If you read my “Perfect Tripod post” in February, you’ll know that I had decided on buying yet another tripod as I wasn’t getting on with my current travel tripod. To some photographers out there, this will sound all too familiar. I also know that I’m not the only one that suffers this tripod affliction. I follow quite a few photographers on social media and regularly see posts or YouTube videos about their latest favourite tripod.
This post is not intended to influence you towards any particular tripod and it’s not sponsored in any way. It is intended to guide you through the thought process to give you the best chance of buying a tripod that is perfect for you.
Before buying another tripod, I decided to put some thought in to the process. Based on my experience with my travel tripod, and the things I disliked about it, I drew up a list of things that were important for me and features that were a must-have in order to narrow the selection down to a few candidates. My list of items is below, but your list may look completely different based on your personal preferences.
- 3 Legs Sections – Unlocking and locking twelve legs locks to get to a good working height became tedious very quickly.
- Lever Lock Legs – This is a personal thing, but I much prefer levers to twist locks.
- Weight – The tripod should be a light as possible, but not sacrifice stability.
- Folded Length – This should be as short as possible, but not massively longer than my current backpack height.
- Load Rating – This should be sufficient to support my current and future camera and lens combinations including a full-frame DSLR.
- Maximum Height – This should be comfortable without using the centre column. Somewhere around 130cm-150cm.
- Centre Column – Preferably the tripod should not have a centre column.
- Cost – I don’t have bottomless pockets!
Having identified my requirements, I set about researching the options available and narrowing the immense range of tripods out there to a shortlist. That didn’t turn out to be that hard, it seems that most of the high-end tripods use the twist-lock mechanism and there are very few pro-level tripods that use the lever lock mechanism.
When it came down to it, I only ended up with a couple of viable options when you combined the lever lock legs and the weight consideration. There are only two well-known tripod manufacturers that make carbon fibre tripods with lever-lock legs, these are Manfrotto and Velbon. I’ve not used Velbon tripods previously, so my instinct was to go with Manfrotto.
Looking through the Manfrotto tripods available, there were three models available that matched my must-have criteria. The choice was between the 055, 190 and 290 series. The differences between the three models were minor.
The folded length of the tripods was roughly the same, as was the maximum height without using the centre column. The major differences were the weight, the payload and the leg tube diameters. While weight is quite important to me, so is the stability provided by the tripod. There is no point in lugging a tripod around if it doesn’t provide enough stability.
The leg diameter of a tripod has a major bearing its stability and it’s load capacity. As you can see from the table above, the 055 tripod has the bigger diameter leg sections and the highest safe load capacity.
Given that I’m thinking of moving to a full-frame DSLR in the near future and upgrading my D500 for a D850, I decided the load capacity and stability were more important to me than an additional 400g of weight. I started to look around online at prices of all the models to see if that could be the deciding factor. It turned out that it was.
It was coming up to Black Friday, and as Amazon try and corner the market, they had started their sales early. I found a deal on the 055 model at almost half the RRP. That made my decision for me. I hit the buy now button and waited for my new tripod to be delivered.
As I said at the beginning, this article isn’t intended to persuade you that my choice is the best choice, just that it is the best choice for me at this point in time. I hope that by following the process I did above, you can arrive at a choice that’s right for you also.
I haven’t had chance to use the tripod in anger out in the field yet, but once I’ve made a few trips with it, look out for a full review. Time will tell if I’ve made the right choice or if I will indeed be looking for yet another tripod.
Thanks for stopping by to read this article, I hope you found it useful and it gives you a better idea of what to consider when buying a tripod.
Have a good one.