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Choose a Tripod for Your Digital SLR Camera

Do you need a tripod for your digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera? If you hold the camera steady and don’t shoot below a shutter speed that’s the reciprocal of the focal length you’re using, you’ll get a sharp image.

For example, if you’re using a lens with a focal length of 100mm, the reciprocal is 1/100, which means you should shoot with a shutter speed that is equal to or faster than 1/100 of a second. If you shoot with a digital SLR camera that has image stabilization (or use a lens with image stabilization), you can shoot a couple of stops slower.

But when you’re photographing in very low light conditions or shooting portraits with diffused window light, your only solutions are to crank up the ISO or put the camera on a tripod. A tripod is always the better solution, especially when you’re shooting images with a sensor that is smaller than a frame of 35mm film.

If you increase the ISO on a camera with a small sensor, you add digital noise to the image.

Here are some things to consider when purchasing a tripod:

  • How much weight will the tripod support? The tripod needs to support the weight of your camera body and your heaviest lens. To be on the safe side, include a fudge factor of 50 percent. You never know when a manufacturer is being optimistic with data. The fudge factor will also accommodate a heavier camera if you upgrade or if you add a heavier lens to your digital photography arsenal.

  • How heavy is the tripod? If you use the tripod at home only, weight isn't a factor. However, if you’re going to be lugging it around on vacation, consider one of the low-weight tripods or consider a tripod like the Joby GorillaPod, which is versatile and lightweight.

    The GorillaPod’s unique design lets you use it like a regular tripod or bend the legs to wrap the tripod around an object such as a tree limb or a pipe. They are also easy to fit in luggage when you go on vacation.

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  • Are you using the tripod outdoors? If so, look for a tripod that has retractable rubber feet that reveal a sharp, stainless steel spike. Twist the rubber feet to reveal the spikes and then push the tripod legs into the ground. The spikes anchor the tripod. Some manufacturers have interchangeable tripod feet. You remove the rubber feet with a tool and then attach the spiked feet.

  • Does the tripod have a spirit level? This device makes it possible for you to level the tripod, which means you’ll get level horizon lines in your photos.

  • Does the tripod have a quick-release platform on top of the head? This option is handy when you’re attaching a camera to a tripod. Instead of attaching the camera to the head and the tripod, you attach the tripod to the platform — much easier to do.

  • What is the maximum extended length of the tripod? Make sure it’s tall enough for any scenario you’re likely to encounter.

  • What is the folded length of the tripod? This factor is important if you intend to travel with your tripod. If this is the case, make sure it can fit in your luggage.

  • Is it easy to lock and unlock the legs? The better tripods have a twist lock or a lever.

Purchase a carrying case for your tripod. Sling the carrying case with the tripod over your shoulder when you’re shooting on location and moving around. It’s much easier than lugging the tripod around without a case. The alternative is to purchase a camera bag to which you can easily attach the tripod.

There are lots of tripod manufacturers. In fact, many tripod manufacturers are creating high-tech tripods made of lightweight materials. Such tripods are an ideal, albeit expensive, alternative if you embrace a technique such as night photography that requires you to carry a tripod. Look at tripods and try the controls before you buy one. Many superstores have camera departments with tripods at reasonable prices.

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