Buying a cheap tripod is a trap many photographers fall in to when they first start out, and it is an easy one to fall in to. I have fallen in to the “I only need a cheap tripod” trap and I know of many other photographers who have also done this, and it is something we all regret.
Photography magazines, publications and journals don’t seem to place enough emphasis on tripods in their articles, unless specifically covering long exposure photography, landscape photography or macro photography.
Articles covering general photography and walkabout photography seem to gloss over using a tripod which is a shame because the tripod is the photographer’s best friend.
When I first started out I never bothered with a tripod, instead taking every shot handheld. It wasn’t until I read an article on how to take proper landscape photos (i.e. using a narrow aperture to maximise depth of field, using the lowest ISO for the best quality, using mirror lock up etc.) that I even thought about buying a tripod, and when I did buy a tripod to have a go at landscape I bought a cheap tripod.
I bought a cheap tripod because I thought that I wouldn’t use it for anything other than landscape photography (I hadn’t discovered long exposure photography or macro photography by this point) therefore I thought a cheap tripod would be the best choice. Besides, it left me money to spend on some other bit of photographic kit that would be a better buy.
When the cheap tripod was delivered (I bought it from Amazon and it was such a cheap tripod and totally generic that it was un-branded) I went about setting it up. The build quality of the cheap tripod I bought was awful. It was clearly made out of inferior materials that weren’t up to the job. The plastic joints (that extend the legs and allow for adjustments) were weak, feeble and creaked under pressure.
When I put my camera and lens on top of the tripod there was a lot of creep and the camera wouldn’t remain stationery until it was pointing straight down at the ground. Had it been a professional DSLR camera fully gripped with a heavy zoom lens attached I would have understood, but I was using a lightweight entry level dslr camera and small (and also lightweight) landscape lens. Needless to say I wasn’t at all impressed.
When I took the cheap tripod out on location (well I had to get it out to test it properly) the tripod didn’t perform at all. As well as constant camera creep it was unstable and wobbled about all over the place. I was a bit worried about this because I set it on flat, level ground on a still day. Had the ground been uneven or there had been a breath of wind, or worse still both together, the cheap tripod wouldn’t have stood a chance and would have toppled and taken my camera and lens with it.
This experience taught me that a cheap tripod is a total waste of money, even if I did plan on using it on rare occasions.
The moral of the story is not to buy a cheap tripod and buy something decent in the first place. A common saying is “buy cheap buy twice” and this is very true when it comes to buying a cheap tripod.
How to buy a tripod
Before spending your hard earned money on a tripod you need to research, research and research some more. The internet is a fantastic tool and I would suggest using it to devise a short list of potential tripods that will be suitable.
With the short list in place the next step is to go to a local camera store and see the tripods. Set them up, place a camera and lens on them, wiggle them to see how sturdy they are, check the “moving parts”, pack the tripod away and see what it is like to carry…… the list goes on. You need to thoroughly investigate and test every tripod on the short list, ask the assistant at the store for advice and guidance and then return home and think about each and every tripod. Note down the pros and cons of each, leave it a few days and return to the shop and look at the tripods again.
Buying a tripod isn’t a five minute task and it is something you should spend a bit of time and effort doing to make sure you get the best tripod for your needs.
What tripods are worth buying?
There are a few companies well known for making sturdy tripods and all of these companies are worth a look. I personally use a Manfrotto tripod because it suited my needs and was within my budget.
Choosing the Manfrotto was not a quick decision and I spent a lot of time researching and testing before buying it. Some good tripods to get you started include:-
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.