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Digital Camera Accessories: Selecting the Right Tripod

If there is one pieces of photo equipment most often called "optional" it's a tripod. Yet I believe that there is no camera accessory more important to own. Tripods can do more for image quality than any other accessory. Tripods are a necessity if the photographer ever wants to be in the picture with the rest of the family. Tripods do one thing better than any technology or technique can hope to match; tripods keep cameras rock steady during the moment of exposure.

Of all of the factors that go into a tripod selection two are the most important. First, it must be able to support the weight of the camera and lens without any creeping or movement. Second, the tripod head style has to match the type of photography intended.

Expecting a tripod to support the weight of a camera and lens would seem to be a no-brainer. However purchasing a tripod that isn't up to the task is the number one mistake made by photographers every day. When we are concerned about supporting the weight of a camera we are looking at two distinct parts of the tripod. The legs must be able to support the camera's weight without bowing or shaking and the tripod's head has to have locks that can securely hold the camera in any desired position. The support capability of the head is where most tripod purchases fall short.

A tripod head is able to move in two or three axis: Pointing the lens up to the sky and down toward the ground, panning from left to right, and often a flip from landscape orientation to portrait. The selected tripod should be able to hold your camera and heaviest lens rigidly locked at any point along these lines of movement. A tripod head that allows a camera and lens to drift will eventually find a tip-over point and there goes the whole rig falling to the ground. A tripod and head that can't lock firmly enough to hold your camera shouldn't be purchased.

The area of interest that the photographer works in can have a significant bearing on the type of tripod and head that should be selected. While most inexpensive tripods come with permanently attached pan heads more expensive models allow the photographer to choose the type of head to complete the outfit.

Pan heads tend to have a single long handle that protrudes from the back of the tripod head. By twisting the handle to loosen the camera platform the camera can be aimed toward the sky or toward the ground. Unlocking to pan left to right may also be controlled by twisting the long handle but most often there is a separate locking bolt on the tripod itself. A pan head is preferred by those who shoot film and video because the long handle allows for easy, smooth control moving side to side.

However a pan head often doesn't manage landscape to portrait tilts very well, they are usually all or nothing lacking a strong enough lock to hold the camera in a mid position. A pan head can work well for still photographers too so long as pointing the camera straight up isn't important - the long handle prevents this.

Photographers who don't need to follow action often prefer ball heads. A ball head can have one or more locks that allow the ball and socket of the head to move freely in a hemisphere. Ball heads provide a means to have fine control over the position of the camera. Most often this is to position the camera exactly level on uneven ground. Ball heads in general will support more camera and lens weight without drifting.

The Three-way Pan Head is much like the pan head mentioned above. However with a three-way there are three mid-length control handles. A three-way head tends to sit higher above the tripod body to permit greater movement. A three-way head offers the capabilities of the pan head with more rigid locks and finer control of the tilt feature.

Three-way and ball type tripod heads are the most commonly used by intermediate and advanced photographers.

A third consideration is operating height. For extended use, such as covering a football game, a tripod that is too short can be a literal pain in the back. However a photographer that must pack in to their photo location will appreciate the most compact tripod they can find. In general we should judge the operating height of a tripod without extending the center column. The more the center column is extended the less stable the tripod becomes. Center column extension is a convenience but it isn't the way to get the most solid support for your camera.

One of the last major concerns is the material that the tripod is made from. Outside of exotics, aluminum is the single most common material in tripod construction, second is plastic. The ratio of aluminum to plastic as we can imagine affects the weight, price and stability of the tripod. When we are choosing among tripods based on construction we do have to be aware that we often trade off stability for lighter weight. Be careful in this trade, a low priced and light weight tripod that isn't stable is still too expensive.

Another group of materials used in tripods are the exotics. Carbon fiber and even basalt have been engineered for use in tripod leg construction. These materials offer high rigidity and strength while creating a lower weight tripod. Exotic tripods will still rely on aluminum, plastic and other materials to create the entire package but they can offer up to a 30% weight savings compared to an aluminum tripod of equal capability.

In conclusion: Tripods are a necessary accessory for any photographer. It is important to select one that can support the weight of your camera and heaviest lens without creeping. Tripod heads come in several configurations, moderate to more expensive tripods will allow the photographer to mix and match legs and heads to select their own combination. The materials used in tripod construction have a direct bearing on three key factors: cost, weight and stability. Don't make a purchase decision without considering all three factors.

Author: Stu Eddins 
Artice Source: http://www.articlesphere.com

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