The tripod: a three-legged camera support. Why is the tripod market so flooded with choices when they all look pretty much the same and are designed to carry out the same exact thing? no one tripod as an excellent as any other? Why room some therefore expensive? Why are others comparatively inexpensive? perform some host cameras much more steadily 보다 others? And, why in the world is that one pink?

In this article, we will certainly be emphasizing the use of a tripod for photography. There may be mentions of video features, as some parts have the right to overlap in functionality, but true video tripod systems deserve to be vastly different from their still-photography counterparts.

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The major purpose of the tripod is to host a camera fully steady—zero movement and also vibration; however, the tripod is very, really far native a one-size-fits-all-photographic accessory. And, although they every look around the same—three legs, a component where the camera attaches, etc., there are numerous brands, styles, and also variations. Some differences are focused on an individual preference such as color; others are more purpose-driven.

If girlfriend know whatever there is to know about tripods and also you just want to see some recommendations, please surf on over to 10 recommended Full-Size Tripods or the 12 Recommended take trip Tripods write-ups or head come the B&H Tripods and also Support page.

However, if you desire to learn an ext about what makes up the contemporary tripod, and also delve deeper right into the different feature sets of these supports, save reading.

The Parts

Almost all tripods can be damaged down into straightforward components. In the diagram below, we have labeled the different parts the the tripod. Nearly every part comes in different shapes, sizes, and materials. All the components perform basically the same job, and also the in its entirety goal that the tripod is security for your camera.


Let’s take it a closer look in ~ every component, working from the top to the bottom (“from the head to the feet,” in tripod vernacular) and discuss the feasible variations between types of tripods.

The Head

There room several simple types the tripod heads. The primary purposes the the tripod head room to administer a way to connect your camera to the tripod, permit repositioning the the camera to structure the picture you great to capture, and also then host the camera stable while the picture is taken. What adheres to is a summary of tripod head options.

3-Way / Pan and Tilt HeadThe many traditional kind of tripod head is the three-way or pan-and-tilt head. It is determined by the three control arms extending from the human body of the head. Lock are supplied to change the place of the head one axis at a time—vertical, horizontal, and panning. Moving the head about one of the axes is achieved by “loosening” one of the arms with a twist, repositioning the head, and also then re-tightening the arm.

Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head

The advantages of the three-way head are: specific movements about one axis and ease of use. The disadvantage is size—they are typically bulky as result of the extending arms. This makes them somewhat unattractive for travel.

Three-way heads are typically used because that landscape photography, still-life studio work, and also macro photography. However, castle can certainly be used for recording all types of images.

The round HeadThe round head is a fairly recent invention, compared to some other species of heads. The style consists the a round enclosed in a housing with a tightening knob. As soon as the knob is loosened, the ball have the right to be repositioned. When the camera is in the desired position, the knob is tightened and also the ball (and camera) remain still.

Oben BE-117 round Head

There space some sphere heads that have an additional and tertiary controls, together well. Some have panning bases through a separate knob come lock the head in the panning axis. Others have adjustable friction knobs and also controls that allow adjustment of the key knob’s friction for more precise control.

For placing the camera 90 levels from horizontal, plenty of ball heads have actually one or much more cutouts in the real estate that enable the ball’s stem come swivel down and also be positioned at appropriate angles to vertical.

The advantages of the ball head room its compact size (when compared to three-way heads) and also ease the use. The most basic ball heads have only one convey knob for repositioning the camera at practically any angle. Also, since of their simplicity, repositioning the head is frequently a an extremely quick affair. Since of that versatility, the round head can be used for any type of photographic application.

Pistol fixed HeadsThe pistol tight head is a sports of the sphere head. Instead of having a knob to tighten the housing about the ball, the holding power is detailed by a spring-loaded squeeze out grip. Come reposition the head, you squeeze a handle. As soon as the camera or head is in position, you relax the grip and the head remains in that position.

Vanguard GH-300T Pistol Grip ball Head

Advantages that the pistol tight head room simplicity of use while offering a very fast method of repositioning the head. Defect are generally the reduced weight capacity of this format of head. With an emphasis on repositioning speed, the pistol grip heads are desired by some wildlife and also sports photographers.

Geared HeadsThe aligned head is a variant of the three-way head, but, instead of handles that loosen your axis once twisted, a device of gears moves the head about one specific axis as soon as the handles room twisted. This gearing allows for very fine and specific adjustments—the geared head’s biggest advantage. The flaw of this heads, when compared to various other styles, room weight, complexity, and the relatively slow rate of repositioning.

Manfrotto 405 pro Digital geared Head through 410PL quick Release bowl Kit

Because of the precision developed into the geared head, it is preferred by architecture photographers and also anyone who needs super-accurate camera positioning.

Gimbal HeadsThe gimbal head is the exclude, domain that the large and heavy telephoto lens. Since of the transition in a camera/lens combination’s center of gravity when using extremely huge lenses, the gimbal head is attached come the lens’s tripod attachments point, no to the camera. That is design to allow rapid motions of the lens to monitor fast-moving subjects. When set up properly, the camera will remain steady also when no being hosted by the photographer.

Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Tripod Head II with fast Release Base

Gimbal heads are big and heavy, yet necessary because that a certain type of long-lens photography. Also, committed mounting key are essential for details lenses. Because of this design, and the solution with which it is designed to work, the gimbal head is common in the human being of wildlife and sports photography yet not very useful for other basic imaging purposes.

Purchasing Tip: The head is where the tripod becomes most specialized. Carefully consider your photographic needs, and portability. The multi-purpose round head is the many versatile tripod head available. As soon as in doubt, pick the round head!

The Chassis (or Spider)

This is the apex that the tripod, where the foot connect. The chassis forms a platform because that mounting a head, or it offer to surround the tripod’s facility column. Some chassis that permit direct mounting that the tripod head feature interchangeable facility plates the permit the enhancement of one optional facility column or other varieties of mounting systems. The chassis is generally made from some kind of steel alloy. Maximum stability is got with a tripod that does not have a telescoping center column chassis.

Multi-Angle foot Locks

Most tripod legs are “multi-angle.” This method that girlfriend can readjust the spread of the legs to allow the tripod to be provided at various heights or in awkward locations where one foot or much more legs cannot be in ~ the very same angle as the others. Part chassis allow the legs to reach a almost horizontal position, and also some, especially for take trip tripods, permit the foot to invert for more compact storage.

The leg locks room designed to hold the legs at a prescribed angle and also come in design of every types. Some have pull-out tabs the unlock the leg angle, others have sliders, some have friction knobs, and some have spring-loaded mechanisms.

Purchasing Tip: leg locks come in all shapes and sizes and are well known for pinching unwary finger or hands. Salary close attention to the design of the locks and see if they work-related for your needs—and be mindful not to acquire pinched!

Center Column

The tripod center column is either an installed to the chassis, or allowed to slide through it to prolong the tripod’s height also farther 보다 the leg/chassis alone. Many facility columns room reversible to permit you come mount her camera listed below the tripod chassis for macro or various other low-to-the-ground shots. Most center columns have actually a friction collar that keeps them in location until they are called to extend. Some have a geared system with i m sorry you deserve to crank a bar to raise and lower the column. The crank systems space usually watched on heavier studio tripods due to the fact that they include considerable load to the tripod system.

Often, a gear hook deserve to be uncovered at the bottom that the facility column. This permits you to add stabilizing load to the rig in the form of specialized weights, or your own camera bag.

Shooting Tip: The general preeminence is that you need to not prolong the facility column unless it’s essential to acquire the shot, due to the fact that there is a ns in security and an increase in feasible vibrations once the obelisk is extended. This is especially true v multi-section facility columns.

Lateral Arms

The facility column may twin as a lateral arm that permits you to articulate (or insert) the center column come a horizontal position. This is useful for table-top shooting, macro subjects, and also more.

There are likewise add-on lateral arms that have the right to be included to a tripod or head when needed.

Shooting Note: once using lateral arms, pay close attention to the facility of heaviness of her rig and also know that most tripod heads space designed to work-related in parallel with gravity. As soon as working ~ above a lateral arm, every the support will be perpendicular come gravity and stability may be compromised.


All tripods have actually legs. Three, in fact. But, there are variations in how those legs are constructed and how they work.

SectionsExcept because that single-section tripod legs, many tripod legs space telescoping and collapsible because that the purposes of height adjustment and also transport. The an ext sections the foot have, the shorter they deserve to be retracted. However, the much more sections you have, the less stability you will certainly achieve.

Shooting Tip: If possible, avoid prolonging the smallest ar of the tripod every the way. Leave the bottom section partially retracted can add overall stability to the rig.

MaterialThere room three straightforward materials* because that the modern-day tripod leg: aluminum, carbon fiber, and also wood. Every one of them have actually inherent advantages and disadvantages.

Wood▪ Vibration absorption▪ Ecological▪ Non-conducting▪ Temperature tolerant▪ Durable▪ Corrosion resistant▪ Weight▪ Does no fold come compact size    
Aluminum▪ an excellent strength-to-weight ratio▪ Durable▪ Value▪ Cold to touch when cold outside▪ hot to touch in hot environmentsCorrosion
Carbon Fiber▪ good vibration dampening▪ excellent strength-to-weight ratio▪ Temperature tolerant▪ No corrosion▪ Expensive▪ not as sturdy to impact  

* There are other products available, from typical ABS plastic to stole to exotic basalt lava, however the huge Three are detailed in the table above.

To combat heat properties, and carry out a much more comfortable moving feel, plenty of tripod legs have foam leg protectors, and aftermarket protectors have the right to be purchased to accessorize to her tripod.

Leg LocksMulti-section tripod foot will have some sort of locking device to stop the foot from retracting as soon as loaded or from expanding farther. The two many common species of leg locks are the flip lock and the twisted lock.

The flip lock is a lever that tightens roughly the following smaller ar of the tripod leg. Once the legs room retracted, or in ~ the size you desire, you upper and lower reversal the lock come the closeup of the door position and also the foot will continue to be in the position. The twisted lock accomplishes the very same tightening by transforming the lock through roughly one-quarter turn. Twist to loosen, expand or retract the legs, and then twist to tighten.

Flip Lock▪ Quick▪ Easy  ▪ not weather sealed▪ can be jammed by debris▪ have the right to loosen in time (most have the right to be re-tightened)
Twist Lock▪ much better sealing▪ under parts▪ More challenging to usage for some 

The type of lock might also determine the shape of the legs. Twist-lock legs will inevitably it is in round, if the flip-lock legs may be triangle or have another shape to enable the upper and lower reversal locks to be mounted.


At the finish of each leg over there is a foot. Depending on the tripod, the foot could be as simple as a rubber bumper. Or, the foot deserve to have a retractable spike beneath a rubber pad. Some tripods have interchangeable feet so the photographer can switch out the form of foot, depending on the terrain and also his or her needs. Alternatives include, spikes, strakes, clawed feet, and also various rubber bumpers.

What Else execute You need to Know?

Now that we have actually taken an detailed look at the tripod’s components, let’s discuss some other vital subjects.

Load Capacity

Load volume is crucially necessary to a tripod purchasing decision, yet it is often a confusing topic. Right here is our effort to clear up the noise in the shadow areas.

Tripod legs and heads have actually specified fill capacities. The stability of the combination of the legs and also head is same to the reduced of the two. Because that instance, if you have tripod legs with a 40-lb pack capacity and a tripod head v a 20-lb pack capacity, the effective load volume of her setup is 20 lb. The very same rule uses in instances wherein the head has actually a greater capacity than the legs (rare, yet certainly possible). The fill capacity is not indicative the the breaking strength of the component, no one does it indicate when the setup will certainly collapse.

This specification shows at what load the stability of the device starts to end up being compromised as far as stability is concerned. Therefore, placing a 21-lb load on a tripod through a 20-lb load capacity will not reason dramatic material failure and tripod explosion. However, the stability of her 21-lb camera and also lens will start to it is in compromised—meaning the unit may not host the camera as stable as you would certainly like. As an example, because that those who have overloaded a round head, girlfriend may have actually seen an extremely slow and slight activity in the head even as friend cranked under on the tightening knob as hard as friend could. Yes, you might break or collapse a tripod with extreme weight, yet a high quality tripod should have the ability to support weight far greater than any normal photographic equipment without failing.

The typical conservative rule of ignorance is to usage a tripod and also head that have actually at least two to 3 times the fill capacity of your heaviest camera/lens mix (don’t forget accessories such together a speed or microphone).


Tripods come in different heights. One point that it s okay old quickly is setting up her camera on a tripod and also spending minutes bent over at the waist looking through the viewfinder. Do the mathematics and include the height of the legs and also the elevation of the head with each other to uncover out in ~ what altitude your viewfinder will certainly be. Now, exactly how tall are you? If the viewfinder is going to be higher than your eyes, perfect! every you must do is not extend the lowest leg sections all the way and you space done. If the total height come up short, acquire ready to bend down to see with your camera or look in ~ the LCD screen.

Quick-Release Plates

In the olden days, photographers would need to spin your cameras or lenses ~ above the typical ¼"-20 tripod screw in ~ the height of the head or chassis. This to be time-consuming and a pain in the neck as soon as you were relocating locations between shots. Quick-release equipment were developed to rate this process greatly. A key attaches come the camera and then is locked into a compatible head.

Some manufacturers have proprietary plate designs and also you’ll have to pay fist to compatibility once mixing and matching brands. The Arca-type-compatible key is most likely the many universal of the bunch, with numerous brands giving compatible systems. Additionally, over there are plenty of brackets and also plates the you can attach to your camera that have integral compatibility v tripod head quick-release systems. Again, the Arca-type compatible is the most countless of these.

Bubble Levels

Once a rare choice on tripod heads, the balloon level is coming to be a much an ext common feature. For those doing architecture photography, or simply trying to save the horizon level, the balloon level is a good tool to have actually at her disposal, and having the permanently featured ~ above the tripod or head keeps you from having actually to lug a separate accessory around. Heads commonly either feature one or much more bull’s-eye levels or two standard levels—one because that each axis.

Bags and Straps

The tripod and also tripod head are tools and they need to be provided as such. The an ext they room used, the much more scratches, nicks, and dents they will endure. But, girlfriend can protect your tripod and aid extend that life (or at least its youthful good looks) by carrying it in a security bag. Some suppliers sell your tripods with a bag, and also you can always add one afterwards. And, there room bags simply for tripod heads. Also, to help in carrying, plenty of tripods have actually attachment clues for moving straps.

Tabletop Tripods

A sub-genre of the tripod is the mini or table tripod. This diminutive tripods have the right to support a same amount of weight and live in your camera bag for the times you don’t desire to carry a full-sized tripod about with you.

It’s all around Stability… and also Tradeoffs

The project of the tripod is come stabilize your camera and lens. Simple, right? We discussed vibration and also stability in the article. Wherein does vibration come from? You can imagine a fully stationary tripod and also camera, but now visualize a wind blowing across your gear, or a subway rumbling beneath the street. Or, room two or an ext tripod legs in a to run stream or in the surf at the beach? Vibration happens, and the score of the tripod is to carry out stability and also absorb those vibrations so that they are not interpreted to the camera.

So, what kind of tripod carry out you buy? Things start to obtain murky once we realize the we need to hand-carry the tripod v us come a far-off location or fill it right into our carry-on luggage! larger tripods have more stability, but they are heavier. Smaller sized tripods are much more portable and easy to carry, but have much less stability. Four-section tripods can collapse smaller than three-section tripods, but are slightly less stable. Tripod foot without a center column are more stable than those v a facility column, but less versatile.

Suddenly, the tripod purchase decision becomes an exercise in compromise.

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One last note: A tripod (and head) is an invest that deserve to last you your entire photographic life. If you start off buying a cheap tripod, you will likely feel the must upgrade to a much better one in the future. If that one is a value-priced tripod, you will, as your photography experience and gear grows, likely want come upgrade the one, together well. Over there are few things in photography together frustrating as working v a sub-par tripod and not getting the security you need. Soon you may uncover you have spent much more on your first several tripods 보다 you could have ~ above one high-quality, more expensive one appropriate out the the gate. If you are serious about photography, it is in serious about your tripod.

Now you can surf end to the 10 recommended Full-Size Tripods, 12 Recommended take trip Tripod articles, or to the Tripods and Support page at B&H and also get the tripod of her dreams!

Please permit us know if you have any kind of questions about tripods or if we missed part details the need more explanation!