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The best tripod for photographers in 2020: get sharper shots in any conditions

Photographer using a tripod. Which is the best tripod for your needs?

Finding the best tripod can make an incredible difference to your photography. Having a stable camera support opens up all sorts of possibilities in terms of low-light shooting, long exposures, panning shots, panoramas and more. Whatever discipline of photography you're in, you'd be amazed by the ways in which a tripod can make a difference.

There's a lot to think about before making a choice though. Think about your camera gear – do you use a small and light mirrorless setup? Then a smaller and lighter tripod will probably be a better fit than something heavy and bulky, and will likely still have more than enough maximum carrying capacity for your camera and lens. Alternatively, if you use a heavier DSLR, perhaps with long telephoto lenses, you may want to think about a sturdier tripod that can handle the weight.

Also worth factoring in is your own body type – if you're taller or shorter than average, you may want a tripod that reflects that! Often when manufacturers refer to tripods as being "lightweight", they are talking about quite a narrow definition of the term. Make sure you pay attention to the specs of any model before hitting "buy".

Then, of course, there's price. Your budget is going to massively affect which tripod you want to pick up, as the market includes everything from professional models with big price tags to budget options for the casual snapper. On this list we've aimed to include models for all budgets.

So, as you have probably inferred by now, choosing the best tripod for your digital camera is a trickier matter than you might think. If you already know the kind of tripod you want already, such as the best carbon fiber tripod, that makes the search a little easier. But if you need a little more help deciding what's right for you, then this buying guide has been designed to help you – here, you'll find our pick of the top tripods available right now, designed to suit different photographers and different budgets,

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 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 option. 

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 2020

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(Image credit: Manfrotto)
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1. Manfrotto 190XPro4

Rigid and sturdy, with a rock-solid XPro ball head

Material: Aluminum | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs/head): 10/7kg | Max height (with head): 175cm | Folded height: 57cm | Weight (with head): 2.6kg

Bubble level on centre column
Rotate freely to capture new angles
Lacks swing-up legs
Quite bulky when folded

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. 

(Image credit: Peak Design)

2. Peak Design Travel Tripod

Spectacular for both its design and its folded size, but not cheap!

Material: Carbon fiber or aluminum alloy | Extended height: 153cm | Folded height: 39cm | Weight: 1.27kg/1.56kg | Feet: Pads (spikes optional extra) | Leg sections: 5 | Max load: 9kg

Supremely portable
Ultra-low-profile ball head
Phone mount and bag included
Expensive carbon fiber version
Not the tallest
Some hex key fiddling

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.

(Image credit: Vanguard)

3. Vanguard Veo 2 Go 265HCBM

A really nice combination of weight, price, size and height

Material: Carbon fibre | Extended height: 166.5cm | Folded height: 41cm | Weight: 1.4kg | Feet: Rubber pads, spikes included | Leg sections: 5 | Max load (legs, head): 10kg

Good weight and load capacity
Rubber feet and spikes
Monopod conversion (M) version
Needs center column for decent height

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.

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4. Benro Travel Angel FTA28AB1

A travel-friendly tripod boasting a lot of benefits in a compact build

Material: Aluminum | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs/head): 10/14kg | Max height (with head): 161cm | Folded height: 45cm | Weight (with head): 2.42kg

Ball head
Great for travel
High quality accessories
Shorter max operating height

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.

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5. MeFoto GlobeTrotter A2350Q2

Easy carrying with a lot of tripod shoehorned into a small space

Material: Aluminum | Leg sections: 5 | Max load (legs/head): 12/12kg | Max height (with head): 165cm | Folded height: 41cm | Weight (with head): 2.1kg

Packs away really small
Nicely engineered head
Only two positions possible

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.

(Image credit: 3 Legged Thing)

6. 3 Legged Thing Leo 2.0 + AirHead Pro Lever kit

Small and mighty, the Leo 2.0 has cool features to match its cool looks

Material: Carbon fibre | Extended height: 147cm | Folded height: 35cm | Weight: 1.85kg | Feet: Pads (interchangeable) | Leg sections: 5 | Max load (legs, head): 30kg, 30kg

Incredible 30kg payload
Just 35cm long when folded
Detachable monopod/boom
Lots of leg clamps to tighten

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.

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7. Benro Mach3 TMA28AHD2A

Sturdy, stable and reasonably compact: a great conventional tripod

Material: Aluminum | Leg sections: 4 | Max load (legs/head): 8/8kg | Max height (with head): 167cm | Folded height: 60cm | Weight (with head): 2.42kg

Good stability
Solid build quality
Triple-angle legs easy to use

Benro has designed some increasingly innovative, exotic and diverse tripods over recent years – but this isn’t one of them. The idea behind the Mach3 is to keep things simple, combining a conventional feature set with high-grade materials. As such, the legs don’t swing up for compact storage, which is a fundamental difference from the Benro Travel Angel (number four in this list). And this TMA28AHD2A kit comes with a 3-way head, but a TMA28AB2 kit is also available, with Benro’s B2 ball head. 

Although very traditional, the Mach3 isn’t entirely devoid of clever tricks. One of the legs can be unscrewed and used with the centre column as a monopod – however, the three-way head doesn’t really suit a monopod. Extras include rubber pads and metal spikes for the feet. The Benro comes with an Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release plate. It’s a generously long one, providing a particularly good platform for both camera bodies and the mounting feet of big telephoto lenses.

Thanks to having four rather than three leg sections, the Mach3 folds down to a reasonably compact 60cm. The triple-angle facility for the legs is easy to operate, and a secondary short centre column enables low-level shooting. Stability is very good, even at the maximum operating height, and accurate levelling is made possible by a bubble level on the tripod legs and three spirit levels on the head. Throw in solid build quality, and the Mach3 is a good choice for a conventional photo tripod.

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(Image credit: Sirui)
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8. Sirui NT-1005X/E-10

This ultra-compact Sirui is designed to be as small as possible

Material: Aluminum | Leg sections: 5 | Max load (legs/head): 10/8kg | Max height (with head): 150cm | Folded height: 36cm | Weight (with head): 1.44kg

Packs up extremely small
No independent friction damper
Max operating height is a little low

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. 

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(Image credit: Manfrotto)
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9. Manfrotto 290 Dual MK290DUA3-BH

Very good performance for the price, but it's tall even when folded

Material: Aluminum | Leg sections: 3 | Max load (legs/head): 5/6kg | Max height (with head): 175cm | Folded height: 69cm | Weight (with head): 2.28kg

Quick to use and adjust
Feels solid
Simple controls
No bubble levels
No pan-only release

With a taller folded height than the other tripods here, the Manfrotto 290 Dual has three-section legs instead of four, and omits a swing-up design to reduce the carrying size. The latter is also true of the four-section 190 kit, but the 290’s folded height is 12cm greater.

It’s not all bad news: the flip-side, so to speak, is that there are only six flip locks to operate in total, rather than the nine locks of a four-section tripod, or 12 locks for a set of five-section legs. You can, therefore, set the height of the tripod with little fuss. Like the other Manfrotto listed here (at number two), this one has a 90-degree pivot facility that's incredibly quick and easy to operate, and the push-locks for the four-way leg angle mechanism are similarly simple and effective.

The leg section diameters are the same as for the three upper sections of the Manfrotto four-section 190 tripod. The bottom section is chunkier, with a diameter of 19mm compared with the 190’s 16mm. Even so, the 290 kit’s load ratings are reduced to 5kg and 6kg for the legs and head respectively, compared with 7kg and 10kg for the 190.

Despite its lower load rating, the 290 tripod’s legs feel as impressively robust and rigid as those of the 190. And while the 496RC2 head lacks a pan-only release or bubble levels for levelling, it’s supremely quick for making the full range of adjustments, and feels really solid when locked. The tripods controls are simple too. Overall, the 290 kit delivers very good performance for the price. The kit is quick and easy to set up and adjust, but the folded height is comparatively tall.

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10. Gitzo Series 3 Systematic 3S

Pricey but impressive – a pro-spec tripod for users demanding the best

Material: Carbon fiber | Leg sections: 3 | Max load: 25kg | Max height: 152cm | Folded height: 67cm | Weight: 2.04kg

Extremely strong
Lightweight carbon fibre
Very expensive
Only 3 leg sections

If you need to travel light but also want the kind of stability required for professional-level rigs, the Gitzo Series 3 Systematic 3S is an uncompromising solution. Its modular design makes the top disc and central column configurable, allowing for the easy addition of complimentary Systematic accessories. 

This does, of course, jack the price up even more, but if you’re at the pro end of the spectrum and this isn’t something that concerns you too much, you’ll likely relish the opportunity to craft your own bespoke camera-support setup. Its redesigned feet are ultra-stable and grippy, while its new leg locks are designed to minimise the risk of dust entering the mechanism. Its leg angle switches also have built-in springs to speed up changes to leg angles. 

The Gitzo Systematic family of tripods has been especially designed for serious photographers using long lenses and heavy DSLRs, and if this describes you, you’ll find the Series 3 to be everything you need and more.

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.

Leg sections
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. 

Leg locks
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.

Head types
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.

Folded length
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.

Center column
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.

Leg angles
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.

Also read: 

  • p2images
    First I enjoy your reviews and perspective but I suggest creating another review for "Professional Tripods" because in my opinion the best like Gitzo or RRS are curiously missing from your review. Many of the tripods manufactures you listed here I purchased when I began taking pictures where either given away, in a land fill or sitting in a dark corner of my garage. Sorry they might be fine for the occasional shooter but I would never trust these in the wilderness or even a weekend hike unless I carried a 2nd as a backup. And I would certainly never trust them to hold my expensive pro DSLR bodies or my very expensive 600mm lens. Kudos for listing the best gimbal heads in the other review.