The best tripods can be totally transformative for your photography! Being able to shoot stable, locked-off images opens up a whole new world of techniques, and adds a huge amount of production value to your work. Whether you’re working with a full-frame DSLR, your smartphone, or anything in between, a good tripod will prove an invaluable asset you never leave home without.
While there are tripods for every budget, it is important to be discerning. There are lots of cheap models out there that are simple false economy – they’re fragile, they don’t have useful features, they wobble in a slight breeze, and they’re easy to knock over. By the same token, there are also some very expensive tripods out there that simply aren’t worth the money. So how to choose the right one?
It’s important to look at the specs of any tripod you are interested in buying, and to think about them in the context of your gear and your style of shooting. How much does your camera weigh with your biggest lens attached – does the tripod hold it? Or, does the tripod you’re looking at have a capacity massively higher than you need, suggesting you could be better off with a cheaper model. Look at the material the tripod is made from – carbon fibre is stronger and lighter, but more expensive. Aluminium will likely suit the purposes of many amateurs.
You also need to consider the weight of the tripod itself, especially if you’re going to be carrying it for long distances. Its number of leg sections will give you an indicator of how customisable it is in use, and you may have a personal preference between flip or twist-style leg locks.
We’ve taken a look at all of these factors and more, and come up with our selection of what we reckon are the top ten tripods you can buy right now. You’ll find a mix of tripods for all different user types and budgets. If you shoot video more than photography, head over to our list of the best video tripods, where we’ve got you covered.
If you're finding all this a little too much to take in, then jump straight to our section at the end: How to buy the right tripod.
How much does a tripod cost?
How much will a decent tripod set you back? The short answer is that it varies. Tripod kits that comprise a set of legs and a head can range in price from around $15/£10 for a flimsy, often unbranded option, to about $1,500/£1,250 for a top-of-the-range tripod.
Keep in mind that some tripods are sold as legs only, while others are sold as a kit with a tripod head included. If you don't have a tripod head already, check to see if the tripod you have your eye on has a head with it, and if not you will need to order a head too.
So with an eye on stability, load-bearing capacity, features, performance and price, we’ve selected ten tripods that we think are the best you can buy right now…
The best tripods in 2021
Manfrotto’s highly popular 190-series tripods are now split into 190 and ‘190go!’ categories. The latter uses twist locks for the leg sections, whereas the current 190 tripod range has redesigned Quick Power Lock levers. Choices include three-section and four-section aluminum legs, with XPro heads of either 3-way or ball design; while carbon fiber alternatives are only available for the 190Go! series.
In this price bracket, the four-section Manfrotto 190XPro4 ball head kit (MK190XPro4-BHQ2) is our top choice. It’s a full-sized tripod that reaches a lofty operating height of 175cm, yet shrinks to a fairly modest folded height of 57cm. That’s despite the tripod lacking swing-up legs.
In this latest version, the 90-degree pivot facility is quicker and easier to operate, enabling you to swap to horizontal boom mode in just a few seconds. The four-way, multi-angle leg lock system is also improved, and the new locking levers for the leg sections have an innovative design that enables you to push one side of the lever or pull the other to release them.
The tripod legs remain rigid and sturdy even at their maximum operating height, with the centre column fully extended (and the four-section legs help to reduce the carrying size). The real star of the show, however, is the XPro ball head. It’s absolutely rock-solid, comes complete with an adjustable friction damper and pan only release.
The Benro Rhino FRHN34CVX30 is at the top and of the size spectrum for a ‘travel’ tripod, but its simplicity, rigidity and ease of use mark it out as a top choice for landscape shooters, hikers and any outdoor photographer who needs to travel light but still have the best support possible – and Benro’s VX ball head is just brilliant. If you need to pack a small camera support for city breaks and street photography, take a look at the Peak Design travel tripod, or the smaller Benro Rhino FRHN05CVX20, but if you need a portable tripod that doesn't sacrifice height or rigidity, the Rhino FRHN34CVX30 is the bee's knees.
Read more: Benro Rhino FRHN34CVX30 review
The Vanguard Veo 3+ 263AB is a full size tripod with three sections, so it doesnt' fold down that small but it's quick to set up and reaches a good height. It doesn’t feel that heavy for an aluminium tripod, and if you want to shave off a little weight, there is a carbon fibre (CB) version that’s only a little more expensive. The design and build are first class, the angled column works brilliantly and all the controls and adjustments have a smoothness and precision that you would expect to cost a lot more than this.
Note: Vanguard has also recently debuted its VEO 3T+ series of carbon fibre tripods, which combine superb strength with a travel-friendly lightweight build. We were particularly impressed with the Vanguard VEO 3T+ 264CB, one of the heftier members of the family, and fully expect it to be added to this guide when it is officially released in June 2021.
Read more: Vanguard Veo 3+ 263AB review
It's the first tripod Peak Design has made, and the carbon fiber version we looked at costs more than practically any of its rivals except a Gitzo, so it had better be good. There is an aluminium version that's a massive 40% cheaper, however, which has all the same design features but just a little less vibration resistance. The Peak Design Travel Tripod isn't just useful for travel. It packs down to just 39cm in length, so it's easy to carry on outings and when hiking across country. It also extends high enough to work as a regular everyday tripod, and it has all the rigidity of a regular tripod too. The low profile ball head is simple but brilliant, there's a phone holder hidden inside the center column. It's certainly no bargain, even the aluminium version, but for its combination of design finesse, compactness and rigidity, the Peak Design Travel Tripod is out on its own.
Read more: Peak Design Travel Tripod review
The Vanguard Veo 2 Go models are the latest versions of Vanguard's travel tripod designs, but the Veo 2 Go 265HCBM model offers extra height (the 'H' in the name) and a detachable monopod (the 'M). This makes it very effective as a lightweight everyday general purpose tripod too. If you don't need either of those things there's a shorter 265CB and a lighter payload but same size 235CB. Some outlets also have a 'Veo 3 Go' version which is adapted for smartphone users, with a smartphone clamp and bluetooth remote included. What we like about the Vanguard Veo 2 Go 265HCBM is its light weight, neat design, simple operation and a really good combination of folded size (41cm) and maximum height. You do need to raise the center column for chest-level shooting, but that's an acceptable compromise in tripod that packs down as small as this one does. There's a removable monopod leg, spikes are included and a short center column for low angle shots. It's a really nice, neat tripod for the money and easily handles DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
The Benro Travel Angel kit (FTA28AB1) uses a shorter configuration of four-section legs, compared with the Benro Mach3 tripod (which we'll look at later on), and they’re connected to different joints at the top. You still get three lockable leg angles, but the joints enable the legs to swing upwards, so that the feet surround the head for stowage. The overall effect is that the folded height is reduced from 60cm to just 45cm, and the Travel Angel kit is also 230g lighter, at 2.19kg. However, the maximum operating height is also 6cm shorter, although still respectable at 161cm.
As with the Mach3 kit, this Benro tripod is precision-engineered and beautifully turned out, combining aluminum leg sections with magnesium castings. Again, one of the legs is detachable for use as a monopod, combined with the removable centre column. This kit adds a screw-on wooden knob, so you can use the detached leg as a walking pole. High-quality accessories include a short alternative centre column, interchangeable rubber pads and metal spikes for the feet, and a smart padded soft case.
The ball head for this Benro kit is an upmarket B1 model with independent locking, friction adjustment and pan release knobs. There’s an upgrade in load capacity to 10kg and 14kg for the legs and head respectively, compared with the Mach3’s 8kg for both components. Even so, when mounted with a heavy DSLR and long telephoto lens, both the Benro tripods feel sturdy. There’s little to choose between them, but with its modern style, the Travel Angel retains the Mach3’s benefits in a compact build.
The GlobeTrotter is the biggest and most heavy-duty in MeFoto’s ‘Classic’ range of tripods. It’s available in a range of bright colors (or black), and there’s also a carbon option that sheds 400g. The aluminum kit tips the scales at a moderate 2.1kg, yet has a large capacity rating at 12kg.
The tripod folds down to just 41cm, thanks to the combination of five-section legs, which swing upwards for stowage. But despite the thinnest leg sections having a diameter of just 15mm, the tripod remains rigid even at its full height of 165cm, and feels worthy of its hefty load rating.
One of the legs can be removed and used in conjunction with the centre column as a monopod. There are only two lockable leg angles instead of the usual three, but it’s still a worthwhile feature. There’s neither a pivot function nor a secondary short centre column supplied with the tripod. But on the plus side, you do get a set of interchangeable metal spikes and rubber pads, along with a high-quality padded soft case.
The nicely engineered ball head has independent friction control and a pan-only release. It’s almost identical to the impressive Benro B1 head in looks and performance. Meanwhile, twist-action leg section clamps are quick to release and tighten – which is just as well, because there are 12 of them in total. Overall, the GlobeTrotter is a smart buy for anyone who wants a ‘full-sized’ tripod that packs away really small.
The Leo is no ordinary tripod. It folds down to just 35cm in length, but opens out to offer a maximum height of 146cm and a huge payload capacity of 30kg. It has a detachable monopod leg which can also be used as a microphone or camera boom, a Tri Mount system for adding accessories and an innovative two-section center column. You can buy the legs on their own but we’d recommend getting it as a kit with 3 Legged Thing’s new and improve AirHed Pro Lever ball head. We love (we LOVE) the optional Vanz kit, a set of three replacement feet/legs. You unscrew the regular legs and screw these in to get the toughest, gnarliest table-top mini tripod you've ever seen. The Leo 2 is not the smallest travel tripod you can get, and not the cheapest, but its ratio of folded length to maximum height, combined with its all-round versatility, make it one of the best.
When it comes to folding down small for compact carriage, the Sirui NT-1005X reigns supreme. It’s definitely designed to be as small as possible, not only featuring five-section legs with a swing-up facility, but also incorporating a two-section extending centre column. The result is a generally adequate maximum operating height of 150cm, and a particularly tiny folded height of 36cm. That’s only about half the folded height of the Manfrotto 290 kit. And despite its aluminium build, the Sirui is only 10g heavier than the Novo carbon kit.
Build quality is very good: the Sirui feels solid and robust, despite its lightweight construction. It remains rigid and steady even at the maximum operating height, with all five leg sections fully extended and both sections of the centre column at full reach. Three locking leg angles are available, and there’s the usual facility to remove one leg and the centre column for use as a monopod. And there are no retractable or interchangeable metal spikes for the feet, but the rubber pads are of good quality.
Set-up on the NT-1005X/E-10 is quick and easy, from the non-slip feet to the ball head with its Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release plate. All adjustments are smooth but lock solidly – although the head lacks an independent friction damper – and the swing-up legs can be locked at three alternative angles. Maximum operating height is a little meagre, but the carrying size is incredibly small. If ultra-compact carriage is high on your priority list, the Sirui is a very desirable tripod indeed.
Sometimes, only the best will do. The Gitzo GT5563GS is not going to be for every photographer – or even, arguably, for that many photographers. But it is the best and biggest tripod you can get right now, and if you need the maximum in terms of height, this is your buy.
The Gitzo GT5563GS is nicknamed “Giant” for a reason. It extends to an absolutely whopping maximum height of 278cm, which is taller than anyone alive, and can carry a humongous 40kg of camera gear. This is more capacity than anyone could conceivable need – really it’s more than double what anyone could conceivable need.
The tripod isn’t just a one-trick pony though; it’s also smartly designed, with a carbon fibre build and incredible flexibility. The lowest height it can work at is as small as 10cm! The carbon fibre build keeps it lighter than you’d expect for a tripod of this strength and complexity, and the quality throughout is just top-notch – as reflected by the price.
How to buy a tripod
When it comes to choosing the right tripod for your camera, photography style and skill level, there are a few key considerations to make. Aside from sturdiness, set up speed is important – not all subjects will wait for you to set up your tripod, so if weather and wildlife are high on your list, choose quick-release grips over rubber twist leg locks.
Portability is also a factor: carbon fibre tripods weigh less (but cost more), and the more leg sections you have the smaller it’ll fold (but the longer it’ll take to set up). Here's a full list of factors to think about, to help you choose the right option.
Aluminum vs carbon-fiber
These are the two most common materials used for tripod legs. Aluminum tripods are cheaper, but weigh more. They’re ideal if you want the maximum stability for your money. Carbon-fiber tripods cost more but weigh less, and absorb vibration better. They’re good if cost is less important than weight – but the price premium can be substantial.
Tripod legs may have three, four or five sections. A larger number of sections means the tripod is shorter and more portable when it’s folded, but it will usually take a little longer to set up and may well not be quite as stable.
These come in two main types: twist locks and flip locks. Twist locks take up less space and are generally a little quicker to use – you can often unlock all the leg sections in a single movement when you’re setting the tripod up. Flip locks are operated individually and may be bit slower. Try both types to see which you prefer.
Sometimes the tripod head is included, sometimes not. You can change one head for another depending on how you like to work. Ball heads and three-way heads are the most common types. Ball heads are compact and quick to use, but not so good for small, controlled movements. Three-way heads are larger but allow precise adjustments for each axis independently.
You can also find other, specialist heads. Geared heads allow you to make fine adjustments to camera angles. Gimbal heads are designed for use with long, heavy lenses – which can otherwise can unbalance a tripod. And then there are specialist heads for panoramas and video too.
The weight of a tripod is important if you’re going to carry it any distance, but so is its folded length. If it’s too long to strap to your bag, and it’s unwieldy in trains or climbing over stiles, then it’s going to put you off taking it anywhere. Many so-called ‘travel’ tripods have legs that fold upwards for storage and completely enclose the head. This makes them smaller and neater when folded and easier to carry around.
Min and max height
How high and low do you want your tripod to go? Shots aren’t always improved by shooting them at eye level (lower often works best), but it’s also about getting a comfortable working height. Check the height without the column extended, if you can.
Not all tripods come with a center column, but most do. You can extend this upwards to increase the height of the camera, although this introduces extra wobble. On some tripods, the centre column can be rotated to produce an angled boom, which is perfect for overhead shots, macro work and table-top photography. Using the centre column does reduce the stability of the tripod, however, so is best avoided with long exposures.
Most tripods have legs that can be angled independently – which is particularly useful when working on sloping sites or in cramped areas. The standard leg angle will be fine for regular use, but it’s often useful to splay one or more legs outwards on uneven surfaces or to rest them on walls, say. Splaying out all three legs will allow you to shoot from a much lower angle.
Types of feet
Rubber feet are fine on most surfaces but best on carpets and wooden floors, where you don’t want to cause damage. Metal spikes are good for soft and uneven ground. Some tripods have rubber feet, which can be screwed back to reveal spikes.