Starting Photography : Why you should not buy a cheap tripod

We now continue with our Starting Photography series, on Why you should not buy a cheap tripod. Is it really true, or just a myth?

The tripod is one of the most crucial element in a photographer’s arsenal that could affect your photography. However, most of us have been trained to buy cheaper tripods for the price.

Now, is it true that we need to invest in an expensive tripod? If we explore the question further, we should instead ask, what is our definition of an expensive tripod? And I guess as Malaysians, expensive can be quite a variable figure compared to the industry standards.

Before we get into a debate on prices of tripods and so on, let us start by going through the reasons why you should not buy a cheap tripod.

Reasons why you should not buy a cheap tripod

1) A cheap tripod can ruin your photos

Indeed. No matter if you’ve invested in the latest Canon or Nikon cameras and lenses. It won’t be so obvious on Ultra Wide Angle lenses, like the 10–22 or the 14–24, but it’ll be there, definitely. And it’ll be even more obvious on your telephoto lenses, like your 70–200.

How does it ruin your photos?

The problem would be vibration from the shutter even as you remotely shoot via a remote control. Good tripods brands like Manfrotto and Gitzo aren’t good just because we say so, but because they’ve spent and invested on vibration reduction. Not so much for other brands which might just slap aluminium rods together and claim to be as good for a much cheaper price.

How do we prove it?

Try this (tip from Luminous Landscape)
’Set up your camera on the tripod as you usually do. Place or tape the laser device to the top of your camera and turn the beam on. Point the camera at a wall or other similar object that is at least about 7 meters away from the camera. Make sure you can clearly see the laser spot.

Now, make a series of exposures at all speeds from 1/60th of a second down to 1/2 second. Observe the spot on the wall DURING each exposure. If the spot moves around showing vibration during any of these exposures, your tripod/head combination is probably inadequate for that particular camera.’

2) A cheap tripod can ruin your camera

Again, this is something most camera shops won’t tell you. Trust us, as we’re in the industry. Most camera shops are keen to make the quick buck by selling you a cheap tripod for a huge margin. However, you need to know, buying a cheap aluminium tripod might put you in danger of losing your entire camera gear.

cheap tripod
Cheap Tripod, Broken Camera, by Johan Sophiee

How does it ruin your camera?

Unlike better built tripods, cheaper tripods aren’t built to last. They might even come with the so-called Canon or Nikon logo printed on the tripod itself, but trust us, those aren’t manufactured by the brands personally.

A cheap tripod, even those which looks sturdy, usually compromises by indeed not focusing on R&D, but producing the cheapest they could for a high margin. What happens is, you will not just get vibration, but also weak joints.

And with weak joints, comes the probability of it breaking down. And breaking down at the wrong moment, especially when the wind blows and your fully loaded camera and lens is on it.

Is it worth it? No. That’s why we keep keep educating others on why you should not buy a cheap tripod. It’s better to invest in a good one and be done with it.

broken camera
Creative ways to use your broken camera

Now, how much should I invest in a tripod?

I would rather say, how much and what brand? There are many brands out there, especially with so many China factories trying to grab a hold of the photography industry. Some even say they’re better than a Manfrotto or a Gitzo.

For us, we’ve tested and seen vibration test results for Manfrotto, Gitzo, Feisol and Giotto’s and fully recommend them. Expect to pay about RM 500-700 for a solid tripod and reasonably good ball head. If in doubt of your tripod brand, please ask your store owner to conduct a test or do an unbiased review.

For better ball heads, you’ll need to consider a RRS (Really Right Stuff), Markins or an Arca-Swiss. It all depends on your budget. Perhaps we’ll recommend more later, but for now, do stick to some mainstream brand.

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