Tripod Buying Guide

Why Do You Need a Tripod?

  • ‍To keep the camera still when using slow shutter speeds such as creating water motion blur effects
  • To support heavy camera gear
  • To allow more careful composition - framing the shot exactly how you want it.
  • For HDR imaging where you need to combine and overlay several images.
  • For time lapse photography
  • For focus stacking where you combine images that vary in focus
  • To paint with light
  • To shoot steady videos.

Tripod categories

Table top tripod

Not much higher than 30cm they’re light, small, and easy to pack so they’re perfect for travel. Consider the bendable variations, such as the Gorillapods and Miggo Splats which can be used on a traditional flat surface or wrapped around a variety of objects (such as tree branches, pipes,and handlebars) to stabilize your camera on uneven terrain or achieve a unique new photographic perspective.

The Entry-Level Kit

These are full-size tripod kits that feature an inseparable legs-and-head combination designed to fit the basic needs of most amateur photographers. Many of these kits utilise a simple three-way pan-and-tilt head for quick and accurate adjustments and can be used for most photographic applications. Slik and Velbon tripods are in this category.

The Tripod System

This is a tripod that consists of legs and a removable head. Whether purchased together as a kit, or separately, investing in a system means you are purchasing quality equipment that can be modified if your needs change. Change the head or change the legs! One set of legs - two different style heads!

Smartphone Tripods

There are special spring-loaded grips that can clamp a phone and screw on to table top tripods or larger tripods.
Some double up as a selfie pole complete with Bluetooth remote and some even have stablisers.


Tripod Specifications

Folded Length

How long the tripod measures with everything folded up.  An important consideration if you are travelling or hanging it off a back pack

Maximum Height

How tall the tripod will stand when every leg is extended and the centre post is raised as far as it will go. While centre columns can increase the vertical reach of a tripod, they often lack stability with larger camera payloads and should not be used for this purpose whenever possible. The tripod with head should ideally come to your chin in height (with centre column down) so it's comfortable to work with standing up.


How much the tripod weighs – very important if you’re flying or going to carry it for long distances.  Carbon fibre offers a lighter option.

Maximum Load

This is the heaviest camera and lens combination the tripod  can handle. The maximum load applies to the lower value of that for the legs or that for the head if they are different. If you put a camera that’s heavier than the Maximum Load Capacity on a tripod, you run the risk of a piece breaking or collapsing, causing damage to both the tripod and the camera. So it’s important to know how much your camera weighs with its heaviest lens and flash attached and buy a tripod that will handle it.


Tripod System Components

Head Options

Ball Heads
The ball head tripod fits the majority of a photographer's needs and requirements with the ability to adjust your camera to be at any angle. Ball-heads are also lighter, making them more portable and easier to handle.

The 3-Way “Pan-Tilt” Head
The head consistsof three separate arms, controlling the vertical-tilt, horizontal-tilt, and the 360-degree pan. To alter the position of each angle, all one has to do is simply twist the handle for the desired angle, move the camera into the desired position, and then twist the handle back to lock the camera in place.

The geared head
This is a variant of the three-way head, but, instead of handles that loosen their axis when twisted, a system of gears moves the head about one particular axis when the handles are twisted. This gearing allows for very fine and precise adjustments—the geared head’s biggest advantage. Because of the precision built into the geared head, it is preferred by architectural photographers and anyone who needs super-accurate camera positioning.

Pistol Grip / Joystick Head
These are essentially a ball head with a handle which is useful when you’re working quickly or when you must make a large number of small adjustments. Squeeze the handle and you can re-position the camera. A pistol grip tends to be taller than other tripod heads. Some photographers find a pistol grip awkward when photographing moving subjects, since you can’t simultaneously focus, press the pistol grip and the shutter release.

These are
generally pan/tilt heads with a long handles.
Specialised video heads incorporate
additional features such as fluid, geared rotation adjustments, heavy-duty load
capacity, bubble levels, and greater adjustment lock options.

Gimbal Head
Designed to work with lenses that have a built-in tripod mount collar, Gimbal heads let you easily pan by rotating the base, and do up/down tilts, without fear of the camera tipping over in its mount. Because of the engineering behind a Gimbal, there’s very little friction, so your tilts and pans can be smooth.

5 heads: video, joy-stick, 3-way, ball, & gimbal head

Quick Release System

With older tripod head designs you screw a knurled nut through the camera mounting plate and into the tripod bush on the bottom of the camera. It’s perfectly secure, but it’s time-consuming. If you want to take the camera off the tripod for a few handheld shots, or to quickly pack up and move to a new location, having to unscrew the camera and then screw it back on again later is a bit of a chore.
Nearly all tripod heads now use  ‘quick release’ plates that screw into the base of the camera and then attach to the tripod via quick-action locking mechanisms. This means that you only have to go through the relatively slow process of attaching the camera once, and after that you can clip it to the tripod head and remove it much more quickly.  You can leave the quick release plate on the camera all the time, regardless of whether you’re shooting hand-held or on a tripod, and just remove it at the end of the day.

Quick release plate types

Cheaper tripods come with a simple plastic plate that can be attached on any camera or lens, while some of the more expensive tripod heads come with a more durable plate. There are numerous quick release plate shapes and sizes which makes it a challenge finding replacement for a lost QR plate.

Newer heads are adapting the universal system known as the Arca-Swiss Quick Release System. This uses a flat, rectangular plate made of strong aluminium which is attached to the camera using a coin-slot screw or a butterfly nut. All plates come in the same width but in longer lengths for bigger tripod heads including those for video. The plate is clamped into position between two angled jaws using a lock-nut at the side. The locking mechanism is simple, yet super tight for a vibration-free operation.

Not all quick release plates that appear to follow the Arca Swiss design are completely compatible, even though they might look the same, so it’s worth checking.

Leg Options


  • Plastic is the lightest weight material you can get for a tripod. Medium sized tripods that contain lots of plastic or plastic pan heads are more prone to flexing so not recommended for heavy equipment
  • Steel is a metal alloy whose major component is iron. Steel provides very
    little vibrational damping and transfers cold to your hands readily. You
    can prevent this by covering the metal legs with rubber or foam
  • Aluminium is lightweight, strong for its weight, inexpensive, but transmits vibrations readily. Aluminium also shrinks or expands with temperature. It is the most popular material used in tripod leg construction.
  • Carbon Fibre is the most expensive material but it’s main advantages include high tensile strength, high temperature tolerance, low thermal expansion and is very lightweight. It has a very high strength to weight ratio, can be extremely rigid but can be brittle. It dampens vibrations more quickly then aluminium.


Traditionally tripods came with legs in 3 sections but to make the folded length shorter somemodels come with 4 sections. To achieve this, the bottom leg segment has to be skinnier than the bottom segment of an equivalent three-section tripod. This means that, fully extended, a four section tripod would be less stable than an equivalent height three-section one. Being smaller in diameter, the bottom leg section would be less rigid, and the extra leg joints would create more possible places for it to flex.

Multi-Angle Upper Leg Locks

Many tripod legs are “multi-angle.” This means that you can adjust the spread of the legs to allow the tripod to be used at different heights or in awkward areas where one leg or more legs cannot be at the same angle as the others. Some chassis permit the legs to reach a nearly horizontal position, and some, especially for travel tripods, allow the legs to invert for more compact storage.

Leg Locks

Multi-section tripod legs will have some sort of locking mechanism to prevent the legs from retracting when loaded or from extending farther. The two most common types of leg locks are the flip lock and the twist lock.

  • Flip lock consists of a simple mechanism which “flips open” to extend the leg and then flips closed to secure the leg section in place, resulting in a quick and simple set-up process.  Disadvantages are not weather sealed, can be jammed by debris and may loosen over time (most can be re-tightened)
  • Twist locks require you to twist to loosen, extend or retract the legs, and then twist to tighten. Some require several turns to tighten, others only a half or quarter turn. These offer better sealing and fewer parts.

Tripod feet

Many tripods have plastic tips on the end of their legs. Some feet have rubber that twists to reveal spikes. Spiked feet are useful in dirt, on ice and under windy conditions.

leg angles, lock styles, spiked feet


Some of the higher-end tripods sometimes come with a hook under the platform. Those can be useful to hang a backpack or a sandbag for additional stability, but you have to be careful when shooting in windy conditions, as it can move the weight and potentially cause even morecamera shake.

Centre post

A centre column gives you a quick way to increase the hight of the camera without adjusting the length of each of the three legs.
If tripod needs to lie close to the ground then the legs should be able to extend flat on the ground and the centre post be short or able to be moved into a horizontal position.

short column vs repositionable column

Legs optimized for video

Most photography tripods have single column legs, but many video tripods have double legs that slide out. This gives the tripod more structural resistance to twisting and torsion which is vital when using heavy video cameras and pan tilt heads. The wide legs, however also add bulk and weight

Level Your Head

tripods include a bubble level (typically with a circular target to identify
level) and require that you level the head by adjusting the height of
each leg until the bubble centres in the target. Videographers like to  quickly level the camera without adjusting their legs. There are specialist pro-video kits with a bowl system but for the light weight cameras consider the following options

  • Look for a tripod that has a ball mount that lets you angle the head within a mounting cup .
  • Add a levelling base to your existing system - it fits between the tripod and the head
ball mount (with and without head) and levelling base

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