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A tripod is one of the most basic, essential pieces of photographic equipment, after the camera and lens.

See the Nikonians guide to Tripod technique

A typical tripod has three legs and a head. In cheaper tripods these come as one unit, but most serious models have detachable heads.

For photographic purposes, the ideal tripod is

  • heavy — to dampen shutter vibrations
  • stable
  • easy to adjust
  • capable of bearing the load placed on it — eg, camera, flash, lens

However, for many practical purposes, a tripod needs to be light and small enough to carry around. Buying a tripod, then, is a trade-off between maximum weight and stability, and portability.

Most quality portable tripods tend to be carbon-fibre or some variation, which gives great strength for low weight. In the field, weights, such as stones, camera bags, or water containers, can be hung from a central hook, or otherwise added to the tripod to improve stability.

A tripod with four sections is inherently less robust than one with three sections, or even just one section. However, quality portable tripods tend to have highly advanced clasps to ensure that, even in four sections, they are fully stable. Budget tripods, however, tend to lose stability fairly early on in their working life.

Many tripods have an adjustable centre column. Although convenient, particularly when photographing series of children of different heights, a centre column is inherently less stable than the three legs of the tripod. Some advanced tripods have centre columns which can be removed and used upside down or laterally, which may be important in macro photography.

Generally, a tripod should extend to comfortably above the eye-height of the main user. Where the situation does not demand a particular tripod height, eye-height is the most practical.

Many good tripods include a spirit level, for ensuring that the tripod itself is perfectly level (this should be on the tripod, rather than the head). Inexpensive stick-on levels are also available.

There are a variety of table-top and other small tripod solutions. Most of these are aimed at the compact camera market, but a number are suitable for SLR cameras.

  • This page was last modified on 10 January 2009, at 16:59.
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