Nick Carver Photography Blog

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Recommended Tripods (Part 1: Aluminum)

As a landscape photographer, I love tripods. My tripod is my right-hand-man. Aside from carrying the weight of the camera and stabilizing it for tack-sharp images, a tripod allows me to get real careful with my composition. A hair this way to remove that branch, a nudge down to get the horizon in the right place...a tripod makes it possible.

There are tons of tripods to choose from out there. Even compared to camera bags, I think the world of tripods has more brands, options and variations than anything else in photography. It can be a lot to sift through, so I thought I'd help you out by recommending a few tripods.

I'm only recommending 3 tripods in this post - one around $100, another around $150 and another at $250. I'm sure there are many other great tripods out there at these price points, but the ones I'm recommending here are brands I've used and trust. And it seems there's a big price jump after $250. Once you get above that, you are pretty much buying the tripod legs and head separately, and things can get pricey that way (my tripod, for instance, cost about $1500). All of the tripods here feature a quick release system for rapid connection and removal of your camera, flip-lever locks for quick extension, multi-angle leg positions for uneven terrain, and a rapid center column for easy height adjustments. Also, these tripods are made of aluminum. I'm going to have to devote another post entirely to carbon fiber tripod recommendations, but those put you into a different price range altogether.

Around $100
Slik Pro 340DX Tripod with 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head (buy - $100)

Tripods under $100 are pretty much useless. They are about as stable as a soggy cardboard box. Those Sunpak ones they sell at Best Buy for $30...don't bother. You're better off handholding the camera than using one of those. But if you're willing to fork over $100 for a tripod, this Slik Pro 340DX is a great choice. The maximum height without the center column extended is 45.7" and with the center column extended, it's 57.9". It's pretty lightweight at 3.5 lbs and folds to a mere 19.3", which makes it easy to travel with. It won't handle weight loads over 8.8 lbs, but it's unlikely the average user would hit that limit anyway. This tripod has a 3-way pan/tilt head, which means you have separate knobs to control tilt, roll and panning. This makes them slower to adjust than a ballhead, but at this price point, that's what you get. Overall, this tripod is a really great value for the money.

Around $150
Manfrotto 293 Tripod with 494RC2 Ball Head (buy - $160)

Manfrotto is a very reputable brand that's been around for a long time and makes some of the best tripods on the market. You can't go wrong with them. This Manfrotto 293 tripod with a 494RC2 Ball Head provides a lot of bang for your buck. At 3.97 lbs, it's not as lightweight as the Slik covered previously, but the extra 5" in height make up for it. That's an extra 5" in height without the center column extended (50.6" in all). With the center column extended, it's only a fraction of an inch taller. But what really matters is the maximum height without the center column extended, because the more you extend that center column, the shakier things get. This tripod also folds down small to 20.7" and can handle a load of 8.8 lbs. But the biggest factor that sets this tripod apart from the Slik and makes the extra $60 entirely worth it is that this tripod features a ballhead instead of a pan/tilt head. This means you have a single knob to unlock and lock the tripod head. No more fiddling with 3 separate knobs to position your camera. Just flip the lever, position your camera, and lock it down.

Around $250
Manfrotto 055XB Tripod with 498RC2 Midi Ball Head (buy - $243)

This Manfrotto has many of the same benefits as the previous Manfrotto discussed including a ballhead, but this one is just a beefier, taller version. It's maximum height without the center column extended is 54.1" (70.3" with the column extended) and it can handle a load of 15.4 lbs. It's quite a bit heavier at 6.34 lbs and quite a bit longer when folded down at 28.92". But a nice feature on this tripod is its minimum height of 2.8". That means you can shoot from just a few inches above ground level if your heart desires. The previous Manfrotto and Slik tripods could only get down to 15" and 18" respectively. I wouldn't say that's a major selling point, though, unless you do a lot of macro work, because how often will you actually need to get that low to the ground? But I'd go with this tripod if you want the extra height and the extra stability of a higher maximum load. Just make sure you're willing to carry around 6.34 lbs of aluminum, otherwise you'll never end up using it.