A steady support or image stabilization will help you capture sharper images
By Zachary Singer
Even if you spend a fortune for the finest, sharpest lenses available, you still can find that your images are soft. Camera shake from shooting handheld usually is the cause.
Here's the problem. When you're shooting handheld, slight unsteadiness from your hands prevents you from keeping the image perfectly still on the film or image sensor. Even subtle camera movement can lessen the brilliance of your image highlights, making a snappy image look lifeless. More camera movement creates a noticeable loss of sharpness until the image becomes soft or even downright blurry.
Your first line of defense is to keep your shutter speed high and freeze that camera movement the same way you can freeze a diver in midair or a bird in midflight. A good rule of thumb for 35mm cameras says that for sharp handheld images, you should use a speed that's at least as fast as the focal length of your lens. If you're shooting with a 50mm lens, your slowest speed would be 1/60 sec., but with a 200mm lens, you'd need to shoot at 1/250 sec. or faster.
You can get that faster shutter speed by opening up your lens, but that approach isn't always practical. Slow zooms may not let in enough light to give you the shutter speed you need, and any filters you use will cut down the amount of light and make the problem even worse. On top of that, most landscape shots are taken at small apertures for maximum depth of field. Since it won't do you any good to get everything in sharp focus front to back and then let camera shake make everything fuzzy, you need better solutions.
Simply put, tripods give you a steady platform from which to shoot so camera movement will be eliminated and you can freely use any shutter speed you choose. As an extra benefit, the same stability that gives you sharp images also means the image won't dance around in your viewfinder like it does when you're handholding your camera. You'll find it a lot easier to take a careful look at your composition and make sure your camera is expertly aimed.
Some tripods come equipped with a head; others are sold as legs only, and you'll need to select a head separately. For landscapes, either a three-way pan-tilt head or a ballhead works well and allows you to make vertical compositions.