6 Pro Tripods for Serious Landscape Photographers

In Gear by Jim Harmer9 Comments


Buying a high-quality tripod and ballhead is an important decision for any landscape photographer.  Everyone has their own personal preferences, so I want to share with you some popular options among serious landscape photographers.

There are loads of good options, but if I were buying a new setup today, I'd choose the Feisol CT3442 tripod and the Acratech GP Ballhead with lever clamp. For me personally, those are ideally suited to today's traveling landscape photographer with average-weight professional gear.

Keep in mind that this post is about the high-end professional tripods and ballheads on the market.  If you don't have a huge budget or don't punish your tripod like a professional landscape photographer, then you can find excellent less expensive tripod options which I wrote about here.

Excellent Tripod Options Abound

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that the following tripods are the best ones out there.  There are many hundreds of excellent tripods on the market.  I just want to share a few that stand out to me as excellent options used by me or others of my friends who are serious landscape photographers.  The idea is to show you what's out there and how they differ so you can find one that best matches your preferences.

TripodWeightLength
(Closed)
Height
(Column Down)
Price
Feisol
CT3442
2.5lbs
(1.1kg)
18.9in
(48cm)
54.3in
(138cm)
$399
Really Right Stuff
TVC-34L
4.7lbs
(2.13kg)
24.4in
(61cm)
68.8in
(175cm)
$1,098
Gitzo
GT2545T
1.97lbs
(.9kg)
17.5in
(44.5cm)
51.4in
(130cm)
$869
3 Legged Thing
Winston
3.86lbs
(1.75kg)
24in
(60cm)
53in
(135cm)
$555
Induro
CLT404L
5.84lbs
(2.65kg)
25in
(63cm)
64in
(163cm)
$575
Feisol
CT3472
3.92lbs
(1.8kg)
21in
(52cm)
59in
(150cm)
$570
Really Right Stuff
TVC-24L
3.7lbs
(1.7kg)
23in
(58cm)
66in
(168cm)
$985

Despite using a VERY compact ballhead (Really Right Stuff BH40) and a small mirrorless camera, this setup still gives me almost 7 inches of height above the tripod. Add to this the height from my eyeline to the top of my head and you can see that you don't need a tripod as tall as you are.

How Tall of a Tripod Do You ACTUALLY Need?

Before I found my dream tripod, I made some buying mistakes.  I bought a couple tripods which were too short and caused me to hunch over to look through the viewfinder.  Then, I made another mistake which I think is even more common.  I determined that, since I'm 5'10” tall (178cm), I need a tripod which is 5'10” tall (178cm).  It was WAY taller than I needed, which added unnecessary weight and was a feature I rarely needed.

Here is a little guide for choosing a tripod that will come up to your eye without hunching over uncomfortably.

Selecting the Right Tripod Height

Your HeightIdeal Tripod Height
5'2" (157cm)48in (121cm)
5'4" (162cm)50in (127cm)
5'6" (167cm)52in (135cm)
5'8" (172cm)54in (138cm)
5'10" (178cm)56in (141cm)
6' (183cm)58in (147cm)
6'2" (186cm)61in (155cm)
6'4" (193cm)63in (160cm)

The reason you don't need a tripod as tall as you are is because the top of your scalp isn't what's taking pictures 🙂  You need to take your height, minus the distance from your eye to the top of your head, minus the height of the camera from the bottom to the viewfinder, and subtract the height of the ballhead.

Also, if you have a tripod set up so the viewfinder goes ALL the way up to your eye, you'll feel like you need to stand on your toes.  It's more comfortable to have your viewfinder on the tripod just a couple inches shorter than your eye line so you can lean in around a tripod leg.  In the table above, I gave everyone an extra 2 inches from what you probably need in terms of height just to accommodate personal preferences.  I'm 5'10” and my Feisol CT3442 is a comfortable height for me.

The table above should give you a good idea of what tripod would be an ideal fit for your height.  But you can probably even skimp another 2 inches and be fine (meaning buying a tripod 2 inches shorter than what the table says).

Things to Check Before Pulling the Trigger on a Tripod

  • Does the tripod use a center column?  Almost all of the serious landscape photographers I have shot with either buy a tripod without a center column (my preference), or they remove theirs (if it has that feature).  Center columns make it so you can't get as low to the ground to get creative angles.  Some tripods allow the center column to flip upside down, but in my opinion, this is too much of a hassle.  It's RARE that I meet a serious landscape photographer with a center column.
  • Can this tripod go with me in a carry-on?  This is the number one question I ask when looking at a tripod.  I need something small enough that I can go through airplane security in any country around the world without issue.  I would never want to check a tripod.
  • Is the tripod overkill for my setup?  As more and more serious photographers switch to lighter weight mirrorless setups, tripod needs also change.  The gigantic beefy tripods of 10 years ago aren't necessary for many photographers anymore.  You certainly want something sturdy and well made, but don't go overboard and get something heavier and bulkier than you really need.
  • How many sections do you want?  The more sections you have in your tripod, the more points of failure in terms of strength.  Also, more joints mean more legs to unlock and extend.  However, more sections on your tripod mean it collapses much smaller.  I personally prefer having four sections on each leg (3 joints) to keep the size down.
  • Snap or twist locks?  I personally prefer twist locks because they seem more sturdy to me over the long run.  Snap locks are faster to use, but have a tendency to be a little loose after a couple years of use.

Why I Picked the Feisol CT3442

I bought my Feisol CT3442 on Amazon four years ago and have not had problems with it despite the fact that I've never once cleaned it (I know, I'm bad), dragging it through many countries including dunking it in the Li River, abusing it with sea salt in 4 oceans, etc.

Here were my primary reasons for choosing this tripod.  

  • It's super light weight, which is absolutely essential for me as I travel for most of my shoots.
  • It collapses very small so I can attach it to my bag and TSA doesn't even take a second look at it.  I've never had trouble getting on a flight with it attached to my carry-on.
  • It's sturdy–despite using it in PUNISHING winds in Ireland, Iceland, and other places.
  • It comes at a very reasonable price point.  I could buy two and a half of these tripods for the cost of a Really Right Stuff tripod (which is too heavy for my needs anyway)
  • It's the PERFECT height to come right to my eye without hunching (I'm 5'10” or 178cm for those of you across the pond).

My tripod isn't suited to everyone.  If you shoot with a full frame DSLR and lenses more than 300mm, I would steer you toward a different tripod.  I have shot with a 600mm lens and a Nikon D810 on my tripod multiple times and didn't have even the slightest issue, but it's just not built for that.

Also, the rubber feet came off all three legs of my tripod a couple years ago, causing me to get a replacement.  Feisol has FANTASTIC customer service.  I recommend if you buy a Feisol tripod, just put a dab of super glue on the feet just to be sure.

If I Were Buying a Ballhead Today, I'd Buy…

I purchased the Really Right Stuff BH40 Ballhead several years ago and it has been GREAT!  Absolutely no complaints whatsoever and no problems.

However, if I were buying today, I'd probably go with what my buddy Nick Page chose: The Acratech GP Ballhead with a lever clamp.  It's just as rugged and solid as the Really Right Stuff, but has more cool features.

Here are some reasons to love the Acratech:

  • It's just as light as the Really Right Stuff BH40 at 1.5 pounds.
  • It has an open ball design which prevents grease and grime and sand from getting in the ball.  This is really cool, but I will also say that I haven't had this issue with my RRS head either.
  • Works as a gimbal head for shooting wildlife with long lenses.
  • It looks cool.  Yes, I admit it.  I care.

Again, there is NOTHING wrong with a Really Right Stuff Ballhead.  They will last you for a career and are exceptionally well made.  I don't regret buying mine, but it doesn't have the features of the Acratech, so if I were buying today I'd probably go with that one.

Conclusion

While I do think it's worth spending good money on a higher-end tripod and ballhead to get a setup that will last you many years, most photographers don't need to spend this much money.  There are some FANTASTIC setups available from Sirui, Induro, Manfrotto (don't recommend their heads, though), Benro, and others.


About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.

Comments

  1. Excellent review! Subject to anyone desire a tool he actually need. It brings a chain of questions (except of technical issues: weight of photo hanged set/focus used).
    I shoot the landscapes. For me the tripod head & tripod should be as steady & realiable as was MG-42 mit Lafette. Anybody quarells?

  2. I use the same legs and ballhead and absolutely love them, so great advice 🙂

    Also worth mentioning the Acratech can be flipped over for a leveled panning head. Can come in handy!

  3. Has the feedback on the Three Legged Thing Winston been good? I haven’t been able to find much on it.

    1. Author

      @Rob – I haven’t tried it personally, but I’m not sure it’d be a great fit for a serious landscape photographer because of the center column. I consider it more of a travel tripod, but that’s just my preference. I’m sure there are serious landscape photographers who love it.

  4. Jim, I simply love your website, and your portfolio reviews have advanced my amateur landscape photography faster than any other source. Your recommended tripod heights, however, may be too short! They’re fine for level ground, but what about when you’re standing in water and your tripod legs sink 6″? Or what about rocky hillsides when one leg has to be extended much further than the other two? In those situations, that extra height (or a center column) comes in handy!

  5. I can’t speak to the Acratech GP, but I have the slightly lighter Acratech GPss and have had issues with the tension on the ball letting go when I had a D750 + 14-24mm with Lee Filter holder on it, and then again with a D7200 + 70-200mm. The GPss might be better suited to mirrorless setups, even though Acratech rates both for the same load (25lb). And I cranked on the tension knob too, but it still caused the camera to flop over and crash to the ground (camera took some damage around the mount, but the lens hood took the brunt of the damage thankfully).

  6. I bought a Feisol CT3442 and Acratech GP ballhead about three years ago. I was tired of flimsy tripods but needed something that would pack easily into a carry-on bag and was lightweight. I met my friend Will on a photo outing of a group I had just joined and he had…a Feisol CT3442 and Acratech GP ballhead. Of such coincidences friendships are formed. One of my tripod legs got stuck late last fall so I ordered a replacement kit for the various spacers and bearings for the tripod, disassembled it, thoroughly cleaned it and rebuilt it and it’s as good as new. Both the tripod and ballhead are covered in nicks, dings and scratches attesting to its constant use over the last four years but will remain in my service for years to come. I shot this with a Canon 5D Mark III with the Tamron 150-600 lens without trouble but it’s currently home to my Fuji X-T2 and it handles the camera with 100-400 lens like a champ. This summer it will host an iOptron SkyTracker as I use it to track the sun on a stretch of highway between Warm Springs and Madras, Oregon, in the path of the total solar eclipse. I’ve already tested it and I can easily polar align it during the day using the Sky Guide app on my iPhone.

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