Did You Pay Too Much for Your Tripod?

Did You Pay Too Much for Your Tripod?

Photography's expensive. Bodies, lenses, filters, software: it all adds up. But what about tripods? Do you really need to spend big on them to get what you want?

Much to my wife's chagrin (and my mother's for that matter), I'm a bit of a sentimentalist when it comes to camera gear (I much prefer "sentimentalist" to my wife's "hoarder" tag). Thus, I find it very difficult to part with even the smallest purchase that's helped me over the years, and that includes tripods. Currently at home here in Japan I have four perfectly functional tripods but I realized just the other day that I've barely used three of them for years now because the one I use most does everything I need, and more. And coming in at a paltry $70 it strengthened my belief that most photography enthusiasts (or pros) really don't need to spend big on tripods because you can get pretty much everything you need for a very affordable price.

I live in the far south of Japan, in Kyushu. It's smack bang in the middle of typhoon alley and we get more than our fair share of natural disasters year on year. Add to that the fact that I mostly shoot landscapes, nature, and surfing and do a lot of bracketing and composite work, it means I have an essential need for a reliable tripod. That's precisely why I have four: to cover me in almost any environmental condition. But as the years have rolled by I've found I only ever use my $70 Rangers tripod because no matter the conditions, it never lets me down. To be clear, this is not a sponsored post of any sort and I have absolutely no affiliation with the tripod manufacturer. I just want to explain why I use this tripod and why I think, for most people's needs, this type of tripod is more than suitable.

So what do I look for in a tripod? I'm really not too fussy, but it must be:

  • Stable (obviously, but I mean for a variety of bodies and lenses)
  • Functional (in that you can move it into various positions easily)
  • Light and portable
  • A hook to hang my bag on

That's pretty much it, really. I just want something I can transport from A to B effortlessly that will hold my camera and lens in place in a variety of situations and positions. Give me that and I'm happy. Over the years, I've used three main tripods, which you can see in the photo below.

The first two are small, portable travel tripods and the one on the right is my bigger Vanguard Alta Pro. I used the Manfrotto BeFree tripod before I got the Rangers one and also have the newer BeFree at home in Australia. It served me well here in Japan for a number of years but eventually it pretty much fell apart, no doubt because of my less than stellar handling I'm sure. One thing I really didn't like about the Manfrotto Be Free was that the little rubber stoppers on the legs fell off after only about a month of use. You can see that at the bottom of the center picture below.

This in itself was no big issue but it subsequently meant that when I collapsed and folded up the legs for storage, the last leg would often get trapped inside the leg above it because it had no stopper protection. You have no idea how many frustrated times I spent (particularly on freezing sunrise mornings) trying to dig those legs out with my fingernails. Thankfully, the stoppers on my Rangers tripod are still securely in place.

One thing to be aware of is that with these smaller, portable travel tripods you usually need to extend the center column to its maximum height. The Rangers tripod extends to a maximum height of 56 inches, so if you're very tall and you don't like stooping down, this tripod might not be for you. You can see in the image below I'm holding the Rangers tripod. The center tripod is the Manfrotto and the giant behemoth is the Vanguard, fully extended (you can see that without extending the Vanguard center column it's pretty much the same height as the two others).

Many people will tell you that it's not best practice to use your tripod with the center column fully extended, as it reduces stability. And they would be right. But when you attach your camera bag to the hook like in the image below, it adds a huge amount of extra stability. And while there's no doubting that extended center columns are theoretically less stable, I can say that using the Rangers tripod has never left me images that displayed some kind of camera shake, even during long exposures of up to five minutes. It's very stable and reliable, even when Japan throws its most inclement conditions at me.

With Lenses Attached

I shoot landscapes and surfing mostly, which means I have lenses ranging from wide angle to super telephoto zoom. And I can use all of them on my Rangers tripod. In the first image below, I have attached my Canon f/4L 70-200mm lens to my Canon 5D MKIV. It holds the lens very easily whenever I use it and according to the manufacturer's specs, it can hold up to 26.5 pounds (compared with Manfrotto BeFree's 8.8 pounds). That tall center column may be slightly off-putting but I can only speak from experience and sa I've never had an issue with camera movement during exposures.

In the second image here, I'm using my Sigma Art series f/1.4 50mm lens. I deliberately chose to put that one on because the Art Series lenses, while optically beautiful, are very big and chunky compared with some other 50mm lenses. But my Rangers tripod handles the Sigma Art without a care in the world.

This final shot is with my super telephoto Tamron f/5-6.3 150-600mm lens. It's a whopper of a lens but the Rangers tripod handles it easily. Admittedly, if it was quite windy out or if I was shooting for considerably long periods of time I'd probably use my Vanguard but if it's a quick sunrise shoot in relatively calm conditions then my Rangers tripod easily gets the job done.

Versatility

One thing I absolutely love about the Vanguard Alta Pro is the ability to fold over its center column so you can shoot perpendicular to the ground. It's a really great feature and one that I often use, especially when I'm shooting running water in rivers or over rocks. It's hard to beat it but the Rangers tripod does a pretty decent job. You can see in the photo below that it doesn't get as low as the Vanguard, nor can it get perfectly parallel to the ground, but when you fold out the legs and maneuver the ball head you can get the camera pretty low to the ground. Obviously the center column is a bit of a nuisance but you can see that the final difference in distance from the ground isn't that much.

Another great thing with the Rangers tripod is that you can convert it into a monopod. You just unscrew one leg (which is labeled as in the image below), then unscrew and detach the center columns then screw the center columns and the detached leg together. The monopod can be used at a maximum height of 57 inches (perfect standing height for me at 167 cms) or you can use it at kneeling or sitting height. I never had that feature with the Manfrotto BeFree. It might be there on newer versions but I can't be sure. I love having the monopod when I'm shooting surfing from the beach. It's great to just rest the camera on it when I'm not shooting, or when I'm talking to someone in the surf and it saves my arms a lot of aches and pains.

Conclusion

I first wanted to finish off by saying that while I'm comfortable paying a premium price for gear such as bodies and lenses, I'm also happy to sacrifice a little on tripods. But then I thought that was wrong because I haven't sacrificed anything. I now use a $70 tripod that meets every single one of my needs and has more than many of its more expensive counterparts — some of which I own. Particularly with photography, I've nearly always been of the belief that you get what you pay for, but with tripods I feel differently. When I wanted to replace my Manfrotto I took a chance on this much cheaper version and I have barely picked up a different tripod since. I think for most people's needs a tripod such as the one I've outlined today is more than suitable. Of course, you can compare similar items and get one that you like most for your circumstances, but for most of us I really don't think there's any need to spend much more when you can get so much bang for buck with tripods on the market today.

Of course, all of this points to me having paid far too much for my previous tripods but it's better late than never to get it right. What are your thoughts? How do you feel about tripods and what do you think is an acceptable price? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

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49 Comments

"I'm a bit of a sentimentalist when it comes to camera gear"

Not when it comes to lenses. Sheesh. Stop leaving them on the ground for heaven's sake!

Johnny Rico's picture

I've learned the safest place for a camera when not in your hand/camera stand/case is on the ground. Every friend of mine that has dropped a camera or lens has been when left on a table or cart. I'd rather kick it then have a 4' fall.

Iain Stanley's picture

Couldn’t agree more. A soft, grassy backyard? I can’t think of a better place for my lenses when I’m doing quick interchanges.

I think the premise is wrong. Author seems to be saying you don't need to spend a lot on a tripod. I think it is more inclined to be; "The Rangers tripod* I bought for just $70 kicks tripod ass."

*includes a pano ball head w/plate

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes it does. But I was mindful of trying not to make it sound like some kind of Rangers promo, coz it isn’t. On most photo gear/vendor sites you can find similarly priced/featured tripods that you might prefer for whatever reason. Whether it’s a Ranger for $70 or an XXX tripod for $75, I think you can get an amazing amount of value for money out of some current tripods in the market. And yeah, I should have spoken about the pano ball head with plate too. Plus an inbuilt level. Amazing for $70....

From my experience, $75 doesn't take you very far. Your Rangers model seems to be a great value, not found in the cheaper stuff. I have a crazy priced Gitzo, but bought it used, after shopping around and seeing nothing but junk at the lower tier.

Well, you are right about one thing. You're not going to get much credibility here by shooting with the center column extended. That option is a last resort only. How do these articles get published? Total waste of time.

Eric Salas's picture

This comment was a waste of time. You want credibility for yourself considering you commented like this but yet you fail to upload a single photo to your account and have a profile photo worthy of a dating game application from the 80s.

Might want to fix that before spouting off at the mouth.

Iain Stanley's picture

Producing photographs I’m proud of and my clients are happy with is where my heart lies. Steve is right in that center columns should not ideally be fully extended like that but as I said in the article, this has never proved an issue for me and this tripod allows me to do lots of bracketing, composite work and LE shots. So as long as it keeps doing the job, I’ll keep extending that center column....

Eric Salas's picture

People can say not to do things all the time but as you said I too have never had an issue with extending the center column and having it produce a sub par image. I’ve never seen an image and said to myself, “this asshole must have had his tripod setup incorrectly”.

I’ve fully supported using cheaper tripods and commented what this article states quite a few times. Parents only last so long and knockoffs are pretty good.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes, in the 10,347 articles online about how to get tack sharp images, I think you'd struggle to find one that says "don't extend your tripod's center column." But alas, perhaps we are renegades.....and you're absolutely right about knock-offs (or cheaper versions). Money talks, and if the quality is up there most people will always go the cheaper option

Mr Hogwallop's picture

No, not really renegades, just thrifty!
One of the rules of thumb I learned while assisting (from a person, not Youtube) was not to use any tripod at full extension unless you have to. Extending the center post is the last way to get height, and try to keep it half extended.
Tripods get splindly at full height, it's the center of gravity thing....But we were using Deardoffs shooting long exposures on 8x10

I have probably 8 tripods. Manfrotto, Majestic, Miller, Marchioni Tiltall, Gitzo (in small medium and giant) Induro CF, Gorilla pod. I've tried to sell a few but most people want to buy a cheap $70 one knowing it will be replaced in a few years, rather than $80 for a 15 year old Gitzo that will last for another 15 years.

Don't get me wrong, the cheap knock offs are 1000% better than they were just 10 years ago.

Iain Stanley's picture

That makes zero sense to me. A Gitzo for $80? People don’t know what they’re missing I guess. What type of Gitzo is it? But yes, people are obsessed with new stuff.....the shinier the better

Mr Hogwallop's picture

What makes no sense?
I was trying to sell a vintage 3 series non carbon fiber for 120 then 100 then 80 then some guy offered $50. It ain't pretty but I'll stick a cup holder on it and put it next the couch for that price.
There are tons of deals if you are willing to buy used, look at Craigslist, go to studio going out of business sales. Probably need to buy a head, that will run you $20-$400 depending on what you need.

Many people don't know and they don't know they don't know. So they buy a disposable shiny gadget from Amazon.

Iain Stanley's picture

Sorry, I was writing with one hand with my daughter on my lap. It makes no sense that people would knock back the chance at getting a Gitzo for $80 in favour of a cheap knock-off for $70. If I could get a RRS or Gitzo etc for $80 I’d walk through a wall to get it. I got my $70 tripod and it’s been great for me, but I’m not so deluded to think it will still be with me 5 years from now in perfect working order....

It’s one big disadvantage of living in Japan - it rules out many used sites. Of course, Japan has many such sites but my readig of kanji (characters) is not the best so I need my wife to do all the wheelingn and dealing and organizing. And with 2 young kids, I don’t put that on her :)

I wasn't looking for credibility in making my comment. I was merely speaking from decades of field experience and research. And yes, I can see how my comment seemed somewhat flippant. However, I stand by my statement. I've never witnessed a professional photographer raise their center column, either in person, in print, or in videos. On the contrary, I've read plenty of advise against it. Even a solid tripod without the center column raised is often insufficient for critically sharp images. Locking the mirror up and using a remote release and other techniques are often required to get the highest quality image a camera/lens has to offer.

With regard to credibility, any publication that includes articles on penis cameras is certainly not going to win any journalism awards. I'm done with Fstoppers.

Eric Salas's picture

You won’t be missed! Bye Felicia

Iain Stanley's picture

Well, I’m not actually looking for credibility through the way I use a tripod. I just need a tripod that does everything I need it to do, and the current tripod I use, in all its longnecked glory, fulfills that role.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

What caught my eye is that mini split condenser unit should be a least a 12 inches or more from the house. Installer must not have been properly trained or failed read the installation book. However the enclosed line set looks good.

Tripod wise what ever works best for ya. Just don't go too cheap as you get what you pay for. I've got some good deals at B+H deal zone, B+H used (ball head) and Craigslist.

Iain Stanley's picture

I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say construction, and reconstruction, are not my strong points. With this tripod, if you want to convert it into a monopod, you need to detach one leg, then unscrew and separate the 2-part center column, then screw those 3 parts together to get your long monopod. Does something look off to you here?

Mr Hogwallop's picture

In that case I'd just buy a $40 monopod :)

E S's picture

Good eye on the condenser issue! I missed it when I glanced at the photo. Very perceptive!

Dylan Schaiterer's picture

I've got both the Ranger and the Alta Pro. Had the Ranger for about a year and a half, and the Alta Pro for 2-3 months. The Ranger is definitely and awesome little travel tripod, but it starts to get flimsy when you've got the legs extended wide on rough terrain. The Alta Pro with the center swivel column is by far much more stable but a pain in comparison to hike around with. The Ranger has started to rust a bit in the leg-lever hardware, but it's still usable. I use the Alta when I can, and the Ranger when the Alta is too big and heavy.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yeah exactly how I feel, though the Ranger has remained in pretty good condition for me thus far, considering I toss it round like it’s my wallet in my dog’s mouth.

I love the Alta Pro but it’s so weighty and bulky that it really becomes noticeably annoying to lug around on lengthy shoots or on lengthy hikes.

It’s one or other - light and portable, or super sturdy and bulky. A happy medium would be ideal but I temd to favour the Ranger 90% of the time coz it gets the job done 90% of the time.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I think I’ll stick to a solid tripod that’s big enough to support my kit without winding the centre column all the way out. Very unstable like that.
Manfrotto 055 carbon has and is serving me very well. Fits in a pelicase for travel and hasn’t let me down. More importantly, I’m not going to scrimp on a piece of kit that has 1000’s worth of camera sitting on top of it.

Iain Stanley's picture

very valid points. In most cases, my Ranger does the job I need it to. If I know I'm heading into a more precarious predicament, then I'll definitely opt for the more robust Alta Pro. But as I said, thus far the Ranger has done the job well.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I've never even heard of the Ranger or Alta Pro, Possibly not imported over here. Off to have a Google.

Iain Stanley's picture

The Vanguard Alta Pro is a very popular tripod. The Ranger, not so much. I think the links are in the article

user-164303's picture

I tend to agree with him, I don't use the Ranger though. Last year I bought a Manfrotto Elements tripod for about half price in a special offer. It is light, which as I got it for travelling with was essential, it has the ability to take off a leg to use as a monopod. The included head is good enough for doing left or right pano shots. Is it a perfect tripod, no but it is pretty much the perfect compromise for my usage whilst travelling. I have a couple of other tripods and heads at home that are rarely used now, in fact, last time I think was for a speed light for off-camera flash.

I think at heart most of us suffer from gear acquisition syndrome to a greater or lesser degree. I and I suspect many others often think we must always get the best we can afford. Sometimes a bargain is all that we need and to spend the money saved on getting out and taking photographs rather than in photo stores.

Iain Stanley's picture

"I think at heart most of us suffer from gear acquisition syndrome". Never a truer word spoken. Do we need, or use half the gear we acquire? I certainly don't. Doesn't mean I'll get rid of it any time soon though haha!

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