July 5, 2011 / FAQ
Technical Tuesday | Tripods - Do I Need One? Reviews of Benro, Manfrotto, and Induro
While thinking of good topics for a Technical Tuesday post, one thing that immediately came to mind was tripod for two reasons. First, I was shopping for a tripod and just placed my order from B&H Photo Video. Secondly, yesterday was the Fourth of July so I was shooting the fireworks using our current tripods. So, why and when should you use a tripod and do you even REALLY need one? Let’s take a look…
If you are going to be photographing things like HDR images, time-lapse movies, night photography… a tripod is essential. A general rule of thumb when using your camera is the shortest you can handhold the camera is a reciprocal of your focal length. In other words, if I am using my 200mm zoom lens then my shutter speed should be at a minimum 1/200. If I have my 50mm lens which is a wider shot than a telephoto lens, I can reasonably handhold the lens at 1/50 of a second. Of course, your individual mileage may vary. If I just had a large Starbucks Latte with an extra espresso shot I may be a little shaky and need an even faster shutter speed! Using a tripod ensures that your body’s movement is not a factor in a photo coming out blurry due to the camera itself moving while the photo was taken. Everyone has probably tried to shoot a dark scene at night and noticed a blurry image with their camera at least once, this was due to the camera needing to open the shutter for a longer duration to let in enough light to capture the scene, and if the camera moves even a little bit you will notice blurriness.
So if you primarily find yourself shooting things like landscape photos at sunset, you probably want a tripod to ensure the shot is steady since the light will be lower than if you were shooting in midday and you won’t be using techniques like flash to freeze your subject.
Another area where you will definitely need a tripod is when you are trying to record multiple photos of the same scene such as with HDR or High Dynamic Range photography where you are capturing three versions of the same scene and then blending them together when you get home in Photoshop or Photomatix. If the camera moves in between the frames then the final image will not line up correctly.
The same is true of Time-Lapse, since you are recording essentially a movie you want your camera rock solid while the movement in front of the lens is what is recorded, not the camera moving (unless of course you are using a slider or dolly but then you already knew that).
This photo of the fireworks at Centennial Park in Downtown Atlanta was shot last night using the following settings: 4 second exposure at f/11, ISO 100. No way could I hold my body steady for a full three seconds! But by allowing the camera to do a long exposure I am able to show the trails of the fireworks as they sail through the sky in front of me.
Now if you are primarily shooting people, then you may not ever need a tripod. During a wedding, I almost never use a tripod… we’re talking 1% of my wedding photos are on a tripod. Now, some photographers use a tripod during things like family formals but in decent lighting and the ISO technology of cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II I can easily shoot a group formal at 1/100 of a second with flash and have everyone looking great. I also don’t like working with tripods with people because it allows me to be more dynamic and move around during the shoot, getting more creative angles and trying out multiple looks.
With that being said, if you decide you need a tripod, which one should you get???
The tripod I just ordered this morning was the Benro A-2691 Travel Angel Alum. Tripod (Trans-Functional) W/B1 Ballhead. This will be my second Benro Travel Angel so even though I haven’t received this one yet I can easily recommend this tripod “family” of Travel Angels. The great features about this tripod and the entire Travel Angel line from Benro are that they are A) relatively inexpensive B) relatively light, and C) fold up to a relatively small size! Our previous tripod from Benro was the Benro A-1690 Travel Angel Alum. Tripod W/BH-0 Ballhead, so why the switch? I absolutely loved the small size, these tripods fold down to about 17 inches on the largest versions and 15 inches on the smaller ones, that’s crazy! You can literally carry these tripods inside your suitcase with no problem whatsoever, heck I was able to stash our old Travel Angel INSIDE my backpack! Also, the newest version of these tripods are “Trans-Functional” meaning they also convert into a monopod if needed. Even though I hardly use monopods that’s just cool.
When looking for a tripod, check how much weight the tripod is rated for, and then choose one that is rated for a bit more than your heaviest combination of camera + lens + accessories.
The smaller version we had before was rated to 8.8 pounds which was fine for a smaller DSLR like say the Nikon D90, but could not hold the larger Canon 5D Mark II or Nikon D700. While I will still carry my Induro (see below) for most photo shoots, I wanted the convenience of a stronger tripod if I bought it along on vacation with a larger camera, and the A-2691 which is rated to a whopping 26 pounds but still folds down to a 17.7″ size and 4.6 pound weight!
Spend the money and invest in a nice tripod or you will buy a second one pretty quickly.
Backpedaling a bit our veeeery first tripod was a cheap Sunpak tripod that maybe cost all of $75, and that lasted about two months before I upgraded to a “real tripod” and got a Manfrotto. I should have just saved that money and bought the Manfrotto to start with! Here is a quick comparison with our Manfrotto:
We also have the Manfrotto 055XPROB Aluminum Tripod Legs (Black) which was our first real tripod and still a great tripod for using indoors or even video. This tripod is a bit sturdier than the Travel Angel with it’s larger leg sections, however of course the tradeoff is a heavier tripod (5.3 pounds for the legs alone or almost 7 pounds with the head attached) and also a larger tripod, folded up it’s 29.8 inches long. Again, some people will love the larger size and ruggedness of the Manfrotto, I surely did. However hiking with this one is not as much fun, the extra weight and size becomes noticeable. Around the home or traveling by car, great. Exploring the city, traveling or hiking? Go for either the Benro Travel Angel or my second favorite tripod: my Induro!
Lastly, my personal favorite tripod is our Induro Carbon 8X CT214 Tripod and Induro BHD2 Ballhead. Of course since this is a carbon fiber tripod, it’s the most expensive of the bunch but also really nice! With carbon fiber versus aluminum, you get all of the strength of the metal but none of the weight. The tripod legs weigh 3.3 pounds by comparison to the Manfrotto above, and yes those two pounds are noticeable when hiking! You need to decide for yourself though if 2 pounds is worth the $200 premium in price though. Also, mentioning the strength of Carbon Fiber, these legs are rated to 26.4 pounds whereas the heavier Manfrotto aluminum legs are only rated to a little over 17 pounds. I also went with the matching ballhead which give you a bit more freedom to position the camera for photos since you can basically point the camera anywhere along the circular head versus a traditional pan and tilt system.
In summary and in my opinion the Benro Travel Angel system is the best bang for the buck for most amateur/advance amateur photographers who are running around on photowalks or traveling. The newer Trans-Functional line like the one I ordered today converts to a monopod should you ever need it too such as when traveling to a place where tripods aren’t allowed. Manfrottos are great choices too and many professionals love them, I personally gave Induro a shot and am pleasantly surprised as a great alternative to an ultra-professional tripod like a Gitzo or Really Right Stuff.
Have a great week and sorry for the rather geeky photo review post, more beautiful brides and grooms coming soon I promise!
Gear Mentioned in this Post (B&H Affiliate Links):
Benro A-2691 Travel Angel Alum. Tripod (Trans-Functional) W/B1 Ballhead
Benro A-1690 Travel Angel Alum. Tripod W/BH-0 Ballhead
Manfrotto 055XPROB Aluminum Tripod Legs (Black)
Induro Carbon 8X CT214 Tripod
Induro BHD2 Ballhead
Zachary Long is an Atlanta-based fine art wedding photographer who loves to shoot without a tripod for maximum creative control, but still lugs his tripod around everywhere just in case!