If there’s one question that seems to come up with traveling photographers more than “what’s the perfect bag?” it’s “what’s the best travel tripod?” And that question is almost almost qualified with, “and it has to be light, sturdy, compact, and inexpensive.” And if possible it must come with little tripod faeries to carry it about and position it for me too.
So here’s the deal. No. Such. Thing. Every conversation about tripods needs to be realistic. So here’s my initial recommendations.
1. Decide how badly you need this and for what. Are you shooting alot of landscapes and macro shots where your tripod is truly crucial or are you just wanting the odd sunset shot? How critical your work is will determine which is more important: stability vs. convenience vs. price.
2. Determine ahead of time what you mean by crazy words like “affordable” and abandon the idea that “it’s just a tripod, it shouldn’t cost much.” If you want sturdy, light, and compact, it’s gonna cost you at least an arm if not an arm, leg, and kidney.
3. If you have specific weight and size restrictions, now’s the time to decide that. Words like “light” and “compact” are meaningless. 3lbs, 2oz – that’s meaningful. 16 inches collapsed – that too is meaningful. Lighter than something heavy? Not so meaningful.
OK, here’s my top 3 choices based on three possible priorities. Folks, this is not a canonical list. If you’re favorite tripod isn’t here, feel free to drop it into the comments.
1. Price. I suggest looking at the Manfrotto 190
It’s sturdy enough to remain useful while not breaking the bank. Weight 4lbs, Collapsed size 20.9 inches. Cost at B&H $130.00, without a head. Link here
2. Lightweight. The Gitzo GT1550T Traveler 6x Carbon Fibre Tripod.
2.2 pounds, 8.7 inches collapsed. It’ll set you back $675.00 but that includes the ball head. Link at B&H here
3. Sturdy. The Gitzo GT-2931EX Explorer Basalt.
Supports 22lbs, weighs 4.4 lbs without a head, and collapses to 25 inches. Price at B&H – $440.00. Link here.
Are there other options? Of course, but don’t cheap out. Decide on what you really need and then make the best choice. Remember – a crappy tripod can mean blurry shots and equipment -expensive equipment – falling over. If you’re the kind to try alternatives – check out The Pod, or the Kirk Mighty Lowboy. Even a Gorillapod might work for you. If you’re the spendy type and only the best will do – check out the Gitzo Anniversary Titanium Tripod (only $2500, shown in the photo above the post. Very sexy.)