Long exposures, low light, macro work, landscapes, product photography - just a few  of the typical situations where having your camera as stable as possible is vital if you're going to avoid camera shake. Some photographers shy away from using a tripod, citing the need to avoid adding extra bulk and weight to their kit as key reasons for their decision. Obviously, tripods do have their drawbacks, but modern models are increasingly lightweight, fold down very small and - as such - are very portable. Sure, you could rely on your surroundings to give you some form of support in certain situations - benches, rocks, tables, the ground - but if sharpness and detail is your utmost priority when it comes to taking photographs, then you really can't beat a good tripod for stability.

There are a huge range of options available on the market, all of which have their own unique properties, pros and cons. The most expensive models tend to be manufactured from incredibly lightweight materials like carbon or basalt fiber for example, while cheaper models are usually constructed using heavier materials (albeit only marginally in some cases) like aluminum. Some tripods also boast additional features, like the ability to swing out the center column (ideal for low-level shooting) or remove it completely to use as a monopod. 

Some tripods are offered in combination with heads, while others will require the latter to be purchased separately, giving you a bit more freedom over the choice of product you need for your favored type of photography. Generally, ball heads are best suited to photographers who like to do a bit of everything - they're quick to reposition but it's difficult to make precise adjustments with them - while the two-way pan-and-tilt variety tends to be the head of choice for action and wildlife photographers, as it allows for smooth panning. A three-way head can be slower to use but allows for separate control of each axis, making it a good all-rounder. Finally - for genres like macro and architectural photography where precision is key - a geared three-way head allows for the greatest level of precision, at the expense of added weight and bulk.

Another thing to consider is the working height you need for your favored type of photography - this will affect the number of leg sections your ideal tripod will need to have. As well as the weight of the product itself, be sure to pay attention to the maximum load your tripod/head combination can bear and check it can support your heaviest camera gear. Finally, the locking mechanism used to secure the legs will be down to personal preference: you can usually either opt for a tripod with twist locks or a 'quick-locking' system that basically snaps open/closed.

Here, we've gathered five of the best tripods on the market that are available for less than $450, with something to suit every budget: read on to discover which of our best buys is the perfect partner for your camera gear.

Benro Transfunctional Travel Angel Aluminium Tripod Kit

Small but perfectly formed, the new Transfunctional Travel Angel series from Benro is designed to meet the demands of photographers who prefer to travel light.  The most compact tripod in this round-up, our test model - the A0691TB00 - folds down to 16.1 inches and weighs in at just 2.9 lbs, making it very light and portable. An ideal solution for globetrotting enthusiasts, or photographers who like to hike long distances with their kit, this little tripod won't weigh you down and its small size when folded makes it easy to attach to the outside of your camera bag - otherwise you can stow it in the included carry case.

The innovative design of this tripod incorporates legs that can be inverted and folded back through 180 degrees, while the 'Transfunctional' part of its name refers to its very useful ability to be converted to a monopod, without the need for any tools: one of the legs can be quickly removed and coupled with the top plate, adding another dimension to this tripod's level of flexibility.

The versatile nature of the Transfunctional Travel Angel series is further enhanced by the two different angles at which the legs can be locked to allow for ground-level shooting. Even though the center column is fixed, the minimum working height is still a respectable 16.1 inches. The 5-section legs are secured with dust and water resistant rubberized twist locks that are comfortable and quick to operate and the tripod comes paired with the smooth-action Benro B00 Dual Action ball head.  All in all, this is an impressive package that's worth considering if you want to avoid adding too much bulk to your existing kit bag - just take note of the load capacity and check your camera gear is compatible first.

The Benro B00 Dual Action ball head that’s supplied with this tripod is simple and smooth to
operate and adds value to the overall package.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)
  • Load capacity (legs): 13.2 lbs (6 kg)
  • Max height (with center column down) 51.2 in (130 cm)
  • Min height: 16.1 in (40.9 cm)
  • Closed length: 16.1 in (40.9 cm)
  • Material: Aluminum alloy
  • Head included: Yes - ball and socket
  • Load capacity (head): 13.2 lbs (6 kg)
  • Leg sections: 5
  • Leg lock type: Twist-locks

Score: 

Induro Alloy AT213 Tripod

With a maximum load capacity of 22 lbs, the Induro AT213 is a real workhorse that's capable of supporting everything up to a pro DSLR body with a long telephoto lens attached, making it an ideal choice for sports and action photographers in particular.

Constructed from aluminum alloy, this tripod has a reassuring weight to it that ensures the utmost stability: an asset that's enhanced further by the wide stance of the legs when the tripod is set up. The large footprint created gives the AT213 a very stable base, but if you find yourself caught in particularly harsh conditions, there's a spring-loaded hook at the base of the center column for adding extra weight.

Other impressive features include generous padded grips on each of the legs providing comfortable handling in all weathers, adjustable leg angles - great for shooting on uneven surfaces - an integral bubble level and reversible locking center column for low-angle photography. The legs are in three sections, secured by dust and moisture-resistant half-twist leg locks that feel very secure and are easy to operate. The interchangeable rubber feet and stainless steel spikes - plus a tool kit and durable carry case for easy portability - added to the fact that this tripod can be snapped up online for around $140 - makes the AT213 a very appealing low-priced option.

Interchangeable non-slip rubber feet and heavy-duty spikes increase the
versatility of this heavy-duty tripod.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 4.4 lbs (2 kg)
  • Load capacity (legs): 22 lbs (10 kg)
  • Max height (with center column down) 56.7 in (144 cm)
  • Min height: 23.4 in (59.4 cm)
  • Closed length: 25.6 in (65 cm)
  • Material: Aluminum alloy
  • Head included: No
  • Load capacity (head): N/A
  • Leg sections: 3
  • Leg lock type: Twist-locks

Score: 

Manfrotto 294 Aluminium Kit (MK294A3-A0RC2)

Body text: An excellent all-rounder at an affordable price, the 294 Aluminium kit is the larger of the tripods featured in the recently launched 290 Series. Inspired by the popular original 190 Series, the new range is cast from aluminum alloy and sports a range of features that make them an appealing prospective buy - particularly if you shop around online for the best price.

The MK294A3 comes with the basic, yet superbly engineered detachable A0RC2 ball head (also aluminum), adding to the value-for-money of this comprehensive kit. The tripod itself features 3 leg sections, secured with flick-locks that are quick, smooth and simple to operate, while the center column benefits from an anti-shock collar and anti-rotation system: all traits that add to the robust feel of this tripod.

In spite of its low price point, the MK294A3 doesn't feel like a 'budget' option. In our field tests, the tripod performed reliably, being quick to set up and maintaining its stability in windy coastal conditions.  The legs also offer angle adjustment for low-level shooting - an added bonus in this price bracket - as well as a removable center column that can be inverted to allow for shooting even closer to the ground. If you need a weightier kit to support your camera, this is solid, well-made tripod that impresses - both in terms of features and performance.

The bundled ball head and innovative multi-angle legs add further
appeal to this competitively-priced tripod.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 4.2 lbs (1.9 kg)
  • Load capacity (legs): 11 lbs (5 kg)
  • Max height (with center column down) 58.06 in (147.5 cm)
  • Min height: 19.57 in (49.7 cm)
  • Closed length: 27.56 in (70 cm)
  • Material: Aluminum alloy
  • Head included: Yes - ball and socket
  • Load capacity (head): 11.02 lbs (5 kg)
  • Leg sections: 3
  • Leg lock type: Lever-locks

Score: 

Vanguard Auctus Plus 283AT

If rock-solid stability is your priority, then look no further. This behemoth of a tripod offers a colossal 30.9 lbs maximum load capacity - perfect for sport and wildlife enthusiasts with big lenses - while its geared center column makes it just as useful for macro and studio work, where precision is key.

Don't be put off by the list price - the Auctus Plus 283AT is available online for over $100 less - improving its appeal in terms of value-for-money. You will need to purchase a head separately, of which there's a vast range of options to choose from - this of course ups the cost of the overall package, but it does mean that you can select the head that's the most compatible with the type of photography that you tend to favor, as well as allowing you the flexibility of simply using your existing head if you already own one.

This tripod is no go-anywhere travel companion: weighing in at 7.32 lbs you'll need plenty of muscle if you want to lug the Vanguard around all day, although it does fold down into a relatively neat package that could still potentially be clipped onto a large camera bag. Alternatively, you do get a carry case with a shoulder strap in the box. Looking at the features the 283AT boasts, it's clear that this is a tripod that's designed to withstand the rigors of daily life - both in the studio and out on more rugged terrain. The adjustable-angle aluminum legs are secured with easy-to-operate dust and moisture-resistant twist leg locks, with a useful scale on each leg so you can ensure they are the same height - a bubble level also helps to keep horizons straight. It's fitted with all-terrain feet as standard, which spread the weight of each leg over a larger surface area to reduce the risk of it sinking in soft ground or snow, however these can be removed to reveal metal spikes for added grip.

If your photography requires precision when it comes to composition and stability to ensure pin-sharp images whatever the conditions, then this could be the tripod for you.

This workhorse of a tripod features a geared center column, allowing for very precise adjustments to be made to your composition while shooting.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 7.32 lbs (3.3 kg)
  • Load capacity (legs): 30.9 lbs (14 kg)
  • Max height (with center column down) 53.5 in (135.9 cm)
  • Min height: 5.13 in (13.5 cm)
  • Closed length: 26.75 in (67.9)
  • Material: Aluminum alloy
  • Head included: No
  • Load capacity (head): N/A
  • Leg sections: 3
  • Leg lock type: Twist-locks

Score: 

Velbon GEO E-530

The lightest tripod in our round-up, the GEO E-530 is manufactured from a carbon fiber and basalt composite material, engineered to create a lightweight yet strong product. An ideal choice for avid travelers, this tripod folds down small and won't add a great deal of bulk to your kit bag.

First impressions are excellent: the build quality of this tripod is superb, with its spiral-etched legs and quick-release lever locks for smooth, fast leg height adjustment, while the markings on the legs prove useful when ensuring all of the legs are the same height - the only thing that's missing is a spirit level, (as well as a head, which you'll need to choose separately).

The downside to having such a light tripod of course is stability in high winds and other inclement weather conditions. To help tackle the problem, Velbon includes a handy pouch that can be attached to all three legs and suspended between them, into which you can place heavy items (your camera bag / rocks / anything you have to hand) in order to provide additional  solidity.

We particularly like the quick-release center column, which makes it very quick and simple to set up the tripod for low-level shooting and macro photography - simply release the catch, remove and invert the column then lock. The legs can also be splayed out independently of one another - a good feature when shooting on uneven terrain - while retractable spikes offer a firm grip.

As always, it's possible to shave a bit off the manufacturer's list price: pick the GEO E-530 up online for around the $300 mark, a very reasonable cost for a carbon fiber model of this caliber.

The lower section on the legs of this lightweight travel tripod feature a useful scale that helps to
ensure everything stays level.

Specification:

  • Weight: 2.8 lbs (1.3 kg)
  • Load capacity (legs): 13.23 lbs (6 kg)
  • Max height (with center column down) 46.50 in (118.2 cm)
  • Min height: 5.50 in (14 cm)
  • Closed length: 16 in (40.6)
  • Material: Carbon Fiber and Basalt composite
  • Head included: No
  • Load capacity (head): N/A
  • Leg sections: 3
  • Leg lock type: Lever-locks

Score: 


Josie Reavely is a freelance writer and photographer based in the UK. Before launching her freelance career, Josie was the Reviews Editor for Digital Photographer magazine; she continues to review the latest camera models and write features for a range of publications and websites, as well as taking on a range of exciting photography projects. For more details or to get in touch, visit www.jreavely.com.