You can’t be a great landscape photographer without a good tripod. Period. Ask any top outdoor photographer. Ask all the great shooters who shared their creative insight in this post.
However, a Gitzo does not a photographer make. You don’t have to drop $500, $700 or more in order to get a perfectly good and workable camera support. There are plenty of decent tripods out there that will hold your camera steady enough to let you capture compelling images of the natural world without breaking the bank.
Here’s a review of tripods in the $90-150 range that are geared towards the outdoor photographer. If you’re looking for a good budget tripod that will still get the job done, consider one of these models. Before going too budget though, remember this: nothing beats a great
pair trio of legs. Also, check out 3 Great Budget Carbon Fiber Tripods.
Manfrotto has been making great tripods for years, formerly offering them under the Bogen name. The venerable 3001 model, has been redesigned numerous times, has evolved into the Manfrotto 190X3 with some great new features that the 3001 lacked.
It’s got three leg flip lock leg sections and a center column that extends to nearly 63″ high, it closes down to 23″, and weighs 4.4 lbs without head. The leg sections have four angles, the last of which opens all the way out for low angle shooting. You can also reverse the center column, which allows you to get your camera nearly all the way to the ground for extreme closeups and macro.
The new 190X3 also features a unique center column that extends and swings in to a horizontal position. This greatly increases options for placing your camera in different positions, and it makes for a great light stand for placing remote flashes, especially for shooting outside portraits.
The Manfrotto 190X3 ($179) is without a doubt, an awesome utilitarian tripod that will serve you for years, (I still make use of my old Bogen 3001s). It’s not the lightest nor the most compact tripod on the market, but for the money, it’s probably one of the best rock solid camera supports that an outdoor photographer could want.
The Oben AC-1410 ($119) even comes with a ball head, which makes this even more budget. It’s ready for action as soon as you take it out of the box.
Weighing in at 3.3 lbs, the AC-1441 folds down to 21″, extends to 61.6″ and comes equipped with bubble level, padded carrying bag and leg warmers on two sections to protect your hands form from the cold.
Another nice feature is the hook on the bottom of the center column, which lets you hang a heavy counterweight, like a pack full of rocks of lenses. This greatly increases stability of tripod.
Unlike some tripods, the AC-1441 does not have retractable spikes in the feet. Certainly not a deal breaker, unless you’re shooting on ice and frozen ground all the time. Not having spikes also means that you’ll never accidentally scratch your nice wood floors.
There’s also the Oben AC-1310, ($99) which has all the same features, but only 3 leg sections, so its collapsed size is slightly longer. (24.7″)
My very first tripod was a Slik (I think it was the 444 Sport), and it looked a lot like this, minus the padded legs. It served me for many years, in fact it’s the tripod that held my N90 when I made my famous Sunrise on K2 image.
With 4 leg sections, the Slik Sprint Pro II folds down to 19″, which is pretty compact for a tripod of it’s price range. It extends to almost 64″ and weighs just under 2 lbs.
The legs also splay out for low angle shooting, and the center column, (which unscrews into two pieces) can be shortened and/or reversed, which lets you get your camera down to 6.4″ off the ground for macro photography.
A very solid tripod for the money, the Slik Sprint Pro II ($89) is small enough to fit in a backpack and big enough to support most DSLRs. For under $100, it’s hard to go wrong with this one.
Want Manfrotto quality in a simple, budget design? The 294 Aluminum Tripod ($129) just might be your bet. Just three flip lock legs and standard center standard column.
The Manfrotto 290 family of tripods was built with functionality in mind. Larger diameter tubing makes the 294 slightly heavier, (3.9 lbs) but it’s a solid camera support that extends to 66.5″ and closes down to 23.6″. Not much else to say, it’s a basic tripod that’s….um… well, black.
Or, for a slightly smaller and more compact version, check out the The Manfrotto 293 ($99) which only weighs 3 lbs and closes down to 21.9″ 3 good legs for under a hundred bucks.
The MeFOTO Backpacker is a very compact and lightweight tripod that folds up small enough to fit inside most packs and suitcases.
It weighs 2.6 lbs, folds down to 12.6″ and extends from 16.5″ to 51.” With 5 twist lock legs sections that fold back on themselves, and a max load of 8.8 lbs, this is an ideal travel and outdoor tripod for mirrorless cameras and lightweight DSLRs.
Two leg angle sections allow options for shooting on non-flat ground, and they let you get ben closer to low level subjects. The MeFOTO Backpacker comes with an Arca-Swiss style QR ball head with a bubble level, and separate pan and lock controls.
For $119, this tripod will get the job done without breaking the bank, it comes in 8 different colors, and even includes a carrying case. We use these as extra tripod for our photo workshop and photo tour guests and they seem to work great. So far, I’ve been impressed with the size, price and general performance of these models.
So, with these 5 options, you should definitely be able to find a set of legs that work for you in your photography. If you want something lighter, check out my review of 3 Ultra Lightweight Tripods. If you’re looking to go carbon fiber, check out 3 Great Budget Carbon Fiber Tripods.
And as with any tripod, it’s not so much the support that makes for better pictures, it’s that using a tripod tends to slow you down. It gives you time to set up, think and reflect on your shot before taking it, as opposed to just skipping by and snapping away frivolously.
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