A good tripod is one of the most critical photographic accessories. A solid tripod enables you to shoot long exposures, use lower ISOs, and get sharp images. However, I think the first time any of us went tripod shopping, we had a bit of sticker shock. Good tripods, like my recommended Gitzo Series 3 Systematic, can cost nearly $1000. For most of us, that’s just a ton of money to spend on a tripod, even if it will last for years.
Fortunately, there are some good tripods out there for under $500. Many of these are aluminum models, but you can also find some carbon fiber ones at this price point. I had the opportunity to try out three tripods courtesy of B&H Photo, and all of these would be excellent options for outdoor photographers.
My requirements for choosing a tripod are as follows:
- Sturdy (able to support at least 15 lbs)
- Removable or short center column for ground-level shooting
- Independent leg spread (no center brace)
- Ability to accept any ball head (My favorite is the Really Right Stuff BH-55).
- Oben AC-2361 (3-section aluminum) $130 US
- Manfrotto MT190X3 (3-section aluminum) $180 US
- Induro GTT104M1 (carbon fiber; includes ball head with Arca-Swiss clamp) $480 US
This is a solid tripod that includes a split center column. You can unscrew the top of the center column and use it as a short column for ground-level shooting. It holds up to 17.6 lbs, and has built-in retractable spikes in the feet. The Oben AC-2351 extends to 66″ with the center column, or 55.8″ with the short column. That’s plenty for most photographers of average height. The flip-lock legs are easy to use, and the tripod includes a carrying case and adjustment tools.
Check the price of the Oben AC-2361 tripod
This aluminum, 3-section tripod is a little lighter (4.4 lbs) than the Oben. It can extend to 63″ with the center column, or 53″ with the short column. The short column attaches to the bottom of the main column with a spring-loaded pin, so it’s very easy to switch in and out. However, the short column has a smaller, triangular base so it won’t be as stable as the primary column. The Manfrotto MT190X3 supports 15.4 lbs, and has lever-style leg locks. I found the legs to be fairly stiff when I went to adjust them, but that could be due to it being brand-new.
Check the price of the Manfrotto MT190XT tripod
Induro GTT104M1 Grand Turismo Series 1 Stealth (With Ball Head)
This 4-section, carbon fiber tripod is the shortest of the three I tested, but weighs only 3.5 lbs. It can extend to 62.6″ with the center column. This tripod includes a set of spiked feet and a short carbon fiber center column that you can easily trade out with the standard column. The legs use a twist-lock design, which I personally prefer. Twist locks won’t catch on clothing or pinch fingers. The 1-series Induro tripod has a load rating of 22 lbs. You can also move up to the 2-series version (~$550 with head), which supports over 30 lbs. Both tripods in this lineup include an Induro ballhead with an Arca-Swiss compatible screw clamp. I recommend getting custom Arca-Swiss plates from either Kirk Photo or Really Right Stuff.
Check the price of the Induro GTT104M1 Grand Turismo Series 1 Stealth Tripod with Ball Head
If you’re looking for a taller tripod and don’t need the ball head, you should consider the Induro CLT304L 4-section carbon fiber tripod (~$500), which extends to 69.3″ with the long center column and supports over 44 lbs. This tripod will hold just about anything you put on it and still costs about half as much as a comparable Gitzo model.
Check the price of the Induro CLT304L carbon fiber tripod
Special thanks to site sponsor B&H Photo for providing me product samples for review.