Over the years, the tripod became one of my favourite pieces of photo equipment. I got used to take it with me for travelling and other occasions and it has always paid for itself. Sadly, my tripod I have used until now has been worn out. Admittedly, being a cheap tripod for around USD 100, it has done a good job for many years. However, the black coating flakes off on some areas and the clamp mechanism that holds the legs in their extended position can’t always securely hold the legs so they randomly slide in. While the first point is only an optical defect, the second flaw is a true concern for the safety of my camera. For these reasons, I decided to go for a professional tripod.
There are hundreds of tripods available and depending on individual requirements and personal preferences, one should at least take the following considerations into account:
The weight of a tripod can have various implications on its performance. While a heavy tripod offers greater stability and can typically carry heavier cameras (see load capacity), they are less suitable for taking them to travel. Conversely, a lightweight tripod is ideal for travel, however it will be more suscepible to wind and other vibrations, and can affect sharpness of the images. Therefore, it can be recommended to weight it down with ballast (small bag filled with stones and attached to the center column), although the weight of a DSLR should usually suffice to achieve high stability.
The materials that a tripod is made of will affect its weight, stability and durability. For modern materials, it is typical that reduced weight and improved characteristics will in turn increase production cost significantly. For the legs and center column, the three primary materials used for tripods are aluminum, basalt and carbon fibre. Still, independently from the primary materials, other components on a tripod are usually made of aluminum, magnesium, other metals and composites. Especially the connecting parts are made of different materials than the telescopic legs.
A tripod is normally designed with telescopic legs so that it can be expanded to various heights. The most interesting specifications of a tripod are the maximum tripod height and the minimum height. For tall photographers, it is recommendable to use a tripod that covers a camera height of at least 1,60m. On the other hand, macro photographers might be interested in the minimum height at which the camera can be set to the ground. Therefore, some tripods allow to mount the camera upside down to the lower end of the center column so that it can be brought to the ground very closely.
The folded height of a tripod refers to its size when the legs have been fully retracted and is an indicator of whether a tripod is suitable for easy transportation. Tripods that can reach a small folded height have an increased number of leg sections than standard ones. Most tripod legs have three sections, though some have as many as six.
A tripod head is a fastening device that holds the camera on the tripod and secures the angle of the camera. A tripod head may be inseparably connected to the tripod, or may be sold separately. There are two main types of tripod heads. Pan and Tilt heads allow to adjust the dimensional axes separately. This can be useful if one axis position should be held in position while the camera should only be rotated, this can be done without misplacing the other setting. A ball head allows for adjustment of multiple axes at once. This is ideal if many different adjustments have to be made to the camera without operating separate axis levers. In addition, ball heads usually have an own rotation axis.
The load capacity is an important piece of information on whether the tripod is suitable to hold larger DSLR cameras and lenses. The force applied by the camera weight does not only act on the tripod head, but also the leg fixation mechanism.
Leg Fixation Mechanism
The quality and effectiveness of the leg fixation mechanisms, so it is If the mechanisms seem to be made of a low-quality plastic, chances are good that they will not hold up over long periods of time.
As always, the price is directly related to quality and durability. It should be considered that inexpensive tripods may be well suitable for the intended purposes, but might lack some of the properties explained before. On the other side, professional tripods are likely to become a long lasting companion. Still, it is recommended to read or view product reviews on the internet to ensure that even the more expensive tripods are reasonably priced.
Review Sirui N-1204X and Sirui K-10X
Thinking about my requirements, it was clear that I need a tripod that is compact, lightweight, extendible to a fairly high camera height and that has a durable leg adjustment mechanism. My other aluminum tripod has a weight of 2,0 kg. Having made some long walks on city trips, I can tell that this weight should not be underestimated.
After quite some comparisons on the internet, I purchased the Sirui N-1204X carbon fiber tripod for around USD 460 (EUR 406) and Sirui K-10X ball head for USD 146 (EUR 129) last week. I created some unboxing snapshots to share the first impressions.
At the first glance, the Sirui N-1204X is consistently well manufactured and feels very luxurious to the touch. The legs swing very firmly which gives a feeling of security. To position the tripod, the legs have to be turned to the opposite side at an angle of roughly 160 degrees. While turning the leg, the locking clamp snaps in with a pleasant noise whenever a calibrated position has been reached. All parts are joined together so well that no part feels loose. Especially the leg clamps feel surprisingly safe – they appear to be a lot more durable than the ones on my previous tripod.
The tripod itself has a weight of 1,12 kilograms which is incredibly lightweight. However, the ball head adds 0,35 kilograms to this, so the total weight of the Sirui tripod and head is 1,47 kg which is great in my opinion. The ball head feels very solid and holds my 7D with 17-55mm lens firmly in place. I am looking forward to working with these new pieces of equipment!