July 9, 2007 10:46 AM   Subscribe

What's the best tripod for me?

I have a Panasonic Tz3 that I love. However, I've been interested in taking night shots with longer exposure times, etc... so I've been thinking about getting a tripod. Obviously this will be nothing expensive, bulky or whatever, but I think it's a worthwhile investment for taking night shots.

So my question is about brands, types, and price range. I guess ultra-portability would be nice, but I'm assuming those tripods are more expensive. Can anyone recommend a cheap, but decent tripod? In the alternative, a friend of mine was telling me about a homemade tripod he made. Any tips with that?
posted by jourman2 to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm quite happy with this tripod from Slik (model SDV-20).
posted by exogenous at 11:00 AM on July 9, 2007

I take a fair amount of night shots, with exposures up to 30 seconds, and I just use an inexpensive, generic (~$30 US) tripod with a quick-release head. (I think I got it from Wal-Mart or Target.) Windy conditions have indeed caused me to have to re-take some shots.

I would advise you to buy the best you can, because it does make a difference in long exposures. A better tripod is on my "buy" list as well.

Meanwhile, a few tips:
Once you set up the tripod, use your shoe to slide the tripod feet out a little more than how they automatically fall. That will help stabilize it.

Use a self-timer or cable release or remote so you don't vibrate the camera by pushing the shutter release.

If you get a tripod with a hook on the bottom of the upright screw-rod, you can hang your camera-bag on it (with some weighty stuff) to help dampen vibrations.

Make sure you tighten everything down before you shoot. It's tempting to get in a hurry and think your knobs are tight enough when they are not.

When you release the shutterm be sure you are out of the tripod's trip-zone. It's easy to step away and catch your foot on the tripod, ruining the shot.

Have fun!
posted by The Deej at 11:08 AM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

if "ultra-portability" (yay marketing-speak) is your prime concern followed by price, I'd suggest a gorilla pod from joby. it works like a charm and you don't really need a large tripod for this kind of camera, there just isn't a lot of weight to consider here.

if you do desire to be any more structure-independent than the gorilla pod allows you to be, look for used manfrotto tripods with quick release on ebay. a decent one with head should be obtainable for $100-200 and it should be able to handle whatever camera you end up moving up to next. (hey, you're doing long exposures. in a year, you'll be craving a DSLR.)
posted by krautland at 11:11 AM on July 9, 2007

As long as there is no wind even an ultralight tripod should work fine. However, there is often a gentle breeze and this can wreak havoc with long exposures. A bigger, heavier tripod helps. You can also add weight, such as a sandbag, for further stabilization. Even the act of pushing the shutter can induce a little shake. For the cleanest picture use an automatic release, or if the camera lacks that use the self timer. Some cameras have a three second self timer which is great for this.
posted by caddis at 11:24 AM on July 9, 2007

A ball head will come in very handy. I use a small slik with a ball head that does every job I need it to, and it's small enough to tie down on my bag and forget about.

~$60 compared to the gorillapod's ~$30 or so.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:28 AM on July 9, 2007

The gorillapod looks like it has too many parts which always leads to problems. I have used the Ultrapod for it's lightweight and cheap qualities. I also own a Bogen 3021 for the shots I don't want to take a chance on. That has never let me down for over 15 years. I've had Slik tripods break down on me and other cheaper ones. If you are going for a full sized and stable tripod get a Bogen.
posted by JJ86 at 12:40 PM on July 9, 2007

There's nothing more portable than a bottle-cap tripod--find a bolt that matches the threads on your camera, drill a hole in a screw-on bottle cap, and voila! Not as adjustable or stable as a real tripod, but you'll always have a tripod whenever you have a bottle of water around.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:07 PM on July 9, 2007

In addition to my cheapo tripod mentioned above, I use a Gorilla-pod as well. Most often, I just use it as a tabletop tripod. But the gripping ability is useful as well. I used it on my car window to get this shot. It was a very windy night, and the car rocked enough that at least half of my shots that night were too blurry.

The Gorilla-pod is worth having, but if you don't need the flexibility, it's no more stable than a $5 table-top tripod. The quick-release is handy though.
posted by The Deej at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2007

Everyone should have a minipod. The Gorillapod is nice but there are others which are even lighter but don't grab onto branches etc. However, a real tripod is such a wonderful asset to good photography. Even a $20 cheapie from Best Buy will do 90% of the work, and it will be light and easy to carry. A tripod you carry because it is light is better than a tripod you left home because it is heavy, every time. I have a collection, and for a new real tripod I would recommend a Bogen. They are quality, a little on the heavy side, but still light, and the price is right. eBay is your friend here. I have an old, old Linhof, a light weight model, and it is great and my goto tripod for most uses. Used tripods can be had at reasonable prices. The good ones really don't wear out. So, it is hard to say "this one tripod is for you." Look for what you like and what has a good price. I like a ball head for speed, and a level ball to let you know you are square is nice. If you want to pan a more traditional three axis head is best, this is especially true if you will use it for video.
posted by caddis at 4:52 PM on July 9, 2007

I'll chime in with a vote for the Gorillapod as well. I find it extremely convenient to carry around with me, it folds up well.
posted by nightchrome at 5:49 PM on July 9, 2007

Yes, Gorillapod too. I have a Panasonic Lumix FZ-7 and bought the smaller gorillapod designed for compact cameras, not realising I 'should' have bought the bigger one. But the small one holds the weight of the FZ-7 perfectly adequately.
posted by essexjan at 12:17 AM on July 10, 2007

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