A beginner's guide to tripod selection

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hiepphotog Regular Member • Posts: 439
A beginner's guide to tripod selection
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I've read numerous tripod guides, but none seemed to include the insights I've gathered over the years—until I stumbled upon one written by the chief tripod designer and owner of Marsace. Though I didn't write it, I believe such an exceptional guide deserves a wider audience. To enhance clarity, I'll supplement the guide with my own experiences, especially considering the potential loss in translation with Google Translate. Without further delay, here's the comprehensive guide to tripod selection.

The original guide: https://forum.xitek.com/thread-535226-1-1.html

When acquiring a tripod, it's crucial to consider five key factors: price, stability, height, portability, and functionality. These factors, once clarified, provide a solid direction for making an informed choice.

  1. Firstly, establish your budget to narrow down options effectively. Different budget ranges guide your selection, with considerations like avoiding carbon fiber tripods below $150 and considering Gitzo for budgets exceeding $450. A suggested investment ratio for tripod + gimbal is 10%-15% of your total camera + lens investment.
  2. Stability comes second, categorizing tripods by size. Larger series numbers in brands like Gitzo correlate with larger tube diameters. Gitzo's series classification provides a helpful guide for tripod selection, linking series numbers to suitable camera types and weights. This system aids in choosing the right tripod for specific equipment. If other brands don't follow this numbering system, a useful alternative is to examine the maximum tube diameter:
    • Series 0 (22mm): light camera+lens
    • Series 1 (25mm): camera+lens at <200mm and <2kg total weight
    • Series 2 (28mm): camera+lens at <300mm and <3.5kg total weight
    • Series 3 (32mm): camera+lens at <5kg total weight
    • Series 4 (36mm): camera+lens at <500mm and <7kg total weight
    • Series 5 (39mm): camera+lens at 600mm and <10kg total weight
    • Additional parameters affecting stability include the number of sections, last section diameter, leg tube wall thickness, locking forms, and material (carbon fiber, aluminum alloy, or volcanic stone).
      • Number of sections: General tripods come in 3 or 4 sections, with some emphasizing portability featuring 5 sections. The general rule is that more sections can compromise stability.
      • Last section diameter: Even with the same maximum tube diameter and number of sections, different brands may have varying last section diameters. Thinner end sections generally result in poorer stability.
      • Leg tube wall thickness: Wall thickness typically ranges from 1.5mm, 1.2mm, to 1.0mm. Thicker pipe walls, under the same material, contribute to stronger stability.
      • Locking forms: Modern tripods often employ twist and lever locking methods. Twist locks generally offer greater locking force, improved stability, and increased durability. Longer lock length enhances stability.
      • Material: Carbon fiber and aluminum alloy are common materials. Within the same brand, carbon fiber and aluminum alloy stability should be comparable.
  3. Height considerations involve the maximum height without raising the central axis, maximum height with the raised central axis, and the lowest height for low-angle and macro shots. Tailor these to your shooting needs, factoring in personal height and viewing preferences.
    • Maximum Height without raising the center column: Paying attention to this height is crucial, as it represents the commonly used working height. For eye-level viewing, a general guideline is to calculate it as follows: Maximum Height=Your Height−10cm(Height of the tripod head)−10cm(Distance from the bottom of the camera to the viewfinder)−15cm(Distance from your eyes to the top of your head)− 5cm (for standing with feet apart). So, the appropriate maximum height for a suitable tripod without raising the central axis should be approximately Your Height−35cm to 40cm.
    • Maximum Height of Raised Central Axis: This represents the extreme maximum height the tripod can reach, useful in exceptional cases.
    • Minimum Height: Extremely useful for shooting low-angle and macro subjects, with a general principle that lower is better. This height is often restricted by the length of the central axis. Some tripods address this limitation by having a central axis in two parts, allowing one part to be unscrewed to shorten the height. Alternatively, some tripods offer the option to replace the central axis with a shorter one (usually available for separate purchase) to reduce the minimum height.
  4. Portability is a crucial factor, influenced by folded length and weight. If you have the luxury of a car, an assistant, and a follower, opting for the largest, heaviest, and most stable tripod is a viable choice. However, if you're the one carrying it, consider your physical limits carefully. A balance between stability and portability becomes crucial.
    • The folded length of a tripod can be a critical factor for some users. A tripod that's too long becomes cumbersome to carry—it's challenging to hang outside a camera bag, prone to knocking around, and may require checking in when boarding a plane. Generally, tripods between 50-60cm in folded length are generally manageable. Adding the height of the head brings the carrying length to 60-70cm. A three-section tripod is typically about 8cm longer than a four-section counterpart. The dilemma arises when choosing between 3 sections or 4 sections—there's a trade-off between stability and length. Fewer sections generally mean greater stability. There is an inverted folding design that conceals the head's height between leg tubes and slightly reduces the maximum height. This design keeps the overall folded length (including the gimbal) within 40cm. Though the folded diameter would be much larger than the compact, column-less design like the RRS TFC.
    • Weight is a crucial consideration, as the heavier the tripod, the more challenging it is to carry. Carbon fiber, being 20%-30% lighter than aluminum alloy, is a preferred material for those prioritizing weight. However, it comes at a higher cost, often more than twice that of aluminum alloy. Excessive weight reduction can result from reducing the diameter and wall thickness of the leg tubes, negatively impacting stability. While the tripod may include a hook to increase the tripod's weight, it's important to find a balance. A flimsy tripod that may still be unstable, even with additional weight hung underneath. Striking the right balance between weight and stability is key when choosing a tripod.
  5. Functionality encompasses additional features like accessory compatibility, interchangeable accessories, various center columns, built-in spikes, and accessory ports.

Now, let's delve into a few crucial considerations when purchasing a tripod:

  1. Brand: The top-tier brand in the mainstream market is undoubtedly GITZO, known for high quality but also high prices. Gitzo used prices can still rival some high-end Chinese-made tripods. Another notable player is RRS in the United States, producing top-level tripods, albeit at a higher cost than Gitzo. For those with ample resources, these brands are worth exploring.
  2. Material: Tripods come in various materials such as carbon fiber, aluminum alloy, wood, and more. The primary choices are carbon fiber and aluminum alloy, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Carbon fiber, with its lighter specific gravity, is favored for reduced weight. However, the complexity of material differences means it's not straightforward to determine whether carbon fiber or aluminum alloy is superior. Better stability and durability depend on intrinsic composition and material properties, which vary even among products labeled as "carbon fiber."
  3. Load Bearing: While diameter, height, length, and self-weight serve as objective indicators for tripods, "maximum load-bearing" is a subjective indicator. This is because there's no standardized, universal testing process for the maximum load-bearing capacity of tripods in the industry. In simpler terms, Brand A's nominal 8KG and Brand B's nominal 12KG are not comparable due to differing testing standards. Hence, when buying a tripod, it's advisable to focus more on objective indicators and overlook subjective ones.

I hope this tripod guide will prove invaluable to you. The wealth of information and insights packed into these guidelines is crafted to enhance your understanding and aid you in making a well-informed decision. Happy shooting!

 hiepphotog's gear list:hiepphotog's gear list
Sony a9 Canon EOS R Sony 50mm F2.8 Macro Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM Sony FE 135mm F1.8 GM +3 more
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