It pays to have some stability in life, especially if you’re a photographer. With more than just three legs and a clever head, the best tripods have a lot to offer, and not just in terms of giving you a stable shooting platform.
Many recent designs 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 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.
Top tripod tips
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. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best tripods available right now.
Benro Go Plus Travel
The best tripod overall, the Benro is great for anywhere and everywhere
Main construction material: Carbon fibre | 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 | Leg extension locks: Twist | Pivoting centre column: 180 degrees | Detachable monopod: Yes
Billed as a travel tripod, this Benro is sold as separate legs and head. There’s therefore no money-saving complete ‘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 round-up, 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.
A really sturdy conventional design, this is the best budget aluminium tripod around
Main construction material: Aluminium | Folded height (leg inversion): 60cm (no) | Weight: 2.42kg | Max operating height: 167cm | Max load (legs, head): 8kg, 8kg | Sections per leg: 4 sections | Locking leg angles: 3 angles | Leg extension locks: Twist | Pivoting centre column: No (invert only) | Detachable monopod: Yes
A relatively simple and straightforward design, the Benro Mach3 has no pivoting centre column nor swing-up legs. It still folds down reasonably small though, thanks to having four-section legs, and they have the usual choice of three operating angles. Despite being fairly light in weight for an aluminium tripod, the Mach3 is very sturdy and both the legs and supplied 3-way head have an 8kg maximum load rating.
A ‘TMA28AB2’ kit is also available, with Benro’s B2 ball head. As with a growing number of tripods, one leg can be unscrewed and coupled with the centre column for use as a monopod. Like the other Benro tripod in our round-up, this one is supplied complete with a posh padded bag and interchangeable spikes and rubber pads for the feet.
Kenro Karoo Ultimate Travel Tripod
Could this really be the ultimate travel tripod?
Main construction material: Aluminium | Folded height (leg inversion): 48cm (yes) | Weight: 2.16kg | Max operating height: 190cm | Max load (legs, head): 10kg, 8kg | Sections per leg: 4 sections | Locking leg angles: : 3 angles | Leg extension locks: Twist | Pivoting centre column: 0/90 degrees (+ invert) | Detachable monopod: Yes
A perennial problem with travel tripods that fold down to space-saving dimensions is that they fail to give a decent maximum operating height. The Kenro Karoo literally rises above that particular criticism. Despite folding down to just 48cm, courtesy of swing-up 4-section legs, it can reach a towering 190cm at full stretch. The extra height is due to an extending centre column, which also enables a 90-degree pivot facility for use as a horizontal boom.
The tripod is reassuringly sturdy, as is the ball head that’s supplied as part of the kit. It comes complete with interchangeable metal spikes and rubber pads for the feet, and a padded carrying bag. The Kenro is great value at the price, and there’s also a carbon fibre version which isn’t much more expensive, although the saving in weight is fairly minimal.
Novo Explora T5
What price carbon? Maybe less than you think, this is the best budget carbon fibre tripod
Main construction material: Carbon fibre | Folded height (leg inversion): 47cm (yes) | Weight: 1.43kg | Max operating height: 161cm | Max load (legs, head): 10kg, 10kg | Sections per leg: 4 sections | Locking leg angles: 3 angles | Leg extension locks: Twist | Pivoting centre column: No (invert only) | Detachable monopod: Yes
Despite being amazingly good value for a carbon fibre tripod, the Novo Explora 5 doesn’t cut any corners in build quality. It folds down nice and small with swing-up 4-section legs, has a respectable maximum operating height of 161cm and a hefty maximum load rating of 10kg for both the legs and the included ball head. The load limit is particularly impressive, given the relatively lightweight build compared with many similar tripods. There are two pan release knobs on the ball head, rather than the usual one, so you can pan the whole head or just the camera platform.
An innovative friction damper is also fitted, with an adjuster that’s built into the main clamping knob. There’s no pivot facility for the centre column but one leg can be unscrewed and used with the centre column as a monopod. Another neat trick is that the rubber foot pads can be removed to reveal metal spikes. All in all, it’s a superb tripod for the money.
The best sturdy, tall tripod, the Manfrotto is more than the sum of its parts
Main construction 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 angles | Leg extension locks: Clip | Pivoting centre column: 0/90 degrees | Detachable monopod: No
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 in a pricier option with an Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release plate.
Small but strong, and reasonably tall
Main construction 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 angles | Leg extension locks: Twist | Pivoting centre column: No (invert only) | Detachable monopod: Yes
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.
Vanguard ALTA PRO 2+
A tripod that literally bends over backwards, or forwards
Main construction 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 angles | Leg extension locks: Twist | Pivoting centre column: 180 degrees | Detachable monopod: No
With an emphasis on quick and easy setup rather than minimising the folded size, this Vanguard Alta Pro 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.
The best compact, conventional tripod, Manfrotto’s longstanding 190 series gets a new twist
Main construction 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 angles | Leg extension locks: Twist | Pivoting centre column: 0/90 degrees | Detachable monopod: No
Building on the huge popularity of Manfrotto’s 190-series tripods, there are a number of new 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.
Remarkably small and lightweight for an aluminium tripod
Main construction 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 angles | Leg extension locks: Clip | Pivoting centre column: No (invert only) | Detachable monopod: No
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.
Joby GripTight PRO TelePod
Hold the phone, or just let this Joby do it for you
Closed length: 34cm | Maximum height: 65cm | Weight: 360g | Leg type: Tilt | Phone adaptor included: Yes | Pivot: Yes | Maximum phone width: 90mm
The most obvious use for this Joby smartphone support is as a selfie stick. As such, it has a comfortable handle and a central column that extends in three telescopic sections. Up at the top end, there’s a clamp that can securely hold an iPhone or other smartphone, and there’s also a ‘cold shoe’ for attaching an accessory like an LED lamp or microphone.
For triggering your smartphone camera, a Bluetooth wireless remote is included in the kit, and it is compatible with both iOS and Android. Unlike many smartphone supports, the handle of this one has three sections around its circumference, which hinge out to form legs, so the Joby can act as a self-standing tripod. Without a doubt, the Joby is the best tripod for smartphones.