Buying a tripod is an absolutely agonizing process. I was reminded of my past experiences in buying a tripod when I listened to a podcast from Marko Kulik this week. Unless you're an absolute beginner in photography, you already know how important a rock solid tripod and ballhead can be. If you buy a high-quality tripod, you will likely own it for at least 10 years before needing to replace it, so choosing a tripod can be quite difficult.
To that end, I wrote this post to review some information about various tripod manufacturers that you might find interesting.
If Gitzo were a car, it would be a Ferrari. Gitzo is widely considered to produce the best tripods on earth, but its tripods come with a price tag that you wouldn't believe! Many of their tripods start at a price of $800. The Ferrari comparison is not only fitting to describe the quality and price of its products, but also to point out that Gitzo is headquartered in northern Italy.
Gitzo has established a name for itself through innovation. It was the first company to create a carbon fiber tripod, and it was also the first company to create a basalt tripod. When Gitzo makes a move in the industry, others are sure to follow.
My recommendation: If you're made of money, buy a Gitzo. If you're buying a Gitzo, I particularly like this one that I played with at a camera store once, but have not tested in the field.
Many photographers will be surprised to learn that Manfrotto and Gitzo are actually subsidiaries of the same company: The Vitec Group. In fact, Gitzo tripods are all distributed under the Manfrotto name.
While the two companies may live in one household, they are quite different in terms of features and design. Manfrotto tripods are well respected in the industry as a quality and cost-effective choice for tripods.
Judging from my own anecdotal experience, I would guess that 50% or more of advanced amateur photographers choose the 055XPROB as their first quality tripod. This Manfrotto tripod is durable, rock solid, and cost-effective.
I have to admit that I'm an Induro fanboy. I have tried nearly every brand of tripod and have never been more pleased with any other brand.
In my opinion, Induro produces tripods that are of the same or nearly the same quality as Gitzo, but at a reasonable price point. I also like that Induro tends to include a few more features on some of its tripods than other brands, like bubble levels and carrying cases (that never fit the tripod with a ballhead attached–ug!). Another reason I like Induro products is that they often produce tripods which are taller than other brands. While I'm only 5'10” (1.7 meters), I often set my tripod up to a height of 7 feet (2.1 meters) to capture an interesting angle.
If you're looking at purchasing an Induro tripod, you might consider this aluminum tripod if you don't mind carrying a little weight (I don't), or you might look at this carbon fiber tripod if you have money to burn.
Like the Gitzo/Manfrotto connection, Benro and Induro are both owned by the same company: the Mac Group.
I have to confess that I don't have any hands-on experience with Benro products. From looking at their products, it is obvious that they specialize in Gitzo knock-offs. Reviews online seem to suggest that they do a good job with their knock-offs and they produce good products. I would be interested to try them out.
If any of you have actual experience with Benro products, I'd love to hear about it in a comment below. I may end up driving to Tampa or Miami some time in the next few months to check out a few photography stores that have Benro products–just because I'm curious.
The “Other Guys”
A few people in the comments below gave a shout-out to Feisol tripods. I have never seen one of their tripods in person, but they look good on paper. They look to be taking all the major inventions from Gitzo (anti-rotation legs, legs fold over head, etc), but the designs seem to be unique to Feisol. Interesting company. Maybe I'll buy one so I can review it for the site.
I have sunk my money in several tripod companies in the past that delivered horrific products. I returned my RocketFish tripod from Best Buy within a few hours of purchase, and I have seen several of my photography students buy the Flashpoint F-1118 and it has to be the most rickety tripod I've ever seen. Other tripod manufacturers include Slik, Vanguard, and Giottos. I have not personally seen them produce any tripods that warranted my attention, but I haven't seen all of their product lines.
I found some of this information by reading a post by Roger Cicala at LensRentals.com. As with all of Roger's articles, it's well worth your time.