Choosing the best tripod
With a range of tripods available, the choice can be overwhelming. Here we try to help you navigate the Vanguard range with what we hope is a simple guide based on the style(s) of photography you may looking to do.
SOME KEY FEATURES TO CONSIDER
Traditional: Just goes up and down, but saves a little weight and cost. Just make sure it can be reversed or has a low angle adaptor if you want to do low angle/macro.
Multi-Angle: Allows you to move the central column to the subject. Perfect for macro, overhead and product photography.
None: A central column can be a point of weakness so for the most solid base some tripods come without one. Look for a levelling system instead, or attach a dual axis ball head.
Stability v Portability
As a rule of thumb, tripods with larger diameter legs and fewer leg sections will be more solid, but less portable. At the other end of the scale, a travel tripod will be incredibly portable, but probably won't be solid enough for the most precise shots. Both styles of tripod have their place in a photographers kits, but every photographer has to strike a balance between stability and portability.
A good tripod is designed to support your photography over the years, but they will wear. Most new Vanguard tripods are CNC machined which means load bearing aluminium parts are sourced from specialist producers and machined down for maximum quality and performance. While almost all our tripod leg locks can be cleaned, look for our easy clean leg locks, especially if your photoshoots take you to more challenging locations.
Tripods used to come with quick release plates that were designed to be used with specific tripod heads. This allowed dedicated quick release systems, but meant if you lost that quick release plate, it may be difficult to replace. Now Arca compatible plates are becoming an industry standard, allowing you to use almost any suitable plate from any brand, maximising the life of your tripod head and allowing you to use specialist quick release plates from other brands.
Tripods have become more that just three legs with a head. Technology like CNC has allowed designs to evolve so you can do more. Key features that you may wish to consider are:
- Choice of rubber and/or spiked feet
- Separate pan lock
- Smartphone capability
- A leg that converts to a monopod
- Thread holes for magic arms and accessories.
Why go for a dual axis ball head?
Ball heads are definitely more popular with photographers as they generally offer more flexibility, greater load capacities and less bulk than a pan head. But now brands like Vanguard are launching more "dual axis" ball heads which have the traditional 360° axis in the base, with a second 360° axis below the quick release plate.
Benefits: These allow more control in framing any shot, but the key benefit is that you can level your tripods on any terrain without fiddling around with leg lengths and angles. Simply place your tripod on the ground, level the top plate using the ball, then take perfect panoramas or reframe any shot by simply rotating the top 360° axis.
Cons: Tend to be a little more expensive than a traditional ball head.
Whether you're using a dedicated video camera, or a DSLR/mirrorless camera for your videos, levels and stability is key. While you can achieve this with a good video head, it can limit the footage you can shoot, so you ideally want the tripod to incorporate an easy to level system.
As level is a key feature, we'd recommend a tripod with a levelling system in place of a centre column. This allows you to set the tripod level and use the head for tracking your subject without worrying about levels. At Vanguard we focus on a 1/2 bowl design that can tilt ±15° and pan 360° to set your level in seconds.
For the most stable base, we recommend our tripods with a 30mm maximum leg diameter, with load capacities of up to 25kg. These deliver an incredibly solid base, but are heavier and chunkier to carry around.
Where there needs to be a balance with portability, then the 26mm maximum leg diameter tripods are a good compromise, though you may need to accept a more traditional tripod centre column. You can go smaller leg diameters, but then you're getting into travel tripod territory which we cover later in this buying guide.
LANDSCAPE, LONG LENS, TIME LAPSE OR ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY
For styles like landscape, long lens, time lapse or astro photography, stability is key as the slightest movement can blur an image. However, there is always the balance between stability and carrying the tripod to your location.
Like video tripods, for the most stable base, we recommend our tripods with a 30mm maximum leg diameter, with load capacities of up to 25kg. These deliver an incredibly solid base, but are heavier and chunkier to carry around.
Where there needs to be a balance with portability, then the 26mm maximum leg diameter tripods are a good compromise, though the lighter options are unlikely to be suitable for more exact work, such as astro photography. You can go smaller leg diameters, but then you're getting into travel tripod territory which we cover later in this buying guide.
These tripods include options that have a multi-angle central column for maximum versatility (look for "+" in the name), or traditional central columns. Many are also available as tripods only, or include a choice of Arca compatible heads (we'd recommend models with the dual axis ball head for quick levels on uneven terrain, and the most solid grip)
MACRO, FOOD OR PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY
Versatility is key for macro, food or product photography. Whether it's in a studio or in the field, you need to be able to position the camera in the right position, which may include fitting over or around obstacles. You'll also benefit from the ability to attach accessories to turn your tripod into a studio, without the need for multiple stands.
The VEO 3+ and VEO 3T+ include a multi-angle central column that moves almost 360° in any direction, allowing you to perfectly position the camera for the shot. They also include the ability to attach accessories (such as lighting or a monitor) to the central column, with a thread for an accessory arm on the side of the central column spider.
With a choice of Arca compatible heads and sizes to choose from, and aluminium or carbon options, you can choose the setup that's right for you.
If you want to save a little money and don't need all the features, then you could also consider the original Alta Pro Series (not Arca compatible), or the Alta Pro 2+ (Arca compatible), but the build, ease of use and features on the VEO series are significantly upgraded.
If you have a traditional tripod and you want to do overhead shots, you could consider the VEO MT-12 Multi-Mount which can fit onto any tripod.
Travel photography is driven by portability and for Vanguard, the key criteria is that the tripod must fold down to under 50cm. Weight is clearly important too, but heavier travel tripods are generally more stable as the core weight bearing components are more substantial.
The VEO 3T+ Series is the travel sized version of the VEO 3+ which our most versatile and stable tripod, but in travel size, folding down to as little as 46cm and packing a host of features, including a multi-angle central column making it perfect for any style of photography.
The VEO 3T Series has a traditional central column but improved leg locks that maximise stability, folding down to as little as 41cm, and comes in two models. The "BP" models (for Ball/Pan) are packed with features for vloggers, using a smartphone or camera. The "P" models (for Pan) are a more traditional 2-way pan solution for a camera, but the quick release plate can be rotated 90° to make it a 3-way solution.
The VEO 3GO Series is our most portable series, folding down to as little as 33.5cm and weighing as little as 820g, but with the 26mm models extending to 166cm and carrying up to 10kg, and the ball head models include a smartphone adaptor kit. There are also pan head models which can be used with a camera, but include an extra long quick release plate with spring pin that is primarily designed for spotting scopes, but can be used with a camera by adding a suitable quick release plate such as the Arca compatible QS-65 for mirrorless cameras or the QS-74 for DSLR cameras.
The VESTA TB Series is our no frills, lightweight travel tripod that folds to 37.5cm and weighs as little as 780g.
As smartphone cameras become more powerful, we're developing more products that cross the divide between cameras and smartphones. These are all products that are designed to cope with a camera, but include additional smartphone capability.
The VEO 3GO Travel Tripods (ball head models only) are the simplest, most portable options weighing as little as 820g, with a VEO PA-10 smartphone holder and a VEO BT-11 Bluetooth remote control.
VEO 3T Travel Tripods ("BP" models only) are more stable travel options with an Arca compatible ball head that has a QS-72T quick release plate for smartphones and cameras, and a removable pan handle.
Or the VEO 2S Monopods have tri-feet for additional stability with the minimum footprint, and a choice of smartphone holders. The monopod alone includes a free smartphone kit, while the models with heads include an Arca compatible QS-72 quick release plate that can be used for cameras or smartphones.
Alternatively, we sell a number of Accessories that are great for using with your smartphone.
TRIPODS FOR TALL PHOTOGRAPHERS
Taller tripods are great to avoid taller photographers stooping to the camera which can cause neck ache when used over an extended period. That said, taller tripods are also great for smaller photographers as it generally minimises the need to use the central column or the lowest leg sections, maximising stability. The downside can be portability though
Full Sized Tripods that extend to over 165cm generally has fewer leg sections and a single central column, maximising stability. However, they tend to be longer and heavier which makes them harder to carry over longer distances or more rugged terrain, and you will need a more capable camera backpack for them.
Travel Tripods that extend to over 165cm need more leg sections, and often include extra sections to maximise height. However, they are a great option where portability is key.
SPOTTING SCOPE TRIPODS
Spotting scope tripods need to provide a stable base with minimal use of the central column, with a good 2-way pan head to control the movement with one hand, leaving the other hand free to adjust the focus/zoom to follow a bird in flight. There should ideally also be a longer quick release plate with a non-twist spring pin to attach your spotting scope to, but look out for Arca compatible heads as more brands (including Vanguard) are designing their spotting scope feet to fit directly into these clamps without the need for a quick release plate.
Our Full Sized Tripods include models that extend up to 143cm without using the central column (up to 176cm with the central column extended) with a load capacity up to 8kg which will carry the largest spotting scope with ease.
If you're planning a birding holiday, the portability becomes a key consideration as it can be difficult to pack a full sized tripod, and tiring to carry when you reach your destination. Our Travel Tripods are designed to offer the blend of portability and performance. VEO 3GO puts portability first by folding down to 33cm and weighing just 1100g, while VEO 3T blends portability with improved stability.
All our spotting scope tripods include 2-way Arca compatible pan heads.
ARCA COMPATIBLE QUICK RELEASE PLATES
Most tripod heads are now moving to Arca compatible clamps as an unofficial industry standard. This allows you to:
- Select specialist Arca compatible quick release plates from almost any brand
- Buy different designed quick release plates for different purposes and use on the same head
- Increases the likelihood of replacing a lost quick release plate if your tripod has been discontinued
Hopefully this summary of the tripods available helps you shortlist the best model(s) for your styles, but if you have any questions, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with your requirements and one of our product experts will be happy to help. If you'd prefer a call back, just include a telephone number.