Photo by Rick Hanson
Know What You'll Be Using It For
Before you make your purchase, make sure you think about where and what you'll be using your tripod for. For example, you don't want to set out walking through the countryside to find the tripod you've purchased is heavy or impractical.
What Type Of Tripod?
A full-sized tripod extends to eye level, offer a rigid support and tend to stay standing when used on windy days. Some models can be a little bulky and heavy but some companies have tripods which are made out of aluminium alloy making them light and easy to transport.
A compact tripod is similar to the full-size version except it but collapses to a very small size making it easier to carry around. There are also minipods and table top tripods available. For times when a tripod would get in the way, such as when shooting in a crowd, the next best thing that gives you the same height but without the bulky splayed legs is a monopod.
Check The Height Of The Legs
If you're buying the tripod from a shop on the high street, make sure you extend the legs fully so you can check to see if they go to the height you need. Obviously, you can't do this online but most sites have a section where more details such as height, weight etc. of the product you're interested in can be found.
Have A Look At The Head
Most tripods do come with a head but tripod manufactures do stock heads which you can buy separately. Most tripod heads will shoot in a vertical format as well as horizontal. If you're going to be shooting panoramas, move the head so you can see how freely/smoothly it'll pan. If you're buying online just have a read of the tripod's features for more information on how well the model pans and moves.
How Quick Is The Quick Release System?
Many tripods now feature a quick release system which uses a plate that can be permanently fastened to your camera to lock it in position on your tripod. Check how easy it is to fasten and remove your camera to the tripod as you don't want to be fighting with your equipment when out in the field.
Legs And Locks
Make sure the legs are fully out before you put your camera on the tripod and always extend the thickest part of the legs first before moving on to adjust the smaller parts as this will give you a more rigid support. Before extending the height of the centre column do check the legs are at their maximum height because even though it's quick and easy to adjust the centre column, it's not a good habit to get into and you'll have a much more sturdy base to work with if you adjust the legs first.
As well as securing your tripod, locks should be quick to adjust and easy to use. Locks are either levers or twist grips. Twist grip locks are very secure while the lever lock option is faster to use but do make sure they are locked tight before taking your shot as you don't want the tripod to slip mid-exposure.
Most tripods have rubber feet which absorb shock and offer good grip on most terrain. Some models feature spiked feet which are useful in situations where you need to sink your tripod into the ground such as at the beach or on a windy, wet hillside.
Clean Your Tripod
You want to make sure your gear is always ready to go and in a good condition so keep it clean and free of rust. This is even more important when you've spent the day at the coast as salt water will corrode tripod legs and feet so always rinse them off in fresh water once home.
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