How to Buy a Camera Tripod: Choosing a Key Item of Equipment for Landscape Photography

A tripod is another piece of equipment to carry; is it really worth taking on long hikes to photograph the landscape? It might not be essential every time, but it will almost always help and there are many situations where you cannot expect acceptable results from hand-held shots.

Why Use a Tripod?

Holding a camera rock-solid steady, essential for good photography of any kind, can be difficult outdoors in the wind and on uneven surfaces. Many of the best landscape pictures are taken soon after dawn or in the evening, when the light can require slow shutter speeds. And long exposures can be used creatively with moving water and wind-blown grasses or leaves.

So the main reason for using a tripod is to have complete flexibility in choosing lenses and shutter speeds without having to worry about camera movement and shake.

Tripods also help in composing pictures accurately, particularly to get level horizons. And high dynamic range techniques require precisely the same composition taken with, usually, three different levels of exposure, which is only possible with a good tripod.

Tripod Features to Consider

Tripod prices very widely, from £25 / $50 to £300 / $600, so what would be a sensible choice? Weight, collapsed size, stability and build quality are basic considerations, here are some less obvious features that can greatly affect a tripod’s practical value:

  • Both the tripod and head should be rated as strong and steady enough to hold your present camera and lens, with a margin for what you might buy in future.
  • Ball heads usually have both a smoother and a more flexible movement than pan-and-tilt heads, making it easier to compose shots accurately.
  • A three-way spirit level will help with keeping horizons level.
  • A quick release lever for the camera is useful for setting up and moving around the site.
  • The legs should be manoeuvrable independently and the tripod should be tall enough to set up and use on tricky, steeply sloping sites.
  • A removable central column that can be set horizontally, or upside down, is a great help for close-up or macro shots of the inner or micro landscape.
  • A hook to hang a camera bag, usually at the bottom of the central column, will add stability.

Tripod Manufacturers

Benbo, Giotto, Gitzo and Manfrotto are all excellent manufacturers, though others also produce good models. The tripod is such a central piece of equipment that it is wise to take a close, hands-on look before buying, so a trip to a camera shop will be a better bet than an on-line purchase.

So what is a tripod likely to cost? Don’t expect much for £25 / $50; at that price you will probably soon want something better. For a good one, including the head, expect to pay at least £100 / $200, perhaps double that for a tripod that will last for many years of use and camera upgrades, and more to combine all the best features with light weight.

While you are at it, get a remote shutter release. It is another way to keep things rock steady when you take those long exposures.