The Best Tripod is the One You're Willing to Carry

36Share

There is perhaps no other piece of camera gear as highly disputed as the humble tripod. Billed as, “the ugly duckling of equipment” in a 1985 New York Times story by legendary writer and picture editor John Durniak, he went on to explain, “one measure of a good photographer is the ability to handle one. Far from being an esoteric device limited to professionals,” he noted, “the tripod, in skilled hands, can be a useful tool for the interested amateur who can profit from some of the creative uses to which professionals have put it.”

Despite the sea change from analog to digital, technological advances of in-camera and lens-based stabilization, breakthroughs in reaching stratospherically high ISOs, and miracles of image composites and sharpening in post, the simple wisdom of this quote still rings true today. The use of a tripod remains an essential way to improve image quality at the instant of capture, ideally with minimal effort. Yet why do so many photographers leave this important tool behind, believing it to cramp their style as overly cumbersome or excessively bothersome to set up?

One potential cause is the growing ranks of manufacturers that offer seemingly comparable products, which can make choosing the right setup for your needs an overwhelming task. To help you make the right choice, the story below offers useful insights on basic types of tripod kits and different categories of tripod heads, legs, and other stabilization options for those seeking a custom setup.

First things first: Some key considerations when buying a tripod

Type, size, and weight of your camera or device: It’s important to match your tripod to the device it supports. All camera supports list a load capacity among the specs, the maximum combined weight (camera, lens, and anything else being used) that a given system can support. Exceeding a tripod’s listed capacity is an invitation to blurry pictures. Another thing to keep in mind: Supports for video cameras are specialized, and often require extra weight capacity.

Tripod size and weight: A tripod’s minimum and maximum (with and without the center column) working height is another set of essential specs. When evaluating which tripod will best suit your needs, consider these specs in relation to your own height and your primary subject matter. A macro photographer has different needs than an astrophotography specialist. In addition to size, the weight of a tripod is key to your comfort level, especially if you’ll be carrying it over distances.

Stability and construction materials: Tripod weight is often closely related to stability, which in turn is influenced by construction materials. Plastic (sometimes called duramold) may be lighter than aluminum, carbon fiber, or various metal alloys, but don’t make the mistake of sacrificing sturdiness for portability, especially if you’re looking for a long-term investment. A quality tripod is made of rigid materials that will not flex or bend and has secure connections at all joints. Ultimately, the best way to gauge the stability of a tripod is to try it out. Set it up, then tap or apply weight to the top to see if it vibrates or sways. Then reposition the moving parts and make sure everything has smooth motion and locks securely without causing your camera to slip or creep.

Ease of use and versatility: What’s the point of a tripod if you miss the shot because it takes too long to set up? Ease of use hinges on how quickly you can deploy your gear and then adjust moving parts on the fly to capture subsequent scenes. Versatility is a must if your tripod will get different kinds of use, or you anticipate your image-making needs will evolve over time. The bottom line: Practice makes perfect, so familiarize yourself with all the functions of your tripod before you endeavor to use it in the field.

Assembled Kit or À la Carte

At its most basic, the tripod has three main components—a three-pronged leg section offering varied degrees of up-and-down movement, a center column (often included with the legs) for extended height and sometimes lateral movement, and a section to hold the camera known as the head, which allows multidirectional movement (more on the many different types of heads to choose from later).

Magnus GP-100 Light-Duty Tripod with Pan Head, Smartphone Adapter, and GoPro Mount

Magnus GP-100 Light-Duty Tripod with Pan Head, Smartphone Adapter, and GoPro Mount

To keep things simple for novice users, many tripod manufacturers produce paired legs-and-head combinations, otherwise known as a tripod kit, designed to fill the basic needs of entry-level photographers. While this can be a convenient and cost-conscious solution, it’s important to consider the adage “you get what you pay for,” especially when it comes to ease of use, portability, and stability of the most basic of kits.

Even fledgling photographers who have never used a tripod may benefit from investing in a more advanced kit that affords increased durability and features a modular design that can be upgraded should they choose to swap out or replace any part of the tripod for future use.

The Travel Kit

A popular subset of this genre that has flourished with the growing popularity of nomadic creative professionals is the travel tripod kit. Designed to be the smallest and lightest in their respectable class, these kits feature legs that fold in reverse to collapse around the center column and a compact ball head. Most major manufacturers, from Benro, to Manfrotto, to Gitzo, offer a range of travel tripod kits, which generally trade the maximized height and enhanced stability of regular-sized tripods for lighter weight and a reduced folded footprint. If you’ll be traveling with a tripod, consider this: Never buy a bigger tripod than you are willing to carry. But always select the sturdiest model that you’re willing to tolerate.

Benro MeFOTO BackPacker Classic Aluminum Travel Tripod with Ball Head (Titanium)

Benro MeFOTO BackPacker Classic Aluminum Travel Tripod with Ball Head (Titanium)

The Tripod System

For the enthusiast, advanced, and professional photographer, the most popular route to take is investing in a modular tripod system or, in layman’s terms, a camera support consisting of a detachable head and a set of durable, versatile legs. Whether purchased together as part of an advanced kit or separately, investing in a system ensures that you purchase customizable and quality gear that can be modified to suit individual needs, either now or in the future. Below, we’ll review some of the different options for assembling a custom tripod from the various parts.

Tripod Legs and Choice of Materials

As its name implies, a tripod’s essence begins in the legs, most often constructed from aluminum, an aluminum alloy with titanium or magnesium, or carbon fiber. Aluminum models, while most affordable, have the disadvantage of added weight when carried over distance. Aluminum is also more sensitive to environmental factors such as corrosion, heat, and cold, which can make tripod leg protectors a worthy investment. On the plus side, aluminum is better able to withstand the dings and drops of heavy use, and its added heft can be a stabilizing factor in windy conditions. 

Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod

Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod

Although carbon fiber tripods are more costly, they offer several advantages to help justify the price. In addition to being lighter to carry, this material touts reduced vibration and resistance to corrosion and temperature extremes. Carbon fiber tripods are stiffer than aluminum models, which means they can handle more weight at a smaller size while experiencing fewer micromovements, a decided benefit if you’re looking to mount a telescope or other heavy piece of optical equipment. Carbon fiber models often reference the number of layers used in manufacturing (from 2X up), with a larger number indicating added strength—a useful detail, since carbon fiber is more susceptible to cracking or fracture than aluminum. 

Leg Lock Styles: To Flip or to Twist

Most tripod legs are made up of several—most often 3 or 4—sections of telescoping tubes that nest together when closed, allowing a user to adjust the height, and sometimes the angle, of each leg independently. There are two classic styles of leg closures—flip locks (also known as levers) and twist locks—with the choice between types being primarily a matter of personal preference. Some will complain that flip locks add bulk, can snag an item—or a wayward finger—in the lock mechanism, are harder to operate for those with afflictions such as arthritis, can be subject to breakage, or make undue noise in quiet conditions, while others consider this style of lock mechanism an advantage, since it is more obvious to see and feel it flip open and closed.

Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Aluminum Tripod

Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Aluminum Tripod

Alternatively, the more subtle movement of twist locks can make this style of closure seem more challenging at first. The key is to remember that almost all twist locks require only a quarter turn to open and close the locking mechanism. The inherent design of this style lock allows it to retain maximum grip throughout a tripod’s lifespan, without any form of re-tightening. What’s more, it can be easily disassembled for cleaning and lubrication after use in problematic environments such as sand, dirt, or mud. Another advantage of twist locks is the ability to easily loosen, deploy, and tighten multiple locks in quick succession, making for a more efficient setup.

Yet, regardless of which style is faster to set up and take down, both types of mechanisms are designed with varying levels of quality, so spending a bit more for sturdier and more durable components has definite advantages.

Benro FBAT24CVX25 Bat Carbon Fiber Tripod Kit with VX25 Ball Head

Benro FBAT24CVX25 Bat Carbon Fiber Tripod Kit with VX25 Ball Head

As previously noted, tripod legs are most often packaged with a center column, which is either mounted on the frame or allowed to slide through it, with a friction collar keeping the column fixed in place until it is activated by the user. While extending the center column can be a faster, and therefore easier, method for attaining greater height, raising this column has the potential to compromise stability. For this reason, it’s best to begin height adjustments with tripod legs, starting with the thickest sections first. Another handy aid to stability is the presence of a ballast hook at the bottom of certain center columns, which allows for the weight of a bag or similar item to be suspended beneath the tripod, thereby stabilizing the setup. Center columns can also be reversible, to allow for low-angle shooting, which is useful for macro subjects. In other cases, center columns and related accessories for specific model tripods are available as modular add-ons to increase a tripod’s functionality, allowing for lateral movements of up to 90 degrees.

Tripod Heads

Pan-Tilt Heads

When most people think about tripod functionality, they envision the movements and handle-operated style of the 2- or 3-Way Pan-Tilt head, which features from one to three independent handles and/or knobs to control vertical-tilt, horizontal-tilt, and 360-degree pan. This classic design has remained popular, especially among beginners, because of its straightforward operation and relatively precise movement, giving the user control over each plane of movement without having an impact on the other planes. To alter the position of each plane, simply loosen the handle controlling the desired movement, move the camera into position, and tighten the handle firmly to secure the camera in place. Three-way heads are commonly utilized for landscape, portraiture, still life, and macro or product photography, but they can be used for nearly every photographic application.

Manfrotto XPRO 3-Way, Pan-and-Tilt Head with 200PL-14 Quick-Release Plate

Manfrotto XPRO 3-Way, Pan-and-Tilt Head with 200PL-14 Quick-Release Plate

Pan Head Perks

+Precise and individual control of each plane of adjustment
+Smooth operation for video
+More affordable price

Pan Head Drawbacks

-Slower and more complicated to operate
-Heavier weight, added bulk can lead to snags
-Harder to store/transport
-Potential for jerky movement or drifting

Ball Heads

A more recent innovation than the pan head, the Ball Head has become extremely popular, due in part to its more compact size and versatility. Ball heads trade out extraneous handles and knobs to put the camera in the driver’s seat, which can be moved into any position by loosening one or more tiny tension control knobs. This style head typically features one or more drop notches in the friction collar for added flexibility of camera movement, allowing for extreme up or down angles and vertical camera orientation.

Oben BE-117 Ball Head with Arca-Type Quick Release

Oben BE-117 Ball Head with Arca-Type Quick Release

The most basic ball heads control camera movement by tightening or loosening the ball joint using a single knob. Higher-end models may offer additional adjustments, such as a secondary drag control to hold the camera in place when the tension control is disengaged, while still allowing specific movements. Still other models incorporate an independent panning control, allowing the entire mechanism to be rotated horizontally 360° while maintaining the orientation of the ball joint. Although the simpler mechanism of a ball head may have fewer parts, the components must be precisely machined to provide smooth movement, increasing the average price.

Due to its smaller size and ease of use, this style head is popular among sports, action, outdoor adventure, wildlife, and travel photographers—although, like the pan-tilt head, it can be used for almost any photographic application. 

Ball Head Perks

+Lighter weight, more portable
+Easy to use and adjust
+More intuitive control, quicker to operate
+Good for tracking moving objects

Ball Head Drawbacks

-Less precise, harder to achieve exact level
-Not as sturdy, could be prone to camera slippage
-Higher price point

Pistol Grip Heads

Basically a variation on the ball head, a pistol grip head (also known as a grip action or joystick head) allows you to reposition your camera by squeezing the grip with a one-handed movement. This releases the ball, freeing you to position the head at the desired angle, then you simply release the trigger to lock everything in place. Using a pistol grip head tends to be an acquired taste—some people love them, while others find them to be a nuisance. Pistol grips are generally heavier, bulkier, and more expensive than a standard ball head, and some models can be prone to slippage. But their fast, intuitive handling can be a plus for action subjects like sports, outdoor adventure, wildlife, and travel photography. Pistol grips are less effective for genres like studio, macro, and still life photography, when more precise camera adjustments are needed. 

Manfrotto 322RC2 Ball Head with 200PL-14 Quick-Release Plate and 322RA Quick-Release Adapter

Manfrotto 322RC2 Ball Head with 200PL-14 Quick-Release Plate and 322RA Quick-Release Adapter

Pistol Grip Head Perks

+Fast, intuitive to operate, great for action shooting
+Ergonomic design facilitates single-handed adjustments
+No fumbling with multiple handles or knobs

Pistol Grip Head Drawbacks

-Higher price point
-Heavier and bulkier than a regular ball head
-Some models can be prone to slippage
-Squeeze grip mechanism requires hand strength, which can be challenging for those with arthritis or other hand ailments

Gimbal Heads

Advanced sports and wildlife photographers often gravitate to Gimbal Heads to help track a moving subject while supporting and balancing a large lens and camera body. Typically the largest and heaviest style tripod head, when properly balanced, a gimbal head will maintain its position even after your hand leaves the camera.

Benro GH2F Folding Gimbal Head with Arca-Type Quick-Release Plate

Benro GH2F Folding Gimbal Head with Arca-Type Quick-Release Plate

It’s important to note that gimbal heads for still photography are distinct from a video gimbal. The former is designed to be placed on a tripod or monopod and does not contain electronic parts, while a gimbal for motion footage uses motors, rotating gyros, and electronics to resist the camera’s inertia and keep it level while in motion. Video gimbals are used handheld or attached to a moving object rather than a tripod. These gimbals generally have less weight capacity than a tripod-mounted gimbal head.

(Left) Wimberley WH-200 Cradle-Mount Gimbal Tripod Head II with Quick-Release Base (Right) Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head
(Left) Wimberley WH-200 Cradle-Mount Gimbal Tripod Head II with Quick-Release Base (Right) Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head

Gimbal heads for photography come in two different styles: cradle-mounted (the more traditional type) and a side-mounted version. With a cradle-mounted gimbal, the lens foot attaches to an L-shaped arm that extends down from the gimbal’s pivot point to cradle your gear. This style gimbal head is heavier, bulkier, and generally more expensive than the side-mounted version. With a side-mounted head, the lens foot attaches directly to the gimbal’s pivot point, resulting in the camera rig being positioned at 90 degrees from its placement in the cradle mount.

Most importantly, keep in mind that a lens-mounting plate is not included with a gimbal head; one must be specially selected for the lens being used. Before investing in a gimbal system, always make sure to purchase an appropriate lens-mounting plate with enough length to balance your rig sufficiently. 

Gimbal Head Perks

+Steady support for large lenses
+Mobility for capturing and tracking fast action
+Video gimbals are smaller and more portable than other types of stabilization for motion footage

Gimbal Head Drawbacks

-Photo and videography gimbals are two distinct items
-Largest and heaviest style tripod head
-Requires proper balancing for optimal use
-Mounting plate must be purchased separately

Geared Heads

A geared tripod head enables you to position your camera incrementally along geared tracks on vertical, horizontal, and rotational planes by using three knobs that control pan, tilt, and yaw. This allows for precise adjustments with no drifting or camera slippage. For added precision, most geared heads feature two or more built-in spirit levels, so you know when everything is level. The exacting nature of this style head is ideal for genres such as architectural, industrial, still life, and large format photography, although its substantial heft and complex operation makes it a serious investment.

Manfrotto 410 3-Way, Geared Pan-and-Tilt Head with 410PL Quick-Release Plate

Manfrotto 410 3-Way, Geared Pan-and-Tilt Head with 410PL Quick-Release Plate

For everything you’ve ever wanted to learn about geared tripod heads but didn’t know to ask, check out our Geared Tripod Head Roundup, by Allan Weitz.

Geared Head Perks

+Ultimate precision
+Solid support for large cameras, high load capacity

Geared Head Drawbacks

-Slower to work with
-Very bulky and heavy
-More expensive price point

Fluid Heads

With nearly every stills camera able to perform advanced video functions, many photographers now incorporate video components into their tripod kits, with one important consideration being the fluid tripod head. An improvement on the more basic “friction” head, fluid heads are designed to decrease resistance when recording video. The hydraulic damping system of a fluid head controls drag while panning and tilting, and its integrated “fluid” cartridge helps reduce the unwanted jitters, vibrations, and shakes of sudden camera movements. While each tripod head features a maximum load capacity, a fluid head’s declared maximum is a firm guideline that should not be crossed. Proper weight balance is essential for a fluid head to perform well, and resistance from an unbalanced load can negate the head’s video-smoothing properties—especially in the hands of entry-level users. Although a fluid head may be overkill for basic still photography needs, it is extremely helpful for ensuring smooth motion footage, and its damping properties can help avoid camera shake when shooting with long lenses.

Manfrotto 502AH Pro Video Head with Flat Base

Manfrotto 502AH Pro Video Head with Flat Base

Fluid Head Perks

+Sturdier build than friction heads
+Complex design helps the dampen sudden movement
+Provides very smooth pan and tilt movement, overcomes earthquake effect

Fluid Head Drawbacks

-Expensive price point
-Very bulky and heavier than other head styles

Panoramic and Time-Lapse and Sliders

Tripods are specifically designed to stabilize your gear, making the inclusion of Panoramic & Time Lapse Heads and Pro Video Camera Sliders seem counterintuitive here. Yet, one good reason they deserve a spot is due to the precise control they exert over your camera’s movement when capturing multiple images for an ultrawide still photo or immersive motion clip. A dedicated tripod head is certainly not a requirement for creating successful scenes, but the accuracy of such tools to eliminate parallax, control shooting angles, and standardize the degree of image overlap can save a significant amount of time in post-processing. Panoramic heads are particularly useful to architectural and landscape photographers seeking to capture expansive vistas, while time-lapse heads and sliders are increasingly popular and widely accessible as tools that allow almost anyone to harness dramatic cinematic effects.

Syrp Genie One Motion Control Pan Head/Linear Drive

Syrp Genie One Motion Control Pan Head/Linear Drive

For much more on panoramic and time lapse heads and sliders, dive into Todd Vorenkamp’s Explora article Tools of the Trade for Panoramic Photographers and Shawn Steiner’s Time-Lapse Tips and Tools.

Panoramic / Time Lapse Head / Slider Perks

+High precision capture without the worry of parallax
+Allows you to generate large files with lots of detail

Panoramic / Time Lapse Head / Slider Drawbacks

-Learning curve to master use fully
-Challenging to use in windy conditions or changing light
-Large files require robust image processing and storage capabilities

Camera Mounts: Quick releases, Arca-Swiss-Compatible Plates, and L Brackets

An inventory of various style tripod heads means nothing without a word (or more) about how your camera mounts on different types of support systems. Most cameras have a female thread on their bottom surface sized at either 1/4-20 UNC (for consumer cameras) or 3/8-16 UNC (for larger, professional cameras and lenses). This thread allows for the introduction of a flat metal plate generally known as a quick release which, as the name implies, makes it quick and easy to remove and resecure your camera to a corresponding plate on the tripod head. Angled or grooved metal jaws on each plate keep the camera clamped into position under a locknut or clamp.

Robus Quick Release Clamp with Arca-Type Plate

Robus Quick Release Clamp with Arca-Type Plate

While Arca-Swiss-compatible plates have become the most popular, and hence most desirable, type of quick release, it’s important to realize this is not a universal standard. Many tripod makers still use their own quick-release plate designs, so this is a detail worth checking before purchasing a tripod system or individual head. Additionally, if you’ll be using multiple cameras with the same tripod, consider attaching a quick-release plate to the bottom of each camera to save time when preparing for your next shot.

3 Legged Thing Universal L-Bracket (Orange)

3 Legged Thing Universal L-Bracket (Orange)

Another handy accessory that will allow for maximum efficiency in the field is an L-Bracket, available either in camera-specific or universal models. Like its name, this L-shaped plate serves a similar purpose as the quick release, while keeping your camera centered on the head to minimize slippage and for maximum efficiency when switching between portrait and landscape orientation.

Low-Clearance Pods: Beanbags, Groundpods, Chest Supports, Tabletop, and Mini Tripods

If you need to stabilize your camera for a sharp image but a tripod is either not permitted or sufficient set-up space cannot be found—fear not—there is a wide variety of Counter, Chest, and Strap Pods that can provide support on almost any surface, including your own body.

Glide Gear SNC100 Snorricam DSLR Vest Harness

Glide Gear SNC100 Snorricam DSLR Vest Harness

The ever-malleable beanbag is arguably more stable than a tripod or monopod because of its low center of gravity and very wide base. Often filled with rice or beans (as the name implies), you can basically fill an empty beanbag with any granular substance to stabilize and cushion your gear. One benefit to using a beanbag on the road is the option to save space and weight by carrying an empty bag, which you can fill after arrival at your destination. What’s more, a beanbag can serve double duty in weighing down your full-sized tripod when conditions permit.

Another good option for getting really low is the ground pod. Attach your camera directly to the pod for a frog’s eye view or add your choice of tripod head for a greater range of low-angle shots. Certain ground pods can be mounted to a solid surface to keep your camera steady wherever you want it.

Platypod Max Camera Support

Platypod Max Camera Support

Yet, perhaps the most popular solution for stability on the go is the tabletop or mini tripod. Often sold as a single unit with head and legs pre-attached and a maximum height of a foot or less, these diminutive stabilizers are ideal for travelers, hikers, or those shooting in areas where full-size camera supports may be prohibited. Bendable variations, such as the Joby Gorillapod line, can be wrapped around a variety of objects (such as tree branches, pipes, and handlebars) to keep your camera steady on uneven terrain or to achieve unique photographic perspectives.

Magnus MaxiGrip Flexible Tripod (Red)

Magnus MaxiGrip Flexible Tripod (Red)

For even more shopping suggestions in the realm of action adventure motion capture, check out M. Brett Smith’s story, 10 Awesome Mounts for Your Action Cam.

Low Clearance Pod Perks

+More economical than a full-sized tripod
+Light weight and compact size make them easy to pack and carry
+Provides camera support in conditions where full-sized tripods cannot be used

Low Clearance Pod Drawbacks

-Limited load capacity
-Smaller size may compromise stability and/or full range of motion

Monopods, Extension Poles, and Selfie Sticks

Finally, while some might discount it as the tripod’s unhinged cousin, the humble monopod deserves mention for its ability to steady the weight of your camera setup in conditions where a larger rig is ill adapted for use. Monopods are quicker to set up/take down and easier to transport than conventional tripods, making them particularly useful in taming fast action such as sports or wildlife situations when there is sufficient light.

These handy devices come in many sizes and form factors to serve photographers and videographers of all types, from those making casual grab shots or vlogging on the go to professionals seeking to stabilize a monster lens. They can also be employed in a similar manner as their big brother, the Extension Camera Pole, to reach a remote scene that is otherwise inaccessible from view.

K&F Concept Magnesium-Alloy Travel Tripod with Rotating Lateral Multi-Angle Center Column, Ball Head and Monopod Kit

K&F Concept Magnesium-Alloy Travel Tripod with Rotating Lateral Multi-Angle Center Column, Ball Head and Monopod Kit

And here’s a fun fact: Select tripod models can be conveniently converted to a monopod by means of a removable leg that attaches to the tripod’s center column.

Another take on the monopod is the selfie stick or camera pole, which exploded as a fad along with the rise of high-end cell phone cameras. Although the aptly nicknamed “Wand of Narcissus” isn’t as ubiquitous today as a few years back, it has not lost its usefulness as a portable tool for maximizing creativity when capturing life on the go, especially if you want to include yourself and your friends in on the fun.

Care to learn more about the full range of selfie sticks? Jump to Explora’s Selfie Sticks: A B&H Buying Guide, by John Harris.

Monopod/Selfie Stick Perks

+Lightweight, quick and easy to set up
+Less expensive than purchasing a tripod
+Useful in locations that do not allow for a larger setup
+Potential for capturing otherwise inaccessible scenes
+Can also serve as a hiking pole on outdoor adventures

Monopod/Selfie Stick Drawbacks

-Not as stable as a three-legged camera support

Assembling Your Own Kit

We hope that the above information will make it somewhat easier to select a tripod that’s fully suited to your needs or to assemble your own custom support kit. While there are many brands to choose from and multiple designs and functions to review, always remember that your tripod setup is, first and foremost, designed to support your gear safely, and that special consideration should always be given to the recommended load capacities of any tripod component you purchase.

Read more about tripods in these Explora articles The Tripod Explained10 Recommended Full-Sized Tripods12 Recommended Travel Tripods, Camera Supports for Unique-Angle Camera Positioning, 20 Tripods That Are Not Really Tripods and Transformer Tripods: More Than Meets the Leg.

What’s you’re all-time favorite tripod? Please support the conversation in the Comments section, below.

36 Comments

It is also helpful to get a small sandbag to use at the center of the tripod.  Makes it many times more stable and less likely to be knocked over.

Will Oben Macro Focusing Rail work with Tamron 150 - 600 or Tamron 18 - 250 lenses?

I doubt that the Oben Macro Focusing Rail would support the Tamron 150-600mm lens.  Though, I don’t quite know why one would need to use a focusing rail with a super zoom lens or an all in one. 

I'm disappointed that you did not include the not-a-tripod solution for camera support in situations where you need to be off the ground more than real tri-pods can handle.  The three-footed tall light stands (I still call mine a tripod) are wonderful up to 16' and okay beyond (the 24' version are heavy and requires extra care for safety).  I use this support system for video that can't be easily captured any other way.  For example, the high school band concert or play, shot from the auditorium floor -- above the audience distraction -- to capture a clean shot of every's little darling.  Using television-sets for remote monitors, remote control for zoom and pan, you can mount two cameras on top of this stand (weight is not a problem) and get enough variety to produce a product that parents will love.  Sound is another issue and reqires a separate system to record.  Oh yes... this stand was not built for cameras and you should be very careful when mounting 1/4-20 (screw-size) objects.

That Benro S4 is not actually a fluid video head! Just uses screws to "add resistance".

I would like to recommend the unique Explorer tripods from Gitzo for anyone doing photography on uneven ground (be it meadow, hillside or staircase), and especially for macro or low-level subjects. The joy of this model is the independently locking legs, which no other tripod has (to my knowledge). There is also an independent pivoting, rotating center column, which some other brands do have. Not only does each leg spread to any angle, but you lock each leg into its own position. While it takes a little longer to get set up (until you get used to the routine), the fact that the legs lock into position means that if you want to pick it up and move position an inch or a foot, the legs don't ever start to shift and need to be spread out again. For close-up shots of flowers, etc., you can pull, push, or slide the whole set-up without the legs catching and tucking up.

I recently bought a MeFoto (I think this is an offshoot of the Benro brand, but not sure) Globe Trotter aluminum tripod. Very compact and light compared to my oldie, but goodie, Star D Pro. It holds my Nikon D5300 & Tamron 16-300 mm zoom quite steady. To be honest, I have not gone out in the field yet, but I'm very sure it will be just as sturdy. The only complaint I have is that I would have liked to see the feet (rubber/spike) to be 1 piece instead of having to unscrew the rubber feet and then having to screw in the spikes. I'm sure there was a reason for this design, but I can't seem to figure it out.

Spikes are frowned on in most interiors; rubber feet are more floor-friendly, thus the two options. 

Well up until now I've done well with carbon travel tripod, a nice sturdy monopod for areas that don't allow tripods, and a ball head quick release. How ever, I just added a big prime lines, a 400mm f4 DO. And now looking to support this lens properly. I know there are heavier lenses out there but it is the biggest one I have. What's the best way to support it for Air shows and wildlife?

For large lens I’ve been using the Manfrotto (Neotec Monopod with Safety Lock - 685B) with the Manfrotto (Mini Ball Head with RC2 - 494RC2). Easily height adjustable and quick release makes removing the lens a snap.  Would be perfect for your Air shows and wildlife.

as a professional user and someone who "tripods evrything " and owns a variety, Gitzo- alum and Carbon, twist and flip locks, here my 2 cents worth the carbon fiber center columes are unreliable , they come unglued with use - i find the alum center colume to stick and lock down with difficulty especailly in the cold. overall the advice given in this guide is sound. 

So what are you saying?  There's no pleasing you?

In my humble opinion, as a serious amatuer photographer for over 50 years, my favorite tripod are the benro series.....i find the traveler series carbon fibre tripods, to be exceptional in engineering, very well though out!..........and can support well up to and over 22 lbs....truly excellent when traveling or using for general photography

I agree with Owen.  While other brands may have similar offferings, the Benro folds to a smaller footprint which is invaluable for travel. Also, the Benro tripods have may configurations possible making them very versatile.  However, not so found of Benro ball heads.   

The Joby Gorillapod is junk. Mine cracked at the joints and doesn't hold my expensive camera. I contacted Joby for a solution and they told me to put super glue on the joints or buy a new one. I will not spend money on a product that does not hold up and i will not endorse this product.

I have used the Joby Gorillapods for six years. My first one got cracked joints the first few weeks I used it, and Joby replaced it quickly. My second one started getting cracked joints after three years. It was still usable at this point, but I contacted Joby to ask the about why their tripods keep getting cracked joints. They told me what plastic they used, and from my experience, that plastic just gets very brittle as it ages. I asked them how long these things last, and they told me they only last a few years. They told me that what I was experiencing was normal wear and tear, and basically something to the effect of the tripod has a limited lifespan. Superglue does not work to fix the cracking. The joints require tension to function and hold themselves properly, and superglue shears very easily. Also, when critical joints of the tripod fail like mine did, which was relatively suddenly, good luck catching your camera. I got lucky catching my camera as it plunged toward the earth, but I don't think everyone will. I don't plan to purchase any more Joby Gorillapods and will be looking for something that lasts longer and doesn't make you liable to smash your precious camera equipment when it fails suddenly.

Thanks, this is good to know. I won,t be buying one of these

When I purchased my dslr kit it came with a table top tripod but mine had flexible metal legs. Seems pretty sturdy. Not sure how well it will work trying to wrap around things but it's worth shopping around and looking for one with metal legs if you really need one of those.

Which head is best for creating multiple picture panoramic?

 

You may want to use something like The Nodal Ninja NN3 MKII Starter Package or similar so You can Take pics on vertical position to get more definition in You final picture an to calibrate The nodal point to reduce distortion when You put them toghether....The rest is just practice....hope it helps.

Thoughts on underwatet video tripod  for a fairly light rig?

For underwater, this is where the relatively inexpensive Gorillapod is a good option.  I have seen it used by many serious U/w videographers.   

This article is informative but not as informative as it should be. When describing carbon fiber, there are several generations of fiber.  Current is 6X, it is lighter yet stronger and yes, you should determine what generation it is.   Yes, it also costs more. As for how one attaches the head to the tripod, it is either swiss arca or a propretary type. Avoid propertary like manfrotto..  In addtion consider tension kobs. Also consider quick release heads as opposed to srew locking mechanisms.  Also considr L-brackets for the optimum in changing from landscape to portrait.

The article could have been so much more but falls short.

A tripod is basically a "camera holder."  In the realm of "camera holders" one struck me as especially clever.  A photographer had a welding shop weld a 1/4 inch bolt to a Vise Grip wrench.  He'd then be able to clamp a camera to nearby, stable devices, like to a fire plug.  Check Matthews.  They may offer such a device in their catalog.  But you can always find local metal shop that can modify a Vise Grip by welding on the appropriate thread bolt (1/4 or 3/8 inch) and put it just exactly where you'd want it to be.  You can find welding shops listed in the Yellow Pages.  Or ask car mechanics for a lead.

 

 

As a professional truck driver, I had a large viice grip welded to a steel platform about 16 incles in length, which provided a base for a multiple antennaes of different types.  I would then attach the vise grip to the exterior mirror brackets, of the truck I was assigned to for that particular run.  So, I can certainly confirm the versatility and convenience of your concept.  Powder coating the steel, would have been beneficial.dgray

 

 

 

Here's an unusual appllication for an unusual style tripod:  I have used a giant Gitzo stand with 10-ft leg extensions for photographing in situations, like on a tight stairwell, where the two front legs were used at normal lengths, and the third leg was extended several feet longer to rest on a descending stairs tread below my shooting position.  I've also used that particular tripod with all three legs extended to 10 ft. and me standing nearby on a portable, platform ladder. 

 

I have a couple tripods and both show the same problem because of the friction lock in the head.  When I'm doing a moon shot at high zoom (30-60x optical), no matter how tight I twist/set the head, it sags too much during the self time countdown. (I shoot with Nikon L820 and P610) I saw no mention of geared heads that might improve on this.   Ideas?

I had the same problem, until I got a head that was rated 3 to 4 x's the weight of my camera and lens, it was also a friction type head. This provided an immediate fix!!

If you have a long (and heavy) lens mounted on a camera and have the camera mounted on the tripod head via the camera's 1/4-20 thread, you will likely have the problem you describe.  This can sometimes be solved with a tripod collar.  Either get a tripod collar that fits your lens or else get a sliding rail (like a nodal rail) or a long baseplate which can mount on an Arca-Swiss type tripod head mount.  Or even both.  You'll need an Arca-Swiss style head, though.  Then you should be able to balance your rig so that not much friction is needed to hold it in place.  Induro (made in China) and ProMediaGear (made in USA) have both worked well for me.  Or spend even more and get a gimbal mount.

What is a 4-way and 2-way head?

Any tripod suggestions for macro photography that can support the weight of a Canon F-1N or A-1 with a Canon Auto Bellows with a Canon Macrophoto 20mm f3.5 lens?

I'll probably be laying on the ground focusing using the rail with the cable release in the other hand.

Induro Hi Hat, discontinued but should still be around.

I used a Benbo tripod for macro photography. At times it was like wrestling with an octopus, but that tripod could be configured to almost any position, and was rock solid.

I would recommend the Novoflex NF3320 MiniPod for your intended usage. This will support up to 22lbs have  individually variable angle legs. This would be ideal for working at very low angles and/or with a variety of terrain.