Why a tripod is every bit as important as the camera you rest upon it, and my top 4 choices
In this article I discuss ONLY the tripods I would personally carry and use based on my height, fitness level, and activity level used in most shooting situations. A “one tripod for every situation” sort of thing.
Id like to start off by saying that this is in no fact, as is purely based on my experience, knowledge, and opinion. As a former mechanical and manufacturing engineer and machinist in the Aerospace, and Railcar industries I believe I have a strong understanding of manufacturing processes, quality, precision, and craftsmanship. As a full time landscape photographer I believe I have the experience to discern one tripod from another.
Tripods just hold up a camera right? Why spend a small fortune on 3 sticks and a clamp? Well, how many of you have had your camera mounted to a slender, wobbly little tripod? How many of you have had your camera blow over whilst on said tripod? How many of you can be honest enough with yourself to admit you skimped out on a tripod because you didn’t understand at the time how important it was? Maybe you were trying to save money, or weight, or simply just didn’t know. Thats all fine, and there is a lesson to be learned in everything we do.
Personally I have seen dozens of cameras smashed to bits because of insufficiently supportive tripods. I’ve had several students experience total camera loss in the field because of wind thrashing their feeble, puny tripods. Now I am not advocating for massive, bulky, heavy tripods, quite the contrary in fact. I am advocating for smart tripod investments, lean, but strong; tall, but compact. In the last 5 years I have run the gauntlet of tripods, Ive used them, abused them, and put them through every sort of weather and conditions you can imagine. I will talk about a few tripod and ballhead combinations I would consider owning, including what I currently use.
The Really Right Stuff TVC-24L & BH-40 Combo with Full Size Lever Release clamp.
I use this tripod everyday, in every kind of weather, anywhere and everywhere. I have flown domestically and internationally with this tripod, I have hiked 10+ miles in a day with it strapped to my back. Surely there are lighter option, but nothing as stable, strong, or versatile as this combination. It has held up to raging waters, high winds, snow, ice, sand, and slot canyon rappelling. The Bh-40 was adequate enough handle the Nikon D850, and Tamron 150-600 G2 during the eclipse of 2017. The narrow “apex” and lack of center column allow you to lay your tripod nearly flat, and when folded reduces bulk. That being said, the small “apex” of this tripod makes it incompatible with leveling bases. The new versions (Mk2/3) have a smaller diameter “fixed apex” with non removable base plate, and a “versa apex” which adds diameter but has a removable plate that can be replaced with a center column conversion kit.
The Leofoto tripods recently fell under my radar and although I have not personally tested one I have several pro friends whom have, and swear by them! The machining, and moulding processes are not quite the same quality as RRS, but a striking tripod never the less. It seems to have all of the accoutrement of the RRS, without the big price tag and American made pride. I’d be happy to carry this tripod and ball head combo! This tripod features 5 section legs making it more compact folded down, and very tall fully extended, but the extra section make an extra weak point and vibration might be a concern in higher wind.
Pro Media is based out of Chicago, and has been under the radar for quite some time. When I first saw one I was intrigued and very impressed. Like RRS the ProMedia tripods have a beautiful combination of carbon, and aluminum alloy, and a perfect mix of functionality, and aesthetics. They’re incredibly well thought out and built, with many small details that make this a serious contender. My only caveat is that they do not have a 2 series comparable to the 24L above, they seem to only come in a 3, and 4 series. That being said the TR344L is taller, with a very similar folded length, and minimum working height, but about 9 ounces heavier, and boasts a larger (by 5mm) upper most leg section. If presented with this tripod and the afore mentioned RRS, it would be an extremely tough choice. I cannot speak out of experience about the bullhead as I have only read about it, and seen photos, but the design is extremely clever, and looks to be incredibly well designed and manufactured. Although it is heavier than even the RRS BH-55, so its not a light setup, making it not quite as versatile. If they made a model more similar to the specs, I would definitely consider these a very serious contender.
The Induro GIT204 and Induro BHD1 Ball Head
This tripod is almost identical to the size and weight of the above ProMedia TR344L but due to the cast alloy full size apex, is quite a lot heavier than the RRS, but allows for use of a leveling base. This tripod is a great value, and you get a lot for the price. Its a very simple design, thusly not a lot of bells and whistles, and lots of plastic. The cast apex would worry me in extremely cold conditions. This tripod currently acts as my spare tripod.
My Top 4 Side by Side
One could see how a combination of legs and heads from different brands could make great combo’s depending on your shooting style and preference.