The Best Inexpensive Tripod for the Money

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The Best Inexpensive Tripod for the Money

In landscape photography, you need a good tripod. You need it because, it keeps your camera steady and gives you sharper images. At the ends of the day around sunrise and sunset, you’ll often get shutter speeds that range out into the seconds and there isn’t a good way to handhold your camera and end up with a sharp shot when you have exposures out into the seconds. A tripod also allows you to repeat a shot so you can fine tune the exposure or keep the composition the same while you wait for the perfect wave or conditions. A stable camera locked into place by a solid tripod also makes it easier to adjust filters and is a must for some kinds of filters.

You should also buy a good tripod with a ball head. The cheap big box store plastic tripods with pan/tilt heads are terrible and frustrating to use. They are so frustrating that you probably won’t use it. That limits the types of shots you can get and the times of the day you can get shots.

There are so many options for tripods that’s it’s hard to figure out which one to buy, especially at the low and middle price levels. At the highend, the choice is easier, because you either buy a RRS tripod or a Gitzo. I recently bent a leg on my old trusty Gitzo aluminum tripod, so finally decided to upgrade to carbon fiber. It was hard to let go after 15+ years with the same tripod, but when I finally decided that I should, I had sticker shock! They want $1000+ for high-end carbon fiber legs now! I ended up buying the Gitzo Series 3 Systematic 4 Section X Long Tripod GT3542XLS and putting my trusty, old Kirk BH-1 ballhead on it. I’ve had that ball head forever and it keeps on going. Unless you’re a professional or have a ton of money burning a hole in your pocket, you probably don’t need to get the tripod I did. Completely expanded it’s taller than I am, and I’ve actually had to use it that way during a recent commercial job.

With that in mind, I’ve been looking at tripods that come on my workshops and making notes of some of the tripods that have looked like great deals. My goal was to come up with 3 or 4 tripods in the $100 to $200 range that are solid, easy-to-use and will last. It’s hard to tell how long equipment will hold up, but my guess is that these tripods will do well for most people until they’re ready to upgrade to something else. I’m going to start from the least expensive and go to the most expensive.

  1. Slik Sprint Pro II: This is a good travel tripod. It’s small and doesn’t weigh much. You’re going to want to replace the ball head, because it doesn’t hold heavier cameras, but this will be okay for entry-level cameras and kit lenses. I own the older version of this tripod and put a beefier ball head on it and use it on canoe and kayak trips and for backpacking. The key to using this is not to extend the center column, because that makes it too unstable. You also don’t want to use the bottom, thin legs unless it’s not windy out. I’d buy this only because you don’t have the money to spend on something more expensive. This is way better than the big box store plastic legs.
  2. Manfrotto 190 3 Section Aluminum Tripod – This is a solid but inexpensive set of tripod legs. I have no reservations with this set. You’ll need a ball head to put on it.
  3. Sirui T-025X 52″ Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10X Ball Head & Case – A great lightweight option for mirrorless camera users. This is a solid travel tripod, but it’s not sturdy enough for heavier DSLR and fast lenses. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it with any mirrorless camera though. If you don’t want to pay the money for the carbon tripod, you can pick up the aluminum version for about $100 less.
  4. Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100 Aluminum Tripod – This tripod is a lot of bang for the buck. You get a ball head combined with solid legs. You can buy the legs separately as well. The center column is easily shifted around and makes macro photography easy. This tripod is a steal at $200 and when I’ve seen them on workshops, I’m always impressed. I might consider upgrading the ball head which is okay for the price. The downside is that it isn’t Arca Swiss compatible. That means you can’t use L-brackets and other accessories without changing out either the ball head plate or replacing it.
  5. Ball head: If you buy a set of legs without a ball head, you need a ball head. I recommend Kirk ball heads and have both the BH-1 and BH-3 and love them, but they are expensive. One inexpensive ball head I’d recommend is the Benro D2. When buying a ball head get one with a Arca Swiss compatible quick release system. Stay away from the Manfrotto system. It sucks! Sirui makes a good product and a number of ball heads. Some of the heavier duty heads look nice. I haven’t seen too many of these but the price is right.

If I had to pick one from this list, I’d get the Vanguard with just the legs and a Benro or Sirui ball head.

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  • James Moat

    Hey Bryan, I have the Vanguard Alta Pro and love it (was using it at the February workshop). Haven’t experienced any slippage when shooting vertical, but I don’t have a really heavy camera. Agree that it’s a steal.

  • Cheryl Lange

    Brian, Your work is incredible and you are so generous to share the beauty seen through your eyes! You are a wonderful soul and gift to the world. Cheryl

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