In­doors or out­doors, a sturdy tri­pod should help you stay steady, even when you’re us­ing the heav­i­est D-SLR cam­eras and lenses. Matthew Richards tests the best op­tions at a range of prices

NPhoto - - Test Team -

It’s not just about go­ing over to the dark side. Nat­u­rally, a tri­pod is all but es­sen­tial when there’s very lit­tle light, keep­ing the cam­era steady when the shut­ter speed is slow, but that’s just the start of the ben­e­fits. Tak­ing time to ad­just the cam­era po­si­tion very pre­cisely can make a world of dif­fer­ence when it comes to good com­po­si­tion, for ex­am­ple. Tripods are also great for tak­ing self-por­traits (see page 47); for time-lapse pho­tog­ra­phy (page 58); and for us­ing neu­tral den­sity fil­ters to en­able long ex­po­sures (page 8). Fur­ther pos­si­bil­i­ties in­clude keep­ing the cam­era locked in po­si­tion for a se­ries of ex­po­sures that you com­bine to cre­ate an HDR im­age, or for pre­ci­sion pan­ning for cap­tur­ing a se­quence that will form the ba­sis of a panorama.

In is­sue 37 we tested travel tripods, which are a bit of a com­pro­mise be­cause while they aim to be sturdy, they’re also de­signed to keep car­ry­ing size and weight to a min­i­mum. This time around, we’re fo­cus­ing on full- sized tripods that are built to give op­ti­mum rigid­ity. No­body likes to spend more than they need to, so the first eyeopener is that the tripods on test range from just £120/$170 to over £1000/$1500. That said, the least ex­pen­sive (in the UK) in the group is a Vel­bon with a max­i­mum load rat­ing of four kilo­grams. That’s suf­fi­cient for a chunky D810 body with a Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II tele­photo lens at­tached, but not quite enough for shoot­ing with Nikon’s more mas­sive su­pertele­pho­tos. The ma­jor­ity of other tri­pod and head com­bi­na­tions on test have max­i­mum load rat­ings of eight kilo­grams or more.

One money-sav­ing op­tion can be to buy a ‘kit’ that in­cludes both legs and head in one pack­age. In­deed, it’s not pos­si­ble to buy the legs and head sep­a­rately for some of the cheaper kits on test. As you move up the price range, any sav­ings you get from buy­ing a kit in­stead of sep­a­rates can be neg­li­gi­ble, even if kits are available. Buy­ing sep­a­rates also gives you the free­dom to mix and match the legs and head, so you get the com­po­nents you re­ally want. There’s no need to stick with the same man­u­fac­turer for both.

Ma­te­rial ben­e­fits

The ma­te­ri­als used for mak­ing tri­pod leg sec­tions and cen­tre col­umns are usu­ally alu­minium and car­bon fi­bre. The lat­ter is more ex­pen­sive but tends to save weight with­out im­pact­ing on rigid­ity or load rat­ing. For ex­am­ple, the Benro A2970F (alu­minium) and C2970F (car­bon fi­bre) tripods on test have es­sen­tially the same de­sign. When used with the same head, the car­bon fi­bre out­fit is 20 per cent lighter in weight, but costs an ex­tra £95 ($195).

Most cur­rent tri­pod de­signs have legs that can lock at vary­ing an­gles to the cen­tre col­umn, which is use­ful for main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity in low-level shoot­ing. Some also fea­ture piv­ot­ing cen­tre col­umns, and the de­bate continues over whether clip locks or twist locks are the bet­ter op­tion. Let’s take a closer look at the con­tenders.

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