In this buyer's guide, we’ll let you know what to look at when deciding to purchase a video tripod and check out some different tripods from different brands ranging in price and functionality.
Here are a few items that should be on your checklist:
A fluid head is a necessary tool for capturing cinematic shots. A fluid video head provides cameras with a platform for smooth pans and tilts. A sealed liquid is used in the head to create a miniature hydraulic damping system that enables steady motion. It also reduces jerkiness and allows for smoother stops and starts.
Most fluid heads can tilt up or down at least 75 degrees and pan 360 degrees. Quality fluid heads have adjustable tilt and drag resistance to better control movement. Having the ability to dial in the right amount of resistance can make tracking subjects much more accurate, especially when zoomed in.
Another important feature that comes with a solid fluid head is counterbalanced capabilities. Counterbalance allows you to tilt the head up or down and then let go without the head tilting further.
Aluminum vs Carbon Fiber Legs
Aluminum and carbon fiber are the two materials you will most often see used in making your tripod legs. Carbon fiber, the more costly of the two materials, offers a lighter-weight option for videographers who are on the go. But lighter isn’t always better. It depends on the type of conditions you’ll be shooting in.
Carbon fiber, the more costly of the two materials, offers a lighter-weight option for videographers who are on the go. But lighter isn’t always better. It depends on the type of conditions you’ll be shooting in.
The lighter carbon fiber may be nice to carry everywhere, but in windy conditions it could cause problems with stability and smoothness of shots. Aluminum material’s added weight offers more stability at a cheaper price tag. Some tripods come with an option for either material and most come with a hook to hang weights for extra stability.
Columns and Bowl Mounts
Many tripods come with a column in the center that allows you to raise the level of the camera without having to adjust the legs. It’s always nice to be able to add some height, but this extra height can also make the camera less stable and increases the likelihood of vibration. Also, since the tripod head doesn’t sit in a bowl, if the ground isn’t level, you’ll have to adjust the legs independently. There are of course exceptions, but most tripods with center columns tend to be made primarily for still photographers and thus lack a fluid head, bowl or ball head leveling or both.
A bowl mount allows you to level the camera quickly without adjusting the tripod legs and also provides more stability. However, unlike the column, you cannot add extra height unless you purchase longer legs.
Let’s look at some tripod companies and their offerings.
In 2002, Benro started marketing its own brand name and developed a product that has become one of the best selling brands in China and the global market. They are known for their innovative KS and KB-series ball head design, which promise the performance of more expensive brands but at a better price.
You’ll find that the Aero 4 is made for videographers on the go. This lightweight tripod offers quite a lot for its size. It has reverse folding legs that also spread independently so you can capture low angle shots easily. On the other extreme, the Aero 4 can reach a max height of 65.2 inches.
The Aero 4 can also be turned into a monopod for when you’re really on the move. The kit comes with a removable fluid head that allows smooth 360-degree panning movement with a tilt and pan lock. You can also balance the camera by adjusting the position of the top plate, which has a safety lock that prevents it from slipping off. This tripod can hold up to 8.82 lbs.
Based out of Northern Italy Manfrotto has been making a wide range of camera and light support equipment for professionals since 1970. It’s Manfotto’s tradition to continually invest in the latest technology, consumer trends and production needs. Their stated policy is to set the standards that others follow and to maintain the highest standard of quality at all stages.
MVH502AH Fluid Video Head with MT055XPRO3 Tripod
This versatile tripod system pairs a fluid head with a compact lightweight tripod. This kit can support up to 15.4 lbs. and can work with heights ranging from 27.5 inches to 60.2 inches. If you want more height, you can raise the center column to reach up to 72 inches. The 502HD head has a sturdy construction and features Manfrotto’s patented bridging technology. This head is made to provide you with cinematic moves with its continuously adjustable pan and tilt drag and an 8.8 lb. spring-loaded counterbalance to support DSLR rigs and compact video cameras.
Acebil has manufactured tripods systems for both still and video cameras in Taiwan since 1980. They achieve high quality performance products at a reasonable price.
This 2-stage aluminum tripod system can support up to 17.6 lbs. and can extend to heights ranging from 25.2 to 58.3 inches. A H30 Fluid head provides fixed counter balance, pan, and tilt drag. A convenient 75mm standard leveling base is also provided, allowing tilt of +90deg. / -80deg. You’ll find a rubber foot for floor surface protection at the end of each leg. The Acebil P-32MX also features a 15-sec LED level illumination.
In 1989, Libec launched in Japan as a global brand that offers professional camera support equipment and technological advances for the evolving industry. Libec covers a wide range of product design, material and weight-saving solutions to enhance functionality, operability and durability.
Libec LX7 M Tripod
This aluminum tripod has a fluid pan and tilt head with an advanced torque system aimed at providing exceptional control. It can hold up to 17.5 lbs. and can reach up to 65.4 inches while going as low as 32 inches. The high-grade spreader and footpads provide extra stability. The Libec LX7 M is ideal for small to mid size cameras.
VariZoom has been true to their American-made principles of innovation, quality and customer service since 1996. They have their machines and electronics integration under one roof, which allows them to make nearly anything and can support everything they have ever made. With awards for patented tools in film and video, this company ties their success to their customer’s success.
This aluminum tripod is lightweight and compact. It can reach heights ranging from 20.5 inches to 67.5 inches. It features 2-stage legs and can hold up to 15 lbs. The Varizoom VXTK100A also comes with a floor spreader for extra stability. It has a 100mm Fluid Head with Indexed quick release plate and has an independent variable drag adjustment for pan and tilt. Also featured are independent pan and tilt locking levers and a progressive counterbalance adjustment for heavier cameras. This tripod kit comes with a backlit leveling bubble, as well.
Vinten has always strived for excellence and innovation in the advancement of broadcasting capabilities. For more than 100 years, the Vinten brand is still based on its founder’s guiding principles of highly innovative design and extreme precision in manufacturing.
The Vinten VB-AP2M was designed to provide advanced technology and features to videographers with smaller camcorders and DSLR’s. This tripod kit can hold up to 11 lbs. and can adjust from heights of 21.7 to 66.7 inches. The Vision Blue pan and tilt fluid video head mounts to the two-stage Pozi-Lock tripod by a 75mm bowl. The Vision Blue offers an adjustable Perfect Balance system that allows operators to set the appropriate amount of counterbalance for their camera.
The tripod legs also come with Vinten’s innovative Pozi-Loc leg clamping system that ensures dependability and safety while tripod is locked.
Miller started up in 1954 and for a long time has been the global leader in the field of contemporary camera support. Miller holds the first patent for the fluid head designs for film cameras. Miller Camera Support Equipment designs and delivers professional fluid heads and tripods to the film and television industry.
Miller SOLO DV 20 Carbon Fiber Tripod System
This multi-step Dynamic Fluid Drag system ensures smooth, consistent fluid drag control along with integrated Static Counterbalancing system. This Solo Carbon fiber spreader-less tripod promises to provide ultra light and rock solid stability. The Miller SOLO DV 20 can reach up to 63 inches and pack down to a compact 27 inches for transport. It can hold up to 22 lbs. Selectable leg angle locks ensures quick stabilization while a 75mm die-cast alloy bowl offers quick leveling.
In 1958, the Sachtler Tripod was developed to offer smooth pans and tilts that can be executed without having to struggle for stability.
Sachtler FSB 8/2 HD M Tripod Head & Legs System
The Sachtler FSB 8/2 HD M supports weights from 2.2 lbs. to 22 lbs. with legs that range from 23.6 inches to 63.3 inches. The head features a 75mm ball base with integrated flat base. It offers frictionless leak-proof fluid with 5 levels of drag, including a 0 setting for complete disengagement of drag for fast panning.
This system has a sliding balance plate to help balance a variety of cameras, lenses and accessories. The tripod legs feature an independent height adjustment, which allow the legs to remain stable on uneven surfaces. They also come with dual spiked feet and a ground level spreader for extra stability.
What’s Right for You?
As always, choosing the right gear will depend on several factors. While shopping, consider your height and weight requirements, drag control needs and of course your budget. There are plenty of options for every video producer, so use this guide as a starting point in your search for the perfect tripod.
Should you Buy a Kit?
Buying a completed tripod kit doesn’t always give you everything you need. Sometimes the tripod legs are what you need, but the tripod head just doesn’t give you what you want. Thankfully, you can mix and match legs and heads from different manufacturers to best suit your needs.
However, the tripod you mount the head on plays more than a supporting role. Don’t mix and match sturdy with flimsy. If the tripod is a heavyweight, be sure to match it up with a head that can hold as much as the tripod legs.
Example: man 75 $399.99 with VariZoom VZT75A Video Tripod Legs $139.95
Dot Line Corp.
Libec Sales of America, Inc.
Matthews Studio Equipment, Inc.
Miller Camera Support Equipment
Joshua Edwards is a Chico-based photographer and videographer who began using photos and video as a way to inspire others in his community and hopes to continue inspiring others to do what they love.