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Photography QnA: Best Camera Tripods

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Category: Best Photographic Equipment to Buy : Best Camera Tripods

Wondering which are the best camera tripods out there? Some say flathead tripods, others say domehead tripods - join the debate! Also, check out this great article by Kerry Drager: The Accessory Photographers Love to Hate.

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Photography Question 
Kari L. 

member since: 10/21/2004
  21 .  Tripod: Pan Head Vs. Ball Head
I have the Canon EOS Digital Rebel and am looking to start up a photography studio in the future. I am starting to build up my equipment at the moment, while I learn about taking pictures. I need a good tripod but don't want to spend a fortune on one. There are a lot to choose from, and I have narrowed it down to a few that I have in mind. I would be using it for studio shooting mostly. Does anyone know about the Slik Pro 330DX Tripod w/3-way pan/tilt quick release head? It is about $90. That is within reason price for me.
Also, one of my questions is what is better, pan head or ball head, and what is the difference between the two when it comes to shooting? I keep seeing both of them but don't know about the difference and can't find any info on them to know. So any help would be much appreciated. I am a true beginner at all of this. Thank you!

10/24/2004 8:24:36 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 11/11/2003
  A ball head is like the ball-and-socket joint of your shoulder. You loosen it and you can swivel in all directions.
A pan head is like what you might commonly expect a tripod to be. You have the two things to loosen to adjust the camera. You can loosen one thing, and only swivel up and down like nodding your head yes. Or loosen just the other, and swivel back and forth like nodding no.

10/25/2004 1:10:20 AM

Kari L. 

member since: 10/21/2004
Thank you for clearing up the difference for me. What kind would you recommend I get for studio use and with the type of camera I have? I also have a telephoto lens (75-300mm) that I might use outside - also with the tripod.

10/25/2004 8:13:12 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 11/11/2003
  A pan head will be fine. It's the most common, and if you go to a regular store to buy a tripod, that's what will be on it.

10/25/2004 12:45:23 PM

Bill Boswell

member since: 3/22/2004
  I used a tripod with a pan head for years, but after switching to a ball head I now find it much easier to make the fine adjustments to point the lens exactly where I want to. Also, you have only one knob to tighten with a ball head rather than two on a pan head.

10/26/2004 4:39:37 AM


member since: 8/3/2001
  I would go with the ball head simply because it is easier to move and adjust, in my opinion. Also worth considering is the pistol grip-type head, my preferred for use in the field. Manfrotto and Slik make one. For me, ANYTHING is better than the old one-two required from the pan head!
Joe in Norfolk

10/26/2004 11:21:13 AM

Bill Lewis

member since: 8/15/2003
  You did not mention how big a lens you will be putting on your camera. It is important to take that into consideration. A ball head that is too weak to hold your lens and body is a poor investment.
Ball heads are best for me. I use a Bogen tripod that cost approximately $150.00 with a head. It was the best investment I have made.
I have some real good deals on $90.00 tripods that are not rigid enough for me.
Bill in Ashtabula

10/26/2004 8:02:23 PM

Kari L. 

member since: 10/21/2004
  I will be using up to a 75-300mm lens. So it is a bigger lens, and I want a tripod that will support that weight and forward heaviness of the camera. And thank you all so far for your replies. They are very welcome and a lot of help!

10/26/2004 8:25:21 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  You will probably be happier with the support the standard pan-tilt head offers over the ball-head mount with your camera/lens combination. Unless you spend big bucks, the ball-head types will slip when used with heavier equipment ... especially when you go vertical. The pan-tilt styles may take longer to adjust, but they will support a heavy load more securely.

10/27/2004 6:00:36 PM

Steve Mescha
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 1/22/2002
  Gregory, FYI, the shoulder is not a ball and socket joint, and my toilet paper is going in the right direction.

10/29/2004 5:01:36 PM

Kari L. 

member since: 10/21/2004
  Thank you all very much for your information and help. I just purchased a bogen tripod with 3-way pan head with quick release and have played with it for a bit. It seems to be just what I needed. Your information was very useful in coming to this decision. I think I will be very happy with my choice. Thanks yet again!

10/30/2004 8:11:08 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 11/11/2003
  Sure you're not confusing shoulder with elbow.

10/30/2004 9:42:41 PM

Shauna Linde
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 6/10/2004
  Hey there- I would recommend the pan type as well. I have always used them and although you do have to make two adjustments, I just feel like my adjustments are more secure using the pan head. And to be TOTALLY off the subject for a moment here, I agree the shoulder is a ball and socket joint. :)

Although I'd much rather just talk photography....

10/30/2004 10:19:25 PM

Trevor Hollenback

member since: 5/16/2008
  Hello.. this is a very old thread, but I just thought I would clear it up once and for all... it is confirmed in Gray's Anatomy (not the TV shows for those of you who have never heard of the Reference book from which the show gets it's name).... and I quote

"Enarthrosis-Ball-and-socket joint; ... As in hip and shoulder joints"

Sorry, Steve

5/16/2008 4:10:36 PM

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Photography Question 
Bill Howe

member since: 4/29/2004
  22 .  Tripods and Salt Water
Does anyone have any experience using a tripod in salt water? And suggestions as to which brand can stand up to occasional use at the beach while exposed to salt water?

5/2/2004 9:25:56 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 11/11/2003
  I don't know of any particular one that resists salt water more than others, but I would recommend general care for any tripod. After getting home, rinse it off thoroughly and dry it. Check for any water up in the shafts by sliding the legs in, and extending back out and dry them again. Then leave it overnight with the legs fully extended. Whenever I use a monopod on a cold night, I leave it fully extended after I get home so I don't get moisture from condensation sitting up inside it.

5/2/2004 1:26:44 PM

Phil Penne

member since: 12/3/2001
  I live in Florida, home of Clyde Butcher, famed landscape photographer. Mr. Butcher can often be seen literally chest deep in swamps, salt water, or muck - often with his trusty Benbo tripod. He mentioned in a lecture I once attended that the Benbo has always served him well, regardless of what sort of environment it was in, or what sort of demands were made of it. If anyone knows about tripods in unforgiving conditions, it would definitely be Clyde Butcher!

5/4/2004 4:12:47 AM

Dan Strimel

member since: 5/24/2003
  Most tripod today are made from aluminum and will not rust! But salt water can cause corrosion... Rinse well with fresh water and make sure you
clean all the fine sand particles from the slides...

5/5/2004 9:12:22 AM

john clayworth
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 1/21/2004
  dom't laugh but I have found a hair dryer and olive oil to do the best job of keeping tripods running smooth

5/8/2004 11:13:23 AM

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Photography Question 
Jill M. Higgins

member since: 3/4/2004
  23 .  Tripod Recommendations
I need a sturdy tripod with a pistol grip head that is sturdy for veritcal shots and longer lenses. Any suggestions?

3/4/2004 4:38:43 PM

doug Nelson

member since: 6/14/2001
  The minimum decent tripod is the Bogen manfrotto 3000-series. Most people who use tripods tell us that the more vertical extension over the apex of the legs, the more likely your shots could suffer from vibration. That extra height of the pistol grip heads bothers me, although I've never used one. I'd consider a high quality ball head, maybe a size or so over the one rated for the weight of your set-up. The conventional 3030 head is a favorite here. Bogen sells a long lens support that you should look at. If you're like me, Image Stabilization lenses are a bit pricey, so we need all the help we can get.

3/5/2004 5:44:36 AM

BetterPhoto Member

member since: 5/28/2002
  Good news. Manfrotto is coming out with a new HORIZONTAL grip action ball head 322RC2. It may hit the stores in a month or two. It supports up to 11 lbs of load and use the popular 3157N release plate. Check with B&H. Hope this helps.

3/5/2004 8:15:15 AM

Scott Pedersen

member since: 11/18/2001
  Don't waste your hard earned money on fancy names like bogen amd manyretto or what ever it is. They are just a stick with a screw on the top. You still have to buyu a quick release head for them. Go down to Ritz and look at the heavier Quantary tripods. I have a 550 series with a handgrip, and panhead. They all come with a quick release plate too! There is a heavier one yet the 750 series. These are very strudy, well constructed tripods.

3/9/2004 4:27:54 AM

Michael E. Johnson

member since: 1/7/2004
  I recently bought a Promaster SytemPRO with the Ball head. They had the pistol grip set up also for slightly more.

The nice thing about the kit I bought is it came with 2 center posts that the head mounted on a short and long. The long post will telescope out and doubles as a mono pod.

3/9/2004 4:41:35 AM

RG Rottschalk
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 1/27/2004
  Everyone has their opinions but from this viewpoint, Manfrotto is superior.
Money spent on Manfrotto is an investment in good tools. I have the 322RC2 head and it's advantages over the older 3265 seem significant for your needs. With the 322RC2 you can mount your heavier camera setup at the axis of the grip and tripod for best comtrol but if you are using a lighter setup, the camera can mount on the end of the grip (see the Manfrotto web illustration) just like with the 3265. I'm very pleased having purchased the 322. It's also light enough and works great on a monopod as well (Manfrotto 680).

3/9/2004 6:49:36 AM

Philip Munroe

member since: 9/6/2001
  I use a Manfrotto tripod. Each leg is independently adjustable, a great feature on uneven terrain. The legs can be opened enough to get the tripod nearly flat to the ground. As to a pistol grip, check out the Manfrotto 3265. It comes with a built - in quick release plate and a level. The specs say it is good up to a little over 5 lb. BUT weigh your camera and lens combo. I use a Canon Elan 7 with 28 - 135 and 100 - 300 lenses. Either setup is within the head's published weight spec and I've never had a problem with creep in any position. And, yes, quick release is definitely worth the price. Check BandH or Adorama websites for further specs and cost info.

3/15/2004 7:06:49 PM

Jim Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  I'm just going to add my two cents regarding the tripod head.

I was about to buy the Bogen grip when a friend (Lewis Kemper) told me how he got a less expensive head like that and, in the long run, just ended up having to buy a better, more expensive head. The problem with less expensive ball heads is that your camera will often "travel" - or slip a bit.

I went with the Arca Swiss B1 ball head and love it. This is a very expensive head but, if you think you are going to be using it for several years, you may want to save yourself money in the long run by getting the best tripod head right from the start.

3/15/2004 11:13:07 PM

Gordon J. Evans
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/8/2003
  Let me toss in my two cents as I just recently went around and around on tripods. I was willing to spend considerbly more for a tripod, but I ended buying the Slik Pro 700DX Tripod with 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head (Quick Release) - Supports 15.00 lb through B&H for about $130. For additonal reviews,

I've been extremely pleased with it, it's a solid piece of equipment at a fraction of the price I expected to pay...

3/16/2004 7:32:50 PM

Robert Bridges

member since: 5/12/2003
  Oh can we have one more tripod head tossed in the ring? I agree with Jim M on the Arca Swiss - pricy but worth it. Another good head in made by Kaiser and.......there is a third possibility. Look at the NPC heads. Oddly designed I admit but will hold a 4x5 field camera just fine AND has unlimited movements. Oh did I mention price?
Under 300.

3/17/2004 9:21:38 PM

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Photography Question 
George Corbin

member since: 1/26/2002
  24 .  Tripod configurations for macro shots
What tripod configuration are people finding works best to stabilize macro shots of mobile subjects? In particular, I'm shooting macros of insects in the wild. Standard tripod set-up seems untenable (I'd have to set it up in the bushes, scaring off my subjects). I assume some kind of horizontal bar set up so the camera can be surreptitiously slid up to the subject from outside the bush? Open to (cost-effective) suggestions!

9/8/2002 12:33:26 PM

Cathy Barrows
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/13/2003
  Perhaps a swing arm attached to your tripod would work. I don't totally understand your circumstances, but it might work for you.

3/23/2004 10:08:44 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 7/17/2003
  Try extending the legs to the height needed, but leaving them together...(like a monopod).

Anchor the feet of the 'pod at the base of the bush and lean in toward the subject. It helps to pre-focus the lens since the forward/backward motions of the camera can help to zero in on critical focus once you get there.

This method only stablizes the vertical motion of the camera. With practice, the side to side and front to back swaying associated with this type of support can be better controlled.
Until then,...It's wise to take several shots to get at least one "keeper"

3/24/2004 4:54:32 AM

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Photography Question 
Brandon D. Kizer

member since: 5/13/2002
  25 .  Best tripod for tavel
I will be traveling overseas in September. I would like to take a tripod, but it must not be too cumbersome. What tripod do you reccomend for travel?

5/16/2002 12:18:50 AM

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Photography Question 
Brenda Jensen

member since: 9/4/2001
  26 .  Tripods and Monopods for Action Photography?
Are tripods and/or monopods used in action/sports photography? Also, is a "monolight" a type or brand of monopod? Thanks for taking the time to answer.

2/8/2002 12:34:19 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
  Indeed they are. Monopods are probably more common for outdoor sports than tripods. Indoors, it depends on the sport and how often and how quickly the camera location must be moved. With a little experience, they can be very helpful. A tripod can work well if there's someplace decent to set it up and if you don't need to move it.

The simplistic answer about monolights:
A "monolight" is not a monopod or a tripod, but a type of studio light most often used in a studio and mounted to a light stand. Some are portable, but only useful for setting up a studio-like environment (particularly for lighting) "on location."

-- John

2/13/2002 7:26:25 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 9/27/2001
Forgot to tell you why it's called a monolight . . .

Monolights are studio strobes with the power supply for the strobe built into the light head. Most monolights are about the size of a half-pound loaf of bread; shapes vary, but you get the general idea; smaller than the breadbox but not smaller than the bread loaf. This doesn't include the reflectors, umbrellas, softboxes, barn doors, filter holders, or other accessories commonly used with them.

The other type of studio strobe is a "power pack" system. With these, the power supply for multiple lights is in one (typically larger) box and a cord is run from the power supply to each light being powered by it.

-- John

2/13/2002 7:36:21 PM

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Photography Question 
Joy Fender

member since: 11/6/2005
  27 .  Should I Use A Tripod?
I've been unsuccessful taking pictures of my dog in motion. We're spending a lot of time hiking and I'd like to get some shots of him on the trail. I'm using a Canon Rebel 2000, 200 or 400 speed film. I switch between a Canon 75-200 zoom lens and a Tamron 28-105 zoom lens.

All my shots of him moving are blurry, even when I use the "sport" mode on the camera. I'm wondering if the problem is my handling of the camera. Would I have better luck if I had the camera on a tripod?


10/14/2001 8:52:32 AM

  Hi Joy, try doing this hand held again by following the dogs movements with your eye on the camera. When you see the shot that you want, carefully press the shutter half-way until you see the green light. Keep panning - then follow thru and snap the picture without jerking. Continue using the mode that you are in until you learn how to do this. If you can not do this by hand, definatly use a tripod using the same tecnique. goodluck =donnarae

10/14/2001 10:23:53 AM

Mike Turner

member since: 3/16/2001

My thoughts are that a tripod would complicate things. I am going to make a couple of assumptions; that you are hiking during the day, and that you can hold the camera **relatively** still. With 400 speed film, even 200 in broad daylight you should be able to get the shot you want. Follow Donna's directions and you will end up with a masterpiece. Also, remember to zoom in on your dog and a tip I just learned is, for the best shot, get down at your dog's level. Good luck!!!

10/19/2001 12:42:50 PM

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