When photographing landscape-scenic-nature subjects after your camera body your tripod is your most important piece of equipment . There is no one perfect tripod, each make and model has it’s good and bad features, and just like your camera you get what you pay for. Most novice photographers overlook this important purchase and fail to carefully consider what they are purchasing and what will work best for their style of photography. Here are a few thoughts that may help you maneuver through this decision.
An ideal tripod will have a height that is as tall as your eyesight without the use of a center column, it will also have a minimum height that is no more than the height of the camera and head assembly (for taking pictures of tiny little wildflowers close to the ground.) The ideal tripod will fold up to fit into your travel luggage, be very light weight while securely supporting your camera with the largest lens you own (or plan to own.)
The industry standard for most nature photographers is the Manfrotto or Gitzo. Both are made by the same manufacturer. The Manfrotto line of tripods are like Chevys and the Gitzo are like Cadillacs. A Chevy is very adequate transportation; it will get you from point “A” to point “B”, a Cadillac does the same thing only with more comfort, perhaps a little faster, and with more style–same is true with a Manfrotto vrs Gitzo. Your choice of tripod will be based in some part upon whether you are on a Chevy or Cadillac budget.
When you purchase a professional or advanced amateur quality tripod you are actually purchasing the tripod legs and head assembly separately (many retailers will sell them as a single unit for simplicity.) Here are some suggestions for legs and a head assembly. You should go to your local photo retailer and ask to see these models to try them out and see which one will work best for you. (You can print out this email and bring it with you to your camera store.) Prices are approximate and may vary. Support your local photo-retailer, the difference in cost compared to online is most times minimal and the knowledge your camera retailer provides is worth the difference in price.
A word about tripod heads and quick release systems;
When you shop in the Cadillac level of tripod heads most of these heads are equiped with the Arca-Swiss style of quick-release mechanism. This style is universal among all manufacturers of this style of quick-release. hotel comparison . That means any Arca-Swiss style plate will fit a Fourth Generation Design gimbel head, a Kirk ballhead or any other tripod head with a quick release of this design–very handy.
I don’t care for Manfrotto’s /Gitzo’s quick-release systems; they vary the design with just about every head they manufacturer. Most professional nature photographers have more than one tripod and head assembly–different tools for different jobs. Using the Manfrotto/Gitzo heads would require swapping quick release plates every time you change tripods–kind of defeats the purpose of a quick-release. I just wish Manfrotto would catch on to this simple concept….I do recommend a couple of Manfrotto heads for those of you shopping in the Chevy price range, I am assuming that you will only purchase one tripod and therefore the afore mentioned issue won’t concern you, however, should you decide later on that you need another tripod head you will be caught up in the quick-release swap. You can purchase the Chevy legs with a Cadillac head.
Tripod legs for a Chevy budget, Manfrotto Tripods:
Legs-055 series-taller tripod very sturdy-height without center column aprox 55 inches,
Model # 055CXPRO3
This is a carbon fiber tripod-meaning it is light weight the legs alone will cost aprox $400-450
Model # 055XPROB
This is a aluminum tripod-meaning it is not as light as the above model the legs alone will cost aprox $200-250
Legs-190 series-not as tall but still a good tripod-height without center column aprox 48 inches
Model # 190CXPRO3
This is a carbon fiber tripod-meaning it is light weight, the legs alone will cost aprox $300-350
Model # 190XPROB
This is a aluminum tripod-meaning it is not as light as the above model, the legs alone will cost aprox $150-200
Head-assemblies for a Chevy budget:
Here are some head assemblies I recommend:
Grip action ball head-very versatile, the cost is aprox $125-150
Grip action ball head–redesigned and heavier duty than the above, cost is aprox $140-160
Any of the above combinations will support a typical 35mm DSLR camera with a lens upto about a f5.6 70-300mm. If you have fast glass for longer lenses you are in the Cadillac price range for tripod heads.
Part two of this series will offer some advice for those shopping on a Cadillac budget.
Thank you to Kyle Krohn at
West Photo for providing
information for this article.