks instead of latch locks which I found to be very convenient and fast to use. As always, it’s a matter of taste (and sometimes familiarization): some people like latch locks, some others prefer twist locks. The only way for you to find out is to try what works best for you.
Here’s some general advice: especially if you’re in landscape photography, your tripod will be one of your most essential pieces of equipment. That’s why you want to take your time and carefully select the right model. It will pay off in the long run. Promise. And if you’re on a budget, take a look at the tripods on eBay. That’s what I did. In my opinion it’s better to buy some used high-quality gear than to buy a new, cheap tripod that you will need to replace in a year from now.
Finally, here’s a video about why you shouldn’t buy a “cheapo tripod”. Enjoy.