How to buy a tripod – Part 1

This is the first of a three part description of how I choose my tripod and head. After reading my fair share of blogs and reviews, I thought I’d share my experience in the hopes that it helps the next poor soul looking for his/her perfect kit.

Back in October I thought picking out a tripod and head would be an easy task.  I would use my birthday/Christmas/Hanukkah gift requests to get a great kit.  Even on a restricted budget of around $200-250 I envisioned ordering the perfect kit from B&H and being done.  My assumptions could not have been farther from reality.

Like many other photographers, I consider a tripod and head combination as a long term investment, so quality was of the utmost importance.   First I narrowed down the brands I would consider.  Across the board, the two brands that were consistently listed at the top of everyone’s list were Gitzo and Manfrotto/Bogen. Unfortunately a Gitzo was out of my price range.

Next I looked at functionality.  Which models would meet at least 90% of my needs.  But what are my needs?  I am interested in landscape and nighttime photography, making camera stability essential.  Of course I wanted my kit to also be inexpensive (insert chuckle here), light-weight and flexible enough to allow me to try macro and other photography genres.

I started reading reviews and comparing technical specifications.  I read about the Manfrotto 055 series, the 190’s and even the 290’s.  I compared carbon fiber with aluminum models and maximum extended heights until my head was spinning.  I stared at the comparison table of the XB, XDB and XPROB until my eyes watered.  I even got out a tape measure to compare what 70″ verses 51″ would feel like when shooting.

After weighing the functional needs of the units I had researched with the practical considerations (cost), I came to what I thought was my final decision.  I would sacrifice minimum and maximum shooting heights for tripod weight and cost.  I had decided that the Manfrotto 190 XB  with a compact ball head, the 496 RC2, was the right choice for me. The two components were well reviewed and best of all, within my price range.

Read Part 2 on Tuesday to see what went wrong.

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