The Travel Tripod Dilemma

As photographers, we are all too familiar with the problem. An exciting photographic trip looms. There will be lots of travelling around, and you already have so much paraphernalia. Clothes, documents, toiletries and of course the all-important camera body or bodies, lenses, batteries and filters. At some point during this planning process, you will reach the all-important tripod decision moment.

On the one hand, you have bought one of those fancy new travel tripods, either an expensive carbon fibre or one of the cheaper but still relatively light metal versions. On the other hand, you have your full-sized, full-spec tripod with the sophisticated head that you have used and relied upon countless of times over the years and it has served you well. If only it did not weigh almost as much as the rest of your non-photographic luggage! Decision time looms.

Unfortunately, there is no magic answer. In fact, you probably already know your options. It is a prisoner’s dilemma where weight, convenience, photographic quality and price have all conspired to make the decision as difficult and finely balanced as possible. However, rather than leave you in limbo with this challenge, here are some of the questions you might try asking yourself in order to help you reach a decision.

  1. Are the locations likely to be windy?
  2. Is the ground going to be stable and steady or rocky, uneven and unpredictable?
  3. Is convenience more important to you than perfection?
  4. Will carrying more weight make you grumpy, give you a back problem or spoil the trip for you?
  5. Is your equipment heavier and likely to be less stable on a travel tripod?
  6. Will you be using filters and other accessories that could prove challenging for a travel tripod?
  7. Will you be walking long distances to reach your shooting locations?
  8. Are you intending to take long exposures

If your answers to questions 1, 2, 5, 6 and 8 include a yes then perhaps a full-size tripod would be the best option. However, if you answered yes to any of the questions 3, 4, or 7 then perhaps a travel tripod could be a blessing in disguise. The point is, that tripod choice is often left to the last moment or worst still is barely considered. Sometimes your choice of a tripod can be the one thing that makes or breaks a photographic trip. A few moments of planning is time wisely spent.