Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pro-Tip #7: Tripods, Do I really need one? Which one should I get?

Do I really need one? Yes, but only if you care about the sharpness of your images.  Pros will generally use a tripod in most every instance possible.  The general guideline for hand holding your camera that will produce acceptably sharp images is 1 over the focal length of your lens.  So if you are shooting with a 200mm lens on a full frame 35mm SLR your minimum shutter speed for acceptably sharp images would be 1/200th of a second or faster.  If you are using a crop sensor camera than you will need to account for that factor by multiplying the crop factor by the lens’ focal length, so in the above example you would need to be at 1/300th of second or faster assuming you have a 1.5x crop factor.  As with any general guideline there are many other factor that could negate this guideline, such as shooting with a stabilized lens or camera body or using flash or perhaps you want to add blur by panning with your subject.  Do keep in mind that acceptably sharp does not mean tack-sharp.

Long exposure work will always require the use of a tripod. If you want to shoot streams or waterfalls and give the water that smooth silky look than a tripod is a must.  If you want to shoot stars or the Milky Way as sharp points of light or star trails than a tripod is a must.  If you want to shoot in low light without having to jack-up your ISO than a tripod is a must.  Bottom line, using a tripod will give you far more flexibility in your shot selection than not using one.

OK, I need a tripod but there are thousands of them on the market, which one should I get?  There are just a few simple considerations to selecting a tripod that is right for you.  First, you need a tripod and head combination that will support your heaviest camera rig (or rig you ultimately plan to own) times two.  So if your camera body, 400mm lens, 2x converter, remote shutter release and filter holder with filters, etc. weighs seven pounds than you need your tripod to support fourteen pounds at a minimum, more is always better. Second, you want a tripod/head combination to be high enough so that when you are looking through the view finder you do not have to bend over when the legs are fully extended and center column is in its un-extended position. Again, more height is always better. Third, you need a tripod that meets the above minimums but will be a weight and size you’ll be comfortable carrying to your shoot locations. If all you do is studio work than weight is not a factor but if you need to hike any distance to get to your shoot locations than this will be your mitigating factor on weight.  The materials a tripod is made out of will determine its overall weight and price.  Carbon fiber being the lightest and most expensive is your best choice if keeping the weight down is a major consideration.  More often than not, you’ll be purchasing a set of tripod legs and tripod head separately, but you may also find a popular legs/head combination sold as a package for a discount. So what head do I need?  You’ll use the same requirement as mentioned previously, if your legs support 15 pounds your head should support 15 or more pounds. If you primarily shoot stills than most pros find a ball head to be the best option. If you shoot a lot of video than a pan type head would be a better option.  There are many hybrid type options out there so if you shoot a good amount of both than take a look at one of those options. Since the head comes off, you can always switch heads depending on your needs.

A tripod is an investment, it will most likely last you a lifetime or at least through many camera bodies. Don’t make the mistake of buying a cheap one that is not adequate and upgrading to better one and find out it only works well in some situations then upgrading to a good one that meets most of your needs before finally plunking down the cash on the one you should have purchased from the get go.  By the time you are on your third or forth tripod, you could have paid for the right one. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for”, so buy the right one the first time you’ll have sharper images from the start.

Where do I buy my Tripod? I would recommend Adorama.

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