You Really Do Need a Good Tripod

I rant and rave about the pitfalls of gear lust in our industry and how this expensive little vice can ruin a photographer’s creative spirit. Folks that hear me speak or attend my workshops get the same worn out lecture over and over (just ask Glenn).

However, to be a successful landscape photographer you really do have to invest in a sturdy but light-weight carbon-fiber tripod and a good quality ball head & clamp. This is the one area where you just can’t “go cheap” and get by on something less. And folks, this is going to set you back over $750. (Sorry Lesley, I just had to write this!)

I strongly urge you to buy a Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod and a Really Right Stuff ball head & clamp. Or if you’re feeling very generous, look at one of RRS’s brand new carbon-fiber tripods made in the USA. Either Gitzo or RRS gear will last a lifetime (or longer) and your back will thank you on every hike you make to capture those great landscape shots.

Getting a shot as sharp as the image below takes a rock-steady tripod. Hiking the miles it takes to find this type of location takes a strong back and a lot of stamina. Try lugging around a ten pound tripod and see how many of these shots you miss from sheer exhaustion. Do yourself and your craft a favor. Get yourself a carbon-fiber tripod!

By way of a disclaimer for the FTC, I have a very good relationship with both Gitzo and Really Right Stuff. I pay them for their fine products and they happily accept my money just as they do for thousands of other photographers. šŸ˜‰

Dusk on the Pedernales

Dusk on the Pedernales – Johnson City, Texas
Copyright Ā© 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 20mm, f/16 for 0.8 seconds at ISO 200 using a Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer filter. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

26 thoughts on “You Really Do Need a Good Tripod

  1. My foray into dslr photography will be much more fun and likely have much better results due to your advice. :-). My gitzo tripod is here and the rrs head arrives Thursday. Taking a vacation day Friday to have 3 days with the new gear. Thanks! Melissa

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  3. I have used a Gitzo CF tripod for a few years and it is one of the best investments I have made in camera gear. I have found that it has fewer bells & whistles, which are unnecessary anyway. Because of this I use it much more often. I do not have a RRS ball head though. Here in the US it seems to be very popular but elsewhere it seems the Markins ball heads are very popular. I have 2 of them and have been very pleased. They are very well built and I am pleased with the quality.

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  5. I originally purchased a good quality $350 Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 488RC2 ballhead. However, now having my Gitzo Traveler, RSS BH-30, and custom L-plate, there really is no comparison in quality. More than just the extreme weight difference, its just a sturdy and vibration free platform. The ability to quickly clamp the camera, both vertical and horizontal over the center of the tripod is another big plus. You can buy a cheap aluminum product for $70, a heavier Manfrotto as I did for $350, or the Gitzo / RSS combo. All of them have 3 legs and something to connect the camera, but all three won’t perform the same, last as long, or provide the same sharp result for an image of a waterfall shot at 6 seconds at 200mm. This really is a quality, get what you pay for, decision. I wish I had bought the right one the first time, but at least I have now.

    The Manfrotto is a good choice for under $400, but I have to agree with Jeff, wait and get the Gitzo/RSS. (I understand RSS is coming out with a competing product to the Gitzo Traveler, but it may be several months. The current RSS tripod is a larger model.)

  6. I look at it this way, if you want quality, you buy quality. It’s an investment just like a lens is. You’ll use a tripod of this caliber for years and years. Thanks for the advice, Jeff! Notice I did not say recommendation. šŸ˜‰

  7. I agree that carbon fibre is the only way to go with a tripod. Velbon sell some good cf tripods that are a good deal cheaper than Gitzo, and still have excellent build quality and durability. Mine’s not showing any signs of wear after a couple of years of heavy use while travelling, and it’s been on the outside of bags that have been thrown into little local buses around Asia. Ballhead’s got a few chips, but the tripod itself is still as good as the day I bought it. šŸ™‚

  8. Oh my goodness… I’m lucky I got my Canon 40D, the price…. I don’t think I’ll get my husband to swing for it. Is there something a bit less expensive that would be comparable?

    I totally know what you mean about the inexpensive tripod’s. My middle school students tore the 2 up I had for the classroom after only a few weeks. But, they’re kids and don’t care for things that don’t belong to them.

    • Lloyd,

      Thanks for reading. I honestly recommend saving till you have enough for a carbon-fiber tripod. Buy the best you can and buy it only once.


  9. Interesting and good blog post. Matter of fact I am looking for a new tripod myself. For I have recently gotten back into photography and started a photo section on my blog as well.

    • Breland,

      Thanks for reading. Yes, a good quality, light-weight tripod is very expensive but honestly, it makes all the difference in the world in getting really sharp landscape shots. I’ve owned many different tripods over the years and was never satisfied because the sturdy ones were so darn heavy. Rather than buying three or four different tripods and working your way up to the expensive carbon-fiber models, you’ll spend way less if you save till you can afford a Gitzo or Really Right Stuff model and then buy it only once.


  10. I love your photographs, and I agree tripods are not a “Go cheap” item. I’ve had the key’s fall apart, and the bolt strip extremely easy.

  11. Jeff,

    Firstly, congratulations on your “Freshly Pressed” milestone! It’s official…you are a “rock star” in your realm! Secondly…I saw your FTC disclaimer…If you can impart some words of wisdom to me, on what necessitates such a statement, I would be appreciate it. I am new on the WordPress scene. I am committed to “getting it right” and I wish to follow great examples!

    • Curt,

      Thanks for reading. Not quite sure I’m cut out for the “rock star” billing. I’m just an old fart in Texas with a camera. As for my “FTC Disclaimer”, that’s an inside joke among bloggers that review or recommend equipment. The FTC now feels we’re offering product endorsements like an actor does in a TV commercial. My disclaimer is a way of telling the FTC to mind their own business and that the opinions expressed in my blog are my own. I don’t advertise and I don’t accept sponsorships, so my editorial content falls under “free speech” rather than commerce.


  12. Jeff is faithful on giving that lecture for sure, unfortunately I apparently am not a good listener.

    I thought I was good with my aluminum Manfrotto, but after lugging it for those all those miles we hiked and seeing how carefree Jeff was with his Gitzo/RSS, I now have my own – but its closer to $1000 with L-plate, plate for my 70-200, RSS clamp for my monopod (hey why stop with just the tripod), RSS ball head and Gitzo Traveler.

    It isn’t so much gear lust (that happened when I bought the Nikon 24-70 after borrowing Josh’s on the trip) as saving my old aching back…and being able to keep up with my wife on hiking trips.

  13. Jeff, you must be right – Glenn has already purchased both and just loves his carbon-fiber tripod. Now we can cover more miles even faster!!! Leslie

  14. So, I boght a Aluminium Tripod for $40. It will not last a lifetime, but is chip and light-weight enough for me.

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