Discover how a tripod produces sharper pictures and better, bigger prints
By Ibarionex R. Perello
If you're a wildlife photographer and expect to mount a 400mm or 600mm lens, you might want to use a tripod that supports the combined weight of your camera and lens. If the largest lens that you expect to use is an 80-200mm, then your maximum weight threshold won't be as high, and there's little need for such a heavy-duty tripod.
Height is just as important for stability. Your choice of height often is a decision made out of convenience. You might choose a particular tripod because you don't have to bend over when you look through the camera's viewfinder. When it comes to height, evaluate a tripod based on its legs being fully extended. Although a center column often is provided in a tripod, you shouldn't see this as a viable way to achieve greater height. A column fully extended actually reduces stability. If maximum height is vital, then consider a four-section tripod rather than a three-section.
Minimum height also is critical, especially when photographing objects that are close to the ground. This is available either through the angle adjustments of the legs or by mounting the camera to the bottom of the center column. If you're a fan of close-up photography, this is a must-have function.
Adjustment Controls If you're like me, you prefer a tripod that's easy to set up and configure. I dislike spending too much time finagling with a tripod and risk missing a wonderful shot. Components that provide a secure setting but also allow for quick adjustments are paramount.
Tripod legs are released and secured using screws, knobs or levers. Levers and knobs offer rapid functionality. There are a wealth of variations in knobs and levers, and each has a different feel. Some photographers are strong adherents to specific types of controls, but I believe that the best choice largely falls on personal preference. Make sure you handle a tripod to determine what you prefer to use.
Manfrotto's new Neotec tripod sports an alternative for securing tripod legs. This design has the locking mechanism hidden within the leg, which pushes outward on the tube to lock it in place. The heavier the weight atop the tripod, the greater the pressure exerted to maintain stability. Simply pull out the leg and release.
Some tripods include a tripod head. Otherwise, you'll need to make an additional purchase of either a pan-and-tilt head or ballhead. The pan-and-tilt head uses two independent arms to control vertical and horizontal movement. The control arms also can be turned to control tension, providing fine manipulation over the movement of the camera.