A Tripod that Won't Break the Bank
A quality tripod is one of those things that you may not even realize you are missing out on. And for those of us who have lived with the same bum tripod for years may have grown accustomed to the quirks, jerks, and bumps that our old fluid head may provide.
But, once you get your hands on a clean, new, balanced fluid head tripod, your life may never be the same.
Things to Look For in a Tripod
I have used a wide gamut of different tripods and heads. Everything from a cheap $100 tripod that came in a kit with my Canon XL2 up to a $15,000 O’Connor head on $4,000 Ronford sticks.
Is there a difference…?
You bet your @$$ there is!
But not everyone needs that level of support, and certainly not everyone can afford it. So what are the best things to look for when trying to watch your budget on a tripod?
You’ll find a certain level of “play” in the joints and connections on tripods that aren’t built to a high standard of machining.
Legs will start to wobble. Locks will start to slip.
The #1 most important thing to think about with a tripod is, will it hold a camera securely without me having to worry that it will tip over.
Now, in most cases, 95% of tripods will pass this test straight away, assuming they are manufactured to handle the weight of your camera rig.
But the big unknown here is longevity. How long will the stability last?
This point goes along with stability, but you need to make sure that the tripod and fluid head are made to support the size of camera rig that you intend to put on it.
It’s important to note that just because a tripod is more expensive, doesn’t mean it is automatically capable of supporting your rig.
I find it good practice to out-spec your intended max weight by about 10-20 lbs. That way there’s some room for growth. (You never know when a cool new accessory will come out that you need to mount to your camera…)
Being able to properly balance your camera can mean the difference between a great take and a re-take.
A big factor in achieving proper balance is the plate that connects to your camera. Some tripods have really long balance plates that can shift the weight of the camera backward and forward.
Others will require the addition of a 3rd party dovetail system. Keep this in mind because they are not cheap and can add to your overall bottom line.
Another part of balance is the ability to add and subtract drag and resistance.
You don’t want to rely on these features to achieve balance. Instead, you want to be able to balance the camera completely with zero drag and resistance on the head, and then, once properly balanced, add the drag and resistance to taste to be able to pull of the shots at the appropriate speed.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you need to make sure that your tripod can be leveled out.
Most companies include bubble levels somewhere on the fluid head, and some will have extra features like a glow in the dark bubble level or a battery powered, lighted bubble level. (These can be lifesavers otherwise you’ll find yourself eating your flashlight a lot during shoots.)
Some heads have what’s called a “ball” or “half-ball” in various sizes. A 75mm ball is generally the smallest, suitable for DSLRs and other small cameras. A 100mm is what most people opt for. It’s a happy medium for those somewhat larger rigs and bigger cameras. A 150mm ball is for the big heavier cinema cameras.
You may find some tripods and heads that have a Mitchell mount. Again, these mounts are for larger tripods, heads, bazookas, and dollies. Most of you will likely want to avoid a Mitchell mount system unless you intend on utilizing a lot of the available rigging and dollies out there for such mounts.
Spreaders and Feet
There are two main kinds of spreaders – mid-level spreaders and floor spreaders. The mid-level are the most convenient and easy to use in my opinion.
Floor spreaders tend to fall off, make it difficult to close up your tripod, and so on.
But, you can typically get a much wider base with floor spreaders, meaning you’ll be able to get the camera lower.
This is a personal preference. My tripods tend to have mid level spreaders. Why? Because I like them better. What do you like better? Go with that one.
As far as feet, most newer tripods have both spike and rubber options. The spikes are great for rough terrain while the rubber is essential for delicate flooring. Some have the rubber balls that screw onto the spikes and some have the removable rubber feet. Again, it’s a preference. I like either. But you want to make sure that you have both options.
The real winner here is the 3Pod V3AH price. It’s really tough to beat that price with a product that is decent quality.
It’s a no-frills tripod. Meaning for leveling, it has a bubble, but no extra lights or features to step up the game.
The stability is decent, and what I like is that there are allen screws all over that can be tightened and maintained over the years by the owner.
It has a mid-level spreader, which as mentioned, is my preference due to speed and ease of use.
The payload is only 8.8lbs. Not blowing away any records here, but it should be great for most DSLR rigs.
There are drag and resistance adjustments to create a smoother pan and tilt movement.
The tripod plate is somewhat long, meaning you can push it forward or back in order to balance, but like most tripods you may want to consider a 3rd party balance plate to really do the trick if you have larger rigs with external batteries or bigger lenses.
There are rubber feet that screw over the spiked feet. I kind of like this style of foot because it’s less pieces to lose. The rubber feet stay on the tripod in spike mode and twist down to cover the spike in rubber mode. Not bad.
The construction is aluminium and plastic, making for a light weight but strong build.
All-in-all, I’d say if you are in the market for a budget tripod, give the 3Pod V3AH a try.