For many photographers and videographers, a tripod is an essential part of their kit. But there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to choosing the best tripods for DSLR. Knowing what you need out of a tripod and what features are most important to you will help you choose the best tripod for your shooting style.
The 9 Best Tripods for DSLR
- Manfrotto Befree Live Video Tripod Kit
- Manfrotto 546B Tripod Legs with Nitrotech N8 Video Head
- Sachtler Ace XL MS Fluid Head Tripod System
- Manfrotto 545GB Professional Tripod with Manfrotto 509HD Fluid Video Head
- Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Series 1 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-40 Mid-Size Ball Head
- Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Versa Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 Full Size Ball Head
- Manfrotto Bogen 055XPROB Tripod Legs with Manfrotto 322RC2 Grip Action Ball Head
- Gitzo G-1410 Pro Studex Heavy Duty Tripod Legs with Wimberley Gimbal II with Quick Release
- Joby Gorillapod Heavy Duty Flexible Mini-Tripod
Do You Need a Tripod?
The purpose of a tripod is to stabilize your camera. Depending on what you are shooting, a tripod might be vitally important or completely unnecessary.
For photographers, tripods are usually used when you need long exposures. For example, landscape photographers use tripods if they’re shooting at times with little light or trying to blur the motion of water or clouds.
Another reason to use a tripod as a still photographer is to ensure the camera is in a specific place while paying attention to other parts of a photo. For example, a studio photographer might set their camera on a tripod so that they can communicate with a model face-to-face and trigger the camera remotely.
For videographers, tripods are vital in a wide range of scenarios. Any camera movement will be visible in a video and using a tripod is one of the easiest methods to prevent jittery footage. High quality video tripods allow motion through panning and tilting (or even adding a slider) but will eliminate undesirable shaking.
Choosing the Best Tripod
At their core, all tripods offer essentially the same thing: a portable stand that allows you to mount and adjust the positioning of your camera. They’re just simple tools that hold your camera.
So what makes one tripod different from another? Why does it matter which tripod you choose?
There are two primary parts to any tripod: the legs and the head. But both parts are available in a variety of different styles, each of which offers specific advantages and disadvantages.
Tripod legs and heads can be purchased either as a set or separately. Each combination results in remarkably different uses. This variety makes it important to find the right setup for your needs.
The base of any tripod is its legs. These provide the basic stability for your camera and allow you to determine the height of your camera. There are several factors that can influence your decision between tripod legs.
Most tripod legs are now made of either carbon fiber or aluminum. Carbon fiber legs are typically lighter, making them more portable. Aluminum legs are generally less expensive and the extra weight can sometimes make them more stable.
There are two common styles of tripod legs you might see. Most tripods designed for still photography are going to be tubular with the lower segments retracting into the upper segments. Tubular legs are generally lighter and take up less space, making them more portable. While tubular legs are more common in still photography, there are other tripods geared towards videographers.
While tubular legs are gaining popularity, many tripods aimed at videographers use a crutch style of leg. In crutch legs, each segment is made up of a pair of tubes with lower segments’ tubes sliding up and in between the upper segments’ tubes. Crutch style legs are considerably heavier than tubular legs but far more stable. They are often used for larger, heavier video cameras.
Almost every tripod collapses into a smaller form to save space when you’re not using it. There are two common locking mechanisms to keep the legs extended where you want them. Flip locks are faster to lock into place, but can become loose and ineffective over time. While any decent tripod should allow you to tighten them back up, you’ll need an allen wrench or some other tool to do so. This can be a problem if you find yourself in the field with a loose lock and no way of tightening it.
Twist locks are not as fast to lock into place, but how tightly they are locked is determined by how much you twist them. Because of this essentially self-adjusting mechanism, you don’t have to worry about one becoming unusably loose at the worst possible time.
All tripod legs (and heads) are going to be rated for a maximum amount of weight they are recommended to hold (known as “payload”). You should allow yourself enough of a weight window that you don’t accidentally overload the tripod if you use a larger lens or extra audio equipment. However, tripods with higher max weights tend to be considerably heavier, so choosing too high of a max weight can make the tripod less portable.
Minimum and Maximum Height
Both the minimum and maximum height that your tripod will extend to will affect your framing options as well as how comfortable it is to use. Generally speaking, you want a tripod that is tall enough to use your camera at eye level when standing so that you don’t have to stoop.
Depending on what you shoot, you might want to choose a tripod with a higher maximum or lower minimum height. If you shoot video of live events, you might want a tripod that can easily reach above the heads of a crowd. If you are a macro photographer, you might want one that can position the camera very close to the ground.
Something to keep in mind is that many tripods have an extendable center column. While this can be helpful in giving you more height, extending the center column will make the camera less stable than a tripod the same height without the column extended.
Some tripods use a spreader which keeps the legs separated at a specific and predetermined distance from each other. Spreaders can increase the stability of a tripod and might be found in the middle or the bottom of the legs. Bottom spreaders offer the most stability but might not work on uneven ground where one leg needs to be longer or shorter than the others. Additionally, spreaders might be fixed or removable.
Tripods without spreaders generally have some sort of locking mechanism to keep the legs at a predetermined angle, though some tripods allow you to choose between multiple leg angles.
The tripod head is the part that fits onto the legs and actually holds your camera. As with tripod legs, there are a bunch of features that influence how well a tripod head will meet your needs.
Tripod Head Types
- Ball Heads – A ball head uses a ball and socket mechanism that allows fast adjustment in all directions. Simply loosen the head, move your camera into position, and tighten it back down. Because of the ease of rapid adjustments, ball heads are perhaps the most common tripod head used by still photographers, but they’re not without drawbacks. They can be finicky and difficult to make fine adjustments with. They are almost impossible to use smoothly for video.
- Pan/Tilt Head – Pan/tilt heads have mechanisms for adjusting two or three axes independently of each other, often by using a handle dedicated to that one axis. This allows you to easily fine tune your framing by adjusting only one axis at a time. The trade-off, though, is that you have to make adjustments in two or three places at a time, which can be more complicated and take more time.
- Fluid Head – Fluid heads are designed specifically for video use (though some still photographers use them) and use fluid-filled mechanisms to dampen motion and allow for smooth panning and tilting. Many offer controls to lock certain axes in place, allowing you to easily only tilt or only pan. Better fluid heads offer counterbalancing adjustment to prevent the weight of a lens from pulling the camera tilt down. They also use a fluid drag adjustment to control the amount of resistance during panning and tilting.
- Gimbal Head – Gimbal heads are perhaps the most niche out of the different types of tripod heads. They allow far better control over panning and tilting than ball heads but require delicate balancing. Gimbal heads are often larger, heavier, and more complicated than other types of tripod heads and are perhaps most often used by wildlife photographers using very large lenses. They usually mount to a long lens rather than to the camera itself.
Tripod Head Mounts
Because tripod legs and heads are often separate and can be mix and matched, you need some way to connect the two. There are two common types of tripod head mounts.
Flat base tripod heads are just what they sound like. Both the top of the tripod legs and the bottom of the tripod head are flat and they fit smoothly together. Almost all tripods used for still photography use flat heads because most of the heads they are paired with can easily adjust in all directions in order to properly frame your image. However, in situations where you need to pan, such as when filming video or creating a panorama, you have to level the entire tripod by adjusting the legs perfectly, which can be a challenge.
Many tripods designed for video use use a bowl connector that allows you to change the angle between the legs and head of the tripod so that you can level the head even if the legs aren’t perfect. When you get the bowl level, you can do any amount of panning and tilting and the horizon will stay perfectly level.
Best Tripods for DSLR Video
For a video shooter, you want to start with a good fluid head that allows smooth motion while dragging a pan or tilt. While not absolutely necessary, a bowl mount will make it far easier to level the tripod head and ensure that it stays level as you move. Because many video cameras are larger and heavier than still cameras, tripods designed for video use often have crutch style legs to increase stability, though lighter tubular legs are becoming more common.
|Tripod||Befree Live Video Tripod Kit||Manfrotto 546B Tripod Legs with Nitrotech N8 Video Head||Sachtler Ace XL||Manfrotto 545GB Professional Tripod||Manfrotto 509HD Fluid Video Head|
|Parts||Legs + Head||Legs + Head||Legs + Head||Legs||Head|
|Weight||5 lbs||12.5 lbs||9 lbs||9.8 lbs||8.4 lbs|
|Leg Material||Aluminum||Aluminum||Carbon Fiber||Aluminum||N/A|
|Leg Locking Mechanism||Twist||Flip||Flip||Flip||N/A|
|Payload||8 lbs||44 lbs||17.6 lbs||55 lbs||28.6 lbs|
|3 Day Rental*||$15||$80||$85||$60||$65|
Manfrotto Befree Live Video Tripod ($15 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
Manfrotto has long been one of the premier makers of tripods and offers a wide range of tripods and heads to meet any need. The Manfrotto Befree Live Video Tripod kit is a fantastic and portable tripod for vloggers and other video creators looking for a setup they can easily grab and go. Coming in at a slim 5 lbs, this kit is considerably lighter than many others and is one of the best travel tripods for DSLR video. With a maximum load of 8 lbs, you won’t be able to put the highest-end cameras or biggest lenses on it, but for a relatively compact DSLR and standard lens you’ll find that it will work perfectly.
Manfrotto 546B Tripod Legs with Nitrotech N8 Video Head ($80 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
When you start looking at larger, more advanced video camera setups, you quickly start adding more weight and needing more stability. Enter the Manfrotto 546B and Nitrotech N8 kit. With a combined weight of 12.5 lbs, you are going to be sacrificing some of the portability for a more rugged setup. Particularly useful for videographers, the Nitrotech N8 Video Head features an innovative continuously-adjustable counterbalance system that allows you to dial in the perfect adjustment for your camera rig.
Sachtler Ace XL MS Fluid Head Tripod System ($85 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
The Sachtler Ace XL MS Fluid Head Tripod System is another great option for videographers, able to accommodate larger DSLR cameras as well as many professional cinema cameras. Weighing in at 9 lbs, you maintain a moderate amount of portability and a decent amount of stability that will hold most DSLR setups. The fluid head has a wide range of adjustments including 8 steps of counterbalance and 3 steps of pan/tilt drag adjustment to allow you to set it just how you need. The bowl base allows you to easily level the tripod head. It also offers a touch-and-go quick release to make it simple to switch between tripod and handheld shots.
Manfrotto 545GB Professional Tripod ($60 for a 3 Day Rental – See More) with Manfrotto 509HD Fluid Video Head ($65 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
Combining the Manfrotto 545GB legs with the Manfrotto 509HD fluid head gets you a highly stable kit that will support just about any DSLR video setup you can throw at it. The 100mm bowl mount allows it to support significantly more weight and the 4-step counterbalance system will handle almost any lens you put on it. The floor spreader will maximize your stability but does limit you to using it indoors or on other very flat surfaces, like sidewalks. But with a combined weight of over 18 lbs, this probably isn’t the kit you’re going to be dragging too far out into the field.
Best Tripods for DSLR Photography
For a still photographer, portability is always a concern unless you never leave a studio. This is especially true for landscape and travel photographers. Many photo tripods are smaller and lighter than those for video use. Ball heads allow for rapid adjustment of framing in all directions. In most cases, still photographers don’t have to worry about panning from one shot to the next (panoramas being the exception), so flat heads without pan bars are acceptable.
|Tripod||Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Series I||Really Right Stuff BH-40 Mid-Size Ball Head||Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Versa Series 3||Really Right Stuff BH-55 Full Size Ball Head||Manfrotto Bogen 055XPROB Tripod Legs||Manfrotto 322RC2 Grip Action Ball Head||Gitzo G-1410 Pro Studex||Wimberley Gimbal II with Quick Release|
|Weight||2.6 lbs||1 lb||4.7 lbs||1.99 lbs||5 lbs||1.4 lbs||8.4 lbs||3.5 lbs|
|Leg Material||Carbon Fiber||N/A||Carbon Fiber||N/A||Aluminum||N/A||Aluminum||N/A|
|Leg Locking Mechanism||Twist||N/A||Twist||N/A||Flip||N/A||Twist||N/A|
|Payload||25 lbs||18 lbs||50 lbs||50 lbs||15.4 lbs||11 lbs||22 lbs||150 lbs|
|3 Day Rental*||$55||$42||$70||$50||$11||$10||$20||$47|
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Series 1 ($55 for a 3 Day rental – See More) with Really Right Stuff BH-40 Mid-Size Ball Head ($42 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
While not having as long of a history as Manfrotto, Really Right Stuff is rapidly gaining a significant following with their tripods and other accessories. For still photographers, the combination of the TQC-14 legs and BH-40 ball head offers one of the best travel tripod solutions. With a super light combined weight of just over 3.5 lbs and collapsing down to around 18″, this tripod can easily fit into your backpack or messenger bag. The lightweight carbon fiber construction is strong enough to hold most DSLR setups.
Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Versa Series 3 ($70 for a 3 Day Rental – See More) with Really Right Stuff BH-55 Full-Size Ball Head ($50 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
If you’re ok sacrificing some of the weight savings, upgrading to the TVC-34L Versa and the BH-55 ball head gives you more stability and strength as well as ten more inches of maximum height for taller photographers. While this kit’s 6.6 lbs may not be as convenient for throwing in your bag, you can still take it to most accessible locations. Plus, you won’t have to worry about putting even the most robust DSLRs onto it.
Manfrotto Bogen 055XPROB Tripod Legs ($11 for a 3 Day Rental – See More) with Manfrotto 322RC2 Grip Action Ball Head ($10 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
Manfrotto’s Bogen 055xPROB is a great entry into higher-quality tripods for anybody who is looking to upgrade their beginner tripod. The aluminum construction is not going to be as high-end as a carbon fiber tripod, but you get great stability at a fantastic price. It’s also one of the taller tripods you can choose, reaching to 70″. The 322RC2 Grip Action ball head offers a different type of control that photographers either love or hate. Simply squeeze the grip, frame your shot, then let go. No worrying about tightening control knobs!
Gitzo G-1410 Pro Studex Heavy Duty Tripod Legs ($20 for a 3 Day Rental – See More) with Wimberley Gimbal II with Quick Release ($47 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
For the photographer who doesn’t care about weight and needs the most support possible, it’s hard to beat this pairing. The Gitzo G-1410 is a beast and will hold virtually anything you throw on it. Use it with the Wimberly Gimbal II and you have a solution for even the most extreme setups. This is the perfect pairing for shooting wildlife with your giant 600mm f/4 lens.
Best Tripod For Those Unique Shots
Joby Gorillapod Heavy Duty Flexible Mini-Tripod ($18 for a 3 Day Rental – See More)
You can’t talk about the best tripods without throwing in the unique Gorillapod. While it’s less than a foot tall and will only hold about 6.5 lbs, the magic comes from its strong, flexible legs. Bend them around a pole, handrail, tree, or anything else and you can position your camera in places that other tripods can only dream about. While the Gorillapod will never be a replacement for a traditional tripod, it unlocks a world of possibility for those looking to unleash their creativity.
There is a wide range of tripods for photographers or videographers to choose from and there’s no single solution for every shooter. Whether you’re looking for something lightweight and portable, something that can handle everything you throw at it, or something to help you find that unique perspective, there is a perfect solution for your needs.
*As of this writing. Pricing subject to change.
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