Some photographers, like portrait and sports photographers, never or rarely use tripods; however, anyone who wants to shoot landscape, night, or wildlife photography rely heavily on a solid tripod.

Frankly, most tripods are absolute junk.  I've purchased about 9 tripods while moving up the ranks of photography.  Some of them simply weren't sturdy enough, others were too heavy or inconvenient, some weren't durable, and some were fantastic.

I spent several thousands of dollars on different tripods trying to find a “deal” until I finally realized how many junkie tripods I had bought and money I had wasted. I finally invested in a high quality tripod, and it has lasted the test of time.

This page is full of the information I wish I had back then.  I've spent the last few years testing and reviewing dozens of tripods and putting them through their paces, and these are the absolute cream of the crop.  But “cream of the crop” doesn't have to mean expensive.  I've found lots of great tripods that are reasonably priced that are actually better than the expensive stuff.

I'll recommend several tripods to you below and let you pick the one that best fits your situation.

Best Tripods

vanguard-tripod-under-200About $200 – Vanguard Alta Pro with Ballhead

The Vanguard is the best tripod under $200, and I tried many many tripods before making that claim.  I like it because it's rock solid, durable, and includes a high quality ballhead.

The ballhead is usually the first part of your support setup to break on less expensive setups, so getting a high quality one will make your purchase last much longer.

Most photographers in this price range are tempted to get the very cheap $100 Dolica tripods or MeFoto tripods and in almost every case, I think you'd be much more successful with this Vanguard.  Buy the Vanguard on Amazon.com.

The nice thing about that kit is that it includes the tripod legs and head, so you have everything you need all in one package.  Buy this kit and you have everything you need (affiliate link to Amazon).

Also, if you're looking for something more specialized and you want to spend less than $200 for the tripod and ballhead, read this post I wrote on the best tripods under $200.

You can also read our full review of the Vanguard 263 tripod.

feisol-tripodAbout $400 – Feisol CT3442: My favorite tripod

The Feisol is like a dream.  It's incredibly lightweight with its carbon fiber frame, it has no center column so it can get down right to the ground, it's a tall enough height to comfortably reach to the eye line of most adults, and it's priced reasonably if you compare it to the competition.

The Feisol is my favorite tripod of all time.  It's lasted many many airports, being dunked in salt water, dragged over the black sand beaches of Iceland, falling in the water in China, etc.

I've compared the Feisol to all the top tripods.  The Really Right Stuff Tripods are amazing, but significantly heavier than the Feisol that I like.  The Gitzos are hit and miss with durability, but have great features and specs.

The Feisol usually runs around $400, but you can check the current price on Amazon here.  Read Jim's full review here.

Ballheads

Not sure what a ballhead is? Click this link to find out all about ball heads.  It's the piece that attaches the camera to the tripod.  Pro tripods don't include both pieces generally.

I promise it'll be worth it to buy a nice ballhead. You can certainly find many inexpensive ballheads, but I promise they'll eventually wear out over time and break on you.  I think I bought 6 or 7 ballheads before I finally wised up and bought a pro quality head.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.10.39 PMInexpensive Ballhead (About $120): Sirui K10X

There is only one ballhead I'd recommend that does a really nice job at a budget price range.  It's called the Sirui K10X.  “Sirui” is pronounced “See-ray” (I know–weird).

When I teach workshops, about half of my students show up with this ballhead.  Great budget option.  It's still not cheap, but it's the cheapest one that will last you for several years without issue.

Sirui makes this head in several different sizes.  If you have anything other than a full frame camera (very heavy), then I'd recommend getting the K10x.  If you shoot a large full frame camera with big lenses, then I'd recommend getting the Sirui K40x (affiliate link to Amazon).  It's just a larger size of the same head.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.06.20 PMPro Ballhead: Acratech GP

I'm currently shooting a RRS BH-40 ballhead.  It has been super reliable, strong, and reasonably lightweight; however, it really has no cool features.  My buddy Nick, however, got an Acratech GP ballhead and I think it's a better head.  If I were to buy a new head today, it'd be the Acratech GP (affiliate link to Amazon).

It's a really revolutionary head.  Instead of a fully encased ball, it uses an open ball design so it's less likely to get dust and grime stuck in it.  It's extremely sturdy, and just as light as my RRS head.  One cool feature is that it can be tilted on its side and used like a gimbal.  That's cool!

If you're buying a new ballhead today and you want one that will last you forever and that will definitely perform for you, I'd buy the Acratech GP Ballhead (that's a link to see it on Amazon).  It's definitely pricey, but if you want the very best, I think that's it.

L Plates: My Favorite Camera Accessory!!!

If you're purchasing a ballhead, I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend you also get an L-plate.  The good news is that an L plate is very inexpensive, but they will make your ballhead much more useful.  I wrote a complete post about what an L Plate is, where to buy one, and why I never shoot without an L plate.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.07.40 PMMonopods

I haven't tested nearly as many monopods as I have tested tripods, but the one I bought four years ago is still going strong, is remarkably sturdy even with sideways pressure like when holding flashes, is lightweight, and collapses very small.  I'd definitely recommend it.

It's called the Sirui P-326.  It's a 6-section so it collapses really small.

The thing I like about this one is how sturdy it is.  I've shot with a 600mm on this monopod–no problem.  It also is strong enough to be used as a light stick for flash photography.  Many monopods aren't strong enough to handle the sideways pressure of holding a flash extended with a heavy modifier, but this one handles it well.  Highly recommended.

Check the current price of the Sirui P-326 on Amazon.

Comments

      1. Great! Thank you. I just ordered this configuration! Excited to get started with it. It is my first Tripod… 😉

  1. Hey Jim!! planning to buy a tripod and a ball head. Would you please tell me if I could pair a Vanguard SBH-300 with Manfrotto 055XDB. It would b of gr8 help. I love the way u explain things in ur blogs and videos and I follow them religiously. Glad to have come across ur site. 🙂

    1. Piyush Das – All ballheads fit all tripods. The screw threads are standardized.

  2. What about geared heads? I’m into real estate photography and the experts there say a geared head provides WAY more control and stability than a ball head.

  3. Will the Vanguard SBH-300 take an Arca Swiss mounting plate. I need to use that system because I use a Kirk L Bracket on my cameras.

  4. Jim. do you pair a light ball head with your Feisol tripod and if so, which one?

    I already own the usual heavy Manfrotto tripod and Kirk BH-3, but is there a better (lighter) ball head for travel to pair with the Feisol that I plan to buy? I have a 70-200mm lens and a 300mm lens with a 1.4 extender and think that the Feisol would only hold the smaller lens, maybe with the extnder on my 3ti. Is that correct?

    Thanks very much. I love your podcasts!

  5. Hi Vince! Did your combination work? I’m looking for my first tripod to buy. Does yours wobble when using it? Should I buy it? Thanks!

  6. Hi, do you have any recommendations on where to find a good camera bag or if not, what to look for in one? My husband and I are beginner photographers.

  7. I see you like the Feisol CT-3442 tripod, I am considering the CT-3472, which I see available used for same price as a new CT-3442. I don’t mind a little extra weight and think I’ll enjoy the extra height but am wondering if you think I’d get extra stability with the larger tripod. I generally use a lightweight setup with a Canon 60d and smaller lenses. Also, is there anything I should be concerned about with a used tripod? I figured there aren’t many parts though would wear, but I don’t really know.

  8. I bought the cr-3472lv. Looks like a monster. Now I need a true travel tripod to compliment it when I don’t want to lug that thing around.

  9. I just ordered the Induro tripod but I’m having trouble ordering the Sirui ball head on the site that the link brought me to. There is no way to “add to cart” and no contact info to ask questions. Is there another good place to order this from? Amazon or any others?

  10. Check out the Vanguard tripods. Great bang for your buck. They have both aluminum for budget and carbon fiber for light weight . Also have ball, pan and other heads. Great tripods that can do amazing angles and get into all positions down low or upside down or macro.

  11. Great site – just ordered the Induro AT-313 tripod and Sirui K10X ball head on the strength of this so looking forward to getting my hands on them next week for some serious tripod work!

  12. I purchased the AT-413 tripod (for additional height) and Sirui K10X ball head this past January (2014). I’m absolutely thrilled with the purchase. The quality of the construction for both items is impressive. Smooth movement of the tripod legs and the head locks in place without having to apply a lot of pressure on the knobs. When releasing the head pressure the camera doesn’t flop over. The Sirui head also features a safety button that protects the camera from sliding off the mount when releasing the pressure. I highly recommend it.

  13. You need to get a Three Legged Thing Brian tripod with the Airhead 2 simply the best.

  14. what ballhead do you recommend
    for the Induro tripod you recommended?

    Thx.

  15. What about monopods…

    I have the Induro tripod and the vanguard ball head and I love them both. I wish that I would not have bought so many cheap big box store tripods.

  16. Hi Dear
    can u please help me to choose one of these tripods ?
    1. BENRO A1350Q1
    2. Vanguard Alta 263AP
    I’ve check your website, you recommended Manfrotto 7322YB
    but I couldn’t find it in market.
    thank you 🙂

  17. Thank you for your advice!

    I have a BENRO A500F tripod. It seems to be a solid tripod with a ball head. Have you ever worked with such or similar tripod? Do you believe it is a solid one?

    Thanks,

    Morpho

  18. Jim
    I’m sorry if it sounds silly, but will the recommended Vanguard SBH-300 fit your recommended Manfrotto 7322YB or Induro AT-313. Also, will it support D700 with 70-200mm lens or will it be too heavy?
    Thank you very much!

  19. I’m traveling in September to Greece and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, I want to take sunrise, sunsets etc. but am conflicted about what to bring as a tripod. I have a Manfrotto tripod and monopod but they are both too big and heavy. Suggestions? Have to pack LIGHT. Thanks…

  20. What if you’re a super broke amateur? I need a decent tripod that isn’t expensive. I know you recommend going for one that will last me a lifetime, but I don’t have the $190 for the ball head and tripod.

    Any reclucant suggestions?

  21. When I first read these recommendations, I turned away from them for awhile, because of the price. But the tripod I had then couldn’t even hold my camera steadily! So, out of desperation, I researched and researched, read reviews, got recommendations, and ended up coming back to this page. I now have the Induro AT 313/Sirui K10X combo. Couldn’t be more satisfied! Way taller than I need, Way more sturdier than I need, and can go even shorter than my old one! It is possible with this tripod to remove and flip the centre column, so your camera is right next to the ground, upside down. You can’t beat that. Also has a hook for sandbags, and spiked feet with the kit. I bought from BH Photo, and my shipment arrived in three days. (I’m from Canadia.) I’m very confident this tripod will be able to hold a 70-200 f2.8, with a tripod collar. The only thing I don’t like, but I also know it’s not the tripod’s fault, is the fact that I have a battery grip on my camera, which makes the camera way less sturdier when on a tripod. This is just nitpicking, and that is the only thing I can think of. This tripod/head setup is AMAZING.

  22. Hello,

    i want to buy a tripod system, i have D810 with 70-200 f4 nikon and 18-35mm nikon. I had following combination in mind

    Feisol CT-3472
    Sirui K-40X ballhead

    What do you think about this combo? And should i take CT-3442 instead of CT-3472? 3442 is much lighter and cheaper. So if it can also carry the load i have, i would prefer to travel lighter.

  23. I bought the Feisol CT3442 tripod. Does the Sirui K20X fit this tripod and work well? The reason I ask it the K20X is 38mm wide and the tripod mount is 80mm wide. I’m not sure if they need to be the exact same size.

    Thanks!

  24. Best ball head money can buy is the Arca Swiss Z1 derived from the Arca Swiss B1 much copied by many companies including Really Right Stuff which its slightly cheaper than. For more heavy duty cameras / lenses there is the larger Z2

  25. Can anyone provide some insight on the T3i? I bought it recently and cannot find a single comment or review about it. Everyone seems to be talking about the T5i or 60D. Is it because the T3i is a bad camera or because it is an older version. If it is older why is it more expensive than the t5?

    Thanks!

    1. Hey ther Pablo. I am the Hobbyist Editor here at improvephotography.com and a Canon shooter. The Canon T3i is great. I own one along with a 60D and the images that come from both are identical because the sensor inside the T3i, T5i, and 60D are all identical. All 18 megapixel APS-C. The difference between the camera models is mostly around the number of buttons that provide direct access to features. There are also differences in the processor that makes the camera work a little faster meaning the 60D can take another shot a little faster than the T3i.

      The models without the “i” in them do have a different sensor in them that is not as good. The T5 is still a much better camera than any phone or point-and-shoot, but it isn’t as good as the models with the “i” after them.

      If you are looking to get started in photography on a tight budget, the T3i is a fantastic option that I highly recommend. Keep watching the improvephotography.com website for articles that I am publishing with recommendations on how to get started with gear and making improvements in your photography. You can see an article here on how to choose your first camera:

      http://improvephotography.com/30537/beginners-dilemma-choosing-first-camera/

      And this one helps with how to pick which SD card(s) to buy:

      http://improvephotography.com/30635/beginners-dilemma-2-which-card-to-buy/

      Good luck to you!

      1. Thank you very much for your reply Jeff! Your answer and insight means more than you know. Great website and info. I actually took one of your recommendations already from one of your videos (on the flash and radio transmitter) and they just came in today. I am looking forward to testing them out tomorrow! Again, THANK YOU!!

  26. You have a GREAT show, thanks for all the training. I have a question about a ‘L’ bracket. I don’t remember hearing Jim speak about this. I have an older Manfrotto 486RC2 ballhead on a Manfrotto tripod. I’m on a budget and I want to get more into landscape photography. I’m an enthusiast photographer. Would your recommendation to spend the money a get a newer ballhead or spend the money to buy a ‘L’ plate for my camera. Thanks again for all you guys do for the photo community.

  27. Jim,

    When was this article written? Do you have any updates on equipment? There are some new materials being used and I wondered your opinion.
    Thanks for all the information you provide!~

  28. Hi Jim!
    I’m looking for a good travel tripod suggestion. I’m hoping for a reasonable price, lightweight, stable, and able to hold a DSLR. I don’t have large, heavy lenses. Any suggestions?
    Thanks

  29. Hey, Jim, I sprung for your “much better” tripod and ballhead and think both are of exceptional quality. However, I find myself not using the tripod that often because it is simply too heavy to be lugging around all the time. What is your recommendation for a lightweight tripod? Thanks.

  30. I currently have a RRS BH-55 PCR ball head and I am looking for a good light weight travel tripod that is still sturdy. I am wondering, the Feisol CT 3442 looks like a good choice and I am wondering if it can handle the RRS ball head or whether that would be too large for the Feisol? Thank for any help. If it is not a good choice, can you recommend one?

  31. Hi Jim,

    I am looking for a travel tripod for my Canon 550D and Tamron 150-600mm lens gear. Could you please suggest me which will be best option for if I want to buy separate ball head mount and tripod? Thanks

  32. Jim’s recommended tripod is too tall for me (I’m 5’4″). The Induro AT-013 comes in several heights. Which size should I get for my height?

  33. I’m a real estate photographer with a Canon 70D and am beginning to look at offering videos in addition to stills. I have 2 Targus tripods which work well for stills but will probably transition those for use with my slider rails. I’m looking for a tripod & ballhead setup. Do you also do videos? If so, any recommends for 3-way ball heads and tripods? If not, can you recommend where to look? THX!

  34. I am lugging around a very heavy, stable tripod and head (not ball) but when I check prices I have a heart attack. I am a senior and can’t do hand hold very well, so tripod is essential. Also, I do a lot of traveling. So I read your review and have a couple questions. (By the way, I have a Nikon 7100, 7000 and also use a 500 mm some). Can you tell me the weights of the tripods you recommend, Feisol CT 3442 looks good, and the weights of the two ball heads (better and best). I am not a professional though I do sell some images, and I do a lot of landscapes. Appeciate your thoughts and info. Thanks. ML

  35. any suggestions on table top style tripods? I know they aren’t used a lot but ive had a few times it would have come in handy to have a small tripod I could put really close to the ground. Most of the ones ive seen cant seem to take any kind of weight over that of a point n shoot. thanks

  36. Hi,

    I purchased your lightroom course but my laptop died and I lost all the information including the downloaded files and the download link.

    Please can you resend to the above email address.

    Thanks

  37. Hi guys! I’ve seen some decent prices and reviews for the ZoMei Z818 – any thoughts on those tripods?

    I primarily shoot architecture off my existing (crappy) tripod, but am wanting to get into more landscape – have a Grand Canyon trip coming up this year…

    Thanks for the help!

  38. The VANGUARD ALTA PRO 263AB WITH BALLHEAD is awesome Jim !!

    I’m so glad I got. After I saw the vibrations and ball head movement when zooming in doing macro with my cheap Dolica I went back to your site for your recommendations and got the Vanguard263AB. I love it!!

    Thanks!
    (I used your Amazon link to buy it!)

  39. When I bought my 1st crop-sensor I also was lucky to stumble across Vanguard tripods. Thought it was a bit heavy at the time, but I didn’t know anything… luck me. This tripod is VERY stable and great cost-benefit. I will eventually look for something lighter, but it is still years away.

  40. Picked up the Sirui K10x and the Feisol CT3442 a few weeks back and have been giving them the test. Man, both of these pieces of kit are amazing. Both are solid and the ball-head, once locked down has no drift at all. The tension adjustment is tops and makes using it so easy and customizable to the gear you have on it. The tripod is solid and super light. I do have some reservations about the tripod though. I think that the legs could extend a bit further when in the locked position, sometimes it feels like it wants to tip, just needs a bit lower center of balance and the legs locks take some getting used to. These are both minor however and I wouldn’t let them hold you back, I love both of these pieces. Thanks guys!

  41. I have D5 MarkIII , bought a Manfrotto MKBFRC4-BH . Used once than the ball head could not stay put . Any suggestion beside the Vanguard 263 . Would
    Vanguard VEO 265AB Aluminum Tripod with TBH-50 Ball Head, 17.64lbs Capacity, 59.06″ Extended Height, 15.35″ Folded Height, 26mm Leg Diameter, Black is better with just 10$ xtra . The most heavy lens I would use is 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +extender 2x . Thx so much , love your review .

  42. Has anyone found a good clamp replacement for the Vanguard 263AB recommended above in order to get it Arca-Swiss compatible? The SBH 100 ballhead that comes with it isn’t compatible, and I’m looking for a better option than switching out the entire ballhead. Great tripod so far otherwise. Thanks!

  43. Hi Guys – Thinking about getting the SiruK40 ballhead – but I use a Nikon D800 with my collar mount on my 70 – 200 f 2.8(heavy)
    lens a great deal of the time . How would I mount the lens to this ball head ? Do I need another adapter ?
    Or would I just mount the camera . My old ballhead did not hold the weight so I always mounted it from the Lens collar.

    Any help is much appreciated !

  44. This is too funny. Been shooting with that very same Feisol tripod and Acratech GP ballhead for two years now. Met my new best friend on a photo shoot when I saw he was shooting with the exact same combination. Oh, and hearing your stories about switching to Fuji gave me the courage to switch from my Canon 5D Mark III to the Fuji X-T1 full time and then to the X-T2. My X-T2 is named Nayana and I love her for how she is able to realize my artistic vision so completely.

    1. Oh…and I just recently tore the Feisol apart to give it a thorough cleaning. Ordered a set of spacers from Feisol and now it’s like having a brand new tripod. It’s insanely easy to take this thing apart and put it back together again.

  45. I am in the market for a tripod (my first that isn’t an inherited piece of junk). For now, the heaviest load it would carry is a Nikon D300 with battery grip and a Nikon 80-200. I was just about ready to spring for a Feisol CT-3472, or perhaps a CT-3372. With B&M camera stores so rare these days, I am having a hard time committing to something I can’t try out. I would rather not spring for a Gitzo or RRS, but I see the “prevailing wisdom” is that you buy one of those, and they last.

    In light of Nick withdrawing his recommendation for his high-end Feisol on the Improve Photography podcasts explicitly, where does that leave the CT-3442? Does it not suffer from the same faulty design on the angle locks that was described? Is this recommendation going to be pulled as well? I know Feisol worked with him to fix the problem, but what was the ultimate resolution?

    Many thanks.

  46. I have been doing some side work as a real estate photographer for over a year now. I am now wanting to expand my knowledge and start a business. I would like to offer virtual tours and am just wondering what equipment is necessary to do so. I will be purchasing the FEISOL tripod, and SIRUI K10X ball head as well.

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