Modern cameras support fantastic image stabilization, and ISO noise is not a problem anymore. We can shoot freehand in dusk conditions and get stunning, sharp photos. So, have tripods become obsolete?
In my latest video on YouTube, I discussed the question of if tripods are obsolete today due to the fast development of technology. Those who watch my videos regularly might know some weeks ago, I was hiking up a mountain in the early morning for landscape photography and forgot my tripod, so I had to shoot freehand in the fog. This might sound like a photographer’s nightmare, but I got fantastic photographs that day. This raised the question among my audience if the usage of tripods has become obsolete. Has it? Let’s have a look at why we had to use tripods some years ago and earlier.
Making Movement Visible
Whenever we want to expose longer than we are able to hold our camera without shake, we have to use anything that stabilizes our camera. This is basically why tripods were invented. Just think about a nice water scene where you want to get motion blur in the water or blurry clouds due to their movement. We have to expose longer than we were able to hold our camera quietly in our hands. The solution is a tripod. The camera is fixed on the tripod, and with a longer exposure, we are able to make the movements visible inside our scene.
Modern cameras offer in-body image stabilization, which allows you to expose five stops longer or even more. Are tripods obsolete? Before I answer this question, let’s have a look at another use case first.
The Amount of Light
Especially in landscape photography, where we are used to not photographing with artificial light sources, we have often faced the situation of not having enough light for shorter shutter speeds. A tripod helps here, as it allows us to expose for seconds, without getting shake into our images.
But modern cameras support the usage of a quite high ISO without getting too much noise, which brings the exposure time amazingly low. In combination with image stabilization, the need for a tripod seems to fade away here. So, do we still need a tripod? Or has it become a relic from a time with poor technology?
Where Is a Tripod Still Useful Today?
I forgot my tripods some weeks ago, and I got some fantastic photographs, although it was early in the morning and we had fog. Some photos are even offered as fine art prints on my website. But I want to be absolutely honest with you: it was “photography on the edge.” It nearly didn’t work. And the reason is that I had to focus stack all my images, as I was too close to my foregrounds. I didn’t want to change my compositions, as I was happy with them. I had to focus stack, but focus stacking without a tripod doesn’t work. You have to take at least two exposures with two different focus points, better three or even four. And if you want to blend them in Photoshop afterward, they have to be aligned with each other. This doesn’t work when you are shooting freehand, as you change your composition slightly with each exposure. It is impossible to find the same camera position again after changing the focus point. So I didn’t focus stack, but my photos were pin-sharp.
Well, I stopped down as much as possible to increase the depth of field. For one photograph, I had to stop down to f/18. I used my Sony 24-70mm GM lens on my Sony a7R IV. But this was not enough, as the foreground was still blurry. So, I tried to shift the focus point a tiny bit more to the foreground. That made the foreground got sharp without the background becoming blurry.
If I had had my tripod with me, I had stopped down just to f/14 maybe, and then taken three exposures with different focus points for focus stacking. Had this led to better results? Let me be honest: when we start with pixel-peeping, then you might see a difference between f/14 and f/18. But I had no problem with printing the f/18 image at two meters width or something like that. It is absolutely sharp.
I’m really happy that it worked, and I went home with some fantastic photographs. But I nearly failed due to the high depth of field I needed and the fact that focus stacking wasn’t possible. Beyond that, it would have been much easier with a tripod. But there is another reason why I prefer to use this three-legged thing.
The Biggest Advantage Tripods Offer
When camera and lens technology has come to a development point where it seems that we don’t need a tripod anymore, there is one thing we should never forget: a tripod helps us to fine-tune our composition. I always look for a rough composition first, and then, I fine-tune it on my tripod. I can think about all the things we need to consider for composition, and when I get it as perfect as possible, I just have to wait for the right light. This is why tripods will maybe never become obsolete for me, even when image stabilization is able to stabilize 20 stops and when we can use ISO 50,000 without any noise. It will always be in my bag, unless I forget it, of course.
We want you to leave a comment below if you prefer to photograph with or without a tripod. And watch the above-mentioned video to get more tips about this topic, especially for landscape photography.