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Recommended Tripods (overview)

Last updated 2013-04-19 - Send Feedback
Related: gear, Really Right Stuff, tripods and support

Recommending a tripod really depends on usage.

The right solution is to own three tripods of varying sizes. Seriously. Or at least if your shooting varies, as mine does: too heavy and you won’t take it, too light and your images will suffer in some cases, etc. A reasonable bow to practicality is a medium size tripod.

I own five tripods of varying sizes, all Gitzos: the GT0531, G1228, G1325, GT3540XLS, G1548. See The Sharpest Image in DAP for my research on tripods and more. They all are in a drawer now; I switched to Really Right Stuff.

Tripod head

A tripod head needs to be matched in size and weight to the tripod. Don’t buy one without knowing what the other will be.

Weight

Remember that what counts is total weight: the tripod and the ballhead. So saving a few hundred grams while compromising stability makes no sense if the overall rig is in the 1200+ gram range.

Useful height

When working in the field (mountains, creeks, steep slopes), I greatly prefer the Gitzo 3541XLS for its extra long legs which can solve problems on steep slopes or at creekside into a hole.

Really Right Stuff Carbon Fiber Tripods

Really Right Stuff has enjoyed my business for years because of their outstanding quality for photographic accessories like L-brackets, ballheads, rails and bars, etc.

Really right Stuff tripod lineup

In the past year, RRS has begun offering their own line of carbon fiber tripods (see also this handy graphic comparing the models).

Please see my Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripods review in DAP for details on which models I chose and why, as well as my field notes and recommendations and high-res images of the construction.

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Model specifications

  Max Height
(inches)
Weight
(pounds)
Leg Sections Folded Length
(inches)
Comments
TVC-23 52.4 3.2 3 23.6  
TVC-24 49.2 3.2 4 18.7 Short length could be ideal for airplane travel or backpacking.
TVC-24L 66.75 3.75 4 23.5 Replaces my Gitzo 1338 and similar. Extra height handy in many situations. Reasonable weight, very sturdy, but heavy setups could be top-heavy.
My most used tripod.
TVC-33S 49.75 4.0 3 23.0  
TVC-33 58 4.25 3 26.0  
TVC-34L
70 4.7 4 24.5 Replaces my Gitzo 3540XLS; extra height handy for a long leg downhill, into a stream bed, etc. Very sturdy and robust, a pleasure to work with with even very heavy gear.

Field use

After using (and buying) the TVC-24L and TVC-34L, there remains no doubt in my mind that the RRS tripods are by far the best carbon fiber tripods available on the market today. I have abandoned my Gitzo tripods of similar size, and I’ll be using the RRS tripods from now on.

Points of note

Shown below is the top of the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L. Note the following:

  • Embedded bubble level;
  • Top-grade machined parts in anodized black;
  • 3/8" bolt for a secure and robust connection to tripod head;
  • Large flat plate for stability;
  • No center column to reduce stability of the platform;
  • Large hook onto which can be hung weight to stabilize the tripod in wind, etc.
  • Standard allen wrenches sockets for leg tightness;
  • Easy leg extension by pulling out the silver-colored locks.
  • Anti-twist legs with large robust knobs (not shown).
  • Wide diameter rubber feet with large surface area for stability (not shown).

Click to view a high resolution image of the TVC-34L.

Really right Stuff TVC-34L tripod

Reader comments

Reader Dr Joseph San Laureano of Melbourne Australia reports:

I would like to comment on the RRS tripods. My colleage and I purchased this tripod 1 month ago and both of us had problems within one week of use. In particular, both of us experienced failure of the release at the top of each leg which allows the tripod legs to be splayed out for getting low to the ground. Initially one leg failed but this was quickly followed by the others. The fact that both of us has this occur suggest that there is some fundemental flaw in its design. RSS offered to repair or send replacement parts but offered no suggestions as to why this might have occurred.

Dr Joseph San Laureano Melbourne Australia (currently shooting in Greenland)

DIGLLOYD: Really Right Stuff responds:

We have seen spring failures in a small percentage of units. It is significant enough that we have now redesigned the mechanism and if any customer experiences the problem we are very happy to swap out the parts and will pay for shipping both ways to make the fix. All tripods shipped from July 6hth forward already incorporate the latest design.

 

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Gitzo comments

I’ve also used Gitzo for years. But as of July 2011, I no longer recommend Gitzo tripods for professional use. Besides falling apart with nearly a month to repair, and overpriced non-functional models, the Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripods are much superior in build.

Worst feature (Gitzo)

The rubber feet have a strong tendency to rattle right off, leaving exposed carbon fiber, which is not a good match for granite, and can be quickly damaged. LocTite the feet, but not too tight— I occasionally switch to spiked feet from the stock rubber ones.

Non-rotating legs (Gitzo)

The legs do not rotate on newer Gitzo carbon fiber models, a huge plus when collapsing or extending the legs. This makes it possible to lock or unlock the legs in any order, leading to much faster setup and takedown of the legs. Setup/takedown is a time-waster with a tripod, hence it is a high priority for those who shoot-and-go. Try screwing with it as the sun dips right to the horizon and you’ll figure out the value quickly.

Flat plate

I studiously avoid tripods with center columns because they are never as sturdy, and they interfere with getting the tripod in a low-to-the-ground position.

The GT3540XLS has a flat top plate— no center column— perfect.

If you can’t get a flat top plate, avoid any gimmicks you can for better stability.


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