Obviously, photography has come a long way since the first photographic tripod with a standard 1/4×20 mounting screw was introduced around 1880, but the tripod is as essential today as it was back then. Indeed, virtually any professional photographer worth his or her salt owns and uses a number of tripods, from a portrait photography studio, for outdoor photography, to cell phone tripods, many leading pros shoot the vast majority of their images with a tripod as a camera mount. The reason is simple: Keeping the camera as steady as possible during the exposure is still the simplest, surest, and most direct way to ensure outstanding picture quality.
While everybody knows that a sturdy tripod will help you get sharp pictures when you have to (or want to) shoot at slow shutter speeds, and provides a handy perch for composing landscapes or portraits, the extreme versatility of these not-so-simple three-legged devices is vastly underappreciated by most photographers. To give you a better idea of what a tripod can do for you, and why no serious photographer should have fewer than two, here’s a handy compendium of tripod capabilities and uses. It’s guaranteed to give you a better appreciation of why good tripod can play a lot more than a supporting role in your photography.
1. Enhancing sharpness: A sturdy, stable tripod that’s properly set up will get you sharper pictures every time. Comparison tests prove that even at fast shutter speeds in the 1/250-1/1000 sec range, images shot using a tri pod are measurably sharper than those taken handheld. The rule of thumb, based on 35mm-equivalent focal lengths, is that the slowest hand-holdable shutter speed is one over the focal length of the lens—that is, 1/200 sec with a 200mm lens. However this rule only works up to a given print size—approximately 8×10 inches. If you make larger prints, you’ll need to use a faster shutter speed, or, better yet, a tripod. The optical image stabilization systems built into many late model digital cameras yield sharper handheld images at slower shutter speeds than the rule recommends, but when you’re shooting at long telephoto focal lengths and/or making prints of 11×14 and larger, there’s still no substitute for a good tripod.
2. Enhancing depth of field: To achieve maximum depth of field—an image that’s critically sharp from foreground to background—you must shoot at a relatively small aperture, generally in the f/11 to f/32 range. And to maintain high image quality, it’s best to shoot at ISO 100 to 400. In most cases, unless you’re shooting in brilliant sunshine, this means that you or your camera will select a relatively slow shutter speed in order to provide a proper exposure. The inevitable conclusion: If you require extreme depth of field for pictorial or artistic effects, set your camera on Manual or A (aperture-priority) mode, select a small aperture, and use a tripod.
3. Enhancing capture quality: For reasons alluded to above, a tripod will allow you to set a lower ISO when taking picture under any lighting conditions because you can shoot sharp pictures at slower shutter speeds. Most digital cameras deliver optimum image quality with less “digital grain,” aliasing, artifacts, etc. when you set the ISO to 100 or 200.
4. Enhancing framing precision: A tripod is the supreme image-control device, allowing you to compose the picture perfectly using its panning (lateral rotation) tilting (vertical swing) and center post height adjustments. Many tripods also provide grounder capability for extreme low-angle shooting, and levels on the yoke and/or head platform to aid precise composition and minimize keystoning and other types of linear distortion. Using a tripod is also the only convenient way of shooting multiple frames exactly the same picture at different exposure settings, allowing you to choose the rendition you prefer in terms of tonal range, depth of field, etc.
5. Extending your focal-length range: The longer the focal length of your lens or the focal length setting of your zoom lens, the higher the magnification of the image on the sensor or film. That’s why the image-blurring effects of even a slight amount of camera shake will be amplified at longer focal lengths. Yes, enabling your camera’s image-stabilization systems and shooting at higher shutter speeds can certainly help, but if you often shoot at equivalent focal lengths of 300mm and above, you should be using a sturdy medium-sized or larger tripod, preferably with the center post in its lowest position or extended only minimally for maximum stability. Candidates for hefty tripods used with long lenses include nature photographers, bird photographers, sports photographers and surveillance photographers.
6. Extending your photographic range: The number of subject types and situations where a tripod is essential or highly beneficial is virtually limitless, but here are a few you might consider: A tripod for night photography, shooting time exposures, getting yourself into the picture using the self-timer, remote photography of a pre-planned subject, view, or location, macro photography at high magnifications, architectural and astrophotography, scientific, testing, nature, and identification photography where repeatability is required, time-lapse photography, panoramic photography and of course action photography when you want to blur the background by panning the camera.
7. Enhancing your videos and movies: There’s no substitute for a tripod with a fluid head in achieving smooth panning and tilting when shooting videos and movies. Even moderately priced video tripods with fluid-effect heads instead of true fluid heads are a big help in achieving smooth looking pans that give your videos a professional touch. Serious amateurs and pros will opt for true fluid heads that can actually adjust the degree of damping action, not just the amount of friction on the movement, that’s basically the difference between a fluid head vs pan head. Fluid heads are better for video shooting, pan heads are better for still shooting, with precise horizontal and vertical adjustments. Even if you don’t use a tripod with a fluid head, it’s a good idea to mount your digital camera or camcorder on a tripod whenever you can—your results will look far less jerky than using a handheld camera, and you can even mount your tripod on a dolly to achieve true Hollywood-effect dolly shots, which often look a lot more realistic than zooming in or out with your lens.
8. Enhancing your creative expression: How can a tripod possibly enhance your creativity? Basically by forcing you to slow down, giving you time to think about creating a photograph and expressing your ideas, as opposed to grabbing snapshots of the passing scene. This is not to denigrate either snapshooters or photojournalists who have certainly produced timeless images of life on the move, but there is also something to be said for taking the contemplative approach, carefully considering everything in the frame before pressing the shutter release. Yes, there are some geniuses that can consistently capture decisive moments on the fly, but most shooters find their photography improves both technically and esthetically when they use a tripod. Try it—we guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
9. Extending shooting flexibility: Tripods have many uses besides holding a camera or being found in a portrait photography studio. They can be pressed into service as light stands, to hold flash units, slaves, and reflectors, or (when fitted with suitable hooks, platforms, or baskets) to hold and protect delicate equipment. We’ve even heard of one intrepid wildlife photographer who used his heavy-duty tripod with spiked leg tips to fend off a bear!
Lightweight and Perfect Tripod for Smartphone Use: The Explorer V includes smartphone mount for tripod, connect iphone to tripod for perfectly steady images, videos or webcam use. For smartphones, digital, video and still cameras weighing up to 4 pounds. Fits many smartphones without having to remove from their protective cases. This sturdy unit weighs only 3 lbs. but holds up to 4 lbs, and extends to a convenient 60 inches.
The Works: The Davis & Sanford Provista 7518B is a full-size professional DSLR tripod for serious video and sports shooters. It has a Dual-strut video design with 75mm ball leveler, FM18 2-way fluid head with variable balance quick release, Self-aligning metal snap leg locks offer fast set up Mid level spreader adds additional support and quick release. Its maximum capacity is 18 lbs. so it will easily support large pro video cameras. It extends to 64 inches and weighs 12 lbs.
Premium Video Series Tripods: Davis & Sanford ProElite Series of professional video tripods. The 3100-25 features a 25 pound payload, the 3100-15 had a 15 pound payload. Other features include 2-stage quick lock leg clamping system, a removable mid-level spreader, sliding camera platform and Mini Euro quick release plate system. Maximum height: 63.5 inches. Total weight: 14 lbs.
Monopod, Monoped, TableTop Tripod: The Vista Monoped 64 is a versatile sturdy “monopod with feet” for when a tripod is not practical, it’s also our best monopod for travel situations. Its folding base has a built-in ball pivoting for support and maneuverability. The monopod unscrews from base to use separately, the base without the monopod can be used as tabletop tripod. It’s maximum height is 64 inches, 4-section leg folds to 24 inches, quick-snap locks and rubber bottom for quick setup. It’s capacity is 12 pounds and weighs 2.6 pounds. Foam handle with strap for easy handling and all weather use.
A Great All-rounder Super Compact Travel Tripod: The Davis & Sanford Traverse 553-P228 Tripod uniquely folds down to a super compact 12 inches, which makes this a highly recommended tripod for outdoor photography, it also comes with a ball head, offering 3-position, 23mm independent leg adjustments, easy glide 2-section adjustable centerpost, 5-section legs, Arca Swiss compatible quick release and amazing grounder capacity for maximum flexibility in low-angle shooting. It will hold up to 10 lbs., weighs only 2.6 lbs, and extends to 53 inches.
The Vista line of affordable lightweight tripods and monopods by Davis & Sanford are an excellent choice for the up and coming wave of photo and video hobbyists and enthusiasts. Our lightweight tripods offer the highest performance, durability, ease of use and a 1 year warranty. Aside from making great tripods for landscape photography, night photography, sports photography, nature photography (outdoor photography in general) and even macro photography, using tripods for iPhones is now easier than ever.
Here’s Another Tripod for iPhone Solution: introducing the Steadicam Universal Smartphone Mount specifically designed with the smartphone user in mind, the Universal Smartphone Mount is adjustable to securely fit a wide range of smartphones. A built-in 1⁄4”-20 dslr camera mount attaches easily to tripods.