Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A beginner photographer- how much money should you spend on a tripod?

It all depends. If you are a beginner photographer, I am going to assume that you have got an entry level DSLR camera and a kit lens for few hundred bucks. On that assumption, I am going to give  you some practical advice.  It does not make sense to spend a hundred or so dollars on tripod in my opinion and that money can be well spent on some lens to improve quality of your images.
The real question is where and how do you want to use a tripod. How serious are you about photography. I have bought and used 10 plus DSLRs so far- from mirrorless to full frame. I am not a professional photographer. I shoot for fun and I think I am a  serious enthusiast. I started with a cheap $30 tripod (I have a good quality Vanguard tripod with ball head for last 6 months but I have not yet used it!). The fact is I rarely carry a tripod with me. I use tripod in very limited situations. For indoor photos of family, gatherings, events, a tripod is not that useful as most people move within 1/50th of a second. Shooting slower than that, even on a tripod, will give you blurry photos most of the time. Plus for events and gatherings, unless you are hired to shoot, carrying a tripod is a bit of overkill IMO. Now for outdoor or travel photos, most of the time, the light is enough so you do not need slow shutter speed and hence a tripod is not needed.
When and where I use a tripod. I use a tripod when I am shooting sunset or in low light WHEN subject is not really moving much. (In this kind of situations too, I am generally able to find a place or a thing to put my camera on to keep it steady. However it is a compromise and you have to sacrifice angle/level etc but it does come handy when I don't have a tripod with me). I use tripod when I am shooting stars in a dark night, or when I want to capture silky look in moving water or a waterfall. Or sometimes, I want to take photos of myself, or a group with myself included, and in that case, with a remote control/timer, I would put my camera on a tripod. There may be few more instances but a cheap tripod has worked for me, for quite a few years.
Now coming to the main question: how much should you spend on a tripod. A cheap tripod works fine in indoor use. It works fine outdoor too but when it gets windy, you would need a good tripod. A cheap tripod also gets you shake when you use the shutter release. To overcome that, you can use 10 seconds timer so that shake is less of a problem. In case of wind, you might need to take 5-10 photos to get one usable photo with a cheap tripod but it can work.

Here, I am not trying to say the expensive tripods are useless or bad. If you can spare 100 bucks, you can get a decent tripod- new or on Craigslist/eBay. If you don't want to spend that kind of money, you can probably live with a $30 tripod. After some time, if you see a need, you can upgrade. Expensive tripods are great (I love how my new Vanguard feels!) but they are expensive, they are bulky to carry and may not suit well for many beginner photographers. If you are into family/people photography, you can buy a Canon or Nikon 50mm F1.8 lens with the money saved on a tripod and that will give you better ROI IMO.