Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod in 2021 – Finding the Best Tripod for You

by Alex Wrigley

We’ve talked about tripods a lot here on Click and Learn Photography. We’ve discussed the necessity of them in all manner of photography pursuits, some of which are below. However, we haven’t dug deep into the matter of actually buying a tripod… Until now.

Now, we’ll bring you that definitive guide on buying a tripod that you’ve all been waiting for.

Many newcomers to photography think it’s simple – Just buy the cheapest one, they all do the same thing, right? Nope.

I’ll admit that I thought exactly that when starting out, but I’m afraid to say that it’s just not the case. Cheap tripods cause no end of problems, starting with a fundamental lack of rigidity and stability, leading through a variety of frustrating and niggly problems and ending with your camera falling 4 feet to the ground after slipping from the budget ballhead attached.

Take it from somebody who saw their DSLR blown into a lake because of a less than sturdy tripod – Cheap tripods are more trouble than they’re worth!

Anyway, enough of the rambling. Let’s find you your perfect tripod!

Questions to Ask When Buying a Tripod

Best Travel Tripod
Best Travel Tripod

Tripods come in all different shapes and sizes… Okay, actually, they don’t. They’ve all got three legs and end up the same shape, but metaphorically speaking there is a massive variety to choose from.

Some of these are suitable for some photographers, and others for different photographers. With that in mind, here are some important questions you should ask yourself when deciding which tripod to buy:

What’s my budget?

I’ll put it bluntly – There are very few tripods worth buying that cost less than $100. As with everything in life, the more you spend, the more you get in return. Considering this is the only thing separating your expensive camera equipment from the hard ground beneath, it’s best to up your budget a bit when buying a tripod.

That being said, there is a balancing act to be done. You could go out and spend over $1,000 on a top of the line tripod, but you might never need to.

Decide on your budget for buying a tripod, and then you can start to narrow the search down. If you’re willing to make some compromises you can definitely get a really good tripod in the sub $200 range, but if you want your tripod to cover all bases then you’re going to have to open up your wallet!

What will I use it for?

Figuring out what exactly you’re going to use your tripod for determines what sort of features you want to look for. Studio tripods are very different from travel tripods, for example.

  • Want to take it travelling? Size and weight will be a big factor.
  • Landscape photography in harsh environments? It needs to be rock solid.
  • Macro and close-up photography? You’ll want some features for getting creative with angles.

How light does it need to be?

Leading on from the above, if you decide you need your tripod to be ultra-light and compact then you’re going to have to loosen those purse strings a bit.

Weight is pretty much the major factor when it comes to the cost of a tripod. The light and sturdy carbon fiber models cost a lot more than your traditional aluminium tripods.

So, decide how important weight is to you. If you’re going travelling or hiking long distances then it could be a compromise you’re unwilling to make, of course.

What type of head do I want?

Buying A Tripod
The ballhead is a popular and versatile choice of tripod head.
Buying A Tripod

Even if you have the best tripod in the world, if you attach a crappy head to the top of it then you’re going to suffer.

The tripod head is the gateway between your camera and your tripod, so it should come as no surprise that it makes a big difference.

What may come as more of a surprise is the amount of differing types of tripod head available. Decide which suits your needs, although bear in mind that for many photographers a simple ball head or pan & tilt will do the job.

Ball Head – The most widely used tripod head. It’s simply a rotating ball with a camera plate on the top that can be locked into position using the locking screws.

Pan & Tilt – Another good option, the pan & tilt heads rotate along two axes and are controlled using handles on the side. They are bulkier than ball heads, but great for panoramas and also very good for making small adjustments.

Gimbal Heads – These are pretty much solely used in video work and wildlife photography. Not only can they hold very heavy lenses, but they allow you to freely move the camera in a way that no other tripod head does, making it incredibly useful for fast action photography.

Pistol Grip Heads – These are very similar to ball heads, but rather than using the locking screw to adjust your composition you use a handle and trigger.

Finding Your Perfect Tripod

Buying A Tripod
Buying A Tripod

Hopefully you’ve got the answers to those questions now, and here’s where we start narrowing down the search.

We’ll split the rest of this tripod buying guide into two distinct sections, starting with the best carbon fiber tripods before moving on to the more wallet friendly (often) aluminium offerings.

We’ll cover the best travel tripods, best carbon fiber tripods, and a few budget options here, eventually culminating with our overall winner.

Carbon Fiber Tripods

Gitzo GK3532-82QD


Fantastic build quality

Very light



Like, really expensive

Okay, we’ll start off with the eye-wateringly expensive Gitzo Mountaineer range. Most of you will scoff when you see the price, but for those of you with a large budget and wanting the absolute best it’s an incredibly good option.

Gitzo are pretty much the cadillac of tripods, and the ridiculously named GK3532-82QD is one of the best tripods around. It’s constructed from innovative carbon exact tubes and offers all the features such as leg angle selectors, ground level shooting, and reversing center column.

Here’s where the Gitzo stands out from the crowd though – Its build quality is sensational, it weighs just 1.86kg, and if treated right it’ll easily last a decade of use.

Manfrotto 055CXPRO3


Very sturdy and stable

Generous max operating height


Tripod head sold separately

Pretty long even when folded

Manfrotto are a well known brand in the tripod world, and whatever you buy from them you can be pretty sure it’ll be great quality.

Unfortunately, you can also be pretty sure that it’ll have a stupid name. The Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 continues that trend on both fronts.

It has a fantastically simple to use 90-degree pivoting system for the center column, allowing you to get creative with your angles. Not only that, but it feels very sturdy and stable when set up and offers a generous maximum operating height of 182cm. All this comes from a package weighing a modest 2.54kg.

There are a few downsides though – It’s relatively long when folded away so isn’t suitable for those wanting a compact tripod. It also doesn’t come with a tripod head, and while it does mean you get to choose the perfect tripod head for your needs it also results in additional cost.

Vanguard VEO 2 265CB

  • Vanguard VEO 2 265CB Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with VEO 2...

    Vanguard VEO 2 265CB Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with VEO 2...

    • Exclusive And innovative central column system that allows you to set the central column and tripod legs in less than 15 seconds
    • 1st rate carbon fiber material for lightweight & long-lasting working sessions and advanced twist lock system for fast and rock solid position setting


Impressively small and light

Innovative fast setup system


Modest max operating height

Not as versatile as Alta Pro 2+

Vanguard’s initial release of the Veo and Alta Pro range of tripods was met with widespread approval, but the innovative company really blew the competition out of the water with their upgrades a few years back.

The Vanguard VEO 2 265CB is their travel tripod offering, packing down to a tiny 41cm and weighing in at an equally tiny 1.31kg. Despite all this, it has a maximum load capacity of almost 8kg, which will be more than enough for all but the most extreme telephoto lenses.

The VEO 2 265CB’s innovative center column system allows the column to be swung into place and the legs extended in just 15 seconds to make sure you never miss that shot, and the excellent BH-50 ballhead that ships with this model is a real treat.

Downsides? Well, it doesn’t offer quite the same level of versatility as it’s bigger brother, the Alta Pro 2+, and it’s maximum operating height is just shy of a modest 150cm.

Click here for our full Vanguard VEO 2 Review

3 Legged Thing Punks Billy


Small and light for a full size tripod

Excellent plate and ballhead system


No comfort grips on legs

Not as sturdy feeling as some

3 Legged Thing’s quirky tripod names and eye-catching aesthetics have drawn a lot of attention from tripod shoppers, but beneath all those marketing efforts lie some excellent engineering.

The Punks Billy certainly ticks the boxes when it comes to aesthetics and quirky names, and it lives up to expectations with the build quality too. It has a fabulous feel to it, and it doesn’t let you down in the performance area either.

It has a operating range that goes as low as 11cm and up to a respectable 165cm. It also folds down to a tiny 45cm length and weighs just 1.7kg, despite the fact that this is a full size tripod – Not a travel offering.

The load capacity is impressive at 18kg too, while the AirHed Neo ballhead is a joy to use. the Punks Billy also ships with 3 Legged Thing’s patented Tri-Mount plate which has areas for clipping things on and is generally very easy to use.

The only downsides are that it doesn’t feel quite as sturdy as some of the other offerings, and the lack of comfort grips on the legs is an oversight too.

Manfrotto Befree Travel Tripod


Very small and light

Excellent design


Modest max operating height

Ballhead not Arca Swiss compatible

Manfrotto again, and this time without the silly name. It’s not only easier on the tongue, but it’s much easier on your muscles. This little beauty weighs just 1.24kg and folds down to under 41cm, making travelling with your tripod a breeze.

This compact design does take its toll elsewhere though. The maximum operating height is a modest 149cm and, like with many travel tripods, the overall rigidity and sturdiness seems somewhat worse than the full size offerings.

That being said, this tiny tripod can safely bear up to 8kg of camera gear, it’s got an excellent Manfrotto 494 ball head with it, it’s quick to set up, and it really does look the part.

One major gripe with the ballhead is that it’s not Arca Swiss compatible, meaning that you can use the generic L-Brackets that we highly recommend.


Aluminium Tripods

MeFOTO Globetrotter

  • MEFOTO GlobeTrotter Classic 64.2' Aluminum Travel...

    MEFOTO GlobeTrotter Classic 64.2' Aluminum Travel...

    • The MeFOTO GlobeTrotter is a compact travel camera tripod that folds up inversely and turns into a monopod. When incorporated with the MeFOTO SideKick iPhone tripod mount (not included), the GlobeTrotter makes the perfect choice. Available in several colors.
    • 360-degree Panning: Accurate panoramas can be easily orchestrated using the graduated panning scale for accurate image alignment. Two Leg Angle Positions: For an extra measure of flexibility, tripod legs can be independently locked into place at two different angles to enable shooting in cramped quarters, on irregular surface areas, or at ground level.


Very small when folded away

Still tall at full extension and handles a lot of weight


No pivoting central column

Legs only have two available angles

The MeFOTO Globetrotter is actually MeFOTO’s most heavy duty offering in their classic range, but you wouldn’t think so looking at those all important size and weight stats.

It folds down to a tiny 41cm and only weighs 2.1kg with the head attached. The five section legs mean it can still extend to an impressive 165cm at full height though, and it has a hefty maximum load of 12kg. That’s seriously impressive for a tripod that can easily be stowed in hand luggage.

There are a couple of compromises made though. The center column has no pivoting feature so you’ll have to work for those creative angles, and the tripod legs can only be locked in two different angles compared to the industry standard three.

That being said, these are compromises we could live with considering the MeFOTO Globetrotters other impressive features. Also, as an important side note, it comes with a set of metal spiked feet and the ball head is an absolute joy to use.

Vanguard Alta Pro 2+

  • Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB 100 Aluminum Tripod with Alta...

    Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB 100 Aluminum Tripod with Alta...

    • MACC (Multi-Angle Center Column) for limitless shooting angles with firm hexagonal center column that offers one handed, effortless smooth operation and rapid set-up
    • Position versatility - 3 section legs with 4 position angles - 20°, 40°, 60°, 80° and rock solid positioning - unique “locked” to “unlocked” twist leg lock system


Amazingly versatile central column

Beautiful build quality


Fairly big to carry around

Can be confusing to use at first

While the Vanguard VEO 2 mentioned above might have been a step up from the first iteration, the Alta Pro 2+ took their heavier duty range to another level.

We reviewed the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ here, and honestly it’s one of the best tripods going at the moment. It won the Best Tripod Award in 2017 for a reason.

Its 180 degree pivot system on the central column, along with the four lockable leg angles, means you can easily position your camera just about anywhere you want. Macro photographers, for example, will love the Alta Pro 2+.

The build quality is very nice too, and the rubber comfort grips on two of the legs is a nice touch and are fully appreciated when working in the cold. The supplied ballhead (we have the Alta BH-100) is very good too.

It’s not all positive news though. Due to the lack of swingable legs, the Alta Pro 2+ is pretty long at 73cm when folded down and at 2.3kg it’s hardly the lightest offering. Additionally, there are a couple of extra controls around the legs which make it quite confusing to operate until you get to grips with it.

All said and done though, this is a fantastic tripod at a great price.

Manfrotto 190XPro4


Feels very sturdy

Useful spirit bubble on pivoting central column


Fairly wide even when folded down


Manfrotto’s 190XPro4 moves away from the 190GO range of tripods, making the rather novel decision to go for lever leg locks rather than the ever popular twist locks.

We’ve already recommended the 190XPro3 carbon fiber offering, but the newer model is well worth considering in aluminium,

This does add to the 190XPro4 already bulky frame when folded down, but it certainly doesn’t detract from its usability. The freshly designed Quick Power Locks are quick and easy to use and make setting up a speedy process.

The legs feel ultra sturdy as well, which isn’t surprising when the whole thing weighs 2.6kg. However, it does fold down to a decent 57cm length and has a maximum operating height of 175cm.

The Manfrotto 190XPro4 has the industry standard 90 degree pivoting center column too, but sets itself apart by adding a very useful spirit bubble to aid with levelling.

Undoubtedly, the legs are good on this one. However, the real reason you should consider this is the fantastic XPro ball head that comes with the kit. There’s nothing particularly fancy about it, but everything about it is just engineered to perfection and it makes it a breeze to use.

Although, as usual with Manfrotto, the plate isn’t Arca Swiss compatible.

Benro Travel Angel

  • Benro Travel Angel 2 Series Aluminum Tripod w/ B1 Ball Head...

    Benro Travel Angel 2 Series Aluminum Tripod w/ B1 Ball Head...

    • Designed to offer compact and lightweight camera support. Weighing just 4.6 lbs. and able to hold up to 22 lbs., the FTA28AB1 can extend from a minimum height of 17.9" up to 62.8".
    • The 4-section legs are held in place by twist locks and can be adjusted independently.


Very compact when folded down

Detachable, full size monopod / walking pole


Doesn’t feel that sturdy at full extension

Not the lightest for a travel tripod

Benro entered the realm of travel suitable tripods with their Travel Angel model, which is basically a slimmed down version of the excellent Benro Mach3.

The four section, swingable legs mean that the Benro Travel Angel packs down to a folded length of just 45cm, although with the ball head attached it still weighs 2.42kg.

It boasts a 161cm maximum operating height too, which is slightly shorter than the Mach3 but still very reasonable considering it’s folded down length.

Unfortunately, this four-section leg setup means that the Travel Angel doesn’t feel quite as sturdy as other offerings when at full extension. The bottom sections are just too thin, and when mounted with a full frame DSLR and 70-200mm lens it just didn’t feel right. Although, Benro still claim a maximum load of 10kg for the legs and 14kg for the head.

Back to the positives though – Many tripods nowadays come with a detachable leg that you can use as a monopod or walking pole. The Travel Angel is no different in this regard, but it also allows you to attach the center column to the removed leg to give yourself a full size monopod / walking pole.

Oben AC-1351


Versatile center column system

Very light


Low maximum weight load

Ball head rather rudimentary

Oben aren’t exactly household names in the photography world, but this lightweight aluminium offering from them is well worth a look.

The main draw of the Oben AC-1351 is the versatile central column system, which you can extend for extra height (expected), reverse for ultra low-angle shooting, and even remove completely and attach the ball head directly onto the tripod legs, improving stability.

It has a very respectable maximum working height of 165cm and weighs in at just under 1.9kg, which is very impressive for a full size aluminium tripod.

The low price point and low weight of the Oben AC-1351 does result in some compromises though. The maximum load you can mount on it is only 6kg, and to be honest even that feels like a stretch when the legs are fully extended.

That being said, if you’re not planning on shooting at eye-level much, instead preferring to be closer to the ground, this is a very capable tripod.


Best Budget Tripod

For those of you not wanting to spend the earth purchasing your first tripod, here’s our pick for the best budget tripod on the market…

The Vanguard VEO 2 265CB

  • Vanguard VEO 2 265CB Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with VEO 2...

    Vanguard VEO 2 265CB Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with VEO 2...

    • Exclusive And innovative central column system that allows you to set the central column and tripod legs in less than 15 seconds
    • 1st rate carbon fiber material for lightweight & long-lasting working sessions and advanced twist lock system for fast and rock solid position setting

It’s a carbon fiber tripod. With a ball head. Weighing 1.31kg and folding down to 41cm. And it’s an absolute bargain.

Seriously, the Vanguard Veo 2 265CB came very close to winning the Best Travel Tripod category on merit alone, so the fact that it’s this cheap is simply incredible.

It’s marginally heavier than the Manfrotto Befree, but folds down to the same size and can bear the same 8kg of weight. It also has an innovative center column system that allows it to be swung into place and set up in just 15 seconds.

The ball head, while not quite on Manfrotto’s level, is still excellent to use and it offers the same modest but usable 150cm maximum operating height.

All I can say is this – Ignore those sub-$100 budget tripods, spend a bit extra and get a top quality tripod for a remarkably low price. You will not find a better spend to reward ratio on the tripod market.

Best Travel Tripod

Portability is often a key aspect when buying a tripod. Taking a full size tripod on your travels isn’t always feasible, so if you’re planning a city break with your three legged companion we recommend…

The Manfrotto Befree Travel Tripod

It was pretty much a coinflip between this and the Vanguard Veo 2, but the excellent ball head and slightly lighter weight tipped the scales in the Manfrotto Befree’s favour.

Folding up to just under 41cm long and weighing in at a featherweight 1.24kg, you’ll barely even notice you’re carrying this thing.

Admittedly, the maximum operating height of 149cm is a bit of a downside, but it’s no worse than other lightweight travel tripod options. It can handle a respectable 8kg of camera gear on top of it too.

Manfrotto ball heads are always a treat, and the Manfrotto 494 shipped with the Befree is no different. It’s simply wonderful to use, and we can even forgive the lack of Arca Swiss compatibility.

Overall Best Tripod to Buy

We’ve been through all our favourite tripod offerings, but this here is our favorite.

It’s the one recommended in our Ultimate Guide to Landscape Photography ebook.

The perfect blend of value for money, versatility, portability, and build quality is…

The Vanguard Alta Pro 2+

  • Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB 100 Aluminum Tripod with Alta...

    Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB 100 Aluminum Tripod with Alta...

    • MACC (Multi-Angle Center Column) for limitless shooting angles with firm hexagonal center column that offers one handed, effortless smooth operation and rapid set-up
    • Position versatility - 3 section legs with 4 position angles - 20°, 40°, 60°, 80° and rock solid positioning - unique “locked” to “unlocked” twist leg lock system

It picked up the TIPA award for Best Tripod 2017, and it’s still impressing us today.

Is it the smallest and lightest? No.

However, the incredibly innovative 180 degree pivoting central column, exquisite build quality, and overall usability make this our best overall tripod.

Of course, it’s not up there with the Gitzos of the tripod world, but a Gitzo costs 5 times more than the Alta Pro 2+ and is simply out of budget for the vast majority of photographers.

The Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ takes top marks for versatility, with it’s array of leg angle options and central column pivoting making it perfect for macro and landscape photographers. It’s also great value for money, and if you’ve got a bit extra in your wallet you can always shell out for the more expensive carbon fiber model.

If you’re buying a tripod, you’d be a fool to not consider the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+.

Closing Thoughts

There you have it. Our pick of the best tripods on the market today, ranging from budget offerings to travel tripods all the way up to the wallet-busting.

Whatever your requirements from your tripod, there’s something suitable here. Still, if you’re not entirely satisfied you could always check out Peak Design’s groundbreaking new travel tripod Kickstarter and wait a few months before buying a tripod.

Read More…

Best Cameras for Landscape Photography

Best Lenses for Astrophotography

7 Reasons Why You Need a Nifty Fifty Lens

11 Budget Friendly Photography Accessories

About Alex Wrigley

Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.

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