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Can Someone Recommend a Great Tripod?

Published: 11/04/2019
By: Brandon

Darren in Napa Valley writes:

I've been using a Manfrotto compact action aluminium 5-Section tripod with a hybrid head and although it's affordable and reliable, it's also heavy, hard to fit into small spaces; and isn't great at leveling the camera. I'm looking for a change and would like to know what other real estate photographers are using these days?

I played the cheap tripod game for years. Like many photographers, I've been guilty in the past of spending money on the fun stuff like bodies and lenses. I was going through tripods like it was my job, so I finally got off my wallet and splurged on a Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 055 carbon fiber tripod with a Manfrotto 410 geared head. This rig has worked great for the past three years and I'm sure it will last at least another three to five. Switching to carbon fiber was great but the real game changer was adding a geared head. Using the Manfrotto 410 has saved me a ton of time on site and in post. I would give up almost any other piece of equipment before my geared head.

I'm sure the community can make some great recommendations for you.

17 comments on “Can Someone Recommend a Great Tripod?”

  1. Over the many years I have been in this profession, the biggest mistake that newbies make is trying to get by with the cheap which ends up costing them much more than if they would have just purchased the right equipment in the first place. I know, because I have been guilty as well.

    The tripod is literally the foundation of your work... Everyone has their opinion as to what is the cats meow, but if you take the time to listen to the pros and cons of each type, you should be able to narrow down your search. Remember, that while a good tripod may cost a lot, there are a ton of deflated wanna be photographers that are selling their gear once they found out that this profession is not as easy as they thought. Try Ebay and other sites, you would be surprised at the steep discount you get for a "slightly used" piece of equipment.

    As Brandon suggested, the Gear Head is critical to obtaining a consistent, fast work flow. I agree that the Manfrotto 410 is a work horse and love them. We have the 405's as well, but I prefer the 410

    Bottom line, get a good solid tripod and you will have it 30 years from now...assuming you are still in the business

  2. Fully agree with Jerry on a good geared head make a huge difference. My first geared head was also the Manfrotto 410, but that got damaged when the tripod fell over, and then I bought the cheaper Manfrotto MHXPRO. I was a bit sceptical about the plastic looking geared head (even though its not plastic), but after 3 year still going strong and now lots of other photographers has joined me in using one. Not a single complained. Just put it on any legs that you like. I also use the Manfrotto 055 carbon fibre legs.

  3. Though I'm not up to date on all the current models, I know what's worked best for me over the years.

    -- three leg sections, no more. Each joint in the legs is a point of weakness and instability, and another three things you need to manipulate. Also three more things to get wrong, so choose legs with positive lever locks, not twist collars that can loosen at the wrong time.

    -- carbon fiber is preferred, but make sure the 'pod is is really lighter. I've seen CF legs connected by a heavy metal core, defeating the purpose. Cheaper CF tripods are likely to use this trick.

    -- some quick system that locks the legs together when it's not in use. I've never seen it on any other tripod, but my Manfrotto Carbon One has two swing out clips that do this. Makes it easier to carry the 'pod between sites.

  4. I've been using a Manfrotto 475B with a 410, and a MBAG100PNHD to carry everything around. It's heavy, even for a tall man as I am, but the tripod has linked legs (i.e. always very close to level when you move it around) and a geared central column (i.e. you can adjust height without levelling it). Combined with the 410 head it makes an extremely efficient combination for RE. It's also very tall and stable if fully extended. Can't replace a tall pole or a drone, of course, but it's ok for exteriors. I'd say it's been money extremely well spent.

  5. Manfrotto 458B. Change the height really easily - pull the legs out and shorten again at the press of a button. They don't make them any longer but they can often be bought used on Ebay. Mine's 14 years old and apart from knocks it's as good as it was new. A joystick head makes it really fast to use.

  6. For reference, my Feisol was purchased new two years ago last month. It's got over 1000 shoots on it (I average about 10 a week in the field) and it doesn't have a mark on it and has never failed. Its been dropped on numerous occasions, tumbled down a flight of stairs, and fought off a dog. Every Manfrotto (5) and Gitzo (1) I've owned broke in far less time. There are lots of good choices out there, but for my money, I'd buy this one again in a heartbeat.

  7. There are so many new companies now producing Carbon fiber tripods, its hard to keep up. For me personally, I like the flip locks as I find them easier and faster to adjust. But be prepared to spend about $400-500 just for the legs. I also only want a three section tripod for their steadiness and one less lock or leg to fail. I need a tripod that goes hi about 5 -6 feet. (with the center column), and very low for some macro and low angle shots. Because tripods are a personal feeling piece of equipment, try to find a hi end photography store (yes there are still some around, but not many) and try them for yourself. For those of us who were fortunate enough to live near the NYC area, we would just drive into the city (on Sunday) go to B&H and try every photographic item you ever wanted.
    As per the recommendation of this group, I purchased a Manfrotto 410 geared head, which I loved for my Architectural/RE work. But, since switching to the smaller Fuji X system, and I travel a lot, I purchased a smaller Oben carbon tripod (gitzo is much better) the head felt too bulky and heavy and not useable when shooting portraits and some fine art. Instead, I purchased a hi end, compact Arca Swiss ball head.
    As I tell all of my new photographer friends starting out, your tripod is going to be one of your best friends. invest in the best you can afford, because you cant afford to buy a cheap one that will let you down.

  8. Originally I used the budget throwaways but progressed to the Manfrotto's which I consider the 'value' premiums. When it gets down to it, the primary consideration of a tripod is that it is a steady platform - period. Everything else is convenience. As the price increases on the same class of tripod, steadiness doesn't increase at the same rate...if any. Carbon vs aluminum - weight/transport ability plus temperature transmission when handling strongly supports carbon in RE work (particularly in northern winter climates) with the continual repositioning. Ruled out the 475B as I certainly don't need 25lb capacity as a 5lb camera/lens/head combo isn't going to stress a 'lesser' tripod with 15lb capacity. With that said, I now have 3 tripods. My go-to is the Manfrotto 190XPRO carbon, and for video with a video head the Manfrottto 55XPRO aluminum with it's 19 lb capacity. The other reason I use the 190 as a primary is leg extension height, fully extended is about right for ceilings up to 10', while fully extending the 55 legs - still OK for controlling verticals - was just too high to feel comfortable adjusting the camera and I am 5'10". Choking legs down and having them even is an issue but not insurmountable if you paint markers on the legs. Two recent changes - switching to Arca-Swiss plates and purchasing a pano head. The new head, initially mounted on the 55 in place of the video head, it put me back in the market for another pair of sticks. With limited usage of the pano and video heads, ultra-premium was immediately ruled out, plus, while I like the flip lock over the twist lock, found it to be a maintenance issue keeping them tight. True only once or twice a year, but getting to a job and the legs slide close as the bolt loosened, that's a problem and kept me away from the 190/55 series. Ultimately decided on the Silk 7000 aluminum/titanium and have been pleasantly surprised with it, physically similar to the 55, and priced cheaper than Manfrotto on a secondary tripod was an additional benefit. While I have used a 410 geared head, with the shirt to the Arca-Swiss plate, wasn't about to buy the Cube, so went back to ball head. Frankly, I find it far more efficient with passable accuracy. With a geared head, yes you can micro adjust the various planes, but loosen the ball and center the bubble by moving all planes simultaneously, then tighten the ball is very efficient.

  9. I have a pretty good Amvona CF tripod that I take on RE jobs. They went out of business some years ago so I won't bother with looking for a model number. The really nice thing about it is that when I extend the top section of the legs, I'm at a really good height for most of a job. Two sections gets me to the right height to be level with the bottom of upper kitchen cabinets. I extend all three leg sections for exterior photos which brings the camera up to eye level. The center post is long enough to give me some good fine tuning. I'll also collapse the legs down and extend the center column when the camera will be reflected in a bathroom mirror so I'm leaving less to edit out at the tricky bottom edge.

    I bought the tripod based mainly on it's height before I was doing RE. I wanted something that was tall enough fully extended that would be close to my standing eye level. It was serendipity that each leg section height worked out as well as it has. It saves time to not have to fiddle with intermediate leg extensions to get to an optimum working height. A good tripod should last years and years so it's a good idea to spend the time to get one that going to work well and last. The best idea might be to visit a physical camera store with a good selection and find one that will put the camera at the height you prefer to make photos without fussy around endlessly with leg adjustments.

    I also have a couple of other tripods that have other features that are handy for other types of work and they are good enough as a backup and also to mount my backup camera set up on an intervelometer to capture a reverse angle twilight while I concentrate on the first priority image.

  10. If you hang out in any of the Real Estate Photography groups on Facebook, you will see that Manfrotto is the #1 tripod to break. Almost every day someone is posting about a leg falling out or one of the joints cracking. They used to make a great product but I'm afraid that hasn't been the case in the last couple years. I had to send one back to manfrotto twice and finally gave up.

    In order of recommendation:

    Leofoto (gitzo knockoff half the price)

    I personally own a Gitzo, RRS, and Induro. All excellent. However, if I were looking for a new tripod now I would be looking hard at Leofoto. I've heard great things and really good price compared to gitzo.

  11. I have honestly been using cheaper Chinese Tripods lately that have good build quality. My more recent one I have been using for the past couple years is by ZOMIe. It has a lot of features including light carbon fiber build, a very small footprint when folded up, a level measure, degree hash marks on the head, and a decent ball head included in the package for $130.

    $130 for a Carbon Fiber tripod that can be converted to a monopod is going to be hard to beat in terms of price. I have used and traveled with it and it has held up well.

    The only modification I have done to it was add a Manfrotto 503 Plate adapter so I can use the same plates for my tripods, gimbals and stabilizers. I purchased the plate from Neewer and it has been working out pretty well.

    I have bought $500 tripods and $100 tripods, they will all eventually break when you put it to good use. Just keep an eye out of your gear and inspect it for wear to avoid catastrophe.

  12. I am currently using the Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Aluminum Tripod with 410 Junior Geared Head. You must have a geared head.

    Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Tripod Pros: I love the lever locks, the 3 section tripod is the perfect height with just one section extended (about waist height for 90% of my shots), center column swings out to get around corners (especially bathroom).
    Tripod Cons: I was cheap and went with a solid Aluminum. Solid but heavy. I have about 500 shoots in the past 10 months with this tripod and I occasionally have to tighten the screws.

    My past tripod was a Induro CT014 and I wore it out after 3 years. Screws would not stay tight. Twist locks...hated them. Light carbon fiber tripod but switched to Manfrotto.

  13. While the obvious consideration for a tripod would appear to be "stability", I'm going to say an equally important quality is "reliability."

    More than almost any other major piece of gear in your kit, the tripod is a tool. It ain't sexy. It gets a job done. It's going to get dropped, tossed, kicked, piled upon and maybe even left behind on occasion. But your whole business literally rides on this thing.

    Don't go cheap. (inexpensive is ok. there is a difference)

    Avoid gimmicks and gizmos that are not truly essential and may break on you later. (I'm looking at you quick action horizontal arm)

    Hold it in your hands. Does it have heft? Set it up and plop it down. Does it rattle?

    Get something that is built to last.

    I went with RRS TVC-33. 3-section carbon fiber with center column. Built like a tank. Not sure though if they still make it in that configuration 🙁

  14. @Matt Rosendahl
    Last year, I purchased the Leofoto LH-40 Low Profile Ball Head which looked exactly like the RRS head and it is built very well (the drag has some issues). It is completely different than the Arca swiss which is smaller and I bought for fine art shooting, but the Leofoto worked fine.
    I wanted to know if their tripods were as good as their heads. if so, which one did you buy.


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