Thom Hogan back in 2003 wrote the definitive article on tripods where he states that he can save you at least $700 if you by the right stuff the first time, but I didn’t listen. I followed the exact path he says most consumers follow and guess what – he was right. I ended up wasting about $700!
As great as Thom’s article is, it’s woefully out of date which is no surprise giving the dizzying array of tripod choices. In this article I hope to offer some selections based on my conversations with experts at B&H as well as a non-scientific poll of pro photographers and club members.
My objective was to find at least 4 excellent tripods that met the needs of most photographers, and I’ve accomplished that goal. I think all of the tripods I’ll mention are an excellent investment and worth owning, but which one depends on your needs. Like most things in photography, there is no good “one-size fits all” solution. I REALLY wish there was, but there isn’t.
Like you, I face the dilemma of needing to purchase a new tripod myself and as much as I wish to win the lottery, I haven’t. As a result, I must decide where to spend my limited resources for my next tripod so I invite you to join me as I go in-depth on my research on each of these tripods.
My needs may not be the same as yours, so you can purchase any of these with confidence that you aren’t getting a piece of junk that you’ll replace in a few months. However, there are tradeoffs for each one so consider your needs carefully before making the right choice. Going for the cheapest, the most expensive, the lightest, or the most flexible could be a critical mistake if you don’t really give thought to how you’ll actually use your tripod.
My 2013 Tripod Recommendations
Thanks to the great people at B&H,I have had the pleasure of reviewing some of the coolest Gitzo tripods on the market right now as well as a excellent value tripod by Slik & Induro.
The models featured in this multi-part series are:
- Slik 700DX Pro Tripod Legs (Titanium Finish) (Review)– For less than $100 (on 5/4/2011), these are excellent tripod legs for the money. I’ve always wanted to have a economy set of legs to recommend, and now I have found one. It’s no wonder these have earned a 5 star rating from over 40 reviewers (as of 5/4/2011) on B&H. Naturally there are major trade-offs at this price point, but these will get the job done without breaking your back or bank account.
- Gitzo GT1541 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs - Supports 17.6 lbs (8kg) (Review) – I LOVE these legs! The best tripod is the one you have with you, and when your tripod is too big and bulky to carry around it’s easy to leave it at home. These are easy to attach to your backpack and carry all day, so for hikers you’ll love hearing more about this really awesome set of legs. In fact, I loved them so much that I bought these legs in August 2011 at B&H (for the same price you would pay).
- Induro Carbon 8x CT014 Tripod Legs – Supports 11 lbs (5kg) (Review) – Lust for the Gitzo GT1541, but just just can’t swing the price? This is a great alternative for $401 less (at the time of this writing), but be sure to read my warning about the stud height.
- Gitzo GT2531EX 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs - Supports 26.5 lbs (12kg) (Review) – These legs feature the killer cool rapid column and a revolutionary locking design that make this the Spiderman of tripod legs. There’s basically nothing you can’t do with these legs.
- Gitzo GT3530LS Long Systematic 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs (Review) – With no center column to reduce stability, this is basically your portable wall that can handle up to 39.6 lbs (18kg). If you are using a gimbal head to hold a big lens, then this is the ultimate solution for being able to handle big weight without carrying a tripod that weighs more than your big lens! (replaced by Gitzo GT3532LS)
You will notice that there are no Bogen Manfrotto legs in this list. This is because the legs I replace are Bogen Manfrotto and they have really let me down. I’ve had some serious problems with Manfrotto products over the last year, and my current Bogen Manfrotto legs are falling apart (see my Induro CT014 review for details). As a result, I went to the brand that everyone seems to trust the most – Gitzo for what is arguably the best legs in the business. To learn more about Gitzo, visit http://www.gitzo.com/.
What about Heads & Kits?
In August 2011, I did a tripod head comparison where you can learn more about some of the great products on the market. My recommendations are still the same in 2013.
Here’s what I used before switching to the Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 sp (Single Pan):
When it comes to heads my favorite used to be the BH-55 made by Really Right Stuff (RRS), but after having the knobs come unscrewed on me a couple times while I was teaching workshops, I switched to the Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 sp (Single Pan). I still use and enjoy the BH-55 because it’s a nice head, but I just prefer the Arca Swiss when I can’t afford a failure in the field.
Yes, good heads are insane expensive. I hate the price and I resisted them for years because I thought it was nuts to spend that much money on a stupid head. I still feel that way, but the BH-55 is the head that many people will tell you to get. It’s flexible and works extremely well.
Yes, RRS does nickel and dime you to death. Yes, their web site leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, they shouldn’t cost that much. Yes, there are Acratech, Gitzo, Induro, Kirk, Markins, etc… that people will swear on the Internet that are just as good or better. I encourage you to read my tripod head comparison article to see how they stack up against this head and make an informed decision about which head is right for you.
But what about the BH-40?
Don’t buy a BH-40 new, instead search for one used. You’ll find plenty. It’s a great head, but you’ll find that most end up needing the added support of the BH-55, so this becomes a frequent buyers remorse purchase that ends up on the used market so that the person in question can get the BH-55. You can also get a lighter head that works well for hiking by getting one of the less expensive alternatives in my tripod head comparison.
What about Monopods?
Will you be doing any other tripod reviews?
Yes. Like many of you out there, I have limited funds and would love a tripod that met more of my needs than any of the offerings in this series. I love them all, but all have trade-offs that cause me to pause when spending this kind of money (excluding the Slik & Induro). If in the future I find a better tripod, I will update this article to include a link to my review.
Aug 2013 Update: Send me your favorites and I’ll consider them for the next update
Links to Tripod Reviews
I am doing in-depth reviews of EACH of the tripods mentioned at the top of this article. Come back to this page and click the links below (when they become live) to see my reviews and photos of my 2011 tripod recommendations:
- Slik 700DX Pro Tripod Legs (Titanium Finish) – Review
- Gitzo GT1541 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs – Review (I bought this one in August 2011, and love it!)
- Gitzo GT2531EX 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs – Review (I own these too)
- Gitzo GT3530LS Long Systematic 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs – Review (replaced by Gitzo GT3532LS)
- Induro Carbon 8x CT014 Tripod Legs – Review (see the warning in the review)
- Velbon GEO E540 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod – Review (not recommended)
- Gitzo Primer (understanding the Gitzo numbering system)
B&H has provided me with the tripods featured in this series on a loaner basis. I do not get to keep them and will be returning them back to B&H if I choose not to buy them. I will probably purchase one using my own money with no special discount from B&H or the maker. Induro, Gitzo and Slik had nothing to do with this article and as of this point and time I’ve never spoken to anyone from either company.
The selections made from this article were purely based on popularity recommendations from a variety of sources. I make no guarantees of any type, but all products that I am considering to purchase for my own needs. I am simply sharing my shopping experience with you.
If you purchase using the links in the article from B&H, I may get a commission. Thank you for supporting this blog by using my links when you make your purchase.