10 Tips for Buying a Camera Tripod

by Michael Lynch Jul 6, 2010
Michael Lynch

Photo courtesy of Mike Lynch.

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ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT investments you can make when buying accessories for a camera is a sturdy tripod.

Here are the top 10 things you’ll want to know before investing in one:


Everyone wants to get the best deal they can but, a cheap tripod will not enhance your photography. The little $10.00 aluminum ones are good for nothing, unless you plan on taking all your photos while it’s set up on your coffee table.

For a point and shoot camera, you may get by spending under $50.00. If you have a DSLR, plan on spending at least $100.00. There’s always the option of buying a used tripod to save costs as long as you know what to look for.

Folded Height

For travel, you need to know how small you can fold your tripod. Will it fit in a suitcase, backpack or a carrying case that you can wear comfortably on your shoulder?

Make sure it’s not too large that you can’t carry it on a plane.


See how much it weighs; you’ll more than likely be carrying it a lot in your travels. The best tripods are wooden but they are extremely heavy. Aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber have made modern tripods much lighter. Just make sure whichever you buy, it is sturdy.

Maximum Height

This is as important as minimum height. With your camera mounted on it, make sure you can elevate the tripod to eye level. If not, you’ll be doing a lot of bending over.

Maximum Weight

This is the maximum weight the tripod was designed to support. If you have 10 lbs of camera and lenses to mount on a tripod designed for a maximum weight of 8 lbs, it will bend or break. At a minimum, it will be moving while you’re trying to shoot.

Quick Release

This is a feature that allows you to keep part of the hardware screwed to the bottom of the camera and easily press a lever to install or remove it from the tripod.

It’s a good idea to buy extra quick release shoes to mount on all your cameras, if you have more than one.

Ball Head

Some tripods come with this feature built-in, with others you have to invest in buying them separately. The ball head allows you to “pan” the camera (follow a moving subject) smoothly without creating more noise in your photos from camera shake.

Center Post

This is the pole that can be raised or lowered on the tripod. It should be reversible so you can get lower to the ground for flower and macro shots.

When it’s upright, look for a hole or hardware to attach weight to at the base of the center pole. Sometimes, when it’s windy, even the weight of a camera bag will help steady a tripod from swaying in the breeze.


Look at the tripod’s feet to see how much room you need to set it up and check for rubber boots to prevent scratching floors or sliding on smooth surfaces.

Some tripods have retractable metal spikes for steadying the camera when you’re on ice, soil or uneven terrain.

Position Locking

See how the leg sections and center pole are locked into position. There are knobs to turn, hand cranks or clamps you squeeze to raise or lower your tripod and secure it in position.

Make sure you check them all out and find which style works best for you and your camera.

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