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The Worst Tripod You Can Buy

A tripod is one of those things you know you're supposed to have as a photographer. But lugging one around can be a pain. And most of us would rather spend money on cameras and lenses.

Some view carrying around as akin to being hobbled by a ball and chain, or perhaps even bordering on the labors of Sisyphus, forever being forced to roll a rock up a hill. Good tripods are naturally heavy. They must be in order to be stable. But lightweight tripods do exist. Plenty of them. Perhaps they're not so bad. After all, if you're shooting at 1/250th of a second, they don't have to hold your camera still for very long. It seems easy to justify a bad tripod. Or rather, it seems easy to rationalize a tripod as not being all that important, and something that can be skimped on. You don't have the best camera you can buy either, so why not settle for a tripod that isn't so hot? Save your hard-earned money for what counts, like cameras and lenses, or an extra round of beer with dinner.

Most tripods have three leg segments that nest within each other in order to adjust the height, but you can find ones that have four, or even five-sectioned legs. The more leg sections, the less space a tripod will occupy when collapsed. And nobody likes carrying around an ungainly, big tripod. Especially when travelling, one that can fit in your luggage seems worth considering. What if you could find a tripod that would fit in your pocket? Wouldn't that be cool. Likely, the time you'll be putting that tripod to use will total longer than it will take you to get it to where you're going, but never mind that. Tripod legs look cool as they collapse. And that counts, right? Never mind that every joint that makes it possible for a tripod to collapse into itself also adds potential weakness, even when fully assembled, a point at which it could possibly flex. You have to be willing to make sacrifices to have a cool tripod that folds up to fit in your pocket.

Another way to make carrying a tripod easier on your back and shoulders is to get one with skinnier legs. Weight loss is all the rage these days. Everyone wants to be skinnier. But at some point "skinny" blends into "frail" and "unsteady." A frail tripod sure can be easier on your back and shoulders but may become unsteady once you mount the weight of your camera on top. It all depends on what's important to you I guess. Choices have to be made.

Then there's the monopod. Perhaps you don't even need three legs. If you opt for fewer, you will certainly save both weight and space. I mean, nobody advocates a tripod with four or five legs, so why set the arbitrary lower bound on leg count at three? Go for the gusto. A single leg can't be that bad, can it? They do sell monopods, so one leg must be a viable option, right? You've no doubt seen people using a monopod, so why not you? See how easy this rationalization game is? Play along at home if you want.

Shorter tripods naturally weigh less too. Less material going into the construction of a tripod means that tripod will weigh less. You can bend over a little when you use it, right? And when condemned to endlessly lug a tripod up a hill, less weight can seem like a good idea, at any cost. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable. Live a little. Take it easy. Your back probably won't get too sore if you're careful when you stoop to look through the viewfinder atop its short perch.

Some tripod manufacturers think they can make an inherently unstable tripod more rigid by including cross-braces between the legs. The first tripod I ever bought years ago, did. That way, even flimsy legs can be held steady, or so the marketing brochure claimed. Sounded good to me at the time. Perhaps it does to some of you even now. Never mind that this results in a tripod with legs that can't be independently adjusted. Just shoot all your pictures on flat, level ground. Problem solved.

At least you can say you have a tripod, not like those amateur photographers who don't really care about their craft. You know you're "supposed" to have a tripod, and you've got one. Check that box off on your list. The short, scrawny one you've got may not be the best, but so what?

Of course, if you want a good tripod, perhaps some of the ideas presented here might not be so advisable. It all depends on why you want a tripod in the first place. A cheap, flimsy, short, lightweight tripod may be easier on your back and on your wallet, but if that were your objective, surely not having a tripod at all would be easier still. And if you follow this line of reasoning, you could save even more weight and expense by foregoing the camera as well. Take it easy. Enjoy yourself.

But wait? All this makes no sense. The reason you have camera gear is to take photos. You probably want to take the best ones you can. And having a stable, solid tripod is part of what you need to accomplish that goal. There's really no way around it. If you want to do the best job you can of being a photographer in the great outdoors, you need good gear, and that includes a good tripod.

There are more and less expensive tripods. There are some that weigh more than others do. But there are no lightweight, inexpensive tripods that will work well in the outdoors. They simply don't exist. There are real world physical realities to contend with in the real world. Welcome to the real world.

OK, so this whole idea of getting the worst tripod you can is a bit tongue in cheek. Nobody really wants this. But it's surprising how many photographers do give the idea of a good tripod less merit than they should. Admittedly, nobody has an unlimited budget. Few have Sherpas to carry their gear around for them. Most of us do this on our own, and with our own resources. Cutting corners can indeed be tempting. But a good tripod is generally not something you should skimp on.

Get a good tripod. Use it.

Date posted: February 26, 2017


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