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DSLR Tripods for Filmmaking

The DSLR tripod is your moviemaking three-legged friend for many reasons, the most prominent being that it allows you to keep the camera steady. Camera steadiness is often the difference between a crisply shot movie and a blurry mess.

Take a look at the criteria to find the best one for your needs:

  • Price: With a range in price from very affordable to ultra-expensive, most tripods do the same job; yet vary when it comes to size and durability. Sturdy models on the affordable side tend to be heavier than more expensive counterparts.

  • Materials: The cost of a tripod goes up as the weight goes down. A model that would cost around $100 made out of aluminum suddenly costs $500 when it’s made of the more durable and lighter metal alloys like carbon fiber.

  • Size: Moviemaking requires a tripod with a height that at least meets your eye level; otherwise, it’s not going to be comfortable to use.

  • Controls: The controls for extending your tripod are important to consider. Some lock by turning; others use clips or control knobs. When you can, pick a model with controls that change quickly and seem intuitive to you.

  • Separate pieces: Less expensive tripods are usually sold as a whole unit with legs and head, whereas more sophisticated models are purchased separately.

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Basic tripod types

Tripods come on a variety of sizes and types and are constructed of various materials. Not every one works well when it comes to making your movie. Size and weight are important, but often the deciding factor depends on the type of head used by the tripod.

Here are a few basic types:

  • Video heads: These are big heads with lots of controls used specifically for supporting and controlling large video camcorders. Because DSLR bodies are relatively lightweight, a cheaper version will work just fine.

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    On the plus side, you get well-dampened motion for smooth pans and tilts, bubble levels to more precisely balance the camera, and geared rotation adjustments for precise positioning. The downside is that the weight of your DSLR usually doesn’t warrant the extra cost.

  • Fluid heads: These are a more practical solution for DSLR moviemaking. As the name implies, this type of tripod head uses a sealed fluid to create a hydraulic-like dampening for smooth motion. The large handle and dampening reduces any jerkiness or vibration.

  • Pan/tilt head: This head is the most common type of tripod head and allows for control on both horizontal and vertical axis. But what these heads offer in versatility, they often lack in smoothness. Because the head is not dampened, the results are not as precise as the ones you get with a fluid head.

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    On the plus side, you’ll be able to mount the camera on an angle and even shoot a vertical if you need an angled view. On the downside, unless you want your movie to look like it was shot on an iPhone, there’s little reason for a video tripod head to hold the camera in vertical orientation.

  • Ball head: Although they’re versatile, ball heads aren’t that great for shooting DSLR video. They mount the camera in a stationary position.

Simplify with a monopod

It’s one of the simplest ways of holding your DSLR steady while still maintaining control. Its single leg allows you to reduce shake and movement with comfort and flexibility. You can even use it as a body pod by shortening the pole and anchoring it in your waist.

Essentially this is like handholding the camera, except that it’s braced on you. Other times, you can mount the camera, hit record, and hold it over your head for a higher vantage point.

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Create stability without a tripod

Not every situation requires an expensive piece of equipment to keep the camera steady. Here are several solutions that range from free to relatively low-cost:

  • Rest the camera on something (free): Use a ledge, mailbox, curb, barricade horse, or anything flat and level. It’s not perfect, but it’s an alternative to handholding your camera.

  • Beanbagging it (just north of free): Although a beanbag is not an ideal solution, it’s helpful when you have nothing else and need to rest your camera on a flat surface. Just plop the camera on a simple bag of beans, adjust the camera’s position, and press Record.

  • Gorilla Pod (still affordable): This flexible, segmented leg accessory is one of the most unique stabilization devices on the market. Its bendability allows you to shape it around just about anything. It has magnets on its feet so it even sticks to metal surfaces.

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