Reasons to buy an expensive tripod over a cheap one?

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by drjedsmith, Oct 12, 2003.

  1. Ok, another one of my brilliant questions: what are the main reasons
    to buy an expensive tripod over a cheap one?<BR>
    I just bought my first tripod ever - an $18 model from
    works fine, except there seems to be a little catch in the part that
    angles the camera when using it vertical. That kind of irritates
    me. Also, it seems that the camera always wants to "unscrew" from
    the mount when I tip it up vertical.<BR>
    Would more expensive models fix these issues? Also, are there any
    that fold down small enough to put in a backpack, but extend to full
    length? I was mainly thinking for nature shots,hiking.<BR>
    Thanks for your expertise!<BR>
  2. You want a tripod to hold your camera steady. That is the absolute, most important reason for getting one. Flimsy tripods may be cheap but they fail in the principle department of not keeping the camera rigid while taking a shot.

    Solid tripods are more able to support the weight of your camera and lens but that means it is going to cost more than $18 for the tripod and the head...maybe 10x that amount would be a place to start.

    A solid tripod that is also light is going to be more expensive than is solid but heavy and a really good ball head with a quick release plate is going to set you back a bit but the pictures will be worth it.

    There are several photo backpacks that can transport a tripod.
  3. I have a couple of cheap tripods,my brother has a manfrotto(a very good medium priced brand).The difference is night and day!Mine flex a little and have far from smooth action.The manfrotto has ZERO flex and everything works perfectly-other good brands are just as good in this regard.The cheap ones do usually go abit smaller-maybe that's one thing that you'll just have to put up with-along with the extra weight of an all metal tripod.One thing about the size issue-most people i've seen keep their tripods in the webbing thing on the back of the backpack or just let it stick out the top if it's abit big
  4. They can get very expensive very quickly - a set of carbon fiber Gitzo
    Mountaineer legs with an Acratech ball head will easily exceed $1000. What tripod
    you should get depends on you budget and how heavy your camera and lenses are.
    The good brands are Gitzo (high-end), Manfrotto, Hakuba and Tiltall (midrange), Slik
    and Velbon (low-end). Tiltall provides good value in the $100 or so range, and
    Hakuba's carbon fiber legs and the Velbon Carmagne series are relatively cheap (at
    least, compared to Gitzo).

    It's very hard to order a tripod on-line, as you really need to see it in a show-room to
    see how stable it is and whether the ergonomics suit you.
  5. The principle difference is the "jiggle test". All the Walmart tripods, cheap and less cheap, have plastic heads that just are not very stiff. (Note: they are mainly selling these for camcorders now). Find one with a metal head and it will be noticably more rigid.

    My Slik 300DX has another handy feature: the legs can splay out at different angles, which allows you more versatility in setting it up.

    I've had a couple of cheap tripods (they tear up more quickly- the plastic parts break when you try to tighten them too much)- but love my 300DX, which cost me about $100 at Wolfe Camera. This is still "cheap" as good tripods go.
  6. My thought would be that a more expensive tripod doesn't buy you *rigidity*... it buys you *portability*.

    If you buy yourself three 3' lengths of 4X4 lumber at Lowe's, bolt them together with lag screws, and bolt a 1/4-20 furniture bolt in the top, you'll have a tripod to rival the rigidity of any Gitzo. You'll need an assistant to help you carry it, and a pickup truck to move it around, but it will be rigid -and cheap.

    Which is simply to underscore the point that you trade rigidity for portability, but reduce that compromise if you spend enough money on it.

    Pin leg tripods are wonderfully portable -a full height tripod collapses down to a package less than 3" diameter and maybe 12" long. If you just need something to hold the camera so you can use the self timer and get into the shot, this is the way to go. And, sometimes you have a chance at a tripod-mandatory shot that you hadn't expected. I carry one in my camera bag at all times.
    The $25 pin-leg tripod in your camera bag will hold your camera much more rigidly than the $250 Manfrotto in your closet.

    The biggest issue with an inexpensive tripod will be the head. I have a rather large no-name brand tripod I use for most of my work. I would guess it is comparable to your Wal-Mart tripod, though I have a Manfrotto/Bogen gear head on it. (It came with an entirely plastic head). The tripod itself is sturdy and rigid. I'm sure an equally rigid Gitzo would be smaller and lighter, but at 5X to 10X the price, I can pack around a dozen -or two- extra ounces.

    You would probably want to go to a well equipped pro camera shop and get a feel for a few tripods. The difference in rigidity is surprisingly dramatic between the differing levels of quality, but you'll find a large, inexpensive tripod is often as rigid as a smaller, more expensive one.

    Any tripod will lose some versatility but gain a great amount of rigidity with column braces. On an inexpensive tripod they will typically be fixed -meaning you cannot adjust the spread of the legs independently- but you'll probably find you don't miss that; and the tripod will be MUCH stiffer for it.
    Remember that you can always junk a cheap plastic head and put a good one on. Almost all tripods have replaceable heads; though there are some exceptions.

    For your specific case, I think you might like the Velbon MAXi343E. It is VERY compact, reasonably rigid, and can be had for about $80.

    On a tight budget: get the largest closed-channel leg tripod you think you can manage to carry around, and invest in the best head you can afford. You can often get good tripods for ridiculously cheap from eBay or the flea market, when people lose the quick-release shoe or otherwise break/damage the head -which you'll toss out anyway.
  7. It also depends on your usage. Big, heavy lenses? Or perhaps a smaller, more compact rangefinder outfit? Just a P&S? For nature photography, wildlife photography, or family snapshots? Your Wal-Mart rig could be plenty enough for you in terms of stability if your performance demands are on the light side.
  8. Expensive tripods are simply more stable and more durable. Note that much of that stability is compromised in the high end tripods with a center column. Galen Rowell trashed the center columns in the tripods he took on long treks, then again he was in a lot of extreme conditions.

    The heads and such will help a lot as well. You really have to try them out and see what feels natural to use. Even the tripods in the $100 range will be significantly better that the cheapie one -- much less irritating. Consider the lightest ones that can support your equipment if you are hiking for hours at a time. A 10 lb tripod would be more stable than a 3 lb model, but if it's too heavy to carry, it is worthless to you.
  9. Wow - that was some serious tripod talk. I know what you all mean by the head being the most important part - this thing is a Hakuba T-3500, and must be their cheapest model by a long shot. Anything that can be is plastic.<BR>
    It's a bummer that I can't handle the ones I'd find on Ebay first, and see if I'd like them. Can anyone tell me if this tripod is any good, just by looking at it? Here's the Ebay link: <BR>
  10. Well, you still haven't told us whether your camera is a petite Contax T3 or a humongous Gowlandflex TLR...
    From a quick glance at the auction you mention, it looks unlikely to be better than your current tripod. For little more, you can get one of the excellent Velbon Chaser lightweight tripods. Check this review out (PDF).
  11. n m

    n m

    A cheap aluminium and plastic tripod is, at least, cheap and light. The only problem with it is that to be sure of steadiness you need to use remote release or the timer. Your cheap tripod sounds unusually bad. They are not all like that.
  12. You can make any tripod more stable by adding weight. Hang your camera bag on it by wrapping the strap around it just below the head. Buy a used Gitzo. They last forever and are well worth their high cost. I have a couple I bought 30 years ago. They're worth a lot more today used than they cost new back then. Of course inflation should be factored in, but they were well worth the money!

    The name Gitzo, by the way, is pronounced JEE'tzow.
  13. Plastic is fine for tripod parts IF it all works out stiff enough.In my experience they just aren't though.<BR>Try this-it's a good quick way of testing them in the store....grab the camera mount parts of a tripod and try to rotate it (looking from the top).With a cheap tripod it takes very little finger strength to flex the whole tripod!!With a good tripod you will feel NO flex at all even when using the full force of one hand.<BR>
    I only own cheapies.They are good for most trivial stuff such as holding the camera for self portraits,holding vidio cameras etc -but for long shutter times,multi exposures they just aren't stiff enough.With just a small bump they'll flex enough to ruin a shot.If i have to do anything critical,i'll borrow my brothers manfrotto.I'd buy one for sure if i needed to
  14. Sorry for not saying sooner - my current camera is a Minolta Maxxum 5, and my wife has a Minolta X-700. The biggest lens we have is a Vivitar MD 85-205 zoom. Even this seems almost too much for the current cheap tripod we have.<BR>
    Fazal, I'm reading the PDF file now - looks interesting. Thanks for the brand name help. At least if I know the brand and model, then I could buy off Ebay for a good savings!<BR>
  15. Expensive versus cheap isn't really the decision. That's just the price you pay. The parameters are size, weight, rigidity, ease of use. All of these tend to be better in more expensive tripods but it's not just a matter of "you get what you pay for". I think Slik offers a better balance of features versus cost than say Manfrotto.
    Also, older tripods are available used from various sources which out-perform new low price models but cost even less. However, tripod materials technology and design has advanced in recent years so that the newest tripods offer the best in compactness, light weight and rigidity, but only at very high prices.
    Finally, fitness for purpose also counts a lot. It's no advantage buying more tripod than you need.
  16. I recently upgraded from a discount store tripod similar to the one you describe (probably worth ~$30), to a Bogen 3001 with a small ball head (w/ QR). I don't remember the model number for the head. New from B&H, the legs and head cost about $180. This is basically the bottom end of the bogen line, although perfectly sufficient for both my FM3A and my Yashicamat TLR. Anyway, the difference with the Bogen is remarkable -- easily equivalent to the factor of 6 price increase. When I had the old tripod, I would only use it when absolutely necessary. Now, I find myself using the new one all the time.
  17. Didn't have time to read the whole discussion, but here's my 2 pennies... first, you need to consider that some tripod are sold without the head, so it opens up the option of choosing tripod and head seperately. A ball swivel type head is very nice, but for some applications you need the tilt/pan type with adjustable friction. Even "cheapo" tripods can be reasonably stable when the legs are kept short... some compositions need this anyway, so the main difference is how they work with the legs extended. My wife's $30 Slik is stable when kept short, but uselss when fully extended, and as you mentioned, little things like movements that slip, or camera screw coming loose are annoying... although it is better than no tripod or even a monopod. I was very fortunate to have been given a Gitzo tripod and a Leitz (Leica) ball head. I love this setup! It is heavier, but I don't seem to notice that much whan carrying it (usually in my hands...r eady to go) My wife tried the ball head and now wants to use my setup all the time. If you need to be able to smoothly pan from side to side, a tilt/pan type head is better and "fluid" video type is great. The legset (actual tripod part) can have many issues: weight (I don't care much about this, but if I went backpacking the light materials would be worth the extra costs) strength (not just will it break, but will it shift or settle in at the worst moment) reliability (hard field use and critical subjects will test both your tripod and your patience)
  18. Art's suggestion ("You can make any tripod more stable by adding weight. Hang your camera bag on it by wrapping the strap around it just below the head.") is a good one, and many of the Gitzo models have a hook at the bottom of the center column that makes it easier. However you have to have a reasonably solid tripod to begin with. Hang a moderately heavy bag on a set of flimsy legs and you'll just introduce more wobble.
  19. My Manfrotto pro 190 with #141RC head is celebrating it's 10th anniversary in my ownership this x-mas. And is not likely to be replaced
    in the next 10, provided I don't have any serious accidents, like dropping it from Mount Everest or something...


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