Tripods, like cameras, lenses, and everything else in the world, come in a wide array of choices. Variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to anything photography related, things get quite blurred quickly. There are options ranging from the $25 Amazon Basics tripod, to a $1500 Really Right Stuff tripod. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. With tripods, that statement rings true in every single way.
I paid 80 dollars for my first tripod and head, and they worked the way I needed them to. As my gear collection and skill set expanded, I outgrew my tripod head. It couldn’t handle the weight of my larger lenses, nor could it spin horizontally like I needed when I got into panoramas. I ended up buying a new tripod head to mount onto the legs, spending another $100. That head worked great the last three years with the gear I had, but as my dive into medium format grew deeper and deeper (think holding two bricks worth of a camera), that tripod set up could no longer support my needs or my gear.
Every time I put my camera on that tripod and locked it up, the legs would bend, the ball head would slowly adjust itself, and my composition I worked so hard to get would end up shifting into whatever the tripod felt most comfortable with. Long exposure shots would get blurred because the tripod would blow and bend with the breeze. I can’t even begin to count the number of shots that got ruined because my gear was too much for the tripod.
With my trip coming up, I knew I needed something sturdier if I wanted my shots to turn out. It was painful, but I ended up shelling out around $800 total for Oben carbon fiber legs and an RRS ball head. The difference between the two set ups was clear the first time I set them up next to each other. I put my camera on the new set, locked it in, and proceeded to push down on the top of it to see what would happen. I couldn’t believe what happened; Not. A. Damn. Thing. It didn’t shift or bow, I was blown away.
Not only was the whole thing sturdier, it was friendlier to use. It’s quicker and easier to set up and take down. It’s weighs a whole lot more than my other tripod and head, but with more weight comes more security. I’m not saying to go spend $800 like I did, because honestly I’m kind of insane, but please spend more than you think you need to, because it will help in the long run as your needs grow.
“Your shots are only as sharp as your tripod allows them to be.” - No idea who said it but it’s a solid quote.