As a beginner have you ever wondered what all does a tripod comprise of? Maybe, maybe not. Though a tripod is not a very complicated system but it is always good to know everything you can about your equipment. A tripod is nothing more than a mere arrangement of various smaller systems. This basic definition applies to all kinds of tripods out there – big, small, flexible, magnetic, wooden, etc.
I guess I should have written this article sooner nevertheless, let’s dive in and learn about the different tripod parts. I’m sure you will be amazed by such simple mechanisms which when put together give us the best photographic tool other than the camera of course!
Breaking the Thing Down
As I have mentioned before, almost all tripods can be broken down into 3 main categories. The head, the body, and the feet. Now you may argue about the central columns or other paraphernalia like a hook or something. These accessories are optional and therefore do not make or break a tripod. Another point which may arise in a beginner’s mind is that since all the tripods are essentially the same why is the market flooded with so many companies making all kinds of tripods. That’s because, though they are same, every tripod is still different. Let’s take an example. What comes to your mind when we talk about difference yet singularity? – PEOPLE, that’s right. In the same way, tripods are different. They differ in size, weight, load capacity, purpose, etc. but their work is essentially the same. What we need to understand is choosing a tripod is an important task and to do so one must be aware of the tripod’s specifications and features. These must be compared to what he/she needs for his/her photographic demands. A person must watch his pocket too. After all these conditions are met, only then I would recommend buying it.
All the separate parts again come in multiple shapes and sizes and every part has equal importance, when combined together, their goal is but one – TO KEEP YOUR CAMERA STABLE. Let’s discuss the various parts from the head to the feet in the next sections.
To see some of the recommended tripods for traveling, click here.
The Head – Keeps Everything Together
The upper part of the tripod system consists of two things – A Head and Quick Release Plate. That’s essentially all. The quick release plate and the sits on top of the head and it varies from head to head. The head, in fact, is the main point of concern. There are many tripod heads available in the market and depending on your preference and need you can choose from them.
PAN/TILT HEADThe pan/tilt head as the name suggests can be moved/ panned across the frame along the axes. There are two kinds of these heads – 3-way and 2-way (fluid & video head). The 3-way head again as the name suggests can be maneuvered along the 3 axes. It works by unscrewing the handles which enable these movements. The main advantage is precision and durability but due to the bulk, they are surpassed by ball heads. These can be great options for still, fine art, landscape or model shoots. For more information check this article.
Ball heads constitute of metal or high-quality plastic ball enclosed in a metal casing. That ball enables the camera to be rotated 360 degrees and can lock in any position. These heads are great options for beginners as well as professionals. Travel photographers love this head owing to its small size and ease of use. A ball head generally has torsion control only but the more expensive ones even come with friction controls, gears for panning, bubble level, etc. For more information check this article.
Pistol grip head is a modification of the ball head. The ball head is attached to a grip like that of a gun. Instead of playing around with a knob as in conventional ball heads, a trigger is used. You have to press the trigger to loosen the grip and move the head to the desired location and release it. This locks it into place. It has a very simple mechanism and is suited for sports photography because of its ability to reposition fast.
These special heads are solely made to support heavy telephoto lenses. It will be illogical and inappropriate to mount small lenses on these heads. They work on the principle of balance and are a God’s gift to people who struggle with a telephoto lens. It makes the lens very simple and convenient to use. They are heavy and bulky, thus not suitable for all kinds of photography. You can see these heads with sports photographers or wildlife ones.
QUICK RELEASE PLATE
Quick Release plate or QR plate is the plate that sits on the head of a tripod. It has a screw which connects to the base of your camera. The camera sits on top of this plate. Different heads have different plates but their purpose is the same. These days a standard has been set by Arca Swiss. These are universal plates and are supported by most of the leading camera brands. Also, there are various brackets and collars available but finding the right one for your system can be a tedious task.
The Body & Neck – Main Support System
The body of the tripod is its main support system. The body of the tripod is made up of mainly two parts – Chassis and the Legs. Many tripods come with a central column, geared central column, horizontal bars/arms, weight hooks. As I have mentioned before, these are extra and vary from model to model and do not render the tripod useless if absent.
The metal structure where the legs of the tripod join at the top is called the chassis of the tripod. The chassis is the neck of the tripod. It forms a base for the head to be mounted in many tripods. In other tripods, it surrounds the central column which holds the head using a collar. Systematic tripods allow the user to swap central columns, heads, etc by removing the base plate from the chassis and using a new one or a half ball leveler, etc. The legs are attached using adjustment locks. These locks allow the user to adjust the separation between the legs.
THE CENTRAL COLUMN AND HOOK
In some tripods, especially in the entry level ones, a central column may be permanently attached to the chassis, on the other hand, you have many options like lateral arms (for videography), geared column, etc for a more advanced tripod. The central column, if removable can work as a monopod also. Some tripods have a reversible central column so that you can mount your head and reverse the column in the chassis to reach extremely low heights. The geared version is heavier due to the added gear mechanism which is used to raise or lower the column. Raising the column decreases stability.
A small hook might be present in some of the tripods, it is there so that extra weight can be hung from it to increase the stability. You can even hang your own camera bag or sandbags.
The legs of the tripod are assumed to be the most important part. If the legs are weak or thin, the tripod may lose stability and tip over when you mount your camera. The 3 legs vary from tripod to tripod in terms of material used, sections, locking mechanism, etc. (Number of Sections = Number of Tubes). There are generally 3 or 4 sometimes 5 sections in a tripod. As a general rule, if the sections increase, the stability decreases.
Tripods are mostly made out of two materials – Aluminum and Carbon Fiber. Each material has its own merits and demerits. Tripods are also made out of wood (Click here more for info on wooden tripods).
ALUMINUM TRIPODS –
- Strong and Durable
- Reasonably priced
- Corrosion ( if not cared for)
- A good option for beginners (value for money)
CARBON FIBER TRIPODS –
- Extra Strong
- Good vibration absorption
- No corrosion
The height of the legs is adjusted with leg locks. These locks are of two types – Flip Locks & Twist Locks. Flip locks fix the next smaller section in place when they are flipped. These locks get loosened up after repeated use and it is advisable to go for twist locks. Twist locks are rotated half a turn to keep the sections in place.
The Feet – Rubber, Steel or Both
There isn’t much choice when we talk about the feet but there are a few things which one must know. The foot can be as simple as a block of rubber or special spikes/claws made of steel. The best option for you depends on what you need to do mostly with your tripod. Are you a landscape guy or someone who takes a lot of pictures in the mountains, ice, etc. If yes then keep a set of steel spikes by your side every time for that extra traction.If not, then the rubber foot is good for almost all other uses. These days companies make 2 in 1 feet so that you are set for each terrain. The feet are spikes covered with a block of rubber. Yank the rubber piece out and you have a spike. These two are the major choices in the market.
Phew! That was a long post! Well, I hope that after going through this article you are more aware of tripods in general. Tripod, as I said is a simple system which works perfectly and can last a very long time if the parts are well oiled and maintained. That said, while choosing a tripod don’t be hasty instead study its features and compare 2-3 more. Then choose the best one. It is not necessary that the most expensive one is the best one but generally cheap tripods don’t last long and you will outgrow them once you start buying more equipment and start expanding as a photographer.
I hope you found this post on tripod parts helpful. If you need any help or if you have any doubts be sure to leave them in the comments section below and I’ll be more than happy to answer.
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