The Tripod Explained

The Tripod Explained

The tripod: a three-legged camera support. Why is the tripod market so flooded with options when they all look pretty much the same and are designed to do the same thing? Isn’t one tripod as good as any other? Why are some so expensive? Why are others comparatively inexpensive? Do some hold cameras more steadily than others? And, why in the world is that one pink?

In this article, we will be emphasizing the use of a tripod for photography. There may be mentions of video features, as some parts can overlap in functionality, but true video tripod systems can be vastly different from their still-photography counterparts.

The primary purpose of the tripod is to hold a camera completely steady—zero movement and vibration; however, the tripod is very, very far from a one-size-fits-all-photographic accessory. And, although they all look about the same—three legs, a part where the camera attaches, etc., there are many brands, styles, and variations. Some differences are centered on personal preference such as color; others are more purpose-driven.

If you want to learn more about what makes up the modern tripod, and delve deeper into the different feature sets of these supports, keep reading.

The Parts

Almost all tripods can be broken down into basic components. In the diagram below, we have labeled the different parts of the tripod. Almost every part comes in different shapes, sizes, and materials. All the parts perform basically the same job, and the overall goal of the tripod is stability for your camera.

Let’s take a closer look at every component, working from the top to the bottom (“from the head to the feet,” in tripod vernacular) and discuss the possible variations between types of tripods.

The Head

There are several basic types of tripod heads. The primary purposes of the tripod head are to provide a way to attach your camera to the tripod, allow repositioning of the camera to frame the image you wish to capture, and then hold the camera steady while the photograph is taken. What follows is a rundown of tripod head options.

3-Way / Pan and Tilt Head

The most traditional type of tripod head is the three-way or pan-and-tilt head. It is identified by the three control arms extending from the body of the head. They are used to adjust the position of the head one axis at a time—vertical, horizontal, and panning. Moving the head about one of the axes is accomplished by “loosening” one of the arms with a twist, repositioning the head, and then re-tightening the arm.

3-Way Pan/Tilt Head
3-Way Pan/Tilt Head

The advantages of the three-way head are: precise movements about one axis and ease of use. The disadvantage is size—they are generally bulky due to the extending arms. This makes them somewhat unattractive for travel.

Three-way heads are commonly used for landscape photography, still-life studio work, and macro photography. However, they can certainly be used for capturing all types of images.

The Ball Head

The ball head is a relatively recent invention, compared to some other types of heads. The design consists of a ball enclosed in a housing with a tightening knob. When the knob is loosened, the ball can be repositioned. When the camera is in the desired position, the knob is tightened and the ball (and camera) remain still.

Ball Head
Ball Head

There are some ball heads that have secondary and tertiary controls, as well. Some have panning bases with a separate knob to lock the head in the panning axis. Others have adjustable friction knobs and controls that allow adjustment of the main knob’s friction for more precise control.

For positioning the camera 90 degrees from horizontal, many ball heads have one or more cutouts in the housing that allow the ball’s stem to swivel down and be positioned at right angles to vertical.

The advantages of the ball head are its compact size (when compared to three-way heads) and ease of use. The simplest ball heads have only one adjustment knob for repositioning the camera at almost any angle. Also, because of their simplicity, repositioning the head is often a very quick affair. Because of its versatility, the ball head can be used for any type of photographic application.

Pistol Grip Heads

The pistol grip head is a variation of the ball head. Instead of having a knob to tighten the housing around the ball, the holding power is provided by a spring-loaded squeeze grip. To reposition the head, you squeeze a handle. Once the camera or head is in position, you release the grip and the head stays in that position.

Pistol Grip Ball Head
Pistol Grip Ball Head

Advantages of the pistol grip head are simplicity of use while providing a very fast means of repositioning the head. Disadvantages are generally the lower weight capacity of this style of head. With an emphasis on repositioning speed, the pistol grip heads are preferred by some wildlife and sports photographers.

Geared Heads

The geared head is a variant of the three-way head, but, instead of handles that loosen their axis when twisted, a system of gears moves the head about one particular axis when the handles are twisted. This gearing allows for very fine and precise adjustments—the geared head’s biggest advantage. The disadvantages of these heads, when compared to other styles, are weight, complexity, and the relatively slow speed of repositioning.

Geared Head
Geared Head

Because of the precision built into the geared head, it is preferred by architectural photographers and anyone who needs super-accurate camera positioning.

Gimbal Heads

The gimbal head is the exclusive domain of the large and heavy telephoto lens. Because of the shift in a camera/lens combination’s center of gravity when using extremely large lenses, the gimbal head is attached to the lens’s tripod attachment point, not to the camera. It is designed to allow rapid movements of the lens to track fast-moving subjects. When set up properly, the camera will remain steady even when not being held by the photographer.

Gimbal Tripod Head
Gimbal Tripod Head

Gimbal heads are large and heavy, but necessary for a certain type of long-lens photography. Also, specialized mounting plates are needed for specific lenses. Because of this design, and the systems with which it is designed to work, the gimbal head is ubiquitous in the world of wildlife and sports photography but not very useful for other general imaging purposes.

Purchasing Tip: The head is where the tripod becomes most specialized. Carefully consider your photographic needs, as well as portability. The multi-purpose ball head is the most versatile tripod head available. When in doubt, choose the ball head!

The Chassis (or Spider)

This is the apex of the tripod, where the legs connect. The chassis forms a platform for mounting a head, or it serves to surround the tripod’s center column. Some chassis that allow direct mounting of the tripod head feature interchangeable center plates that permit the addition of an optional center column or other types of mounting systems. The chassis is usually made from some sort of metal alloy. Maximum stability is gained with a tripod that does not have a telescoping center column chassis.

Multi-Angle Leg Locks

Most tripod legs are “multi-angle.” This means that you can adjust the spread of the legs to allow the tripod to be used at different heights or in awkward areas where one leg or more legs cannot be at the same angle as the others. Some chassis permit the legs to reach a nearly horizontal position, and some, especially for travel tripods, allow the legs to invert for more compact storage.

The leg locks are designed to hold the legs at a prescribed angle and come in designs of all types. Some have pull-out tabs that unlock the leg angle, others have sliders, some have friction knobs, and some have spring-loaded mechanisms.

Purchasing Tip: Leg locks come in all shapes and sizes and are notorious for pinching unwary fingers or hands. Pay close attention to the design of the locks and see if they work for your needs—and be careful not to get pinched!

Center Column

The tripod center column is either mounted to the chassis, or permitted to slide through it to extend the tripod’s height even farther than the leg/chassis alone. Many center columns are reversible to allow you to mount your camera below the tripod chassis for macro or other low-to-the-ground shots. Most center columns have a friction collar that keeps them in place until they are called to extend. Some have a geared system with which you can crank a lever to raise and lower the column. The crank systems are usually seen on heavier studio tripods because they add considerable weight to the tripod system.

Leveling Center Column
Leveling Center Column

Often, a gear hook can be found at the bottom of the center column. This allows you to add stabilizing weight to the rig in the form of dedicated weights, or your own camera bag.

Saddle Sandbag
Saddle Sandbag

Shooting Tip: The general rule is that you should not extend the center column unless it’s necessary to get the shot, since there is a loss in stability and an increase in possible vibrations when the column is extended. This is especially true with multi-section center columns.

Lateral Arms

The center column may double as a lateral arm that allows you to articulate (or insert) the center column to a horizontal position. This is useful for table-top shooting, macro subjects, and more.

There are also add-on lateral arms that can be added to a tripod or head when needed.

Tripod Accessory Arm for Four Heads
Tripod Accessory Arm for Four Heads

Shooting Note: When using lateral arms, pay close attention to the center of gravity of your rig and know that most tripod heads are designed to work in parallel with gravity. When working on a lateral arm, all the support will be perpendicular to gravity and stability may be compromised.


All tripods have legs. Three, in fact. But there are variations in how those legs are constructed and how they work.

Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs
Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs


Except for single-section tripod legs, most tripod legs are telescoping and collapsible for the purposes of height adjustment and transport. The more sections the legs have, the shorter they can be retracted. However, the more sections you have, the less stability you will achieve.

Shooting Tip: If possible, avoid extending the smallest section of the tripod all the way. Leaving the bottom section partially retracted can add overall stability to the rig.


There are three basic materials* for the modern tripod leg: aluminum, carbon fiber, and wood. All of them have inherent advantages and disadvantages.

The Skinny on Tripod Legs

Type Advantages Disadvantages

C Vibration absorption
C Ecological
C Non-conducting
C Temperature tolerant
C Durable
C Corrosion resistant

D Weight
D Does not fold to compact size



C Good strength-to-weight ratio
C Durable
C Value

D Cold to touch when cold outside
D Hot to touch in hot environments
D Corrosion


Carbon Fiber

C Good vibration dampening
C Excellent strength-to-weight ratio
C Temperature tolerant
C No corrosion

D Expensive
D Not as durable to impact


* There are other materials available, from common ABS plastic to steel to exotic basalt lava, but the Big Three are listed in the table above.

To combat thermal properties, and provide a more comfortable carrying feel, many tripod legs have foam leg protectors, and aftermarket protectors can be purchased to accessorize to your tripod.

Leg Wraps
Leg Wraps

Leg Locks

Multi-section tripod legs will have some sort of locking mechanism to prevent the legs from retracting when loaded or from extending farther. The two most common types of leg locks are the flip lock and the twist lock.

The flip lock is a lever that tightens around the next smaller section of the tripod leg. Once the legs are retracted, or at the length you desire, you flip the lock to the closed position and the legs will remain in that position. The twist lock accomplishes the same tightening by turning the lock through approximately one-quarter turn. Twist to loosen, extend or retract the legs, and then twist to tighten.

Twist and Flip Locks

Type Advantages Disadvantages

C Quick
C Easy

D Not weather sealed
D Can be jammed by debris
D Can loosen over time (most can be re-tightened)

Twist Lock

C Better sealing
C Fewer parts

D More difficult to use for some

The type of lock might also determine the shape of the legs. Twist-lock legs will inevitably be round, while the flip-lock legs may be triangular or have another shape to allow the flip locks to be mounted.


At the end of each leg there is a foot. Depending on the tripod, the foot might be as simple as a rubber bumper. Or the foot can have a retractable spike beneath a rubber pad. Some tripods have interchangeable feet so the photographer can switch out the type of foot, depending on the terrain and his or her needs. Options include, spikes, strakes, clawed feet, and various rubber bumpers.

Spike Foot Set
Spike Foot Set

What Else Do You Need to Know?

Now that we have taken an in-depth look at the tripod’s components, let’s discuss some other important subjects.

Load Capacity

Load capacity is crucially important to a tripod purchasing decision, yet it is often a confusing topic. Here is our attempt to clear up the noise in the shadow areas.

Tripod legs and heads have specified load capacities. The stability of the combination of the legs and head is equal to the lower of the two. For instance, if you have tripod legs with a 40-lb load capacity and a tripod head with a 20-lb load capacity, the effective load capacity of your setup is 20 lb. The same rule applies in instances where the head has a higher capacity than the legs (rare, but certainly possible). The load capacity is not indicative of the breaking strength of the component, nor does it indicate when the setup will collapse.

This specification shows at what weight the stability of the system starts to become compromised as far as stability is concerned. Therefore, putting a 21-lb load on a tripod with a 20-lb load capacity will not cause dramatic material failure and tripod explosion. However, the stability of your 21-lb camera and lens will begin to be compromised—meaning the unit may not hold the camera as steady as you would like. As an example, for those who have overloaded a ball head, you may have seen very slow and slight movement in the head even as you cranked down on the tightening knob as hard as you could. Yes, you could break or collapse a tripod with excessive weight, but a quality tripod should be able to support weight far greater than any normal photographic equipment without failing.

The common conservative rule of thumb is to use a tripod and head that have at least two to three times the load capacity of your heaviest camera/lens combination (don’t forget accessories such as a flash or microphone).


Tripods come in different heights. One thing that gets old quickly is setting up your camera on a tripod and spending minutes bent over at the waist looking through the viewfinder. Do the math and add the height of the legs and the height of the head together to find out at what altitude your viewfinder will be. Now, how tall are you? If the viewfinder is going to be higher than your eyes, perfect! All you need to do is not extend the lowest leg sections all the way and you are done. If the total height comes up short, get ready to bend down to see through your camera or look at the LCD screen.

Quick-Release Plates

In the olden days, photographers would have to spin their cameras or lenses onto the standard ¼"-20 tripod screw at the top of the head or chassis. This was time-consuming and a pain in the neck when you were moving locations between shots. Quick-release systems were invented to speed this process greatly. A plate attaches to the camera and then is locked into a compatible head.

Quick-Release Assembly
Quick-Release Assembly

Some manufacturers have proprietary plate designs and you’ll have to pay attention to compatibility when mixing and matching brands. The Arca-type-compatible plate is probably the most universal of the bunch, with many brands offering compatible systems. Additionally, there are numerous brackets and plates that you can attach to your camera that have integral compatibility with tripod head quick-release systems. Again, the Arca-type compatible is the most numerous of these.

Tripod Collar
Tripod Collar

Bubble Levels

Once a rare option on tripod heads, the bubble level is becoming a much more common feature. For those doing architectural photography, or simply trying to keep the horizon level, the bubble level is a great tool to have at your disposal, and having it permanently featured on the tripod or head keeps you from having to carry a separate accessory around. Heads usually either feature one or more bull’s-eye levels or two standard levels—one for each axis.

Bags and Straps

The tripod and tripod head are tools and they should be used as such. The more they are used, the more scratches, nicks, and dents they will endure. You can protect your tripod and help extend its life (or at least its youthful good looks) by transporting it in a protective bag. Some companies sell their tripods with a bag, and you can always add one afterwards. There are bags just for tripod heads. Also, to aid in carrying, many tripods have attachment points for carrying straps.

Tripod Case
Tripod Case

Tabletop Tripods

A sub-genre of the tripod is the mini or tabletop tripod. These diminutive tripods can support a fair amount of weight and live in your camera bag for the times you don’t want to tote a full-sized tripod around with you.

Tabletop Tripod
Tabletop Tripod

It’s all About Stability… and Tradeoffs

The job of the tripod is to stabilize your camera and lens. Simple, right? We mentioned vibration and stability in the article. Where does vibration come from? You can imagine a completely stationary tripod and camera, but now visualize a wind blowing across your gear, or a subway rumbling beneath the street. Are two or more tripod legs in a running stream or in the surf at the beach? Vibration happens, and the goal of the tripod is to provide stability and absorb those vibrations so that they are not translated to the camera.

So, what type of tripod do you buy? Things start to get murky when we realize that we must hand-carry the tripod with us to a distant location or pack it into our carry-on luggage! Larger tripods have more stability, but they are heavier. Smaller tripods are more portable and easy to carry, but have less stability. Four-section tripods can collapse smaller than three-section tripods, but are slightly less stable. Tripod legs without a center column are more stable than those with a center column, but less versatile.

Suddenly, the tripod purchasing decision becomes an exercise in compromise.

One final note: A tripod (and head) is an investment that can last you your entire photographic life. If you start off buying a bargain tripod, you will likely feel the need to upgrade to a better one in the future. If that one is a value-priced tripod, you will, as your photography experience and gear grows, likely want to upgrade that one, as well. There are few things in photography as frustrating as working with a sub-par tripod and not getting the stability you need. Soon you may find you have spent more on your first several tripods than you could have on one high-quality, more expensive one right out of the gate. If you are serious about photography, be serious about your tripod. And if you’re looking for tripod recommendations, feel free to check out our favorite full-sized tripods and travel tripods to get started with your search.

Do you have a favorite tripod? What piece of advice would you give a new photographer looking for their first tripod? Let us know in the Comments section, below.


Eric (below) gives great advice.  Spend whatever you can to get the best you can afford.  Benro (Induro), Really Right Stuff, etc.  You get what you pay for with these premium brands for both the tripod and the heads.  And, yes, Arca is the way to go.

All Arca plates are not as they seem. Purchased a Manfrotto Quick Release Adaptor [MSQ6] for my ball head. Then bought an L Plate [Sunwayfoto] for my 5D Mk IV - took 3 members of my camera club 30 mins to get it off the Manfrotto; totally incompatible.  Contacted dealers, face to face and phone] who were unable to solve the problem - one suggested an L Plate for the PL200 plate. Manfrotto advised they don't make Arca type L Plates. Only option is to ditch the MSQ6 if I want an L Platee; have even vaguely contemplated putting the grinder to the Sunwayfoto to shave some off to make it fit

Actually yes they are. You were probably not pressing the red release button that lowers the lock pin on the MSQ6. Any Sunwayfoto L bracket will fit into any Arca compatible clamp and come off easily. Your problem is operator error.

Not operator error; red button was pressed etc. Operators included 3 or 4 very experienced camera club members with high end equipment, and a staff member at a large camera specialist retailer.

As a professional who owns 6 tripod legs, several Arca-Swiss ball heads, a Benro geared head, and a Wimberley gimbal head, the best piece of advice you gave in this article is to spend a little more initially and invest in a good tripod. Buying a good tripod is an investment and one shouldn't skimp on something that will be holding thousands of dollars of equipment. I never bought cheap replaceable tripods, even when I could barely afford them.

Each tripod has its advantages and limitations, which why I have so many. I have a very old Leitz tripod from my college days that has seen a lot of use, and continues to function as a laptop/projector platform. I have 4 Gitzo legs of various sizes and materials, and because of their quality, I just can't seem to part with any of them. I'm often glad I have them when I have multi-camera setups for video. And finally, I have a very small Sirui travel tripod that has been around the world when I carried everything in a 45-liter backpack.

Standardize on one clamp/plate system. Every camera and long lens I own has either a cage with an Arca-compatible plate built-in, or an Arca-compatible L-bracket or lens foot. Every head I own has an Arca or compatible clamp, making it easy to use any piece of equipment with any tripod. With so many legs and so many heads, to facilitate easily swapping head/leg combinations, I bought several Leofoto QS-60 quick release mounts for each set of legs and heads--a real time saver. And to protect the legs on my investments, I've opted for high density foam tubing sized specifically for the leg diameters instead of bulky leg wraps.

I'll close by saying that there is a difference between a cheap $50-100 toy tripod and a professional $400-1000 tripod. All of my gear has survived a lot of abuse, and I've never had to replace any of the tripods I own, which I attribute to their quality construction.

Rewrite this without using the word, "I."

Just shallow amateur article, with inaccuracies ("wood" is not a lock type) and very old. Some of the comments here are ancient. Why did I just (8-29-23) receive a link to this via email?

3-way heads are neither precise nor "easy to use" they are hard to set correctly exactly because they are imprecise - you will fiddle with one if you buy it. What they are is cheap to make. The height of a tripod is not just about viewing - added leg length is used on the down side of a hill for instance. Nobody cares about weight hooks and certainly not sand saddlebags. Very poor article not worth my time to fully crit.

My quick release plate is missing. How do I get replacement?

To determine which replacement quick release plate would be compatible for use with your tripod head, we would need to know the brand and model (or the B&H number) for the tripod head you own.  Unfortunately, this information was not listed above.  However, you may contact our B&H Sales Department either by calling us at 1-800-606-6969, by e-mailing us at [email protected], or by clicking the "Live Chat" link on our website and informing us of the brand/model of your tripod head, and if available, we will assist you with locating the correct replacement tripod quick release plate for your usage needs.

As thorough as this article is, it might benefit from another paragraph + photo of different mounting plate systems?
Moving up to a "nice" tripod after years of kidding myself with $30, $50, and $70 tripods, I found that the Arca-Swiss mounting of my new gear took some getting used to. All of my budget tripods used the same flat, square quick-release plates about 1.75" x 1.75".  I had thought these would be standard all the way up into fancy tripod land. But instead my Manfrotto head came with what I learned was an Arca-Swiss-style plate that was 1.5" x 1.5". That smaller surface area meant I had to screw it tightly into my camera to keep things in place during vertical shots. Eventually, I learned about the benefits of getting an L-bracket designed for my specific camera, but I ended up buying several overpriced metal bits along the way.
(This gets even harder for novices since Arca-Swiss is an actual company, so it can be confusing to mix the brand and the standard style.) I've since learned that many of the REALLY high-end Manfrotto heads use their own proprietary quick release plates, so I'm hoping my current gear lasts a long time. I don't want to have to re-learn all this stuff!

Hey Artie,

Good suggestion.

Even more confusingly, some Manfrotto plates are proprietary and some Manfrotto heads accept Arca-type compatible plates. For years, I swore by the Manfrotto RC0 hexagonal plates, but then made the more to "universal" Arca-type dovetails—dumping a ton of RC0 plates and heads into the used market (and recycle bin).

And, regarding L-brackets:…


Thanks for reading!



I have a Davis & Sanford tripod that has serious leg lock issues. It uses a flip lock. The issue is it keeps retracting with even the slightest weight.

any tips for leg lock issues.


Also should we be 'servicing' tripods

It is possible there are some small screws on the leg locks that need to be adjusted.  You may want to reach out to Davis & Sanford for additional assistance is required.

Davis & Sanford
Tel: 631-273-2500
Email [email protected]

I have a tripod truss system that was garbage when I got it.  At this point the screw/rubber holding the center column is shot.  I'd like to replace it with a different type of lock.  I'm looking for one like I have on my tent, it has a ring to pull the bar out of the hole so you can move it,  it is spring loaded so it goes right back in.  can't figure out what it's called, any help?

Hey Robert,

I think I know what you are referring to with the ring/pin mechanism to lock a telescoping pole at different heights...but I cannot think of any tripods out there that have a system like that. I will wander over to the store to ask the experts if they know of anything.

Thanks for stopping by! Sorry I don't have an immediate solution for you.

I noticed that there is always a bit of "creeping" when tightening the knobs or releasing the grip on the tripod head.  I've never seen a head without that problem.  That is especially noticeable with a telephoto lens or a spotting scope.  Are there tripod heads that are less creepy than others?



Hey André,

I know what you mean. I find the same thing. I don't have an official answer for you, but my guess is that you (and I...and everyone else) is either 1) approaching or exceeding the true load capacity of the rig, 2) operating with a center of gravity too far from the tripod head and thus creating a lever that virtually exceeds the load capacity, or 3) using a head with worn out friction/lock adjustments.

So...less creepy? Maybe something newer or with a higher load capacity. I would be tempted to say that the more expensive tripods have less creep, but I have no data to back that up! However, when I head into the field, I always wonder if I should have a more expensive tripod!

This probably isn't the scientific answer you were hoping for, but know you are not alone!

At first I thought you were talking about the slight sag you get after you've tightened the head. But Todd's responsive seems to be addressing a continual movement of the head (i.e., creep) after the head is tightened. In either case, this has been my experience with the multitude of heads I've own. 

Yes, almost all heads sag after tightening to some degree. The solution is to get a gear head. As for creeping, the only time I've seen that is when the camera is in the vertical (portrait) position and it rotates around the mounting screw. That only happened when the mounting plate used cork instead of rubber to grip the camera. I never had any problem when rubber was used.

Hey Claude,

Good pointers to look out for! I have experienced all of the above, including the rotation when using cork-padded quick release plates!

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Brett, aluminum will corrode when the adherent oxide film on its surface is disturbed. Aluminum is a very reactive metal, but forms an adherent oxide film in the presense of oxygen, which prevents further oxidation. Corrosion usually ocurrs when the surface can not be exposed to oxygen. Causes are trapped water between two aluminum surfaces, presence of chlorides, sulfur compounds, and/or soluable phosphates. Trapped water is a very common cause of aluminum corrosion. I am a Profession Metallurgical Engineer.


Thank you, Merlin! Good stuff! I appreciate you helping a fellow B&H customer!

Could you please explain "Corrosion" that is listed in the chart as a disadvantage for aluminum legs. The last time I checked, aluminum does not rust. Thanks.

No, it will not rust. Rust is iron oxidation.  Aluminum will corrode when exposed to evironmental salts (from certain soils, salt water/beach environment, etc.).  This is why all aluminum meant to be used outdoors is either coated or anodized.  This blocks or impedes corrosion for a while.  But nicks, scratches and exposure to salt water (especially on the inside of the tripod legs) will eventually allow for corrosion to take place.  Cleaning your tripod after use in a corrosive environment will greatly extend it's longevity. 

Looks like the pro metallurgists have spoken for me! Now I don't have to pretend to be smart!

Thanks for reading, Brett!

Amateur/wannabe here.   I recently found a Manfrotto 501HDV PRO FLUID VIDEO HEAD and a very close copy of a Manfrotto 546B Pro Video Tripod for a hundred bucks!  Unbelievable.  I shoot strictly landscapes with a Mamiya 645 1000s medium format system.  So, why the overkill on the head and tripod?  Because of the weight of the camera and the medium.  Where digital images can be trial-error-delete, film exposure is a one-shot deal:  it's important to eliminate as many negative variables as possible before hitting the shutter release.  A heavy camera (even if it's not a video camera) needs a tripod that does not move.  As suggested in the article, a cheap head and tripod will eventually show their weaknesses.  It's amazing to see my 1000s & 55-110 lens sitting rock-solid on the Manfrotto head & pod.  A good tripod system allows me a lot more latitude in ower ASA's, poor lighting and slower speeds.  Thanks for this article and for confirming somethings I 'thought' I knew.  .

Hey Luke,

No worries! That is why we are here! Thanks for reading!

Re: Load Capacity. While load capacity is an important parameter, I believe it has relevance only as "relative measure" of sturdiness across a single manufacturer's product line. I doubt there is much meaning in comparing load capacity between different manufacturers. As far as I know, there is no industry standard to rate load capacity, so you have no idea what a particular load capacity number truly means. I’ve seem some load ratings span from the obviously ridiculous to the very conservative (Manfrotto, I’ve noticed, seems one of the most conservative). Too bad there isn’t either a standard or, at least, each manufacturer explains its definition of load capacity.

Hello DiBugnara,

I totally agree with you! Unfortunately, we have to take the manufacturer's statistics at face value, unless an independent testing facility starts putting these things through their paces. My guess is that some manufacturers intentionally lower their load capacities to create a bit of wiggle room of sorts for customers, while others intentionally exaggerate theirs in order to lure customers with their inflated numbers. I believe, based on your comment, that you have come across the same thing.

Also, do the new manufactures of tripods know that the load capacity is completely different than the collapsing or breaking weight? Who knows?

I would enjoy seeing a standard created and a testing regimen implemented by a third party. I bet it would make for some awesome YouTube videos!

I wanted to learn about video tripods and how they relate to still photography tripods.  did i miss something?

Hey john paul,

This article is for still photography tripods only. I am not a video expert, but we have some kicking around the office. I will see if any of them are interested in creating a side-bar for this article, or an entirely separate video tripod article.

In the mean time, if you have specific questions, feel free to follow up here, or email [email protected].

Thanks for reading!

One thing that I consider when looking at tripods is how, a a disabled person, with a scooter, can I use it.

I use my TRIpod as a MONOpod as well as a BIpod. If you think about sitting and finding a way to stabilize the camera you will see that in many instances extending only one or two legs offer advantages to the physically Challenged.

Check out what I am doing at:

Comments and cntributions are welcome. Stop by and subscribe.

Hi Bill,

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your link!

Nice article!  My question/comment would be concerning the mirrorless cameras (specifically the Lumix GX8).  Within the manual (a couple of times, is mentioned a warning about connecting this camera onto a tripod thus: paraphrase:  DO NOT turn the screw too far into the camera, because it might come through the body, and then it's bye-bye all that money.

Panasonic isn't (i'm fairly sure) going to recommend a tripod, but it would be nice to know if there is a tripod ($100 - 200+) that might be safe to use with this camera.  I am currently using it hand-held, but it focuses much more slowly than my Nikon D7100, so I'd like to have a tripod upon which to stabilize it.





Hey Alice,

That is really interesting about the GX8.

Here is what the text says: " It may not be possible to attach and securely fasten a tripod with a screw length of 5.5 mm (0.22 inch) or more to the camera. Doing so may also damage the camera."

Here is my hypothesis: Somewhere out there, someone makes a tripod head, or quick release plate with an extra-long screw and, somewhere out there, someone punched a hole in the bottom of their camera with that screw. In fact, one of my co-workers claims to have done that very thing. So, it happened at least once!

Length of the tripod screw is not a common specification given for tripods and tripod heads, but, my guess, without measuring all of them, is that a length of greater than 5.4mm is probably rare.

My advice is to shop for the tripod/tripod head you want, and, if you are super careful, measure the screw before you attach your GX8. My guess is that you will be good-to-go 99.9% of the time.

Good luck, Alice! Great question!

Thanks, Todd.

I think I am reassured.  I suppose I could always find a metal shop and trim down the screw :-).



Ha! You could do that...or just have a file handy!

Good luck, Alice!

If needed, you could insert a piece of rubber between the camera and quick release plate to shorten the effective length of the screw.

Thank you, BHPHOTO, for a thorough and easily understood essay on tripods. This is a great service, well carried out.

This article is an excellent review of all the important things to know about selecting and using a tripod.  Well organized, illustrated and written.  

Thank you, Thomas! And, thanks for reading!

Call me a traditionalist, but the first tripod that I bought in the 1980's had a 3 way head, a Slik U202, which was finally retired in 2012 with a Manfrotto with a 3 way head. I got one tip from a photographer for Florida Today for photographing a Space Shuttle launch; he suggested mounting the camera "backwards" on the tripod where the tilt handle is under the lens. That way, the title handle of the tripod won't impede the upward tilt of the head.

Hey Ralph,

I, too, have had to mount my cameras "backwards" on 3-way and panning heads to allow images way, way above the horizon!

Thanks for reading and sharing your experience! 

Can i have the picture how u mount the camera. . .