As photographers, we often overlook an essential part of any photographer’s toolkit, the tripod. As you evolve, many times the size of your gear increases. And even with stabilized sensors, sometimes hands alone aren’t stable enough, especially when shooting long exposures. Not to mention, tripods are the only way to capture star trails or time-lapses. The last thing you want in any situation is to come home excited to see you capture blurry photos. Ouch. Well, it’s these situations a tripod becomes the perfect aid. While carrying a tripod isn’t ideal as they’re often bulky.
There are plenty of lightweight, compact options that make the results you can create worthwhile. But, even still, the amount of tripods on the market right now is just obnoxious. And the markets flooded with knock-off brands, most of which don’t stand the test of time, which only complicates things further. With that, we’ve created a detailed guide on what to look for when shopping around. And we’ve also created a list of the top ten best tripods in today’s market.
10 – MeFOTO GlobeTrotter
MeFOTO’s GlobeTrotter is the largest option in the current MeFOTO family designed as the go-anywhere tripod for larger DSLR bodies. Released in 2014, it’s available in aluminum or carbon fiber and five different colors to easily distinguish the tripod while traveling in groups.
It folds to an impressive 16.1 inches (40 cm) with the same minimum height and extends to a maximum height of 64.2 inches (163 cm). The aluminum variant weighs 4.6 lbs (2.1 kg) but supports payloads of 26.4 lbs, a key advantage over rivals in this range. A payload this high easily accommodates a 70-200mm f2/.8 lens or larger. It uses 5-section legs with two locking angles using twisting locks with smooth operation and weather resistance. And it also doubles as a monopod with a minimum height of 30 inches. The tripod also includes the Q1 ball head, with three rubberized knobs with separate head and pan locks along with a quick-release plate and bubble level. Other bonuses include a padded foam grip, a center-column hook, spiked replacement feet, a 5-year warranty, and included case.
Overall, the GlobeTrotter is a surprisingly light tripod considering its versatility. And at 1/3 the price of rivals, it’s one of the top options for its durability. While technically orientated at hobbyists, it can easily slip into a traveling pro’s bag as a nice compliment and travel-friendly option ready to withstand daily use.
9 – Peak Design Travel Tripod
The Peak Design Travel Tripod is their latest Kickstarter backed high-end project. And rather than knocking off the same design synonymous with this category, they’ve redesigned this travel tripod from the ground up.
Released in 2020, it’s available in two variants, either aluminum or carbon fiber. When collapsed, the tripod measures only 15.5 inches (39 cm) with a minimum height of 5.5 inches (10 cm) and reaches a maximum height of 60 inches (150 cm) with the center column extended. This variant weighs only 3.4 lbs (1.5 kg), including the head, which makes it extraordinarily lightweight. But, it still manages to support a 20 lbs (9.1 kg) load. Peak Design explicitly designed this tripod by removing all unnecessary bulk to maximize space.
And it shows. It uses 5-section legs with lever locks and a large hooked design for added security. But these legs fold closer together than traditional tripods, making the whole package as wide as a water bottle. They include a ball head which has a small bubble level that fixes to the center column. And, as a package, it uses a far more streamlined design than the Manfrotto or MeFOTO alternatives. It’s also reversible, so you can even shoot straight down. Other bonuses included a center-column hook with a mobile mount, a quick-release plate, and a carrying case.
Overall, despite being one of the smallest in this category, the Peak Design Tripod impresses. With this release, they’ve innovated with ultra-compact design and their superior artistry shows. In this category, it’s the best compact tripod around and the ideal traveling companion. No rivals come close in size and strength.
8 – Benro Mach3
Benro’s Mach3 is currently among the most popular and most affordable carbon fiber tripods around. Released in 2015, it competes directly with Manfrotto’s popular 055 series.
Benro offers the tripod in two variants, either aluminum or carbon fiber, and three heights. When collapsed, the tripod measures only 24.6 in (62.5 cm) with a minimum height of 15.1 in (38.5 cm) and a maximum of 63.5 in (161.5 cm). The long version of this variant weighs 4.08 lb (1.85 kg) and supports a class-leading 35.3 lbs (16 kg). Thankfully Benro’s constructed the tripod from 9-layers of carbon fiber for superior rigidity and long-lasting life. And it uses a 4-section leg with twisting locks to secure even the heaviest camera setups. And the legs have interchangeable screw-in rubber or stainless steel spiked feet to improve stability. Other bonuses included a center-column hook, foam grip, a built-in level, and carrying case,
Overall, Benro stepped up their game with the new Mach 3 series. As a part of their most advanced range, it brings classic design at a shockingly affordable price.
7 – MeFOTO RoadTrip
MeFOTO’s RoadTrip is the medium-sized option of the MeFOTO family. Released in 2011, it’s available in two variants, either aluminum or carbon fiber, and seven colors.
Like the GlobeTrotter, these color options are unique to MeFOTO, which allows you to personalize the gear to your taste. When collapsed, the aluminum variant measures 15.4 inches (39 cm) with the same minimum height and extends to a maximum height of 61.6 inches (156.5 cm) with the center column extended. Even with such a long-range, it’s surprisingly lightweight at only 3.6 lbs (1.6 kg). And it offers a maximum payload of 17.6 lbs (8 kg), enough for a full DSLR and telephoto lens.
The tripod uses 5-section legs with two locking angles and twisting leg locks with weather sealing. The center column also attaches to a leg, converting the tripod into a 64-inch (162.5 cm) monopod adding functionality. MeFOTO ships it with an included Q1 ball head with separate locks, drag control, and bubble level. Other bonuses include a foam grip, a quick-release plate, a center-column hook, a five-year warranty, and carrying case.
Overall, MeFOTO does well with this lineup of inexpensive, compact, and color tripods. As a subsidiary of Benro, it makes sense, though. And the RoadTrip is the ideal travel and everyday tripod for those looking for portability with its combined quality, design, and affordable price tag.
6 – Benro SystemGo Plus
Benro’s SystemGo is the heavy-duty travel tripod of the family. And it’s a tripod they’ve designed to focus on familiarity, saving time to get you right to the action. Released in 2016, they offer this tripod in two options, either aluminum or carbon fiber and two sizes.
When collapsed, the tripod measures only 18.1 inches (46 cm) with a minimum height of 14.6 in (37 cm) and reaches a maximum height of 60.6 in (154 cm) with the center column extended. The aluminum variant weighs just 3.5 lb (1.6kg) yet offers a class-leading 22 lbs (10 kg) load capacity. It uses 4-section tripod legs with three locking angles and twist locks with weather resistance. The locks also overlap perfectly, so you can quickly release them all at once with a single hand. The tripod also doubles as a monopod added versatility. And the center column unlocks from the standard vertical position, tilting horizontally too. Plus, it inverts for even lower angles. Other bonuses include a foam grip, included replaceable feet, a built-in level, and a carrying case.
Overall, Benro’s SystemGo provides an excellent strength-to-weight ratio in a compact and travel-friendly design. While it sticks with traditional design, it makes the tripod easy to use without wasting time. And it’s a reliable choice for those wanting a compact travel-ready option.
5 – Manfrotto 055XPRO3
Manfrotto’s Pro3 offers serious performance and functionality for the price. Released in 2014, it’s a redesign of the lineup with bonus features and welcomed improvements.
Manfrotto offers this tripod in either aluminum or carbon fiber and two sizes. When collapsed, the tripod measures only 24 inches (61 cm) with a minimum height of 3.5 inches (9 cm) and reaches a maximum height of 67 inches (170 cm) with the center column extended. The aluminum version of the tripod weighs 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg) but supports a maximum payload of 19.8 lbs (9 kg). It uses 3-section legs with flip levers and four locking angles. But, they’re now Quick Power Locks. These increase rigidity by 50% for greater locking power, stability, and security compared to traditional systems. It’s center column also has an easy one-finger operation and the Easy Link attachment system.
This system allows you to attach accessories such as stands, reflectors, LED lights, and more. It can also rotate horizontally for low-angle or macro shots. And the tripod has a rotating bubble level, a rare but handy addition.
Overall, Manfrotto’s Pro3 offers a distinct edge with its massive working distance and range in both directions. And bonuses that go beyond the traditional boundaries in function, landing it mostly in a class of its own. Given its feature set, it’s clear why it’s earned such a large market share as the acclaimed go-to option.
4 – Vanguard ALTA Pro 2+
Vanguard’s Alta Pro 2+ is a redesign of the award-winning Alta Pro workhorse tripod. Released in 2017, it comes in either aluminum or carbon fiber and three sizes.
When collapsed, the tripod measures only 29 inches (73.7 cm) with a minimum height of 10 inches (26 cm) and reaches a maximum height of 68.2 inches (173.2 cm) with the center column extended. The aluminum variant weighs 5.3 lb (2.3 kg) but supports a maximum payload of 15.4 lbs (7kg). It uses 3-section legs with twist locks for securing and four locking angles. Each leg also has small rubber feet with a thread to attach spiked feet, if needed. It also offers a dedicated level on the crown and an accessory screw, which allows you to add arms or connect external lights.
The Multi-Angle Center Column also unlocks and tilts 180º. And you can even rotate it 360º for even more unique angles. Vanguard includes the BH-100 ball head, which offers friction control and a bubble level. Other bonuses include two rubber grips, a quick-release plate, an 8-year warranty, and a carrying case.
Overall, Vanguard’s Alta Pro 2+ innovates. It’s familiar in function but packs details and designs that separate it from the pack. And it offers plenty of versatility to suit any photographer, from portraits to macro work—all in a package that provides a good compromise between size, weight, and strength. For the price, it offers little fault with plenty of style.
3 – K&F Concept 62” DSLR Tripod
Kentfaith’s K&F Concept is a release that directly challenges Manfrotto. Released in 2015, it comes in a single aluminum variant.
When collapsed, the tripod measures 18.1 inches (46 cm) with a minimum height of 16.3 inches (41.5 cm) and reaches a maximum height of 61.6 inches (156.5 cm) with the center column extended. And where it shines is in weight. It’s incredibly light at only 2.97 lbs (1.35 kg) with the included ball head. And it still manages an excellent payload rating of 22 lbs (10 kg). This tripod uses 4-section legs with Quick Release flip-locks and three locking positions. These locks line up evenly when the tripod closes, making fast teardowns consistent with a single twist of the wrist. Its central column also inverts, great for low angle or macro work. And the included ball head has a built-in level and locking knobs. Other bonuses include a foam handle, a center-column hook, and a carrying case.
Overall, the K&F Concept is a confident, reliable, and portable option at an excellent price. It makes the ideal option for those wanting a budget-friendly but taller than average tripod with a superb load rating.
2 – Vanguard Alta Pro (263AB)
Vanguard’s Alta Pro is the original versatile full-size tripod to pioneer the category. Released in 2016, it follows the same core design principles from the standard Vanguard line, which focuses on simplicity with sleek accents.
Vanguard offers this tripod in aluminum or carbon fiber constructions with two sizes. When collapsed, the tripod measures only 28.1 inches (71.4 cm) and reaches a maximum height of 68.1 inches (173 cm) with the center column extended. This variant weighs only 5.4 lbs (2.4 kg), including the head, which supports 15.4 lbs (7 kg). It uses 3-section legs with Quick Flip leg locks with three adjustable angles. The legs also include rubber feet with retractable spikes. Like the Pro 2+, it also features the Multi-angle Central Column, which allows you to tilt the column 180º for added flexibility.
They’ve also included the Swivel Stop-n-Lock system to securely reposition it back to the default position in a single movement. Vanguard includes the SBH-100 ball head, which offers two built-in levels, friction control knob, and a pan lock. Other bonuses include three foam grips, quick-release plate, a center-column hook, a ten year extended warranty, and a carrying case.
Overall, Vanguard’s Alta Pro was the original model to separate them from rivals. And as their award-winning release, it makes sense why. During its debut, it provided unmatched flexibility and stability. And, today, it continues to be a reliable premium option with an affordable price.
1 – Manfrotto Befree Advanced Travel Tripod
Manfrotto’s BeFree Advanced tripod is their latest release and the successor to the original BeFree that initially popularised the travel category. Released in 2018, Manfrotto offers this tripod in several variants, either twist or lever locks, and aluminum or carbon fiber constructions.
When collapsed, the tripod measures only 16.1 inches (40.9 cm) with the same minimum height and reaches a maximum height of 59.1 inches (150.1 cm). The carbon fiber variant weighs 2.7 lbs (1.25 kg), making it the current leader of the ultra-lightweight category. And it still boasts a 17.6 lb (8 kg) payload, which doubles its predecessor. It uses 4-section legs, which move between three angles and use twisting M-locks. The legs also have exchangeable rubber feet for quick and seamless replacements. Manfrotto ships this tripod with the 494 Ball Head, which has dedicated lock and friction controls. And the tripod also has the new Quick Link Port, allowing you to attach external accessories such as flashes or reflectors. Other bonuses include a quick-release plate, ten-year warranty, and included case.
Overall, while Manfrotto’s BeFree carries over its predecessor’s original design principles, its refinements make a superior product. And as their more advanced entry into the lineup, it redefines this genre as the best all-around tripod to date. It’s the perfect option for both travel and home photographers wanting superior performance and rigidity in a light package. Here’s the current benchmark for the standards of a well-made tripod.
How to choose the best tripod?
Before we dive into choosing the best tripod, let’s first cover the basics.
What is a tripod?
At its core, a tripod is a portable device that typically uses a three-legged frame for stabilization. And it serves as a solid platform to support an object through downward and horizontal forces. Its only purpose is to stabilize your camera—the better the build, the better the stabilization and long-term reliability.
But when it comes to build, several factors add up to determine a tripod’s overall reliability. And these factors are what you’ll want to consider while shopping around.
Today’s tripods come in three flavors of construction, aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber. Aluminum is typically less expensive but weighs more. Carbon fiber is newer to the market, and they weigh less but are more expensive. The trade-off, outside of price, is that aluminum tends to age quicker. They can rust and structurally degrade after only 3-5 years of use. However, a well-made carbon fiber tripod lasts for decades and is far more durable over the long run. And their 25% reduction in weight is a difference-maker when traveling.
When choosing between materials, it’s essential to consider how long you plan on using the tripod. If it’s only a temporary tool, look at aluminum options and save the money. Otherwise, if it’s a long term investment, carbon fiber is best.
When looking at tripods in this category, there are two things to consider. First, how much does the tripod itself weigh? Second, how much can the tripod withstand, referred to as “maximum payload.” This area is crucial, so you don’t make the mistake of purchasing a tripod not designed for heavy equipment. As inevitably, it’ll fall over and destroy your setup.
If you want a travel-friendly option, look for tripods that weigh 3 lbs or less. Options in this spectrum are generally considered lightweight travel tripods. But, getting a lightweight option typically reduces the maximum payload, so there’s a trade-off. So, consider how large and heavy your setup is before deciding. The general range for the payload is anything from 6 to 35 lbs. It’s quite a large range. If you don’t need a tripod rated for 35 lbs, skip it and get a more compact affordable option with the rating you need.
Use this as a general rule: get a tripod that supports twice as much weight than your camera and heaviest lens.
Tripod Head Types
The tripod head is what holds and secures your camera to the tripod. Most of the time, the manufacturer includes a ball head with the purchase. But, depending on the kits available, it can sometimes be another head. There are several common types; these include pan-tilt, ball, and gimbal heads. Pan-tilt provides the most control over horizontal and vertical movements, while Ball Heads are quick, and Gimbals are specialized. As you’re shopping, you may also run into Pistol Grips, a variation of the ball head, and Fluid Heads, which are used for video.
For beginners, the ball head is the easiest to use. Otherwise, this category comes down to personal preference. Go with whichever style of head suits your style.
Another area to consider is the tripod’s maximum height, measured by how tall it stands when fully extended. Tripods come in all different sizes and ranges. So the right one for you will depend on the working range that suits your shooting style.
For this, consider your current height, and look for an option that matches your height. Ideally, you want one that’s tall enough to compose using the viewfinder without slouching. And if you plan on shooting a lot of low angles or macro photography, consider the minimum height.
This is a critical area to consider, as they’re what stabilizes the entire unit. A tripod’s legs are either aluminum, the most affordable, or carbon fiber, the most expensive. Both have their pros and cons. The legs are also broken down into sections. Typically, the more leg sections, the more portable the tripod. But, adding more sections does reduce stability. So tripods with more than three sections will most likely shake in the wind. These sections are also locked using either levers or twist locks. But, know, lever locks are generally more reliable than twist locks.
For this section, it ultimately comes down to personal preference as well. Some photographers perfect twist locks to levers. Others prefer simple 3-section configurations to 4-sectiona\s. Consider how much flexibility you want in adjustments and how easily you want to break down the tripod.
While these are less important than the legs or the head, it’s an area to consider if you plan on traveling. Most tripods ship with rubber feet for use indoors. They usually work outdoors as well. But, depending on the weather conditions, they’re not always ideal. So if you plan on shooting outdoors, you’ll want a tripod with exchangeable feet. This allows you to attach spiked feet when needed.
For this category, look for options that included a set of spiked and rubber feet with purchase. Or, look for options that have retractable spikes that you can pull out when needed.
Some tripods have rotating center columns, which provide more versatility in composing. And some of those options also tilt or flip 180º for low angle shots. These are ideal if you shoot macro or kneel a lot while shooting.
Some tripods also offer counterweight hooks to attach sandbags for added stability. Overall, if some of the bonuses covered in this post are important, consider them as your shopping around.