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.
About $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.
About $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.
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.
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.
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.
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.