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The best tripods in 2021 for taking better photos

Best tripod
(Image credit: Marek Piwnicki at Unsplash)

The best tripod can help raise your game when it comes to producing quality photography and video. A solid, sturdy set of legs and ball head opens up technical possibilities that would be difficult or impossible to achieve otherwise, including long exposures, low-light shooting, traffic trails, panoramas and panning shots.

With so many brands and models on the market, which is the best tripod to choose? A good place to start is to consider the material. Some of the best tripods are made from carbon fibre, which is stronger and lighter than aluminium or magnesium alloy, but it's also more expensive. 

After deciding your budget, you'll also want to consider the type of camera you own (see our guide to the best cameras if you want to upgrade) and how you plan to use your tripod. For more help on making the decision, skip to the bottom of this article for a guide to choosing the right tripod.

Read on for our pick of the best tripods, including options for mirrorless cameras, DSLRs and the best smartphones.

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01. Benro Go Plus Travel

A superbly designed tripod that works anywhere and everywhere

Specifications
Main material: Aluminium
Folded height (leg inversion): 49cm (yes)
Weight: 2.3kg
Max operating height: 179cm
Max load (legs, head): 14kg
Sections per leg: 4 sections
Locking leg angles: 3 angles
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality and sturdiness+Supremely versatile feature set
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Legs and head sold separately

We think the best tripod right now is the Benro Go Plus Travel. It's light and compact enough to carry on the move and it offers an impressive maximum operating height of 179cm. The legs have four sections, and one can easily be unscrewed to use as a monopod together with the removable centre column. 

The central column itself can be rotated vertically through a full 180-degree arc, with multiple locking angles. The pivot system is smooth and every feature is well designed. Benro offers models in carbon fibre or a cheaper aluminium version. The legs and head are sold separately, which means it can work out more expensive, but it gives you the flexibility to match them how you want. We'd suggest that Benro’s B1 ball head is the best tripod head for this model.

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02. 3 Legged Thing PUNKS Travis Tripod

This sturdy, versatile tripod is a good all-rounder

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Solid and dependable+Hefty 18kg payload+Packs down really well
Reasons to avoid
-Carbon fibre version is pricier

A close second in our choice of the best tripods, the PUNKS Travis tripod is a sturdy, rugged option from 3 Legged Thing that stands up to all conditions. This set of legs will hold even the heaviest of professional setups, supporting up to a mammoth18kg.

This dependable tripod's detachable rubber feet, endearingly dubbed 'Bootz', and unique Tri-Mount plate allow easy accessory attachment. That makes the Travis a highly customisable option that you can adapt to the way you work.

While it's not billed as a travel tripod, it measures under 45cm when folded so it could be used for travel with few issues. It also quickly adapts into a monopod, making it a versatile all-rounder. The aluminium Travis has a carbon fibre brother named Billy, but the cost is a fair bit higher.

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03. Manfrotto 055CXPRO3

This Manfrotto tripod is your best option if you need height

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Super-speedy pivot system +Very solid and stable
Reasons to avoid
-Lengthy when folded, no carry bag-No detachable leg for monopod use

One of the best tripods for those that need to shoot at high angles, the Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 three-section carbon option reaches a lofty 182cm with the XPRO Ball head fitted. 

This solid combination is sold separately rather than a complete kit, with the legs available in several aluminium and carbon fibre options. The three-section option measures fairly long when folded, but the 4-section version packs away smaller if you need a more compact option for travel.

Either way, both are quick to set up since the legs don’t swing up for storage. Unusually, the leg section locks have a flip action rather than a twist mechanism, but it does the job well. The centre column's 90-degree pivot function is also effortlessly simple to use.

As for the head, the XPRO Ball is one of the best tripod heads around and comes with either Manfrotto’s usual 200PL quick-release plate or an Arca-Swiss compatible quick-release plate.

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04. MeFOTO GlobeTrotter

This tripod's small but strong and reaches a reasonable height

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Very small carrying case+Hefty maximum load rating
Reasons to avoid
-No pivot facility for centre column-Only two alternative leg angles

Weighing in at over 2kg, the MeFOTO GlobeTrotter is a little heavier than we'd like for a travel tripod, but it folds down to just 41cm in length. The weight pays off in the form of a maximum load rating of 12kg for the legs and the ball head, which comes supplied. And despite their small size, the five-section legs give you a maximum operating height of 165cm. That makes it an impressive package for its size.

The legs swing up to reduce the carrying length, and one can be detached to serve as a monopod. Interchangeable rubber pads and metal spikes are supplied as well as a padded bag. All that's missing is a pivot function for the centre column, and there are only two lockable leg angles instead of the more usual three. A pricier carbon fibre edition is also available, which reduces the total weight by 400g.

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05. Vanguard ALTA PRO 2+

The best tripod for ultra low-level shooting

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Centre column rotates 180-degrees+Quick and easy setup
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively long when folded down-Supplied bag is unpadded

The Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ tripod prioritises a quick and easy setup rather than minimising folded size. The three-section legs have four selectable lock angles and the centre column has a full 180-degree pivot facility, which makes ultra-low-level shooting a breeze.

Like most recent Manfrotto tripods, such as the current versions of the 055 and 190, this Vanguard tripod has a 3/8-inch threaded socket for accessories such as an LED light. Build quality is solid throughout. The only drawback is that since the legs don't fully swing up for storage, the folded size is rather large.

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06. Manfrotto 190go!

This twist on Manfrotto’s longstanding 190 series is a solid compact tripod

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Wide choice of kits available+Simple setup and pivot facility
Reasons to avoid
-No detachable monopod leg-Modest maximum load rating for legs

The best tripod as far as compact, conventional options go, the Manfrotto 190go! builds on the popularity of Manfrotto’s 190-series. There are several kits on the market, distinguishable by their twist-action clamps in place of clip locks. They come with either aluminium or carbon fibre four-section legs and with three-way or ball heads. The best options include Manfrotto's outstanding XPRO head, which also comes in three-way or ball versions.

The handy pivot facility allows the centre column to act as a horizontal boom, adding to the tripod's usability. The legs don’t swing up for stowage but the folded length still comes in at a modest 54cm. The maximum operating height of 159cm isn’t the most generous, and the maximum load rating of 6kg for the legs is a little under par compared with that of the XPRO ball head. 

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07. Manfrotto Befree

One of the smallest and most lightweight aluminium tripods out there

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Folds down to just 41cm+Lightweight build
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively low 4kg max load rating-Max operating height only 144cm

There are several newer editions of the Befree tripod on the market, but it's hard to beat the simplicity of the original. It weighs just 1.5kg and folds down to just 41cm, making it a perfect choice for travel photography.

The four-section legs grant a maximum operating height of 144cm, and the load rating is 4kg. Both of those are rather modest but should prove enough for most photographers who don't have special requirements. Considering their lightweight build, the tripod and head are strong and robust, and the clip-style clamps work smoothly and efficiently. As a basic tripod that won’t weigh you down on the road, the Befree is a sound travel companion.

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08. Joby GorillaPod 1K

Take your camera to new, uncharted vantage points

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Flexible legs+Can grip unusual surfaces
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively low capacity-Short max height

We couldn't round off a list of the best tripods without mentioning the legendary Joby GorillaPod 1K. This mini-tripod boasts legs that can bend in any direction, allowing it to grip onto all sorts of objects in all kinds of places. Yes, the 1kg payload will limit your set up, but as long as you're not using a pro DSLR and a telephoto lens, the GorillaPod allows you to hold your camera steady in places where it might not be possible otherwise, opening up a range of creative options. 

If you use mirrorless cameras or a smartphone (with an adapter), this is a good extra accessory to throw in your kit. Its flexibility means that it packs down well, and it adds very little extra weight to your travel gear. As a bonus, you can bunch the legs together to convert the GorillaPod into a handgrip for on-the-spot video shooting or selfies. A neat trick.

How to pick the best tripod

When it comes to choosing the best tripod for you, it pays to understand the different options on the market. Many recent designs have legs that swing up vertically for storage so that the feet encompass the head when the centre column is fully extended. That can reduce their folded length by around 8cm but has the downside that it can make these tripods more complicated to set up.

Another factor is the number of sections in the legs. Four or five telescopic sections rather than the more conventional three can help to extend the maximum height while keeping stowage size down. This saves space and is especially practical for travel but again means more setup time due to the extra clamps.

Some current tripods also boast a pivoting centre column, which in most cases enables you to use it as a horizontal boom, as well as vertically. That can be a big advantage when it comes to macro photography, as well as for shooting with an ultra-wide-angle or fisheye lens. 

It also allows ultra-low-level shooting since most tripods now have legs that can be splayed to lock at multiple, wider angles to the vertical. Some pivoting tripods go further and allow you to lock the centre column at several angles through a full 180-degree arc.

The lightest tripods are usually made from carbon fibre, which can reduce the weight of a full-sized tripod kit by around 20 per cent when compared with an aluminium option. The material is more expensive, but if you have the budget and weight is an important factor, then a carbon fibre option may be the best tripod for you.

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Matthew trained as a broadcast engineer with the BBC in London and later switched to journalism and photography. He edited a number of magazines for Future PLC in Bath, before becoming a freelance photographer and technical writer in 2001.