The 20 Best Tripod Options Under $500

Several month ago I read an article by Jim Harmer that highlighted 6 Pro Tripods for Serious Landscape Photographers.  That's an awesome article, and it covers 6 amazing tripods, but as a very serious photographer, it didn't actually cover the tripods that I would seriously want to know about.  It really got me to thinking – there are an overwhelming number of options in tripod marketplace.  Even if you have a wonderful camera store right in your town, it very likely does not have the breadth of inventory that would include all the major manufacturers of tripod equipment.  I wanted to have a resource where I could go to compare the gear that falls into the price range that I am willing to pay.  I think there are a TON of photographers out there in the world that are looking for tripods in the same price range that I am: between $200 and $500.   So, I set out on my biggest research project ever, to discover exactly what is out there.

Before I dig into the nitty gritty of the tripods, let me just point out that this article is primarily intended to be a research tool for photographers.  In some regards, I intend to leave some things a bit “open-ended.”  Yes, I will tell you what products I have chosen to buy and use going out into the future.  But I do not intend to say “buy this one, no matter what,” because every buyer has different needs.  I think that most of this gear is really more like a jigsaw puzzle.  It's about finding exactly the right fit between the gear and the end-user.  The goal here is to give you TONS and TONS of information.  I will offer up my opinions, to be sure.  Ultimately, short of maybe B&H in New York, I don't know of too many places where you can go compare 15 different brands of tripod.  My goal is to do the legwork for you (yes, there is a pun in there.)

During the summer of 2017, I'm going to take the vast majority of these tripods out to a series of meet-ups that I am calling the Tripod Roadshow.  NOTHING beats hands-on comparison of products.  As I received more and more tripods and ball heads, I realized that this is a truly amazing opportunity that very few photographers will ever really have.  So – I'm going to set up several opportunities for readers to come check these out in person!  Several of these meet-ups will include meeting some of our Improve Photography podcast hosts.  In a couple of cases, there are even private showings for folks that are participating in a couple of amazing workshops going on this Summer.  A number of the demo tripods will even be available for purchase at a discounted price at the Roadshow, depending on the wishes of the manufacturers.

If you can't make it out to a Roadshow appearance, another option is to watch my YouTube videos, where I try to give a decent overview of each product.  Sometimes it can really help to see how various features actually work.   Here is a YouTube playlist of many different tripod reviews.  I'll be adding more to this list as time goes on!

At the outset, just a quick disclaimer – some of the tripods were given to me outright by some manufacturers.  It is just easier for some companies (often the larger ones) to send them out, and not worry about having the opened box products returned.  Others were sent on loan, and I have to send them back.  In some cases, I have received the items, and I may have the option to write content for their websites/social media outlets, in exchange for possibly keeping the items I like the best.  As a photographer and a reviewer, I would NEVER undertake content creation for a product that I wouldn't buy and use myself.  The mechanism for getting the tripods to me and whether I need to return them or not is truly irrelevant to the review.

This article will feature two “divisions.”  The first division will be tripod sets.  These are legs and ball head combined, and the price for these sets will range from $175 all the way to $499.95.  The second half of the article will cover stand-alone tripod legs.  The price range on these will be from $200 to $548.00 retail.  Within each division, I am going to sort them alphabetically by manufacturer, and if the manufacturer provided more than one item, they will be listed in order of price, low-to-high.

At the end of the list of tripods, I will list my picks for a number of categories.  One thing I have to say after having spent a lot of time with these tripods is that the overall quality in the tripod marketplace is quite good!  I was pleasantly surprised by the general quality overall.  There were a few real stand-outs to me, when it comes to quality.  FLM has definitely opened my eyes, they make superb quality equipment.  Induro and Feisol also both really impressed me very much.

Complete Kits

3 Legged Thing

Model: Albert Kit (Eclipse Albert w/ AirHed 360)

Build Quality: Exceptionally good

Materials: Carbon Fiber & Anodized Aluminum

Special Features: There are really too many to go into fully in such a large-scale article.  This is NOT your grandfather's tripod.  From a cosmetic standpoint it is extremely modern and funky.  It is a tripod with an attitude.  I can easily envision other photographers and just random folks coming up to ask you questions about your ultra-cool tripod.  One big feature is that the Air Hed ball head has two panning heads on it.  The one is located at the base where you would expect to find it.  The other is at the top base, where the quick release plate attaches.  You can use this to do vertical panoramas, and the ball head functions much like a gimbal head.

Double Panning Head

I'm really fond of the design of this tripod.  It shows that the design team is thinking outside the box.  They aren't just trying to hit a specific price point, or to re-invent someone else's product.  They are making something truly their own, and clearly they take immense pride in how they go about doing that.

The bag that it comes in can even be reversed, and filled with rocks, to be hung from the center column as a stabilizer.  Another feature which is really handy is the ability to remove one of the legs and use it as a monopod.  Beneath the ball head is a mount that can be used for flashes, or any other standard gear.  All of the threads and systems used on the tripod are designed to be widely compatible with other manufacturer's equipment.

Center Column? Yes, 3 sections, but it is completely removable if you don't want it, and can be mounted upside-down for macro, etc.

Biggest “plus”: Overall strength and stability.  It's SOLID.

Greatest “negative”: With 5 section legs and 3 section center column, that's a LOT of telescoping.  That being said, it could very easily be listed as a great advantage, because that's what allows it to be folded up so small.

Would I buy it?  Definitely

Would I use it? Definitely

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow?  Yes

Specs:

Weight: 4.9 lbs.

Max Load: 66 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 19.9 in.

Extended Height: 74.4 in.

Leg type: twist


FLM

Model: CP26 Travel Kit with CB-32F Ball Head & SRB-40 Clamp

Build Quality: Exceptionally Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: What makes this tripod special is definitely not features, it's quality.  This is probably the most finely crafted pairing of legs and ball head that I have ever laid hands on.  The twist mechanism for the legs is perfectly made.  Everything about this product screams “high-end German Engineering.”  It's the equivalent of a BMW or Mercedes Benz – not cheap, but clearly made to exacting standards.

Center Column? Yes.

Biggest “plus”: Quality.  You know you are working with an exquisite tool.

Greatest “negative”: This set of legs is for travel, so the complete rig is not very tall.  I stand 5′ 10″ tall, and my DSLR mounted on this is ever-so-slightly below my eye level.

Would I buy it? Yes

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes (with a different ball head)

Specs:

Weight: 2.86 lbs (legs only)

Max Load: 26.5 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 15.3 in.

Extended Height: 55.5 in.

Leg type: twist (4 section, quarter turn, spikes included)


Manfrotto

Model: MK290XTA3-3WUS

Build Quality: Adequate

Materials: Aluminum

Special Features: 3-way panning head included

Center Column? yes

Biggest “plus”: The price is very reasonable.

Greatest “negative”: The build quality isn't totally awful, but it isn't on par with a lot of the other manufacturers.  If I were looking for a $180 tripod, this wouldn't be in the final running.  (Keep reading, the best budget options are coming up!)

Would I buy it?  No.

Would I use it? If I didn't have another option, I wouldn't be “afraid” to put my camera on it, but given the other options I have available to me: no.

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow?  No

Specs:

Weight: 5.6 lbs

Max Load: 8.8 lbs

Minimum Folded Size: 27.8 in.

Extended Height: 67.5 in.

Leg type: flip (3 sections)


Manfrotto

Model: MKBFRC4-BH

Build Quality: Adequate

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features:

Center Column? Yes

Biggest “plus”: It's light & small

Greatest “negative”: It's load capacity is extremely low, and ball head somewhat “light duty.”

Would I buy it?  No (better options at that price)

Would I use it? No (more stability available at that price.)

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow?  No

Specs:

Weight: 2.4 lbs.

Max Load: 8.8 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 15.75 in.

Extended Height: 56.7 in.

Leg type: flip (4 sections)


Manfrotto

Model: MK055XPRO3-BHQ2

Build Quality: Adequate

Materials: Aluminium

Special Features: articulating center column

Center Column? Yes (articulating)

Biggest “plus”: The center column mobility is a good idea in theory.  I would want to see it a bit more sturdy before entrusting it with my gear.

Greatest “negative”: Definitely a “rickety” feel to the mechanism that provides the angling of the center column.  It's HEAVY, but not a feeling of being solid and sturdy.

Would I buy it? No.

Would I use it? Only with center column straight up and down.  I wouldn't trust the angle feature.

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? No

Specs:

Weight: 6.6 lbs.

Max Load: 17.6 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 28.5″

Extended Height: 71.5″

Leg type: flip (3 section)


MeFoto

Model: Road Trip Air

Build Quality: Light, but Good

Materials: Aluminum

Special Features: Very handy smartphone adapter, and somewhat less “cool” option of a built in selfie stick!  Hyperlock Leg system is a very speedy and handy way to set up extremely quickly.

Center Column? Yes

Biggest “plus”: Perfect to leave in your glove box, or under the car seat.  The smartphone holder is AWESOME for doing behind the scenes videos, handling the phone on a skype call, etc.  I have used it more for that feature than anything else, since having it.

Greatest “negative”: While it can handle a DSLR with a lens, I would be a lot more comfortable with the next MeFoto on the list.  The sturdiness goes up substantially.

Would I buy it? Perhaps

Would I use it? Yes (especially for cell phone live streaming, behind the scenes work, and an “always in the car” tripod, just to have there in case of some photography emergency.)

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 2.5 lbs.

Max Load: 13.2 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 11.4 in.

Extended Height: 61 in.

Leg type: Hyper-lock (5 sections)


MeFoto

Model:  Road Trip (classic)

Build Quality: Very Good

Materials: Aluminum

Special Features: Spiked feet

Center Column? Yes

Biggest “plus”: This is a much sturdier version than the MeFoto Air.  Of the two, I would definitely prefer this for my DSLR

Greatest “negative”: It doesn't have the cell phone doo-dads that the Air has.

Would I buy it? If I was looking for a budget level travel tripod… yes.

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 3.6 lbs

Max Load: 17.6 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 15.6 in.

Extended Height: 61.8 in.

Leg type: twist (5 sections)


Sirui

Model:T-2004XL

Build Quality: Good

Materials: Aluminum

Special Features:

Center Column? Yes

Biggest “plus”: A reasonably sturdy tripod setup for the price

Greatest “negative”: The twist lock mechanisms on the legs don't operate nearly as smoothly as on their better tripods.

Would I buy it? If I was looking for a budget tripod set, yes.

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 4.5 lbs.

Max Load: 33.1 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 18.5 in.

Extended Height: 67.9 in.

Leg type: twist (4 sections)


Vanguard

Model: Alta Pro 2+ 263AB

Build Quality: Good

Materials: Aluminum

Special Features: The most notable feature in this tripod is the articulating center column.   It can be adjusted to a vast array of angles, and you can even mount an off camera flash on one end, while the ball head is on the other (you will need a clamp to do this, check out this Kupo clamp!)

Center Column? Yes, articulating.

Biggest “plus”: Of the various options for articulating center columns in a budget price point, this was hands down the most stable.

Greatest “negative”: This tripod is certainly stable in the realm of $229 dollar tripods.  The only negative thing I have to offer is that in comparison with more expensive options, you can get increased stability.  Without looking at a higher budget, though, this is absolutely fantastic.

Would I buy it? Yes

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 5 lbs.

Max Load: 15.4 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 29.0 in.

Extended Height: 68.2 in.

Leg type: twist (3 section, quarter turn)


Tripod Legs (Stand-Alone)

Benro

Model: FGP-28A

Build Quality: Very Good

Materials: Aluminum

Special Features:

Center Column? yes

Biggest “plus”:

Greatest “negative”: This may seem silly, but the canvas bag that comes with it doesn't include enough extra room for your ball head.  For such a nice bag (and it is NICE), I would have greatly preferred an extra 4 inches of storage space for a standard ball head inside the bag.

Would I buy it? Yes (although I greatly prefer the TAD-27C for just $50 more.  Much lighter, big jump up for just $50.)

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 4.2 lbs.

Max Load: 30.9 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 19.5 in.

Extended Height: 65.2 in.

Leg type: twist (4 sections)


Benro

Model: TAD-27C

Build Quality: Very Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber/Magnesium

Special Features: This tripod is extremely light, and strong.  I think this product hits an AMAZING value-for-dollar ratio.  At only $250.00 it is by no means one of the more expensive set of legs I have looked at for this article, but it has incredible “bang for the buck.”  The flip levers on the carbon fiber legs also make it SUPER fast to set up.  If you don't want to fiddle with the legs for more than a fleeting moment, this could very well be the budget tripod for you!

Center Column? yes

Biggest “plus”: Quality-for-Dollar ratio

Greatest “negative”: Because it's a 3-section leg, it doesn't get very small.  The minimum folding length is a bit over two feet long.  BUT, the carrying case that it comes with leaves plenty of extra room for your ball head (unlike some other models)

Would I buy it? Definitely

Would I use it? Definitely

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 3.04 lbs.

Max Load: 26.46 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 24.21 in.

Extended Height: 63.78

Leg type: flip (3 sections)


Feisol

Model: CT-3442

Build Quality: Exceptionally Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: Feisol is among a group of tripod manufacturers where I really feel the special feature is just simple quality.  It's the same with Acratech, FLM, Induro, Novoflex, Really Right Stuff… with many of the truly good products it's more a function of how elegantly and reliably they perform their basic function, over tons of bells and whistles.  A specific example would be articulating center columns.  While several great brands will enable a center column to be reversed, and put in upside-down, rarely will you see any sorts of ‘gimmicky' things.

Center Column? No

Biggest “plus”: Exceptional strength for an extremely light tripod (55 lbs held by 2.5)

Greatest “negative”: Nothing, really.  As a 4-section leg, you have 3 adjusters to manipulate instead of two, but that's just a matter of seconds, and the trade off is that the legs fold up smaller due to those 4 sections.

Would I buy it? Definitely

Would I use it? Definitely

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 2.5 lbs.

Max Load: 55 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 18.9 in.

Extended Height: 54.3 in.

Leg type: twist (4 section)


Feisol

Model: CT-3372

Build Quality: Exceptionally Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: (read comment for tripod above this one.)

Center Column? no

Biggest “plus”: Really the only “big landscape tripod” in the whole batch that I examined.

Greatest “negative”: As a large landscape tripod, it doesn't fold up very small (about 25 inches long at the shortest)

Would I buy it? Yes

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? No – all other Feisol products will, but they needed this one back as their trade show demo unit.

Specs:

Weight: 3.8 lbs.

Max Load: 66 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 24.8 in.

Extended Height: 58.3 in.

Leg type: twist (3 sections)


FLM

Model: CP26-Travel

Build Quality: Exemplary

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: This tripod just oozes quality.  It doesn't offer up any goofy tricks, but it is AMAZINGLY well built.

Center Column? Yes

Biggest “plus”: Build quality – the twist locks on the legs operate with a precision that really stands alone in everything I have tested.

Greatest “negative”: it's a travel tripod, meaning it's intended to be very small when folded up, but it doesn't get very tall.  (55.5 in.)

Would I buy it? Definitely

Would I use it? Definitely

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 2.8 lbs.

Max Load: 26.5 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 15.3 in.

Extended Height: 55.5 in.

Leg type: twist (4 sections)


Induro

Model: GIHH75CP “Baby Grand”

Build Quality: Exceptionally Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: This is a low-angle beast!  At full height it's only about 11 inches.  Designed for interesting perspectives, and it comes with three sets of feet.  One of those includes the ability to be bolted down onto a surface.

Center Column? No

Biggest “plus”: Very small, will encourage you to “get low” with your shots.

Greatest “negative”: It's a bit of a specialty item.

Would I buy it? Definitely

Would I use it? Definitely

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 3.1 lbs.

Max Load: 165 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 9.3 in.

Extended Height: 11 in.

Leg type: twist (2 section)


Induro

Model: GIT203

Build Quality: Exceptionally Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: Modular Center base can be a flat plate, a geared column, a video bowl, etc.   The modular section is locked in place by a flip lever, and when disengaged, it lifts out with the greatest ease.  I'm especially fond of how solidly that modular object seats into the main body of the tripod.  There is ZERO wiggle room or instability from this feature.  Instead of foam cushions on the legs, the Induro has “leg warmers” that are held on by velcro.  This is a superb option both for cleaning them when they get sweaty and grimy, but also to remove them when you are looking to shed unwanted ounces for a long hike, and you simply don't need the extra weight.

Center Column? Modular option.  It comes with a flat plate, but you can add it if you want.

Biggest “plus”: There are three: 1) It's EXTREMELY solid.  and 2) The Modular mechanism makes it amazingly flexible. 3) It comes with 3 sets of feet, including a set of spikes.

Greatest “negative”: None

Would I buy it? I am.

Would I use it? I do.

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 4.1 lbs.

Max Load: 44.1 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 24.6 in.

Extended Height: 53.15 in.

Leg type: twist (3 sections)


Oben

Model: CT-2491

Build Quality: Exceptionally Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber & Cast Aluminum

Special Features: This is a great quality tripod for the price range.  It is not overly laden with “special features,” but it's super strong, super tall, extremely light, and an all-around fantastic option.  The one “feature” that stands out from other tripods is that it does have retractable spikes in the feet.

Center Column? Yes (split center, hex key provided to shorten it.)

Biggest “plus”: SUPER tall tripod for this price range.  At 72 inches,

Greatest “negative”: None

Would I buy it? Yes

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 3.5 lbs.

Max Load: 39.6 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 23.3 in.

Extended Height: 72.5 in.

Leg type: twist (4 section)


Sirui

Model: W-2204

Build Quality: Exceptionally Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: 1 leg detaches as a monopod

Center Column? yes (split)

Biggest “plus”: This is another “great value for the money” tripod.  Extremely sturdy, solid gear, reasonable price.  The “W” represents that it is Waterproof.

Greatest “negative”: I don't feel there is anything negative about this set of legs in the price range where they are.  The only reason I didn't decide to buy these and have them as my ongoing set of legs is the modular system of Induro.  If I wanted to keep the price down, these would have been a serious contender!

Would I buy it? Yes

Would I use it? Yes

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 3.7 lbs.

Max Load: 39.7 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 20.5 in.

Extended Height: 70.9 in.

Leg type: twist (4 sections)


Slik

Model: Pro 724 CF

Build Quality: Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: Split/Removable/Reversible center column gives you the flexibility to shoot normally, or to invert for macro/copy work.

Center Column? yes (split/remove/reverse)

Biggest “plus”: This is a decent tripod for $230.  It doesn't have a fantastically huge holding capacity for a carbon fiber tripod, but it is rated for 11 pounds, which will certainly include most full frame cameras with a 70-200 attached.

Greatest “negative”: The build quality is decent, but the ‘feel' of the carbon fiber extending/contracting, adjusting is just a tad ‘sticky' feeling.  It's almost as though the components aren't quite 100% refined to the point where they move flawlessly.  Especially when compared to other tripods that have this machining down to a precise extent, it's just “ok”, not great.

Would I buy it? Honestly, probably not.  At virtually this exact price point, I would go for the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+, or the MeFoto Road Trip.  The discussion above about the machining just feeling “close but not quite there” would prevent me from making this my chosen tripod.

Would I use it? Yes, I don't consider it an unsafe tripod, or something that wouldn't do the job… it's just not quite as nice as the other stuff in the exact same price range.

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 3 lbs.

Max Load: 11 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 18.6 in.

Extended Height: 64.4 in.

Leg type: twist (4 sections)


Slik

Model: Pro 824 CF

Build Quality: Good

Materials: Carbon Fiber

Special Features: Split/Removable/Reversible center column gives you the flexibility to shoot normally, or to invert for macro/copy work.

Center Column? yes (split/remove/reverse)

Biggest “plus”: A pretty decent tripod for $320.

Greatest “negative”: I  have the same concern with this tripod as with the 724CF.  The legs just don't move in/out fluidly at all.  They behave as though there is a suction problem, and they “stutter” and “shake” as you pull the components in one direction or the other.  Even when you loosen up the twist mechanism REALLY far, the movement just isn't wonderful.

Would I buy it? No, if I were going to spend over $300 on legs, I would opt for the Sirui at the exact same price, or bump up a few bucks, and get the Feisol 3442 at $399.

Would I use it? Yes, I certainly am not “worried” about this tripod, but I just don't find it a top contender at this price point, compared to the others that I mentioned.

Will it be available to try on the Roadshow? Yes

Specs:

Weight: 35 lbs.

Max Load: 18 lbs.

Minimum Folded Size: 18 in.

Extended Height: 64.1 in.

Leg type: twist (4 sections)


My Favorite Choice

So the main reason I set the price range of $200 – $500 is because that is the range that I was looking to be spending on a tripod.  After having spent quite a bit of time with these tripods, I am selecting the Induro GIT203 as the legs I will be using for my day-to-day tripod.  There are a number of reasons why I chose this one:

  1. It's incredibly well built.
  2. It's light, yet it holds 44.1 pounds.
  3. The twist locks work perfectly.  (some tend to be fussier than others, and it goes VERY MUCH by price point.)
  4. Most of all, I LOVE the modular options.  The geared center column should be awesome, as should the leveling adapter.
  5. Having gotten to know the product line-up, I actually may very well bump up my budget a little bit, and get the GIT404XL.  It's in the same series as the 203, but it's heavier, and the max height is 71 inches.  I'm looking to put a lot of equipment on a tripod, so I think the extra stability may be the smartest option.
  6. It's worth noting that Induro is NOT one of the brands that was provided for me to keep.  I have these legs on loan through the end of the summer.

My Runner Up

The FLM CP26 legs are absolutely wonderfully built.  The thing that made it a relatively easy decision for me is the overall height.  That FLM set is only 55 inches including the center column being raised all the way.  The Induro is 53 inches without a center column.  Once I put a geared column in there, I'm looking at a substantial increase.  I would ABSOLUTELY purchase this if I wasn't looking for extended height.  The engineering and build is absolutely wonderful.  The folks over at FLM are sending out some additional products for me to show on the Tripod Roadshow, and I'm extremely interested to see what their larger tripod legs are like, instead of the travel legs.  If I had the disposable cash to have this as a “keep it in the car” tripod, I would in a heartbeat.  This is an amazing product.  Again, just for full disclosure, the FLM products are on loan only, and were not given to me as part of the review.  They will be shipped back to Canada after the Roadshow.  Or, I'll win the lottery and buy them – cause they are AWESOME.

The Most Unique

3 Legged Thing's Albert is just so funky!  It's a really original, awesome design.  I think it will be the perfect fit for a lot of photographers.  It has attitude, and a lot of spunk.  It is definitely going to attract attention, and it's almost a fashion accessory.  None of this is at the expense of quality, though.  It's SUPER solid.  I really view this as the perfect fit for someone who is really a statement-maker.  Albert would be the greatest conversation starter, and SO much fun to shoot with.

Best For Mid-Budget

If you are looking for a fantastic set of legs that are quite affordable, check out the Benro TAD-27C!  That tripod seems to be a very noticeable jump up from the various tripods that are just $20-$50 cheaper.  The other mid-budget champion is the Oben CT-2491.  Both of these sets of legs are absolutely fantastic at affordable prices.

Best For Lower Budget

The Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB  and the MeFoto Road Trip essentially come in as a tie for me, in the $200ish bracket.  The MeFoto is really nice and stable for the price and size.  The Vanguard offers that funky opposable center column.  They pull it off with a LOT more stability and strength than the other options that do this.  Every person has their own biases, and I am pretty biased toward a conventional, straight up & down setup.  I would like the weight of my gear centered directly above the center line of a tripod, and not risk a tip-over.

Overall Observations

I found the quality and prices to generally match up very directly with each other.  There may be some slight overlaps, but in almost every case, a $400 product is better than a $300 product, even when you cross manufacturers.  With this many products on the market, it's obvious that there is a TON of competition between these manufacturers.  They know how to price things accordingly, and as the consumer you will definitely be able to quickly tell the difference as you increase your budget and get into the “better stuff.”

13 thoughts on “The 20 Best Tripod Options Under $500”

  1. I’ve been looking at the MeFoto Air since I don’t need it to hold as much weight. I shoot Micro Four Thirds. Is it steady enough to use for long exposures?

    1. Definitely, I wouldn’t worry about it with a Micro 4/3 camera. I put my 5D Mark IV and a 100-400mm lens on it, just to see how it held up under that weight. It managed that, although I wouldn’t want it to be an ongoing set-up. I think you would be in great shape! Those Hyper-lock legs are really fast/easy to set up, too!

    1. Yeah, that Feisol/Acratech combo is awesome!!! I shot that exact pairing for a long time, until the Induro arrived. As a stand-alone tripod, I really feel the Induro and Feisol are extremely similar. The thing that sold me on the Induro were the other modular options. I love the variety of what it can do. But yeah… AWESOME setup with that Feisol and Acratech!

  2. Could have done with this article a few weeks ago!

    That said, I went for the Three Legged Thing Albert (first review) and after using it for a couple of weeks – I totally endorse everything said about it here. Great build and design.

    It does get some negative comments about the twist locks (not sure they are tight) but I’ve not found it no problem. The height fully extended is well over 6feet and on my first outing at a regular spot of mine,I was able to get a shot of a tree and hills in the background, I couldn’t get with my old tripod.

    1. That’s awesome!! Albert was one of the biggest surprises to me in doing all this research. What a cool tripod!! I hope more folks get to know about it, and consider it… a great option!

  3. Not a bad list of tripods to be reviewed, and I for one agree with John above, the the 3Legged Thing tripods are great to use. I have an older Eric, that extends far higher than you would think is necessary, but is handy to have. Good article.

  4. Scott vanDenBergh

    Great Job Mark. You made a comment about the FLM being short but I see that both the Feisol’s are under 59″. I was tending toward the Feisol’s because of weight but the cheaper one is only 55″, that seems short?

    1. @Scott the FLM includes a center column. The Feisol is without a center column. You can add a center column to the Feisol to get more height. With the FLM, that particular set of legs is at max height. I’m really excited to see another set of legs that FLM will be sending out to me, much taller, but also much more expensive. Honestly, I think both Feisol and FLM are AWESOME, and I would put Induro right in there, too. Three superb options!

  5. I have owned 2 TLT tripods now. I would like to give a word of caution. They have not held up well. Legs are always coming loose. Locking tab for extending legs out has come off and doesn’t work well now. I love the concept and design. Also that they are an English company (I’m from the UK). But sadly I have found them to be design over function. As an engineer I don’t think it would be that difficult for them to correct the issues. I must state that my tripods are over 3 years old. So maybe they’ve resolved the problems. But given the cost. I won’t try them again.

    1. Mike – I’ve seen some bad reviews on their previous models but the new models seem to have a better showing. How old are the tripods you own? I’m looking for a good travel tripod and the TLT Eclipse Leo seems like a good option but I also don’t want to drop $380 on a tripod that has mixed reviews either.

  6. I’ve been researching tripod legs and I am not able to find a good solid one with flip lock. I have found them, but max wt is 19#. Can you give me a couple of suggestions? I have always had flip lock and tried an Induro recently but returned it because the twist lock was a problem and the leg fell off. I shoot wildlife and have to be ready to run, set up and shoot in seconds. I am hoping you can include a few flip locks in your test.
    Thank you in advance for any suggestions you may have.

  7. Mark – I am looking to upgrade my beginner tripod to a sturdier one. Looked at manfrotto 055 series initially, decided CF better for me. Checked out a nice sturdy gitzo i love, but $800 for just legs is pricey. Thought around $400 for legs and i like the RRS BH40 head to add to it. I am 5’6″ female, confused by heights listed sometimes. If they are with the center column extended, they seem short. Assume i want a center column for flexability to be able go higher. Travel is definitely in the cards but sturdiness and weight is most important. I like to shoot people, wildlife and travel photos. Since you did not look at manfrotto and gitzo legs only is there a reason? What would you recommend?

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