What is a tripod? Well we all know its a device on three legs for keeping a camera steady - don't we? The thing is do they keep your camera steady and is there any difference between the many different models available?
The answer no to the first and yes there is a huge difference in the various models and you really do to a large extent get what you pay for. With prices ranging from around £16 to over £600 there should be some difference too! If you are thinking of buying a tripod you have to consider various options to decide which is right for you:
1 What height do you need it to extend to.
2 What is the minimum height you need? If for example you do macro work you might want to get very close to the ground and then a model where the legs splay out almost horizontally is a great boon.
3 What type of head do you need, a ball and socket or pan and tilt? Both have their advantages and disadvantages and it again depends on what sort of shooting you are going to be doing.
4 Is weight important? If you are going hiking with it you obviously want it to be as light as possible but all other things being equal a lighter tripod is less stable especially in windy conditions.
The best plan is to actually go along to a shop and see and try the tripod with your own gear so that you can check that it will take the camera and any heavy lens and will do what you need of it.
One of the major faults of cheaper tripods is that they are not stable and will vibrate when the shutter is released which although perhaps not being as bad as a hand held shot is not really what you need. Its amazing how much vibration can be caused by just the shutter and especially if you have a DSLR the mirror flipping up. A good way to see what effect this has if you already have a tripod or if you are buying one and they will let you so this in the shop is to half fill an eggcup with water, balance it on the camera and look for the ripples on the water surface when you fire the shutter. Try this also with the mirror locked up -see your instruction book on how to do this if you don't know, it will be in the menu's somewhere - and see what the difference is.
Its also an idea to just flick your finger against a leg of the tripod and see if that creates any movement in the water and that will give you an idea of how stable the tripod is likely to be in windy conditions.
So lots to think about when buying a tripod and it is worth paying a bit more for a really good one. At the end of the day your pictures will be a lot sharper and probably for a lower cost than buying a new quality lens.
If you need any advice on this drop me a mail.