How to choose a tripod for your camera

December 20, 2016

You may remember I attended a macro photography workshop a couple of years ago. I distinctly remember the room gasp when I announced I didn’t actually have a tripod. Someone asked what I used for macro and my response was “my thighs”. That was followed was a general feeling of disbelief. I’m sure they thought I was joking. Truth be told, I do whatever it takes to get the shot whether it be kneeling, lying or standing in the rain. Perhaps that’s just me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted a tripod for years. Not just to up my macro photography game but to push myself when capturing people, places and products. We’re also seriously lacking in photographs of us as a family which we must get better at in 2017. The only reason I’ve not bought a tripod in the past is because I had no idea what to purchase. I’m not one for staying in the same place for long so I don’t want to be restricted. I need a tripod that’s light but also sturdy. Last time I sought assistance in a shop, I was given so many options I left empty handed so I’ve just made do without.

But there comes a time when you really need a tripod and macro photography is a great example of that. I have a fascination for making the small look big and the inner workings of a flower are a particular love although I experiment with all sorts. The margin for error with macro is huge so there’s often a need for patience and a steady hand. But surely it would be easier with a tripod given I don’t actually have the steadiness?

Thankfully Calumet Photographic, who have been around for a 75 years, has come to my aid with their 7100 tripod. It’s suitable for digital and 35mm SLR cameras and ideal for travelling and shooting in the field. Key features include four-section legs with quick release leg locks for speed, three position leg angle adjustments so you can achieve the desired height and a split shaft centre column for low angle shooting. There’s also a tilt head and quick release plate for camera mounting and locking. Rather than potter round in the garden, I decided to take the plunge and head to RHS Wisley for testing out the tripod. It fits in this bag perfectly so it was easy to carry with the rest of my camera gear on my back. The quick release plate was simple to remove which made mounting my camera really straightforward. You literally just click out the plate, screw on your camera and click it back into place. Each leg can be set to three different leg angles so it was brilliant to see how quickly you can change from one height to another. The centre column height can be adjusted too with a knob locking it in place. Each movement on the head has its own lock too whether you require a side to side tilt, forward to back tilt or pan. I thought it would take ages to get used to but it didn’t at all. The tripod was nice and light but felt sturdy enough for what I wanted to do. Initially it was all about familiarising myself with it.

Having made stopped off at the Alpine House at RHS Wisley, I headed down to the enormous Glasshouse. With three temperature zones, there’s always lots to see there whatever the time of year. From the festive displays and orchids to plants that look like yellow fingers! The tropical zone is always a personal favourite but with Butterflies at the Glasshouse kicking off in January, there was less to photograph at tripod level. Of course I’ll be back to capture the butterflies with my tripod in the New Year but in the meantime, there were colourful Christmas blooms I could practice on.

This had to be the ultimate test – capturing flowers with a tripod close-up. As I’m used to leaning on walls or kneeling on something, at first it felt a little strange using a tripod. But it took very little time to adapt and then it was a bit like being reborn! The main difference was not having to refocus plus I took a lot less shots because I’d eliminated those cold shaky hands! It was easy to alter the leg angles with the leg locks and I found myself alternating between two settings with ease. Given it was my first time using a tripod at close range, it was all about experimenting to see what felt right.

Of course, I had to have a stab at macro photography too albeit briefly. It’s been a little while since my macro lens got an outing but oh my goodness, it’s SO much easier with a tripod. It’s quite staggering how I survived all these years without to be honest! I only took 3 photographs of a strawberry – in the past what with camera shake I’d probably take 20 to get the same shot. I’m now on the hunt for all kinds of things I can capture in macro form which no doubt you’ll see in the New Year.

What to look for when choosing a tripod 

If you’re one of those people in need of a tripod but not sure what to purchase, here are a few top tips for you:

Tripods vary enormously – especially the thickness and strength of the legs. You don’t want a tripod that will wobble but equally you don’t want one that’s too heavy either. Think about what you want your tripod for and how often you think you might use it. Mine is definitely one I’ll take to places like RHS Wisley in future plus it now forms an essential bit of kit for macro.

Budget is also a key consideration – the Calumet 7100 is only £55 and does exactly what I need it to. Consider the leg locks, the ones on the tripod featured in this post for example are quick release. Some are not as easy which is a problem if like me you’re continually changing the height of your tripod. Think about how the legs adjust too. If you’re on uneven ground you might need one leg flatter than the others so it’s important your tripod can adapt accordingly. The central column can also play a part in stability too. Most important however is making sure you have lots of fun. I certainly am!

Disclaimer: We received a Calumet Photographic 7100 tripod for the purpose of this review. Opinions are as always our own. For more information, visit Calumet Photographic