Tripod and monopod buying guide

Tripods & Monopods: An Essential Guide

One of the best investments a photographer can make is a quality camera tripod and/or monopod. A steady, solid tripod is the foundation of well executed landscape and architecture photos, successful time lapses and long exposures, consistent framing throughout fashion and product shoots, and shudder-free video footage. A good monopod, meanwhile, is a wildlife, event or action shooter’s best friend, supporting heavy lenses while consuming minimal space and providing freedom to move with the action.

Choose your tripod or monopod well and it will not only last for years, but also easily and vastly improve the quality of your work and expand the possibilities of what you can create.



There are many factors (not to mention a myriad of different brands and models) to consider when choosing a camera tripod or monopod. To help point you in the right direction, we’ve put together this guide covering the benefits and components of both tripods and monopods, and tips on choosing the right tripod or monopod for your needs and tastes.

Use the below links to jump to each section quickly. Otherwise, read on for all the info on how to choose a camera tripod or monopod.

Tripod buying guide

Tripod buying guide

Tripods

Why use a tripod?

Tripods are arguably the most stable means of supporting and elevating a camera. With three sturdy legs and a secure mounting point, a tripod provides a raised stand for your camera and lens that’s safer than a monopod or other platform. The stability that tripods provide ensures sharpness in static subjects and level, consistent framing—essential for bracketed or long exposures, time lapses, stop motion effects, and uniform product/advertising images.

What tripod should I buy?

There are various types of tripod to choose from, each with different properties beneficial for different shooters and scenarios. The best tripod to buy will depend on what, where and how you’ll be shooting.

Gorillapod tabletop tripod

Tabletop tripods

Tabletop tripods are an affordable and highly portable solution ideal for hikers, travellers and casual shooters. As tabletop tripods don’t need to stand on the ground they can be placed on a table, closer to your subject, which can be useful for portraits and vlogs. Some tabletop tripods have flexible legs that can be wrapped around objects such as trees or posts—ideal for photographers who desire a different perspective, and places that don’t permit traditional tripods.

Ideal for: Travel, hiking, self-portraits, vlogging

Travel tripods

Lightweight and compact, travel tripods are purpose-built for shooters who hike or travel a lot. Travel tripods usually have features like detachable heads that allow them to fold up to the smallest possible size.

Ideal for: Travel, hiking

Travel tripods
Studio tripods

Studio tripods

Studio tripods are larger, heavier options suitable for larger, heavier cameras and for use in a single location. Their extra weight gives them more stability (ideal for withstanding the wind in outdoor shots or time lapses) and their extra length usually means they can position your camera higher.

Ideal for: Studio photography, time lapses, landscapes/architecture (unless greater portability is desired)

Video tripods

With the right type of head attached, other types of tripod can be used for recording video; however, a dedicated video tripod is recommended for larger video rigs. Along with greater strength and stability, video tripods tend to have other helpful features such as bubble level indicators, ‘spreaders’ that brace the legs for extra support, and interchangeable feet for use on different surfaces.

Ideal for: Video

Video tripods
MeFOTO convertible tripod

Convertible tripods

If your shooting needs call for both a tripod and a monopod, you might want to consider a convertible tripod. While generally more expensive than a straightforward tripod, convertible tripods are essentially a tripod and monopod in one. Just unscrew one of the tripod legs and attach it to the head when you need to use a monopod.

Ideal for: Mixed uses (e.g. travel, studio photography, time lapses, landscapes/architecture, sports/action, wildlife, live performances)

Gitzo Traveler monopod

Monopods

Why use a monopod?

Essentially a single tripod leg, a monopod is most useful in scenarios where you cannot put down and set up a tripod (e.g. small or crowded spaces such as balconies, bars or concerts), and in situations where you need to move around quickly (e.g. at sporting events or when chasing wildlife).

Monopods are lighter and quicker to deploy than a tripod, and therefore provide some of the speed/freedom of movement that comes with shooting handheld. But they also offer a lot of stability when used correctly (and will bear the weight of heavy gear so you don’t have to do!). In fact, the best way to deploy a monopod is to pretend that your two legs plus the monopod is one giant tripod. By keeping three points on the ground, you can still achieve very stable shots but without the bulk of an actual tripod.

Ideal for: Small/crowded spaces, sports, action, wildlife, live performances

Tripod buying guide

How to Choose a Tripod or Monopod

Payload

It’s vital to ensure that the maximum amount of weight that your tripod/monopod and head can support (i.e. its payload) doesn’t exceed the weight of the heaviest camera (including battery/batteries and memory card/s), lens and any accessories (filters, speedlight, microphone etc) you plan to use.

Minimum/maximum height

Most tripods and monopods collapse for easy storage/transport and extend so you can shoot from a higher viewpoint. Some can also be positioned extremely close to the ground, which makes it easy to adopt low viewpoints that would otherwise be tricky to get.

Ensure your tripod or monopod can be raised to a comfortable height for looking through the viewfinder (ideally without raising the centre column too much) or lowered for the angle you need, and consider its length when collapsed to make sure it’s as portable as you need it to be.

Number of sections

Tripod and monopod legs consist of multiple sections that allow the legs to expand/collapse. Fewer sections means more compactness when collapsed, but also less stability when extended. Most travellers will prioritise compactness; however, if you need the utmost in stability (as studio, landscape and architecture photographers and videographers do), fewer sections are recommended.

3 Legged Thing tripod

Weight

Weight is another essential factor to consider when choosing a tripod or monopod. If you shoot on the move a lot or need to carry your tripod/monopod on your back or in carry-on luggage, a lightweight tripod or monopod is obviously ideal. Bear in mind, though, that more weight equals more stability, so look for something that offers a good balance of portability (if you need it) and sturdiness. There’s not much point in using a tripod if it wobbles around in the wind!

Material

Most tripods and monopods are made from metal or carbon fibre. Among the metal options, aluminium is favoured for its lightness and durability. Carbon fibre is even lighter than aluminium and therefore very popular; however, it’s also more expensive and slightly more fragile and susceptible to vibration and the elements. These differences won’t affect the majority of photographers, however; for most people the most important considerations are cost and portability.

Locking mechanism

Tripod and monopod legs lock into place with either a clip or twist mechanism. Most people tend to find clip locks easier to learn; however, twist locks are just as fast, if not faster, to operate than clip locks once you get the hang of them. Twist locks also enable you to unscrew each tripod/monopod leg section for easy cleaning. If you’re unsure whether to get clip or twist locks, try out tripods/monopods with both locking mechanisms before you purchase (if you can) to see which style you prefer.

Tripod clip vs twist lock legs

Quality, suitability & price

As with any camera gear, it pays to invest in quality. Tripods and monopods are investments that are likely to outlive a few camera bodies. They’re also responsible for holding your gear, so it is important to look at the features you need and consider price as a secondary factor.

Helpful extras

When shopping around for tripods or monopods, it’s worth considering models with extra features that, while not necessarily essential, can be extremely helpful for your photography:

  • Level indicator – So you can see at a glance whether the tripod/monopod is level and adjust accordingly
  • 90° movement – Some tripod models feature an adjustable centre column that can be raised, rotated 90° and locked in place to allow for overhead shooting
  • Arm attachment point/s – For mounting compatible arms designed to hold gear such as light modifiers and even laptops
Tripod head

Tripod/Monopod Heads

What type of tripod or monopod head do I need?

A critical component of any tripod or monopod is its head. This is what secures your camera to the tripod and allows you to manoeuvre and position your camera as desired.

Tripods and monopods are sold with or without a head, giving you the option to combine your preferred style of tripod head and legs, and/or use more than one kind of head on the same legs.

Which monopod or tripod head you need depends on what you shoot, as well as personal preference. Some heads (e.g. ball or 3-way heads) are suitable for multiple applications, though some shooters may require different monopod/tripod heads for different jobs. Fortunately, standard screw sizes mean virtually any head from any brand will fit on virtually any tripod/monopod (depending on payload).

3 Legged Thing ball tripod head

Ball head

Ball heads are the most popular heads for most kinds of still photography; they’re strong yet compact and easy to operate. These heads rotate on a ball, allowing almost 360° of adjustment so you can quickly and easily pan, tilt or rotate, then secure your camera. Ball heads have only one control for all three axes, so while they adjust easily it can be tricky to change one axis without also changing the others.

3-way head

3-way tripod heads are best suited to those who shoot mostly in the studio or like to compose their shots carefully and deliberately. 3-way heads allow you to individually adjust the pan, tilt and rotation of the camera without affecting any of the other axes.

Manfrotto Adapto RC2 3 way tripod head with retractable-levers
Manfrotto Xpro 3 way geared tripod head with micrometic knobs

Geared head

Favoured by architecture photographers, geared heads are specially designed to allow for fine adjustments and exact composition. Like a 3-way head, a geared head enables individual control over each of the three axes (pan, tilt, rotate), but with extremely high precision.

Gimbal head

Gimbal tripod heads are ideal for photographers who use very large cameras and lenses to track or pan (e.g. for shooting wildlife or sports). Gimbals offer stabilisation along three axes, automatically balancing the camera/lens load to keep the camera steady while tracking or panning. Slick pivot points (that reduce camera shake) make gimbal heads extremely useful for shooting video, too.

Benro GH2 gimbal tripod head
Gitzo fluid head Series 1

Fluid head

Video producers need a tripod head that can pan and tilt, as well as eliminate camera shake. This is exactly what a fluid tripod head is designed to do; its ‘fluid’ cartridge absorbs movement to ensure smooth footage. Most dedicated video heads feature a long arm for ease and smoothness of operation.

Tips for Using A Tripod

  • There’s much more stability in a tripod’s legs than in its centre column. So if you need extra height, only raise the centre column as a last resort.
  • Once you’ve securely mounted your camera on the tripod, ensure your camera is pointing in the same direction as one tripod leg, and not midway between two legs. This will make the tripod (and your camera!) much harder to knock over.
  • Weigh down (if payload permits) or anchor your tripod with your camera bag, sand bags or other weight for extra stability. Some tripods feature a hook at the base of the centre column to facilitate this.
  • Turn off image stabilisation when using your tripod; this will stop your camera/lens from ‘hunting’ for camera movement. Ironically, this ‘hunting’ process creates movement in a stationary camera.

Leading Tripod Brands


Find Out More

So much is possible when you have the right tripod or monopod. Browse our extensive range of tripods, monopods, tripod heads and tripod accessories online or in store. Alternatively, if you need more advice on which tripod to buy or which monopod is best for you, pop into a CameraPro showroom or call/email us to chat one of our helpful staff. We’re always happy to answer your questions.

Tripod buying guide