PDN's Picks: The 10 Best Tripods
MAY 13, 2013
By Greg Scoblete
Whether you shoot in the cozy confines of a studio or atop mud-streaked mountains, a good tripod is a must. As HD video recording has become an integral feature in most digital SLRs, tripod manufacturers have responded with smoother panning heads to ensure you’ll be able to cleanly track your moving subject. While carbon fiber has lost a bit of the wow factor (we get jaded quickly in this high-tech era), it’s still the material of choice for high-end stabilizers expected to carry the weight of telephoto lenses.
Joby GorillaPod Hybrid
Not all tripods are created equal and Joby’s GorillaPod is certainly a different breed, designed for unconventional angles and environments where a standard tripod design with rigid, interlocking legs just won’t do. (Think tethering to a street lamp or upside down on a tree limb.) The company’s Hybrid model is capable of supporting interchangeable lens cameras up to 2.2 pounds in weight with leg joints that can rotate a full 360 degrees for locking securely around most surfaces. Rubberized foot grips steady the GorillaPod Hybrid on flat surfaces and a built-in bubble level in the tripod head guides you to a level shot.
Vortex Optics Pro GT Tripod (Pro-2)
The Vortex Optics Pro GT Tripod sports a rugged three-way quick-release pan-tilt head with a locking mechanism when you’re ready for more passive environments. This budget-friendly rig can hold up to ten pounds of camera aloft with a height range of 23.9 to 67.1 inches. It folds down to a height of 24.6 inches and weighs in at 4.4 pounds. The legs are padded and offer flip-lever locks for height adjustment. The tripod is fashioned from anodized aluminum with a balance hook lodged into the bottom of the center column if you need to add extra weight to the unit for greater stability. Rubber feet keep the Pro GT securely anchored to the ground. The kit includes a carrying case, three-way pan head and quick-release plate.
If you’re shooting more than your fair share of video with a DSLR, the MVK502AM is a two-stage tripod from Manfrotto that’s worth a look. It delivers a new telescopic twin leg design, which Manfrotto says makes the unit both more compact and more stable. The aluminum-based tripod is capable of supporting cameras and lenses up to 8.82 pounds. Closed, the tripod measures in at 29.53 inches, although it offers a minimum height that is a bit smaller, at 27.76 inches. Fully extended, the MVK502AM is 61.42 inches tall. The tripod head features a fluid pan and tilt thanks to the use of smoothed ball bearings that Manfrotto says removes any unwanted vibration across all operating temperatures. The head features a variable Fluid Drag System (FDS) with adjustable cartridges. A pan bar can be attached to either the left or right of the tripod head depending on which hand you rely on to operate your camera.
The TSC-428 from Holland-based Redged features a four-piece carbon fiber construction and is capable of supporting up to a hefty 26.46 pounds (the tripod itself weighs in at a trim 2.87 pounds). It can be used in a range of heights from 9.44 inches to 5.05 feet and has retractable spikes inside the rubberized feet for getting a better grip on different outdoor terrains (no spikes in the studio, please). The legs are adjustable in three positions and are non-rotating, so all three can be opened simultaneously for faster set up. They’re also encased in all-weather foam so you can lug them around comfortably when the weather goes sour. You can pop off one of the TSC-428’s legs entirely and use it as a monopod. The center mounting stud is removable and offers a 1/4-inch mounting tread on one side and a 3/8-inch thread on the other for greater compatibility with third-party tripod heads. If you need to balance the TSC-428, or just need a place to rest your camera bag, the tripod also offers a stability hook to hang extra weight from. A level bubble is also built-in.
Three Legged Thing X4 Eric Evolution 2
This “thing” is a carbon fiber tripod with four leg sections whose virtue is versatility. You can detach a leg to use as a monopod or collapse Eric, as the tripod is known for short, down to the floor (as close as five inches off the ground) for macro photography. You can outfit Eric’s columns with a laptop/tablet dock when shooting low to the ground to avoid craning your neck to view the screen. Eric weighs in at three pounds and can extend to 79 inches high (its folded length is 20 inches). It is capable of supporting 17.6 pounds worth of camera and lens. The tripod can be used in so-called “tri-mono mode” with the extended center column to make it easier for photographers with long lenses to keep their gear stable.
Induro DR Hi-Hat Tripod Set (LFB75S)
This squat, tabletop kit is ideal for still and video work that requires large, heavy lenses and camera bodies (applications such as stop-motion filmmaking and product close-ups come to mind). It’s capable of supporting up to a 165-pound gear load and includes both a short aluminum alloy tripod with a 75mm bowl, and a 75mm half-ball adapter. Each leg of the tripod consists of a two-section extension and three steps of variable angle adjustment, giving you a range of shooting positions to choose from. Its ovoid pivoting feet have reinforced mounting holes for additional stability if you need to spike or screw the tripod onto a surface. The Hi-Hat’s base features a bubble level. The tripod can extend to a maximum height of 11.4 inches and down to a minimum height of 3.8 inches when the legs are not extended. It weighs in at 3.2 pounds.
The Oben AT-3400 is an aluminum-based folding tripod that ships with the firm’s BA-00T Ball Head. When it’s time to stuff it into the overhead bin, the legs can fold upward 180 degrees to shrink the tripod down to 17 inches (with the head attached). It’s capable of supporting camera-lens combos up to 6.6 pounds and can be extended to a maximum height of 59.2 inches. The non-rotating legs are independently adjustable and can be locked in at two different angles. Integrated spikes (with removable rubber caps) on the feet can help you anchor the AT-3400 on grass or other unforgiving surfaces. The center column has a twist lock with a rubber damper that protects the center-post collar when the tripod is retracted. At the bottom of the center column you’ll find a spring-loaded hook for additional weights in order to achieve better balancing (the hook can also be detached when not in use). The BA-00T tripod head has a single-action knob so you can unlock all axes of movement at once to pan or change up shooting angles (the head can pan a full 360 degrees and tilt at up to a 90-degree angle). In addition to mounting standard DSLRs, there’s a removable video pin to provide greater stability for camcorders.
Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH
The carbon fiber-based Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH offers a unique pistol-grip ball head design. The shutter release trigger control is located on the grip, so you can be ready to shoot even as you’re panning the camera along its two axes. The central column can be angled between 0 to 180 degrees horizontally or vertically for tracking subjects in motion or acquiring unique angles. The Instant Swivel Stop-n-Lock System will quickly reposition the central column in a single movement. The legs offer quick-flip locks and can be individually adjusted to 25-, 50- and 80-degree angles via an ergonomic release button. As for the feet, you’ll get a set of three: angled rubber, spikes and snow/sand shoes for more punishing climates.
Giottos MT PRO Tripod (MT 8350)
The carbon fiber-based MT 8350, from Giottos’ MT PRO series of tripods, offers a quick-release lock for obtaining three leg-spread angles (allowing each leg to be set individually in different positions). It features a multifunction center column that can be positioned for 180 degrees of vertical movement and 360 degrees of horizontal rotation as a lateral arm. This column can also be employed upside down or reversed, for additional shooting flexibility. Capable of supporting up to 11 pounds of gear, the MT 8350 will extend up to 62.7 inches with the sliding center column, or 50.8 inches without it. You’re able to shrink it down to 8.6 inches or fold up the tripod to 20 inches for storage. The four legs offer neoprene grips with non-slip foam covers so it won’t slide out of your hand as you hike about in the pouring rain. A built-in retractable hook is also available for adding weights or slinging a camera bag.
Gitzo Series 3 6X 3Section Center Ball QR Kit
For those with a bit more elasticity in the budget, Gitzo’s Series 3 tripods are worth a look. The 6X 3Section Center Ball QR Kit (which just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) offers a maximum extended height of 69.5 inches and collapses to a closed length of 30.9 inches. The 6.24-pound, carbon fiber-based tripod is capable of keeping up to 39.7 pounds of DSLR or video camera aloft. It incorporates a new 6X carbon fiber tube, so named for the six crossed layers of carbon fiber, which Gitzo says maximizes the rigidity and vibration absorbance while maintaining a light carrying weight. It features a built-in accessory hook for adding stabilizing weights, removable rubber feet and an anti-leg-rotation system, which enables you to quickly open the tripod by loosening the twist locks on each leg at the same time.