Three Things To Consider When Buying A Tripod

A top-quality tripod can turn your camera or spotting scope into an even more efficient piece of equipment than it already is.

Shooting pictures using a tripod
The kind of tripod you need depends on how you plan to use it.Ankush Minda/Unsplash

Whether you need a sturdy platform for attaching your camera to avoid movement or for mounting your high-powered spotting scope when looking at a bull elk in the next zip code, a good tripod is the perfect tool for the job. They’re especially useful for increasing sharpness and depth of field in photographs by keeping your camera still in low-light conditions while using slow shutter speeds. Tripods come in literally dozens of styles with heights ranging from a few inches to several feet, and weights from mere ounces to many more pounds than you likely want to carry. To make a good selection when shopping for a tripod, consider three important factors—height, weight and stability.

Height

AmazonBasics 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod
This tripod extends from 25 to 60 inches in height.AmazonBasics

Height of your tripod is critical and your selection will depend on what you'll be using it for most of the time. If you'll mostly be using it to take family portraits inside the house, a compact, tabletop unit should suffice. A small tripod will also work for your spotting scope if you're using it on a shooting bench at the gun range. For normal outdoor uses, though, a tall tripod is most versatile, since you can use most tall models as short as a couple of feet or as tall as five or six feet. Note that as some tripods extend higher, they become much flimsier (see the "Stability" section below).

Weight

Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 Aluminum Tripod
At 5.4 pounds, this tripod is strong enough to hold equipment weighing up to 15.4 pounds.Vanguard

This category includes not only how much the tripod weighs, but also how much weight it will support. For safety of your expensive photographic equipment, look for a tripod that is designed to support twice the weight of your camera with its heaviest lens attached—and even more is better. As far as actual weight of the tripod, this decision will depend mostly on how you intend to use it. If you'll mostly be pulling your tripod out of your vehicle and setting it up to shoot wildflower close-ups in an adjacent roadside ditch, a fairly heavy tripod might suit you fine. If you're taking it on a long hiking or backpacking trip—or even hunting deer and elk many miles into the back country—lighter is definitely better.

Stability

JOBY GorillaPod 3K Kit. Compact Tripod
This small, flexible tripod is strong enough to hold cameras and attachments up to 6.6 pounds.Joby

You can have a tripod that meets all the aforementioned criteria perfectly, but if it doesn't hold your camera or spotting scope stable, it's just a waste of money. After all, that's what it's made to do! When fully extended, a tripod should still be stable enough to withstand some wind gusts or an occasional bump from you while going about your business. Ruggedness goes hand in hand with stability. Look for a well-built tripod that will hold up to lots of tossing in and out of vehicles and other rough treatment. Tripods with a durable finish that can be used in inclement weather are an even better bet for photographers who aren't dainty with their equipment and elk hunters traveling in rugged country during inclement weather.