We all like to travel light. But as you progress in photography, you quickly come to realize that you are missing out on a lot of photo opportunities while traveling, when you don’t have a tripod! And that’s probably why you are on this page 🙂 I’ve been there: over the years my photography gear got a little bigger and heavier (after getting a full-frame DSLR + lenses), so it was absolutely necessary to find the best lightweight travel tripod that I could take with me on my travels.
Whether you want to capture a beautiful starry sky, a long exposure shot of this gorgeous waterfall you hiked to, get a great night shot of the city, or just want to avoid camera shake when it’s getting dark, you can only do so much without a tripod.
Nowadays a lot of options exist and it’s getting difficult to know what to buy. New brands and new products keep appearing, and making the right decision can quickly become a headache! That’s why I decided to create this guide where I discuss all the aspects to take into consideration when choosing your tripod. So here we go.
Guide Contents Overview
- Aluminum or Carbon Fiber, What’s The Difference?
- How To Choose Your Tripod?
- How Can Travel Tripods Become so Small Once Folded?
- What are Classic Weight & Size For a Portable Travel Tripod?
- How to Deal With an Unstable Tripod?
- Do You Take Your Tripod in Your Carry-on Bag on The Plane?
Aluminum or Carbon Fiber?
Tripods are manufactured with either aluminum or carbon fiber. Each material is not without its shortcomings and your needs will ultimately determine the one you go for.
Aluminum tripods are heavier, stronger, and cheaper. The high durability of aluminum makes tripods made from it capable of withstanding drops and doings that come with everyday use. Also, this type of tripod provides increased stability for your equipment.
The main problem with aluminum tripods is that they are not travel-friendly as they are quite heavy. Also, aluminum is affected by changes in temperature. The metal heats up in the sun and cools down in the cold. Aluminum is also prone to rusting if you don’t clean your tripod properly after exposure to water.
Carbon fiber is lighter than aluminum and very easy to transport. There are models of carbon fiber tripods that will fit into your carry-on luggage. However, they are more expensive than aluminum tripods. Carbon fiber doesn’t rust and is also resistant to temperature.
The main con of carbon fiber tripods is that they are not as durable as their aluminum counterparts. And you really need to handle them with extra care so they don’t get damaged.
As you can see, your needs will determine the one you go for. If you need a lightweight tripod, you go for carbon fiber models. If you favor enhanced durability, then aluminum tripods all the way.
How To Choose Your Tripod?
Portability – Weight and Max Folded Length
Tripods come in different sizes. The portable and lightweight models are usually referred to as travel tripods because they are easier to transport. The portability of your tripod is largely determined by the weight and maximum folded length.
You already know the type of material used has an effect on the weight. There are lightweight tripods that weigh under 4 lbs and this makes them easy to carry and transport. It’s also important that your tripod folds well as this will make it compact when packed.
Comfort of Use – Maximum Height
It’s important you check the maximum height of tripods before buying them. Then choose models that have maximum heights close to your own height. Why? This is because tripods that come near eye level are very comfortable to use.
Tripods that are too short can really be a pain to work with. Believe me, you don’t want to find that out after purchasing your own tripod.
Maximum Load Capacity
There is a limit to the weight of a camera you can put on your tripod. If you go over the weight limit, you risk breaking your tripod. And your camera could also get damaged. Now that can really be frustrating especially when your camera is very expensive. To find out the weight of your camera and other equipment you’ll be using like flash. Then choose a tripod that exceeds that weight. It’s that simple.
Heads come with tripods sometimes. And the most common type of head is the ball head which is compact and easy to use. A ball head provides 360 degrees of motion and allows you to take shots from different angles.
Some tripods come with bubble levels which have a massive advantage. If you’ve done some photography before, you may have realized it’s difficult to compose a straight horizon line. Simply put, balancing a camera can be tricky. And that’s where bubble levels come in as they help keep things straighter and help you balance your camera.
Multi-section tripod legs usually have a locking mechanism. This is to provide stability and prevent the legs from extending farther. The most common types of locking mechanisms are the flip-lock and the twist lock.
The flip-lock is very easy to use. It’s essentially a lever that tightens around the next smaller section of the tripod’s leg. When you’ve adjusted the leg to your desired length, all you need to do is to flip the lock and the leg will remain in that position. You can see why it’s easy to use. A single flip is all you need to secure the legs of your tripod.
For the twist lock, you need a twisting movement to make things happen. You twist to loosen the legs. Then you twist it again to extend it. And another twisting movement secures it in place.
While not all tripods come with center columns, I prefer the models that come with them. The major benefit of the center column is that you can extend it to increase the height of the tripod. In some models, the center column can undergo 360 degrees of motion and position your camera in different positions.
The stability of your trip decreases when using the center column. And that’s why there is a hook at the bottom of the center column. You can add weights to the hook to improve the stability of the tripod while using the center column.
How Can Travel Tripods Become so Small Once Folded?
Usually, the legs can be folded back 180 degrees around the central column and the ball head.
What are a Classic Weight & Size Of a Portable Travel Tripod?
They are usually between 1 and 1.5 kg / between 2.2 and 3.3 lbs, and about 40 cm / 15.75 in when in a folded position.
How to Deal With an Unstable Tripod?
Some tripods are designed to hold more weight than others – such as tripods for wildlife photography. If your tripod is getting unstable, what you can do is use the small hook that is usually present at the bottom of the central column on most tripods, and hang something heavy to it (a bag of stones, water bottles…).
Do You Take Your Tripod in Your Carry-on Bag on The Plane?
No, I always pack it in my checked luggage to be safe.
That’s it for this guide! A tripod is a piece of equipment that every photographer should get. When you travel, your tripod should be small and lightweight enough, but there are many other aspects to consider as well. Hopefully, you now have a good idea of what to look for in a travel tripod you can keep for many years. Got questions? Ask me in the comment section!