3 reasons why a tripod will make you a better photographer
Does this title remind you of something? 😀 And yes, I spoke to you previously about the interest of a 50mm f / 1.8 , and today, I will tell you how the use of a tripod will radically change the way you shoot as well as your pictures!
So I recently bought a tripod. This article is not intended to advise you on the purchase of a tripod ( another article is there for that ), but to make it simple, do not take neither a tripod at 40 €, nor one at 300 €. As the question will inevitably fall in the comments, I redirect you to the article on the choice of a tripod 🙂
But let’s see why buy a tripod 😉
This is originally in large part why we buy a tripod: for the sharpness of the photos . And it is indeed quite formidable. I used mine in a rather violent wind and in long exposure , and the images have excellent clarity : it will be easy for you to judge, the photo that I present to you in the RAW development tutorial is part of this series 😉 And it will not have escaped you that the sharpness of a photo is very important for it to look good, and I would dare to say for it to be good . Above all, a photo must be clear , unless obviously you intended to blur it entirely to create an effect. Andnothing will give you a sharpness equivalent to a tripod. You can always shoot freehand, at 1 / 1000th of a second with a 50mm (good ok I exaggerate a little there: P), you will never have a sharpness equivalent to that which you will have on a tripod, even in long exposure, and a fortiori at equivalent speed.
And about equivalent speed, do not think that the tripod is limited to a use for long exposures (several seconds) or a little limits (1 / 15th of a second). It is widely used by sports photographers for example, who use focal lengths of 500 or 600mm but often do not have enough light to shoot at 1 / 500th. And we can’t accuse sports photographers of being motionless I think 😉
Small quick and easy tips to optimize sharpness: use the Lock mirror option on your camera, and use a remote control , or failing this the self-timer , so as not to move the camera when it is triggered.
A more careful composition
When you hold your camera by a show of hands, you tend (me first) to take a few shots on the fly and then change locations. When we evolve a bit and try to think of its composition, we test different points of view , we take a few shots of each (“to be sure”), and then we move.
But when you use a tripod, everything suddenly seems to slow down . You suddenly take the time to compose your images to the millimeter , by adjusting all the axes of the tripod one by one. You start by calmly and precisely aligning your device to the horizon. Then you adjust the position of your subject exactly as you wish. Then you think about your settings, and only then do you fire. Just by using this accessory, you took the time to think , to think your image. You may even have discovered an additional detail orinteresting composition that you hadn’t noticed before. So certainly, it takes more time , but you will see that you will have both fewer images to sort and develop once at home, and that in addition they will be better . Yes, better : I bet you that if you take 20 photos with a tripod and 20 without, the first will be better than the second.
This is an extraordinary side effect of the tripod, probably because you cannot move the camera in all directions and it is easier to adjust to the millimeter than to move your foot 😉 In addition, as you do you will not want to move your tripod 152 times in half an hour, you will choose with more discernment the exact location from which you will photograph (and therefore your composition).
Much more possibilities
And yes, the use of a tripod will allow you to photograph in many more different situations, and will therefore give a new horizon to your creativity . Let’s see why.
No more problem with the light
If you have already taken a camera out of the ideal light conditions, you have already had a problem of lack of light . You push the ISO sensitivity all the way , you open to the maximum, and the shutter speed is always at a depressing 1 / 3s , which does not allow you to shoot by freehand. The tripod simply eliminates this problem by allowing you to choose a longer shutter speed without risking camera shake . Obviously, using these slower speeds will not be possible on all subjects, especially mobile subjects , well in any case if you want to freeze movement. And if you take pictures in concert , you’re not going to point out cushy with your tripod (because hey, it’s not very rock n ‘roll: P).
But in all situations where you are a little light level limit , it will save your life.
Photograph at night
Corollary of longer exposures: you can take night shots without any worries. It will not have escaped you that half the day, it is night 😀 More seriously, the night opens tons of additional possibilities for the photographer, whether it is to photograph the city, to highlight reflections, particular lights, to make black and white contrasts, … In short I think it is quite obvious that these are very interesting possibilities to exploit for the photographer, and almost impossible without a tripod.
Not being able to freeze a moving subject can be a problem, but you can also use it to your advantage . Who has never seen pictures of waterfalls (often seen and reviewed elsewhere) but wondering “but how does it do that?”. Well, the tripod is a bit like a magician’s thing: when you know it, it sounds easy , but when you don’t know it, it looks impressive .
So, for this kind of images (waterfalls, or the seaside), you just need to use a very long exposure . If there is too much light not to overexpose (burn out) the image, you will also need a neutral density filter , but it is not excessively expensive, and you can already play with the movement without this accessory .
To bounce back from the previous point, how do you think we are making these images of large wheels that form pretty light trails? 😉
I’m not going to be trying to list all that we can achieve with a tripod, but think of the self-portrait, photos of thunderstorms, fireworks, macro, panoramas, … In short, the possibilities are endless !
I hope that I will have convinced you or at least put you in the mind to invest in a tripod, because I sincerely think that it will enormously improve your images and even your way of photographing. Taking your time to compose and adjusting everything to the millimeter may seem like fun , but it’s up to you to have fun with this accessory. For example, you can set the self-timer and run as far away from your device as you can, like this photographer did .
How to choose a tripod for SLR or hybrid camera? (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, etc.)
The choice of equipment remains one of the main questions for amateur photographers, particularly with regard to the jungle of cameras and lenses . But for certain accessories, it is also complicated to find your way around, in particular when it comes to investing several hundred euros and making this investment last for many years.
This is the case of the tripod , one of the first accessories that we may have to buy. This is why I wanted to write you a very complete guide on the subject.Contents
Why use a tripod?
I already wrote an article on good reasons to buy a tripod before, but a little reminder is essential. The tripod is an essential accessory in several cases:
- As soon as you are going to have to use exposure times that are too long to avoid blurring by freehand. This will for example often be the case when you take the night photo , but also as soon as you want to voluntarily take long exposures , such as for example using an ND filter, or even in thunderstorm photos .
Warning: remember that even in low light, long exposure does not help with a fast subject, which will be blurred in the photo.
- The self-portrait course (or group photos with friends in front of a beautiful view, if you are fed up of never being in photographs 😉)
- Some creative effects that assume either a long exposure or that you are not behind the device, such as light painting .
- The use of techniques to manage contrasting (high dynamic) scenes , such as HDR or exposure blending.
- If you are attacked by a grizzly bear, it can be used as a weapon.
(no animal was injured during the writing of this article: D)
- Some disciplines in which the tripod helps a lot, like macro (to stabilize the focus), animal photography sometimes (to carry the mammoth weight of the telephoto lens without catching cramps on your big biceps), studio photo (for have a stable frame and let the model see your eyes rather than the big objective lens), or the landscape photo (to specify its composition as much as possible).
A good example of what it is impossible to do without a tripod!
This last point gives me the opportunity to underline a very important positive side effect of the tripod: it really encourages to specify its composition , and therefore improves your images.
In short, the tripod is used in a lot of areas, and there is a good chance that you will need it one day. But how do you choose from the hundreds of models available? Let’s see together the criteria that will allow you to justify to madam or sir that ” yes, it is really useful to spend € 350 in a tripod kit, look darling (e) it is carbon and it makes coffee!” »😉
Small clarification before getting to the heart of the subject: know that the number 1 goal of a tripod (without which it is as useless as a space shuttle in the hands of your grandmother) is to be stable . It is the most important. The other things you will think about are first of all its weight and size (you have to wear it!), And then practical aspects related to your needs and your photo practice (landscape, macro, etc.), which are many more variables. Your budget will obviously play on the compromises that you will have to make.
1. The maximum acceptable load
CC BY-NC-SA Hindrik Sijens License
This is the first and most important criterion : as I said, if your tripod is not stable, it is useless. It must therefore be able to accept the weight of your device without flinching , against all odds (literally).
Take the weight of your camera + that of your heaviest lens . If you don’t know them, you don’t have to run into the kitchen to use a scale: do a simple Google search or look on Amazon-type sales sites, it says (on the manual for your camera and lens as well).
And then take a tripod kit that supports 1.5 to 2 times this weight : this will both ensure you great stability, and predict the future (if ever the weight of your equipment increases, which has a tendency to occur when going upmarket). This will save you from buying a tripod in a year and a half!
In practice, the maximum acceptable load (and therefore stability) are very much linked to the weight of the tripod: the heavier it is, the more stable it will be. We will therefore have to think of a compromise between stability and space : a very heavy tripod will always be very stable, but hard to transport. A tripod that is too light will be easy to transport but will lack stability. The challenge is to find the right compromise between the two.
2. The height of the tripod
The maximum height
You typically have two maximum heights: using the central column or not. A diagram is better than a long speech.
Folded / unfolded without the central column / unfolded with the central column.
For shooting comfort, ideally the tripod should reach you roughly at the shoulder : by adding the height of the camera, you will have roughly the viewfinder at eye level and you will avoid bending over and breaking your back. That said, if you are 1m90 like me, it can be difficult!
Whatever your size, the maximum height remains important: the larger it is, the more possibilities you will have to choose the level of the camera . Also think that if you have a nice landscape behind a wall, if your tripod is smaller, you have it in the bone.
The minimum height
The minimum height at which the tripod can be placed is also important: the lower it is, the more your creative possibilities will increase . For example, I use it particularly in landscape photography with an ultra wide-angle to enhance the effect. It is also a very important criterion in macro , where you have to be able to photograph very close to the ground.
Several techniques make it possible to obtain a good minimum height:
- the legs may be unfolded to an angle very open , instead of the usual 45 °
- a central column that pivots and allows the device to be brought closer to the ground (but watch out for stability!)
- an invertible central column which allows the device to be brought close to the ground, but in this case it will be “upside down”
A very open angle / an adjustable column / an inverting column.
These different features sometimes combine to provide more flexibility.
For this criterion, think carefully about your use : if you do not specially need a small minimum height, settle for legs that can unfold with an open angle, that will be enough. No need to spend more on a function you don’t need.
Height when folded
This criterion will be important for transport : in fact, the smaller the tripod is folded, the easier it will be to take it on a hike, or to pack it in a suitcase .
The folded height is mainly conditioned by a factor: the number of leg sections . Indeed, the more there are sections, the smaller the folded size (it is logical, we divide by 4 or 5 rather than by 3).
There is obviously a drawback: the more sections, the less stable the tripod . Normally, you will not be concerned if you have seen wide in terms of maximum load, except in difficult conditions, such as in strong winds, where a tripod with slightly thin legs can tremble.
Three and five sections
3. Other stability criteria
The material used
First of all, I tell you right away: don’t even think about plastic tripods (except for making videos at home) . They will not be stable enough for photo use, and will probably last you around 3 days. I know they can be tempting because they are not expensive, but you will regret your purchase and just lose 30 euros. Focus on the 2 king materials: aluminum , and carbon fiber .
Aluminum is the most widely used material: it offers a good compromise between stability, solidity, and cost.
Carbon fiber is clearly a notch above : it will be more stable at equal weight ( or lighter at equal stability ), more resistant to vibrations, and generally a little more durable (it will resist salt in particular better ).
Basically, carbon fiber allows you to make less compromise stability / size, and therefore infinitely simplify your choice.
The counterpart is obviously the price : count 50% to 100% more expensive than the same aluminum model. If you have the means go for it, otherwise good quality aluminum will give you complete satisfaction, no worries 🙂
Carbon fiber, a noble material … and expensive!
The foot blocking system
When you unfold the feet, there are 2 systems to block them:
- The valves : you pull, you unlock, you press again, you block. It is very simple and quick to do, the system is lighter , but it will be a little less durable (even if personally, I have had a tripod with this system for 4 years and that it holds very well the duration).
- The screws : you unscrew to unlock, you screw to block. To do on each section of the foot, I find it a little longer and tedious : it’s a bit annoying if you often unfold / fold the tripod. The system is heavier , but also more stable and more durable.
It’s a matter of personal choice : it’s up to you to try the two systems in store or at events such as the Photo Fair to see what you prefer.
The valve and screw system.
4. Tripod head or ball head
No no, nothing to do; D
In addition to the tripod legs, something is needed to fix the camera and move it easily: it’s called the ball head . You can either buy a compatible foot and a compatible ball joint, or buy both as a kit.
The kits are sometimes simply a tripod + its ball joint sold together (and therefore cheaper), but sometimes the ball joint is inseparable from the tripod. It does not matter if you chose well from the start, but it is more annoying if you want to change the ball later, because it will replace the entire tripod …
It is often more expensive to buy the two separately, but it is more scalable. Personally, I advise you to choose and plan your needs right from the purchase, and to find a kit, if possible where the ball joint dissociates from the tripod (but this is not essential 100%).
There are many types of ball joints, but I will only deal with the 2 that interest us for the photo: the 3D ball head and the ball head . 2D ball joints are a real hell on earth because you cannot change the tilt of the camera: if your horizon is not straight, you will have to change the length of one leg, it is long and painful . Fluid head video heads are really specialized for video use and are not really suitable for photography.
The 3D ball joint
The 3D ball joint has 3 different screws to adjust the 3 dimensions (hence its name). The advantage is that this system is very precise : you quietly adjust each axis independently of the others. The downside is that it is not the fastest (even if with practice it stays quite fast).
It is preferable in areas where you need more precision than speed, such as the landscape for example.
It has the defect of taking up a little more space than the next one, so pay attention to that if you want more compactness!
The ball head
This plays on a completely opposite system: a single screw releases the ball on which the device is fixed.
You can then move your case in 3 dimensions, then tighten when you are finished. The advantage is a great speed of use . However, I find it less precise .
Good ball joints have a second screw that adjusts the friction: you can determine whether there will be resistance or not when you loosen the ball. If the system is well done, it removes a lot of the drawbacks, but personally I always slightly prefer 3D for landscape.
The ball is however very practical for disciplines where you often have to move a little quickly: animal , sports or macro photos , for example.
The choice between the two is mainly a matter of taste : I really invite you to try the two systems for real before making your decision, because you might not at all agree with me! 😉
A word about the ball joints for the video
I do not speak almost no video on the blog, but I necessarily have to do a lot with the YouTube channel (subscribe!: D).
Over the years, so I have used a lot of tripods for video, and if you are going to use it for this purpose, you might like a word about it. Here is what I think about it:
- If you are just planning to make videos in your own home, the two types of ball joints that I recommend above will be more than enough . I have had a tripod with a ball head for years, put the camera on it, and off we go.
- If you plan to make more mobile shots with your camera (for example follow a passing subject by rotating the device, without it diving in the nose), you will need a fluid head that allows you to make movements … Fluids!
It is A LITTLE more bulky than the other ball joints. To be reserved for a specialized use therefore.
Here, I will not go further on this subject, but it was necessary to touch a word 🙂
5. Other useful options
A quick hitch system
Other options on tripods may be useful depending on your use.
The first is not what I can call an option. Indeed, if it is not present, do not buy the tripod! It is a quick attach system : you attach a tray to your camera, and this tray then attaches to the ball, and can be removed very quickly.
It is absolutely essential for the speed of installation and uninstallation of the tripod: if you do not have that, you will very quickly put it away in the cupboard so it will be painful.
Most spherical plain bearings offer this option, but I would point it out anyway in case you come across models with 19th century technologies 😛
By the way, if you need to have several tripods (for example for those who make video with several shots) , choose with the same attachment system , so that you can easily switch a camera from one tripod to the other. ArcaSwiss trays are, for example, the closest thing to a universal tripod attachment (it is not present everywhere, but it is the most common on professional tripods) .
As long as we talk about essentials, do NOT take a tripod with non-independent legs : under certain conditions (much more than you think), you will need to have one leg longer than the others . Believe me !
The other options
Among the options, we can therefore cite:
- The spirit level on the ball , which ensures that the horizon is straight (useless if your device already has this option).
- The ballast hook on the central column allows a weight to be attached to it to improve the stability of the tripod (beware of taking the wind anyway!).
- The short column to facilitate use in macro .
- Retractable spikes on the feet which can better hold on certain floors .
- The monopod option which allows you to detach a leg from the tripod to make a monopod (if you are looking for both, it can save you money!).
6. What price to expect?
One of the essential criteria will of course be the price. As much to tell you right away, do not expect a miracle below 100 € , in any case to support a SLR: I recommend a minimum of 100-150 € for a tripod that will last you a long time (200 € if you can). You can type a little below if you have a very light system (for example a hybrid), but you will not go below 80 € I think.
Think of this purchase as a long-term investment : tripod technology is evolving very little, and a good purchase today will follow you without worry in 10 years.
7. Which brand to choose?
This is a big question when it comes to the choice of material: which brand to trust? First thing: avoid like the plague the unknown Chinese brands sold at Carrefour for 30 €.
You can focus on the 2 big market leaders: Manfrotto and Vanguard. This is where you will find it easier to find a model for you (their ranges are quite wide), and also to try in store (they are widespread).
I also have a less known brand which is a bit my personal favorite: Sirui . It is an Asian brand well established in Germany, and they have excellent value for money products , which they are so sure they guarantee for 6 years !
What I recommend is to go see their range on their site (unfortunately in English), and then go find their products on Amazon , Digit Photo or Miss Numérique . I’ve never seen it in physical stores, however, but if you know what you want, go for it!
Ok, there are probably other good brands out there, but do you really have time to search? Wouldn’t you rather spend a little more to be 110% sure the brand is reliable? In addition, there are many more comparative tests in these brands if you want to go further, so it will be easier to find reviews.
As the ranges are a bit obscure, I decided to make a quick decryption for you. I limit myself to the most common and interesting ranges for the more or less demanding amateur photographer, the goal is not to make the catalog of brands for them 😉
- 055 series : oriented towards demanding amateurs and pros , this series supports weights from 7-8kg for a price ranging from 300 € (aluminum) to 600 € (carbon), with ball joint. Note the 057 series which is still above, with double maximum loads.
- 190 series : the most popular for the majority of amateurs , it supports weights of 4-5kg , at a cost of 150-300 € .
- Befree series : intended for demanding traveler photographers , the tripods are more compact but still support 4kg , for 150 to 300 € depending on the material.
055, 190 and Befree series
- Abeo Pro series : oriented towards demanding amateurs and pros , for a load of 8kg and a price between 300 and 500 € ball joint included.
- Alta Pro series : competitor to the 190 series at Manfrotto, with a load of 3 to 8 kg depending on the model, and prices from 150 to 350 € .
- Alta CA series : for an audience of amateurs enlightened with small reflexes (load of 5kg ), and a soft price like a kitten from 100 to 200 € .
- Nivelo series : very compact tripods designed for hybrids , supporting 2 to 3 kg and costing from 70 to 120 € .
Abeo Pro, Alta Pro, Alta CA and Nivelo series.
The advantage of the Sirui range is that it is fairly clear . By looking at their product page , you will already be able to see which ranges are for you, then on each page the precise characteristics of the different tripods offered.
Their big advantage is that the price remains very contained, and therefore you can sometimes have a carbon tripod for cheap (as much as the competition in aluminum …).
Here is what I have selected (only the kits with ball joint included to make your life easier):
- TXL series : oriented towards demanding amateurs , in a travel perspective but not particularly light, for a load of 12 to 15 kg depending on the model, and a price between 17 0 and 430 € ball joint included (at this price we have carbon! ).
- 005X series: series of light tripods designed for the traveler, the maximum load is 4kg , and the price ranges from 130 to 210 € for the carbon version .
Sirui: TXL and T0005X series
And if you want to know my personal choice , I personally took the two separately with a T-1204X carbon tripod (250 €, supports 10kg but weighs only 1.2, very large for my equipment) , and the ball head G-10X (90 €, supports 18kg). He followed me for years and has not aged a bit!
Peak Design, the outsider
I am editing this article to tell you about a new actor whose first tripod came out recently: Peak Design . You may know them for their camera bags and straps which have become very popular, simply by their quality and excellent design .
I will not pretend: I am a big fan of Peak Design , which for me is a brand run by excellent engineers , who know how to make the best product for a specific need. We feel that they are themselves photographers and videographers, and know the real needs.
So they recently released an extremely compact and practical travel tripod, which I immediately ordered. I will be direct: it is very much better designed than any tripod I have seen in my life so far. In fact, it’s even infuriating that big brands like Manfrotto, with far more resources than a Californian start-up, have not managed to be as innovative in several decades. To believe that they do not invest enough in Research and Development…
In short, if you can afford it (it is not exactly entry level), you can go there with your eyes closed, it is one of the best designed products I have had in my hands.
Do not hesitate to comment if you have remarks, questions, to praise my infinite clairvoyance or conversely to say that it is anything.
And don’t forget to share the article! 🙂