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The best tripods for 2021: Take better photos

best tripods: Joby
(Image credit: Joby)

Buying the best tripod you can afford is a worthwhile investment. Why? Because getting a tripod is probably the single best way to improve your photography and videos. The best tripods are an excellent way to give your images and videos a level of production value and professionalism, and they also open up a world of possibilities in terms of techniques. Things like long exposures, low-light shooting, traffic trails, panning shots and panoramas are all either much more difficult or pretty much impossible without a rock-solid, sturdy tripod and ball head.

But what's the best tripod to choose? There are many different brands with many different models, and you also need to consider plenty of other factors too. Think about the material you want your tripod to be made from: carbon fibre is stronger and lighter, but also more expensive than aluminium or magnesium alloy. The tripod you get also depends a lot on what camera gear you own (see our best cameras if you need to upgrade), what you plan to do with your tripod, where you plan to take it, and, of course, your budget. If you need some more guidance on what to look for, jump to the bottom for a guide to how to choose the right tripod.

For now, though, whether you're using mirrorless cameras, DSLRs or one of the best smartphones, and whether you're a total beginner or a pro-level expert, there will be something for you in our list of the best tripods. 

Right now, we think the best tripod is the Benro Go Plus Travel tripod. It's super portable, the pivot system is elegant and every feature of the design is immaculately implemented. But it's not the only option...

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01. Benro Go Plus Travel

The best tripod overall, the Benro is great for anywhere and everywhere

Main material: Carbon fibre or aluminium | Folded height (leg inversion): 49cm (yes) | Weight: 2.05kg | Max operating height: 179cm | Max load (legs, head): 14kg, 14kg | Sections per leg: 4 sections | Locking leg angles: 3 angles

Excellent build quality and sturdiness
Supremely versatile feature set
Legs and head sold separately

We think the best tripod right now is the Benro Go Plus Travel. The legs and head are sold separately, so there’s no money-saving 'kit' option, but at least you can choose the head that best suits your needs (Benro’s B1 ball head is ideal). The swing-up legs enable a carrying length of just 49cm, yet the maximum operating height is a lofty 179cm, partly thanks to each leg containing four sections. One leg can easily be unscrewed and used as a monopod, in conjunction with the removable centre column. Like the Vanguard tripod in this roundup, the pivoting centre column can be rotated vertically through a full 180-degree arc, with multiple locking angles along the way. The pivot system is elegant and every feature of the overall design is immaculately implemented. It's available in carbon fibre, or as a cheaper aluminium version.

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02. 3 Legged Thing PUNKS Travis Tripod

This rugged, general-use tripod is good for all weathers

Main material: Magnesium alloy | Folded height (leg inversion): 45cm (yes) | Weight: 1.6kg | Max operating height: 165cm | Max load: 18kg | Sections per leg: 4 sections | Locking leg angles: 3

Solid and dependable
Hefty 18kg payload
Packs down really well
Carbon fibre version is pricier

This PUNKS Travis tripod is another impressive achievement from the folks at 3 Legged Thing. Able to handle payloads up to a whopping 18kg, this set of legs will support even the heaviest of pro setups and then some. Even though it's not billed as a travel tripod, it certainly packs down like one, measuring just shy of 45cm when folded up.

With detachable rubber 'Bootz' (feet) and a unique Tri-Mount plate that allows for easy accessory attachment, Travis is a tripod that offers a great deal of customisation to suit your particular workflow, which suits its status as an all-rounder. It also converts handily and quickly to a monopod, further expanding the utility and versatility of this excellent tripod. If it's carbon-fibre you're after, you'll want the Billy tripod – but it'll set you back a fair bit more money. 

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03. Manfrotto 055CXPRO3

This Manfrotto is the best sturdy, tall tripod

Main material: Carbon fibre | Folded height (leg inversion): 72cm (no) | Weight: 2.54kg | Max operating height: 182cm | Max load (legs, head): 9kg, 10kg | Sections per leg: 3 sections | Locking leg angles: 4

Super-speedy pivot system 
Very solid and stable
Lengthy when folded, no carry bag
No detachable leg for monopod use

Sold as separate legs and head, rather than a complete kit, the 055CXPRO3 tripod and XPRO Ball head are nevertheless perfectly matched. There are actually a variety of 055 legs available in both aluminium and carbon fibre options and with either three or four sections per leg. This three-section carbon edition is chunky and super-sturdy, with a generous maximum height of 182cm when the XPRO head is fitted. It’s relatively long when folded, but the 4-section edition packs away smaller. 

Both are quick and easy to set up, as the legs don’t swing up for stowage, and the 90-degree pivot facility for the centre column is also brilliantly simple to use. Unusually, these days, the leg section locks have a flip action rather than a twist mechanism, but they’re very effective. The XPRO Ball head is among the very best that we’ve ever come across. It’s available with Manfrotto’s usual 200PL quick-release plate, or an Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release plate.

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04. MeFOTO GlobeTrotter

A small but strong, and reasonably tall tripod

Main material: Aluminium | Folded height (leg inversion): 41cm (yes) | Weight: 2.10kg | Max operating height: 165cm | Max load (legs, head): 12kg, 12kg | Sections per leg: 5 sections | Locking leg angles: 2

Very small carrying case
Hefty maximum load rating
No pivot facility for centre column
Only two alternative leg angles

Considering that this tripod folds down to just 41cm in length, it’s a little surprising that it weighs in at over two kilograms. However, the MeFoto GlobeTrotter has an impressive maximum load rating of 12kg for both the legs and the supplied ball head, and reaches a useful maximum operating height of 165cm, thanks to having 5-section legs. Following the current vogue, the legs swing up to reduce the carrying length, and one of them can be detached for monopod duty. 

Interchangeable rubber pads and metal spikes are supplied with the kit, along with a smart padded bag. All that’s really lacking is a pivot facility for the centre column, and there are only two lockable leg angles instead of the more usual three. A pricier carbon fibre edition of the kit is also available, which reduces the overall weight by 400g.

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05. Vanguard ALTA PRO 2+

A tripod that literally bends over backwards, or forwards

Main material: Carbon fibre | Folded height (leg inversion): 71cm (no) | Weight: 2.1kg | Max operating height: 172cm | Max load (legs, head): 7kg, 10kg | Sections per leg: 3 sections | Locking leg angles: 4

Centre column rotates 180-degrees
Quick and easy setup
Relatively long when folded down
Supplied bag is unpadded

With an emphasis on quick and easy setup rather than minimising the folded size, this Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ tripod has three sections per leg, and the legs don’t swing fully upwards for storage. That said, they do have four selectable lockable angles and, coupled with a full 180-degree pivot facility for the centre column, ultra-low-level shooting is a doddle. Another bonus is that, like in most recent Manfrotto tripods including current versions of the 055 and 190, there’s a 3/8-inch threaded socket for attaching accessories like an LED light. Build quality is very good throughout and the Vanguard is a joy to use, even if it doesn’t fold down very small.

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06. Manfrotto 190go!

The best compact, conventional tripod; Manfrotto’s longstanding 190 series gets a twist

Main material: Carbon fibre | Folded height (leg inversion): 54cm (no) | Weight: 1.94kg | Max operating height: 159cm | Max load (legs, head): 6kg, 10kg | Sections per leg: 4 sections | Locking leg angles: 4

Wide choice of kits available
Simple setup and pivot facility
No detachable monopod leg
Modest maximum load rating for legs

Building on the huge popularity of Manfrotto’s 190-series tripods, there are a number of  Manfrotto 190go! kits on the market. They’re easily distinguishable as they use twist-action clamps rather than clip locks. Kits are available with either aluminium or carbon fibre legs, and with either 3-way or ball heads. The legs have four sections in all cases, and the most up-market option includes the superb XPRO head which, again, is available in 3-way or ball versions. 

The legs don’t swing up for stowage but the folded length is a modest 54cm nonetheless. Despite having four sections per leg, the maximum operating height of 159cm isn’t overly generous and the maximum load rating of 6kg for the legs is rather less than that of the favoured XPRO ball head. The pivot facility is amazingly quick and easy to use, enabling the centre column to act as a horizontal boom. Ultimately, it’s a solid tripod that’s very nicely engineered and a pleasure to use.

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07. Manfrotto Befree

Remarkably small and lightweight for an aluminium tripod

Main material: Aluminium | Folded height (leg inversion): 41cm (yes) | Weight: 1.5kg | Max operating height: 144cm | Max load (legs, head): 4kg, 4kg | Sections per leg: 4 sections | Locking leg angles: 2

Folds down to just 41cm
Lightweight build
Relatively low 4kg max load rating
Max operating height only 144cm

A variety of ‘Advanced’, ‘GT’ and ‘2N1’ editions of the Befree tripod have come to the market recently but the classic simplicity of this original version is still hard to beat. With 4-section swing-up legs, it folds down to a mere 41cm and weighs just 1.5kg, making it ideal for the long haul of travel photography. The maximum operating height of 144cm and load rating of 4kg are both rather modest but should prove sufficient for most photographers. The tripod and head are both fairly rigid and robust, considering their lightweight build, and the clip-style clamps work smoothly and efficiently. If you’re after a basic tripod that won’t weigh you down, this Manfrotto makes a good travel companion.

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08. Joby GorillaPod 1K

Take your camera to new, uncharted vantage points

Main material: ABS plastic, stainless steel | Folded height (leg inversion): N/A | Weight: 196g | Max operating height: 25.5cm | Max load: 1kg | Sections per leg: Multiple | Locking leg angles: N/A

Flexible legs
Can grip unusual surfaces
Relatively low capacity
Short max height

No tripod list is really complete without the famous Joby GorillaPod 1K, the grippy mini-tripod with legs that can be bent this way and that to grip onto all sorts of unusual protrusions. The 1kg payload limits your setup a little, but as long as you're not using a pro DSLR and a telephoto lens or some similar combination, you'll be able to set up your camera in all sorts of creative ways. It's a great extra accessory to have along if you use mirrorless cameras or even smartphones (with an adapter), especially because it packs down so well and is so light to carry. Also, bunch the legs together and the GorillaPod converts into a working handgrip, perfect for on-the-spot video shooting or selfies. 

How to pick the best tripod

When it comes to choosing the right tripod, it pays to understand the different options that are available. Many recent designs, for example, have legs that swing vertically upwards for stowage, so that the feet encompass the head when the centre column is fully extended. This reduces the packing length by about 8cm, but there’s a downside in that these tripods are a bit more fiddly and time-consuming to set up and fold away. 

A more time-honoured tradition for extending the maximum height while keeping the stowage size fairly small is to use four or five telescopic sections within each tripod leg, rather than the more conventional three sections. It’s a useful space-saving feature, especially for travel tripods – but, again, there’s more setup time involved, with extra leg section clamps to operate.

Another top trick of some current tripods is that they have a pivoting centre column. In most cases, this enables you to use the centre column as a horizontal boom, as well as vertically upright. It can be a big advantage in macro photography, as well as for shooting with ultra-wide-angle or fisheye lenses. 

It’s also a bonus for really low-level shooting, given that most tripods these days have legs that can be splayed to lock at multiple, wider angles to the vertical. Some pivoting tripods go even further and enable you to lock the centre column at a number of angles through a full 180-degree arc.

To save weight, many up-market tripods are available in carbon fibre. For a full-sized tripod kit, including head, you’re looking at a weight-saving of around 20 per cent compared with the same kit based on aluminium legs. The weight reduction is usually more minimal with smaller travel tripods. The main drawback of carbon fibre is that it’s more expensive to manufacture, so the tripod itself can be significantly pricier to buy.

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