The Most Informative Tripod, Monopod and Tripod Head Buying Guide

Buying Guide- Tripods, Monopods and Tripod Heads Explained

Are you finding your landscape, wedding, sports or wildlife photos are a bit blurry?
If that’s the case you may need to rethink the way you shoot.

Have you ever considered photographing with a tripod or monopod before?
If not then you’re missing out on producing the sharpest images you could ever possibly imagine.

You see without a tripod or monopod to steady your camera, there’s bound to be camera shake, especially in low light situations.

As a landscape, wedding, wildlife and portrait photographer myself I find a good quality tripod and monopod are an essential piece of my kit. The first reason I stated earlier, but secondly you should consider using a tripod or monopod for heath reasons. If you’re anything like me you probably use your camera quite a bit and after a while of carrying around heavy camera equipment it can take a toll on your back, just ask any wedding photographer and I’m sure they’ll agree with me!

So what should you look for in a tripod and what are the benefits of each different style?
I’m glad you asked because that’s exactly what I’m about to tell you in this detailed guide (possibly this is the most detailed tripod, monopod and tripod head guide available on the internet).

Under each section I will list the 5 recommended products based on over 14 years of knowledge and imaging industry experience.

If you enjoy this guide please consider supporting F Stop Lounge by purchasing your product through the provided link as a small commission goes back to supporting everyone contributing to F Stop Lounge. Note: The small commission doesn’t increase your buying price, so without further ado let’s get started…


CONTENTS Covered in this guide:

Tripods Explained

Different Tripod Types

Tripod Construction Materials

Tripod Features To Look Out For

Top 5 Recommended Tripods For Landscape Photographers

Monopods Explained

Top 5 Recommended Monopods For Cameras

Telescopic Poles Explained

Top 5 Recommended Extendable Poles For GoPro & Smart Phones

Tripod Heads Explained

Different Tripod Heads Types

Tripod, Monopod & Tripod Head Accessories

Cleaning & Caring For Your Tripod or Monopod


 

 

 

TRIPODS EXPLAINED

Firstly tripods come in many forms, with the most basic form being three legs and a tripod head.
There will also be some sort of quick release plate, which will securely attach the base of your camera to the tripod head.

Some of the brands I would recommend and will be mentioning in this article are as follows (in no particular order);
Really Right Stuff, 3 Legged Thing, Manfrotto, Gitzo, Velbon, Velbon, Giottos Tripods, Vanguard Tripods, Joby and Slik Tripods.

The first thing you need to know before purchasing  a quality support system for your camera is the total weight of your camera and lens. As a general rule here are some approximate weights:

  • Compact cameras (one that doesn’t have a removable lens):  under 1kg (2.2 pounds).
  • Mirrorless cameras (smaller than a Digital SLR with a removable lens): approximately 1kg – 3kg (2.2 – 6.6 pounds).
  • Digital SLR cameras (big heavy camera with a removable lens): approximately 1kg – 3kg (2.2 – 6.6 pounds).
  • Medium Format cameras (you will know if you have one of these because you will be missing a kidney): 1kg – 3kg (2.2 – 6.6 pounds).

The second thing you will need to consider is the extendable height and the smallest size the tripod goes to. This is normally determined by the type of tripod you will be buying.

 

DIFFERENT TRIPOD TYPES

One Section Tripods (Tabletop Tripods)

One section tripods are the most basic form. These will typically be the smallest and cheapest. I wouldn’t recommend investing in this type of tripod for general photography as you will be restricted by height and also the angle of the tripod legs. Lets be honest, the only reason why these ones are good is for children.

Recommended Table Top Tripod

List Price: $4.95
Current Price: $0.01
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Two Section Tripods

Okay now where getting somewhere. Two sections, double the goodness right? Well not really. Most of these tripods are still made from cheap aluminium and plastic parts and are really only suited to small compact cameras. If you put any weight on the flimsy legs then your bound to see camera shake if it’s a windy day. The only reason you would choose this type of tripod is for when your child physically outgrows their one section tripod. 

Recommended Two Section Tripod

List Price: $10.99
Current Price: Too low to display
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Three Sections Tripods

Alright these surely should be the better type right? Correct! Three section tripods are genuinely better made amongst the cheaper brands. The more expensive brands will have fantastic two section and even one section tripods, but the three section is where they excel. 

Recommended Three Section Tripod

List Price: $169.88
Current Price: $299.99
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Four Section Tripods

So why do you need so many sections? Good question, the reason being is to make the tripod as small as possible when it’s packed away. Plus it looks more professional, because after all it’s all about the look? No seriously these tripods are typically the cream of the crop due to their construction materials, which may include carbon fibre and metal.

Recommended Four Section Tripod

 

Telescopic Tripods

Think about those old school telescopes, the ones where you pull them out and they expand telescopically. You know the ones I mean, just think of any pirate movie and your bound to see one. The same construction is used for telescopic tripods. Telescopic tripods are perfect if you’re travelling abroad with a small bag and camera. Just make sure you never leave the camera unattended when mounted on this type of tripod, as the wind will be your number one enemy.

Recommended Telescopic Tripod

Current Price: $124.80
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TRIPOD CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS

As you’ve just read there’s plenty of different types of tripods to choose from but it doesn’t stop there. Tripods can also be ‘the best thing ever made’ or ‘a piece of junk’  based on what construction materials are used. Here’s a list of the different types of materials generally used in tripod manufacturing.

 

Plastic Tripods

Avoid these cheap and nasties at all costs!

As we all know plastic isn’t the most durable material, so when it comes to supporting your expensive camera these can be a death trap. The only advantage I see in these is they are cheap (but remember they’re cheap for a reason!). You shouldn’t expect to pay more than $40.00 on a tripod made from plastic.

 

Aluminium Tripods

These tripods are like rabbits of the photographic world as they seem to breed and multiply, you can find them everywhere.

Unlike plastic tripods these ones are more durable and can generally be extended to a greater height. They’re heavier than the plastic tripods so if you’re planning on doing lots of hiking you may want to think about a better solution like a carbon fibre set of legs.

 

Carbon Fibre Tripods (Recommended Construction Material)

When I think of a good tripod my mind immediately goes straight to the carbon fibre one’s. They’re lightweight, robust and reliable, what more could you want right?

If you’re serious about your photography then definitely budget around $150-$200 per tripod leg. I believe every cent is totally worth it!

 

Basalt Tripods (Recommended Construction Material)

Gitzo are the main manufacturer of basalt tripods. This lighter than aluminium approach will have you travelling to distant lands without breaking your back. They are also a great option if you want to save some money when compared to carbon fibre tripods.

 

TRIPOD FEATURES TO LOOK OUT FOR

Removable Centre Column Tripods

These are really a three section tripod with a hidden treasure. Removing the centre column of the tripod will allow you to get closer to the ground to photograph the smaller things in life by ‘turning things on their head’ so to speak. You will be able to reverse your camera so it’s nearer to the ground and therefore closer to you subject. The other advantage is when the removable column is exchanged for a smaller centre column (normally a centre column can be unscrewed to form two smaller pieces) your tripod legs will be able to get much closer to the ground.

Recommended Centre Column Tripod

 

Anti Corrosion & Weather Sealing

Salt and sand are a landscape photographers worst nightmare. Without the proper care these elements can slowly eat away at your tripod legs, screws and latches making operational use almost impossible. Don’t get me wrong if you maintain your tripod well (see cleaning and caring for your tripod or monopod at the bottom of this article) then you have nothing too much to worry about. However if you want the best of the best then there is only one brand which can protect you from the elements by offering a completely anti corrosion free tripod system. These tripods don’t come cheap but I suppose you do pay for quality. In my opinion this is the best tripod on the market for landscape photographers.

 

Geared Tripods

Whats that I hear you ask? Well, it’s like standing up and then needing to get a little higher, like standing on your tippy toes. Geared tripods have a small crank handle, and when turned they will raise the centre column to reach new heights. Something to note is if you are looking at a tripod with this feature ensure it’s the most sturdy tripod as at full height they can sometimes be like the leaning tower in the wind.

Recommended Geared Tripod

List Price: $378.00
Current Price: $329.90
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Tripod Spirit Bubbles

If you are going to buy a tripod this little feature is a must. The way I see it, more and more tripods are being released with spirit levels and it’s a good thing too, there’s way too many landscape photographs with skewed horizons.

If your tripod legs don’t have a spirit level it’s not all bad, there are other ways of tackling this feature. Try purchasing a separate tripod head which has one or if you already have the legs and head and need help you should turn to this nifty little gadget, the hot shoe spirit level.

Recommended Tripod with Built-in Spirit Bubbles

 

Tripod Latches or screw?

For me wildlife photography is a passion so I opted for a tripod to support my needs. One main feature I required was something which was going to be quiet when in operation. The last thing I wanted was to scare animals away while I made minor adjustments to the height of my tripod. This is something a lot of photographers don’t think about.

The other type of latch is still a great design but I wouldn’t recommend it for wildlife photography. The main reason being as soon as you open the latch to extend the tripod leg, the pole shoots out and the sound of metal on metal can be heard for metres. It’s like running your fingers along a chalk board! A tripod with this kind of latch is best for sports or landscape photographers.

Recommended ‘Latch Free’ Tripod

Current Price: $380.00
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Tripod Spiked or Rubber Feet

Not many people think about their tripod’s feet and they should, here’s why.

What happens when you go on your dream trip to the snow to photograph a frozen lake? You sit your tripod down and with a small knock you may find your tripod sliding along the ice. What should you do to stop it? Well it’s simple really, you should invest in a tripod which as inbuilt or separate spiked feet. Spiking these suckers to the ground is going to keep you so stable, so now those long time-lapse shots won’t move about. On the other hand if you photograph a bit of real estate or architecture you don’t want to be going around scratching the beautiful floors so make sure you have some good rubber feet on the bottom of your tripod to stop those insurance claims!

Recommended Tripod Feet for Manfrotto

 

Tripod Leg Warmers

Have you ever considered your tripod has feelings as well? It might get cold! You take your tripod to some extreme places, one of which is the snow. The last thing you want on a shoot is your tripod getting cold feet, right? Oh that was bad! On a more serious level leg warmers are great for having somewhere warm to hold your tripod when carrying it around in cold conditions like the snow.

Recommended Tripod Legs Warmers

List Price: $65.00
Current Price: $49.99
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Multi Angled Legs

Having the flexibility to experiment with different angles can always lead to capturing a better photographs, so it makes complete sense to purchase a tripod to assist you in this. Varied angled legs on a tripod are a must buy if you’re a landscape photographer as being able to move the legs independently of each other means you will be able to set up your tripod in any location. You will also be able to choose the desired height as most multi angled legs will allow you to select between three set ‘locked’ angles. Don’t think the three ‘locked’ angles are set in concrete though,  you will be able to adjust the angle of your tripod legs independently outside of these parameters.

Recommended Multi Angled Legged Tripod

TOP 5 RECOMMENDED TRIPODS FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS

1. Gitzo GT2542LOS Ocean Systematic Series 2 Carbon Fiber 4 Section Anti-Corrosion Tripod

 

2. Giottos VGR8255-S2N VGR Classic 7-Layer 5-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod/Monopod with Ballhead and ARCA Quick Release Plate

 

3. 3 Legged Thing X1.1 Brian Evolution 2 Carbon Fiber Tripod

 

4. Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 055 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column

 

5. Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 4-Section Pro Carbon Fiber Tripod without Head

 

 

MONOPODS EXPLAINED

One legged tripods!

When should you use a monopod and why do they even exist?

Firstly monopods are very similar to tripods, they take tripod heads and come in various sections and heights. The main reasons for using a monopod are support for larger lenses and portability. Choosing a monopod can be difficult. Here are some factors to consider when looking for your next support system.

Monopod Weight Rating

What’s the total weight of your biggest lens, your camera body and optional battery grip (with batteries)? This is important to know as all monopods have a weight rating. If you don’t follow this rating your monopod could buckle under the weight of your kit and a costly disaster may follow.

Monopod Height

How tall do you need the monopod? For many people it makes no sense to purchase a monopod which is going to sky rocket over you. The only situation you would need the height is when you’re photographing a group or crowd shot, other than that when you are standing up eye level is always a good measure for height.

Monopod Construction

How sturdy do you need it? There are some monopods out there which are flimsy, cheap and nasty. Sure the finish of them looks professional but when fully extended with some weight on top these suckers will bow. What I highly recommend purchasing is strong, sturdy, robust monopod. You should be looking for something which is substantial. It might be heavier but I can guarantee it’s going to out last the flimsy ones.

Monopod Latches or screw?

For me wildlife photography is a passion so I opted for a monopod to support my needs. One main feature I required was something which was going to be quiet when in operation. The last thing I wanted was to scare animals away while I made minor adjustments to the height of my monopod. This is something a lot of photographers don’t think about. The monopod I purchased is the one below, the stand out feature for me was the screw design to adjust the height. I’m able to slowly rotate the screw and extend the monopod out to the required height, while being completely silent.

The other type of latch is still a great design but I wouldn’t recommend it for wildlife photography. The main reason being as soon as you open the latch to extend the monopod the leg shoots out and the sound of metal on metal can be heard for metres. It’s like running your fingers along a chalk board! A monopod which features this type of design is best for sports photographers.

TOP 5 RECOMMENDED MONOPODS FOR CAMERAS

1. Gitzo GM5541 Series 5 6X Carbon Fiber 4-Section Monopod

 

2. SIRUI P-326 6 Section Carbon Fiber Monopod

 

3. Manfrotto 681B Professional Aluminum Monopod

 

4. Manfrotto MMC3-01 Compact 5 Section Aluminum Monopod

 

5. Manfrotto MM294A4 294 Aluminum 4 Section Monopod

 

TELESCOPIC POLES EXPLAINED

It’s no surprise to see why telescopic poles, boom arms and camera poles are becoming increasing popular due to the selfie culture we all live in. Everyone ‘needs’ a profile picture to update their social look and there’s no better angle to capture a pic of yourself than from beyond arms reach.

 

TOP 5 RECOMMENDED EXTENDABLE POLES

FOR GOPRO & SMART PHONES

1. Floureon Extendable Telescopic Handheld Pole Arm

 

2. Gopromate(TM) Extendable Selfie Handheld Stick

 

3. Telescopic Handheld Professional Monopod Camera Extender Pole

 

4. The Bobber – Floating Hand Grip for GoPro HERO Cameras

 

5. EEEKit for GoPro Hero 1/2/3 Accessory Bundle

 

 

TRIPOD HEADS EXPLAINED

The other essential part of any tripod which often doesn’t get a mention is the tripod head. The tripod head will be one of the most important purchases you make in your camera kit.

Essentially all tripod heads are the same, they support your camera like your neck supports your head. The majority of cameras attach to tripod heads through a quick release plate (explained below under Accessories > Quick Release Plates for Tripod or Monopod Heads). The sized thread (a 1/4″ screw) is the same size across all Digital SLR, Mirrorless and Compact Cameras.

Tripod heads come in many different forms and will have varied features to assist photographers in their chosen genre.

 

DIFFERENT TRIPOD HEAD TYPES

Ball Heads

These type of heads are one of the most popular around. What makes these heads so universal is they consist of a ball and socket joint which allows movement in a 360 degree rotation. Ball heads can be locked in any position using a locking mechanism which will allow you to easily move the composition around if you need to.

Best for: Landscape Photography

Recommended Ball Head

 

Hydrostatic Tripod Heads

Hydrostatic heads are the rolls royce of ball heads. They use the familiar ball and socket configuration, but have something extra special up their sleeve.

Boasting a fancy friction setting these ball heads will allow you to slowly rotate your tripod head without having to adjust the locking mechanism on the side, making all of your minor adjustments easy.

Best for: Landscape Photography

Recommended Hydrostatic Head

List Price: $300.00
Current Price: $190.00
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Joystick or Pistol Grip Tripod Heads

If you were born around the same time as me you will most probably remember computer gaming joysticks? Those things were awesome and the same goes for the tripod head equivalent. This type of head is also commonly referred to as a pistol grip due to the trigger design which unlocks the ball and socket joint to move freely. I would highly recommend this type of head for wildlife photographers.

Best for: Wildlife or Sports Photography

Recommended Pistol Grip Head

List Price: $189.00
Current Price: $149.42
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Three Way Tripod Heads

The three way head is one of the most common heads supplied with a tripod in a kit form. I’m not a huge fan of this type due to the amount of time it takes to set up a shot. For instance if you want to make a vertical adjustment you have to loosen off one of the ‘three way’ knobs to see any signs of movement, the same goes for a horizontal adjustment. The ball head on the other hand is only one action and is much faster compared with the three way head. In my opinion I think this type of head is best for studio shoots.

Best for: Studio or Landscape Photography.

Recommended Three Way Head

 

Two Way or Photo-Movie Tripod Heads

A Two way head is similar to the three way head, except it’s limited to a pan and tilt function and only has one handle. If you’re thinking about video and require a fluid pan or tilt during filming it’s essential you invest in this type of head. You should look for two way head that supports the weight of your camera, while still offering enough ‘friction’ or ‘drag’ to adjust the force of the pan or tilt.

Best for: Videography

Recommended Photo-Video Head

List Price: $230.00
Current Price: $188.00
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Tilt Tripod Heads

If you’re investing in a quality monopod then you need a tilt head! This type of head is typically smaller than a ball head and will offer a tilt function.  The other axis is covered on the tripod collar of your large lens. In other words if you require a horizontal or portrait orientation all you need to do is loosen you tripod collar screw and rotate the lens and body vertically or horizontally.

Best for: Monopod use or Sports Photography

Recommended Tilt Head for Monopods

Current Price: $21.38
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Geared Tripod Heads

Geared tripod heads are the cream of the crop when it comes precision. Using a tooth and cog mechanism on each axis of rotation, these tripod heads don’t require a locking mechanism as each turns locks the tripod into position. They are typically best used if you have a heavy kit like a medium format camera. I would highly recommend this type of head for studio photography.

Best for: Photography requiring fine control adjustments and Studio Photography.

Recommended Geared Head

 

Panoramic Tripod Heads

If you’re a landscape or architectural photographer then this might be the type of head for you. There are many different types of panoramic tripod heads on the market, one feature that’s constant across all of these models is the ability to change the nodal point. Each camera and lens will feature a different nodal point. A nodal point is a position that stays the same whenever the camera rotates on the tripod head. You need to know this special point so when you come to stitching your panoramic or vr photo together all the points match up, creating a seamless panoramic image. The nodal point is normally found around where the lens attaches to the body of your camera. If you’re unsure how to find the nodal point of your setup there are plenty of helpful tutorials online to show you how to locate it.

Best for: Landscape, Panoramic or Architectural Photography

Recommended Panoramic Head

 

Tripod Leg Warmers

Have you ever considered your tripod has feelings as well? It might get cold! You take your tripod to some extreme places, one of which is the snow. The last thing you want on a shoot is your tripod getting cold feet, right? Oh that was bad! On a more serious level leg warmers are great for having somewhere warm to hold your tripod when carrying it around in cold conditions like the snow.

Recommended Tripod Legs Warmers

List Price: $65.00
Current Price: $49.99
Buy Now
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Quick Release Plates for Tripod or Monopod Heads

These are the most important part of any tripod kit. I would highly recommend you purchase a quick release plate for each camera you use, as well as any larger lenses you own. That way you don’t have to constantly change over a quick release plate before or during a photography shoot. The other obvious benefit is if you lose on of them (a common occurrence) then you’ve got a back up.

A quick release plate is essentially a small plate that connects your camera to the tripod head. The majority of tripod quick release plates will all feature the same 1/4″ screw, which happens to be a perfect fit for all cameras. However you may run into trouble if you shoot a lot of video work as video heads and some of the larger medium format tripod heads will feature a 3/8″ screw. Not to worry though if you find you have a screw which doesn’t fit into your camera there are conversion adapters available.

 

CLEANING & CARING FOR YOUR TRIPOD OR MONOPOD

One of the things many photographers overlook is the maintenance of their tripod or monopod. I highly recommend you clean your tripod at least once a year. Most good quality tripods will come with a small kit, which may contains hex screws and any other tools needed to dismantle your tripod or monopod. Just remember to take a photo of your dismantling procedure so you know how to put it back together again!

Once your tripod or monopod has been disassembled rinse it under some warm soapy water, ensuring you remove any grit or dirt. Most of the stubborn dirt might be located around the threads between each leg section, so using a toothbrush to clean these areas will be a good idea. On completion of this step it’s important to let your tripod dry before putting it back together again.

Once the tripod or monopod is bone dry I would recommend you use a very small amount of waterproof grease to lubricate each of the threads.  Be sure not to use too much as the waterproof grease can attract dust and dirt.

Recommended Water Proof Grease

List Price: $9.50
Current Price: $5.95
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Social Media Specialist > Blogger > Entrepreneur > Photographer > Teacher & Advisor on Google Helpouts > Views and opinions are my own.

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