Best Tripods 2018: Give your camera a rock-solid base

A decent tripod can open the door to a number of creative techniques. Here we reveal the best tripods and what to look for when choosing one.

If you want to improve the quality of your images and try out new photographic techniques, a decent tripod should be at the top of your shopping list. Not only will it enable you to obtain sharper images, but you’ll also be able to shoot in a wider range of conditions – such as when ambient light levels are too low to shoot handheld. 

Better still, a tripod will allow you to experiment with a range of creative techniques such as long-exposure photography, which can be used to capture movement and turn clouds, rivers and the sea silky smooth.  

Video enthusiasts will also find plenty of advantages in working with a tripod. Not least because a tripod will enable you to capture smoother and more professional-looking footage, without the shakiness commonly associated with amateur videos shot by hand.  

Related: Best cameras

Which is the right tripod for you?

One of the important things to consider when deciding what type of tripod is right for you is the weight of the camera equipment you intend to mount on it. This isn’t as difficult as it might sound, as most manufacturers helpfully specify a ‘maximum load capacity’ that refers to how much weight each individual tripod is designed to bear. 

Two other important specifications to look out for are: ‘maximum extendable height’, and ‘minimum height’. The first refers to the overall height of the tripod when the legs and the centre column are fully extended, while the latter refers to the minimum height off the ground you can set it to. 

Of course, different types of photographer will have different priorities. Travel tripods, such as those found in the Manfrotto BeFree and Velbon Ultra ranges, are popular, as they offer a practical combination of low weight and compact dimensions, making them ideal for globe-trotting photographers and hiking enthusiasts alike.

At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find larger, heavier tripods designed primarily for studio use. These are primarily concerned with providing a stable platform at extended heights for heavier professional-grade cameras and optics. You’ll find the list of best tripods below. 

Choosing a tripod head

Buying a set of tripod legs is only half the story: you’ll also need a tripod head to sit on top of the legs and attach a camera to. 

Ball heads use a ball and socket design that allows for quick adjustment in all directions. This makes them ideal when you need to frame your image in a hurry, but they can be a bit clumsy when it comes to fine-tuning your compositions. Hydrostatic ball heads alleviate this problem to a degree by adding independent resistance controls. As you would expect, they do cost quite a bit more than regular ball heads, though.

The Manfrotto Light Duty Grip Ball Head features friction control and comes complete with a quick-release camera plate

Basic pan-and-tilt, or ‘two-way’, heads allow you to control vertical and horizontal movement of the camera. While they can be useful for video capture, three-way heads are more popular with stills photographers as they include an additional hinge that allows you to flip your camera onto its side so that you can shoot in landscape or portrait orientation. 

Other more specialist tripod heads include geared tripod heads that employ a set of geared dials (rather than lockable levers) to offer precise control over each axis. Last but not least, gimbal heads are designed for use with large telephoto lenses. Gimbal heads offer fluid movement in all directions and are popular with wildlife and sports photographers. 

Related: Best camera bags

Manfrotto Befree Advanced

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Key features:

  • Material: Aluminium 
  • Max load: 8kg
  • Max height: 151cm
  • Closed length: 40cm
  • Leg sections: 4
  • Weight: 1.59kg
  • Review price: £174

Manfrotto’s Befree tripod series is a good option if you’d like a compact four-section tripod to take on your travels. Here we’re looking at the Befree Advanced, which is designed for serious hobbyists on the go.

It’s supplied with Manfrotto’s excellent 494 centre ball head that features three controls to lock the ball head, adjust the friction and pan the camera by 360 degrees. The 200PL Pro plate is RC2 and Arca-swiss compatible; however, it’s not as easily secured as Manfrotto’s older style 200PL quick-release plates and benefits from being tightened with an allen key to prevent it loosening.

The lever locks on our sample proved to be very strong, clamping each leg section tightly with no sign of slipping. The legs can be set to three angle positions, guaranteeing full shooting versatility for all the creative ideas that can emerge outdoors.

Overall, the Befree Advanced is a solidly made four-section aluminium tripod. It doesn’t win any awards for being the lightest or cheapest travel tripod available, but it is robust, hard wearing and certainly up to the task of providing a stable base on all the different types of terrain a photographer on is likely to come across when traveling.

Benro Slim

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Key features:

  • Material: Carbon fibre
  • Max load: 4kg
  • Max height: 146.3cm
  • Closed length: 51cm
  • Leg sections: 4
  • Weight: 1.01kg
  • Review price: £120

Seeing a carbon-fibre tripod launched for just £120 might appear too good to be true. But that’s exactly what Benro has achieved with this Slim model (TSL08CN00). This isn’t for just the leg set, either, as a ball-and-socket head is included in the price.

So how has Benro achieved this improbable feat? The answer is by making a pared-down model that eschews many of the embellishments that are common elsewhere. You don’t get reverse-folding legs for a shorter packed length, or a detachable monopod, or foam grips on the legs. It’s just a good old-fashioned tripod.

That’s not to say the design is basic, though. The four-section carbon-fibre legs can be set independently to three angles, and the twist leg locks can all be undone together in a single half-turn motion. All the controls are big and chunky, so they’re easy to lock up.

Benro’s bundled ball head has a neat design, with twin grooves for switching the camera to portrait format. However, the usefulness of the graduated panoramic base is somewhat compromised by it sharing a lock with the main ball mechanism.

The design has a couple of other drawbacks, too. The twist locks certainly look good in blue, but I’m not convinced I’d want to handle them in cold weather – a rubberised finish would be more practical. There’s no provision to use a short centre column, either, which limits how close you can get to the ground to 40cm.

This Benro Slim carbon-fibre tripod kit has a few negative points, but they’re easy to forgive for the bargain price. Overall, it’s a great budget option for when you need to travel light.

Manfrotto 190 Go!

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Key features:

  • Material: Aluminium
  • Max load: 7kg
  • Max height: 146cm
  • Closed length: 45cm
  • Leg sections: 4
  • Weight: 1.67kg
  • Review price: £159

The Manfrotto 190 tripod series has been around for many years, but the 190 Go! marks the first time that Manfrotto has used rotational leg locks instead of lever locks.

The 190 Go! is also the lightest and smallest model to grace the 190 range to date. That said, it’s still robust enough to support an enthusiast-level DSLR and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.

Elsewhere, it features an Easy Link socket that can be used to attach accessories such as an LED light or reflector. The 190 Go! also comes with an adjustable centre column that can be set to 90 degrees to help with creative angles, along with four individual leg angles that provide plenty of flexibility.

Gitzo GT1544T Series 1 6X Traveler

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Key features:

  • Material: Carbon fibre
  • Max load: 8kg
  • Max height: 142cm
  • Closed length: 42.5cm
  • Leg sections: 4
  • Weight: 980g
  • Review price: £399

Gitzo is owned by the same parent company as Manfrotto and specialises in high-end tripods for serious enthusiasts and professional photographers.

The GT1544T is designed for those who require a highly portable tripod that doesn’t unduly compromise durability or functionality. To this end, each of its leg sections are constructed from Gitzo’s bespoke 6x carbon-fibre weave, which ensures excellent rigidity, and helps keep the overall weight down.

Gitzo’s patented leg-folding design allows each leg to be folded back by 180 degrees, allowing the legs to wholly envelop both the centre column and a small tripod head (not supplied). It can bear up to 8kg, and has a maximum extended height of 142cm.

Velbon Ultra 655

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Key features:

  • Material: Aluminium
  • Max load: 4kg
  • Max height: 154cm
  • Closed length: 37.2cm
  • Leg sections: 5
  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • Review price: £100

Velbon makes decent budget tripods, well suited to occasional use with lighter camera and lens combinations.

The recently announced Ultra 655 is the flagship model in its ‘Compact System’ range and is perfectly adequate for a mid-range DSLR and standard zoom.

It utilises Velbon’s proprietary Trunion Shaft System (TSS), in which each leg extends the entire inside length of the outer leg casing to provide a strong, stable maximum height of 154cm, along with an impressively compact 37.2cm when folded down.

The lower portion of the centre column can be removed, allowing you to set the tripod to just 13.3cm with the legs fully splayed.

Sirui Easy Traveler ET-2204

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Key features:

  • Material: Carbon fibre
  • Max load: 12kg
  • Max height: 144cm
  • Closed length: 43cm
  • Leg sections: 4
  • Weight: 1.37kg
  • Review price: £300

The ET-2204 comes with an E-20 ball head mount, and employs lever-style leg locks that are easy to open and close even while wearing gloves – handy on cold days.

Each leg can be set to one of three angles: 21, 52 and 81 degrees, while a shorter centre column is also supplied, allowing you to shoot from a minimum height of 13.5cm.

There’s also an equipment hook on the centre column, non-slip rubber feet and two foam leg warmers for easier use in cold or wet weather. The legs can be folded back by 180 degrees to enclose the centre column and E-20 ball head for a closed length of 43cm.

Sirui also offers the ET-2004 in aluminium for about £100 less.

Vanguard Veo 204AB Traveller

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Key features:

  • Material: Aluminium 
  • Max load: 4kg
  • Max height: 135cm
  • Closed length: 39.5cm
  • Leg sections: 4
  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • Review price: £99

The Veo 204AB is a travel tripod, featuring a rapid rotation centre column design that allows it to be easily inverted without having to unscrew anything or remove it.

This allows you to keep the ball head attached and to quickly set up and pack away the tripod. It also has robust lever-style leg locks, three leg angle positions, anti-slip rubberised feet with inset spikes, a rubberised carrying handle on one of the legs, and an additional shortened centre column for extra-low shooting – which all fits into a supplied tripod bag.

The supplied TBH-45 ball head comes with a bubble level and panoramic markings around the perimeter. All in all, excellent value.

3 Legged Thing Evolution 3 Pro Roger Alloy

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Key features:

  • Material: Magnesium alloy
  • Max load: 30kg
  • Max height: 165cm
  • Closed length: 40cm
  • Leg sections: 5
  • Weight: 1.67kg
  • Review price: £279

The 3 Legged Thing ‘Evolution’ range consists of four models: Brian, Roger, Steve and Nigel. While Steve is principally designed for studio use, the other three are billed as travel tripods.

Roger is the cheapest, but remains modelled on the award-winning Brian. The main difference is that the Roger has magnesium alloy legs.

You still get the same ultra-strong ParaLock twist-action leg locks with toughened TPR 80 Grips for all-weather use. And the Roger shares the same modular design as other Evolution 3 models, so you can add bespoke accessories and/or rearrange sections.

You can even unscrew one of the legs and use it as a monopod.