The absolute most important photography accessory is a well-constructed tripod. In fact, nearly all of the Best of the Best tripods are made of carbon fiber materials for use in extreme hot and cold conditions. They also are light in weight. Every tripod reviewed comes with a ball head except for the Gitzo and the Giottos. Before you purchase your first tripod or upgrade to a new one, there are three things you need to consider: magic minutes, tripod height and weight, and the quick release feature. Having the best tripod for you will help you to achieve the greatest impact with your photographs. A tripod will also help slow down your photography by allowing you to think.
If you really want to achieve greater impact as a photographer, then you will need to continually pay attention to the quality of light around you. Early morning light or late afternoon light is soft and pleasing to the eye and typically lasts for minutes or what I call the ‘magic minutes.’ While consumer digital cameras are getting more automated with features such as vibration reduction, higher ISO values and automatic face recognition, they will not be able to give you better photographs during the magic minutes without the help of a solid tripod. If you want to take a pleasing landscape photograph of a building for example, then you will need the highest F-stop possible mixed with a very slow shutter speed followed by the lowest ISO value.
Tripod Height & Weight
You will want a tripod with a maximum height of at least 61 inches. The reason for this is taking portraits. One of the best ways to make an impromptu portrait is to have your subject sit on a stool while you affix your camera to your tripod. It’s better to get a tripod with as much maximum height as possible relative to the folded height. The weight of your tripod is also important. If you are simply carrying your tripod in its padded case from you house, to your car, and then to the spot where you are going to take photographs, a few pounds of weight probably won’t matter too much. However, the weight of your tripod will become a big deal when you are carrying it into the woods, hauling it around the city or packing it into your luggage. And you’ll want to hang a counterweight underneath to prevent your tripod from blowing over in a strong wind.
Let’s say you are taking the portrait I talked about earlier, and you spot an interesting character on a bicycle riding past. You probably want to capture this person, so you need a quick release feature with your tripod. With the flick of your thumb, you will be able to unsnap your camera and take the action photograph. Plus, a quick release feature is very helpful if you are often changing lenses on your tripod from a zoom lens to a wide-angle lens. Remember, many zoom lenses will allow you to affix the quick release pad to the lens while the camera will need one separately when used with a wide-angle lens.
All of the tripods reviewed have something called an Independent Leg Spread. This means you can separately bend one leg backwards and balance it on a set of stairs while the other two legs are balancing the tripod below. When you are faced with a tight or crooked optimum photography area, each leg of your tripod can contort separately to help give you great photographs. Another small accessory related to your tripod is a tripod level. If you carry one of these with you, it will ensure that your tripod and then your resulting photograph is even. I highly recommend the Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with the Gitzo G-2272M Magnesium 3-way Pan/Tilt ball head.