When it comes to crafting eye-popping time-lapse videos, you’d be surprised what you can do with the bare minimum equipment. With that said, if you’re really looking to get serious with the art form, there are a few essential pieces of kit that you will quickly learn to categorize as “essential”. Perhaps none of these are more practical or useful than the humble tripod. In today’s guide, we’ll break down what to look for if you’re ready to take the plunge.
Do I Even Need a Tripod?
We hear this question pretty often from beginners, and the truth is, a tripod isn’t a 100% necessity when you’re just getting started with time-lapse photography. What is necessary, however, is holding your camera (or phone) perfectly still during the capturing of your sequence of photos, so you can see how the device that literally holds your camera perfectly steady might be incredibly useful.
A tripod is a stabilization platform; it is designed to ensure that each of your photos are captured with minimal amounts of camera shake while the shutter is open. This eliminates blurriness in pictures, making them clearer and more professional looking. From a time-lapse maker’s perspective, it also ensures that every frame in your sequence is shot from the exact same vantage point. This is somewhat difficult to describe, but once you see the difference it makes in the finished product, you’ll know that there’s no going back.
Understanding What Makes a Quality Tripod
So, at this point, we’ve hopefully sold you on the merits of a tripod for your time-lapse work. Now, the question is simple: how can you decide which one is right for you? Let’s briefly take a look at a few key aspects to look for in your ideal tripod system before getting into our specific product recommendations.
Perhaps above all else, the build quality of a particular tripod will determine how effective you can expect it to be out in the field. Cheap out here, and you’ll find that your super entry-level tripod simply doesn’t do a good job of removing all traces of camera shake, or worse yet, collapses on you, potentially damaging your camera in the process.
Seeing as time-lapses are often captured in potentially hazardous areas, such as a busy city center or a rocky mountainside, having a quality, stable platform you can trust is essential. In general, we recommend carbon fiber tripods, especially for frequent travelers, as they are lightweight while still providing excellent stability. Aluminum is another, more classic choice, though it will be heavier, as well as more susceptible to hot and cold temperatures.
Another critical component, the way your camera actually attaches to the tripod can vary from tripod to tripod. This affects more than the initial attachment, though; it’ll also affect how easily you can adjust things like the position, balance, and tilt of your camera itself. In general, there are four main types of head styles in use today; 3-way pan-tilt, ball, gimbal, and fluid head.
Each of these has their own unique strengths and weaknesses that we won’t be getting into here, but for time-lapse purposes, just know that any of them will work. That said, if you want to get into advanced motion shots down the road, a fluid head may be ideal, as it allows for the smoothest pans and tilts of all of the various styles.
For the most part, tripod legs are fixed, dedicated poles that are designed to work best on semi-flat, even terrain. That said, there are a number of specialty tripods like the popular Gorilla brand which use a more fluid design, allowing the legs to actually “grip” onto surfaces. These can be used to attach your camera to places you might not expect, such as a tree limb, traffic pole, or some other unique location. Obviously, these will give you the potential to get non-conventional shots which may add an air of intrigue to your work. You just need to know when it makes sense to use them, and when it makes more sense to go with something traditional.
Every tripod has a specific max load capacity that it is capable of handling. Exceed this load, and you run the risk of the legs becoming unstable in the wind or on uneven, rocky terrain, which would obviously be bad news for the (likely highly expensive) imaging gear mounted to the top of your tripod. For this reason, it is crucial to match your camera and lens weight to a tripod that can support them, ideally with some room to grow on.
Tripods come in virtually all sizes, from compact, flexible designs to towering, crane-like monstrosities. If you are someone who travels often, something small and light will probably be more useful for you, but if you are operating lots of heavy equipment in a fixed spot for an extended period of time, it may make sense to go with something a bit bulkier. Determining which is right for you will really boil down to asking yourself what you’re most interested in shooting for your time-lapse work, and matching the right gear to suit that style.
Our Top Tripods For Time-Lapse Photography
This excellent starter platform features a ball head, a sturdy, all-aluminum design, flip-lock legs, and as a maximum weight of 15 pounds. Best of all, it is available online at an extremely beginner-friendly price. Thankfully, unlike other “entry-level” tripods on the market, Dolica doesn’t seem to be skimping out on the build quality here, with hundreds of reviewers noting that they felt they were getting more than their money’s worth with the GX Proline series.
Neewer has long made high-quality, mid-range tripods, and their new carbon fiber lineup is no exception to this rule. Featuring a 360-degree ball head, a clever monopod mode, and an 8-layer carbon fiber tubing system for added stability, very few tripods at this price range can claim to offer the same level of value found here. Featuring a maximum weight of 26.5 pounds, this should be more than enough for just about any camera/lens combo with room to spare.
Manfrotto is one of the most popular manufacturer’s of high-end camera accessories on the market, and their carbon fiber line of tripods is a perfect example of their legendary build quality. The Manfrotto tripod uses ultra-high-quality carbon fiber supports that are extremely stable and yet incredibly light, making it an excellent choice for hikers and frequent travelers. While the maximum safe weight is listed at 8.6 pounds, most people in the reviews section on Amazon noted that it can easily handle far more than that. If you are looking to really invest in your time-lapse arsenal, you can’t go wrong with Manfrotto.
Have a question about tripods in general, or maybe a product recommendation your own? Be sure to leave a comment below and let us know!