Find a Tripod For Your Digital SLR

Tired of blurry photos? A tripod for your digital SLR is just what you need.

The most common cause of photo blur is a shaky camera. Shaky cameras are the result of shaky hands.

If the camera is securely attached to a stable surface, then camera shake is completely eliminated.

Sounds like a good idea doesn't it?

Let's talk a bit more about the problem that a tripod for your digital SLR will solve.

Available Light And Shutter Speed

Your digital SLR needs a certain amount of light to capture a correctly exposed photograph.

There are two ways the camera can get enough light: by opening up the lens or by keeping the shutter open a long time.

The shutter is a protective cover that sits in front of your camera sensor and keeps out light.

When you press the camera's button to take a photo, the shutter opens for a set amount of time.

The less light there is, the longer the shutter stays open.

Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second, and there's a common scale:

400020001000500250 12560 30 15  8  4  2  1  

The fraction is left out, so 4000 is really 1/4000th of a second.

Focal Length and Blurry Photos

Your lens has a focal length.

If you have a zoom lens, then the lens actually covers a range of focal lengths.

The focal length of the lens affects how close you can get to your subject even when you're far away.

For example, a 50mm lens will let you take a shot of the Serengeti while a 600mm will let you take a close-up of a cheetah.

So what's this got to do with tripods?

Lenses with longer focal lengths magnify camera shake.

Here's the photography rule of thumb when you're holding the camera in your hands:

If shutter speed is slower than 1/[focal length], your shot will probably be blurry.

Let's break this down a bit.

  • You've got a 100mm lens and are taking photos at 1/125th of a second. Since 1/125 is faster than 1/100 (1/focal length) your photos should be clear.
  • Now you've got a 50mm lens and are taking photos at 1/30th of a second. You might get some clear shots since 1/30th of a second is not that much slower than 1/50th, but you're pushing it.
  • With a 200mm lens and a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second, there's no chance that you'll get a clear shot (1/8 is much slower than 1/200).

Here's the thing: this rule only applies when you've got your digital SLR in your hands.

Types of Stabilizers

That was a long way to go to talk about tripods for your digital SLR, but it's hard to discuss a solution if you don't know the problem.

Tripods and other stabilizers eliminate camera shake completely.

Since the camera has a stable base of support, you can use any focal length and any shutter speed you like.

There are no limitations, and every shot you take where the subject isn't moving around will turn out clear instead of blurry.

While a tripod is the best way to keep the camera steady, I will talk about some other alternatives.


A tripod is a three-legged stand for your camera to sit on.

The three legs provide an incredibly stable base for your SLR.

Tripods let you take photos no matter how little light there is - even in the dead of night.

But tripods are also useful when there is plenty of light.

Even if you're using a fast shutter speed, minor camera shake can still lead to a slightly blurry photo.

If you want to make sure that your photos are tack-sharp (some industry jargon) then use a tripod for your digital SLR as often as you can.


The monopod name gives it away: it's a tripod with only one leg.

A monopod is also a stable support, but doesn't immobilize your camera the way a tripod does.

The main advantage? Mobility.

If you've ever looked at the sidelines during a sporting event, you will see that most sports photographers use monopods instead of tripods.

Monopods let them move around to follow the action while still providing a stable base of support.

Brackets and Beanbags

These are the last resort for camera stability.

Brackets are more for specialized photography (attached to the window of a Jeep for a safari) and beanbags are limited in use.

A beanbag just provides a surface to rest the camera on, but you have to find a flat surface in the first place.

Since tripods and monopods can be adjusted to different heights, they are easier to use on uneven ground.

The primary benefit of a beanbag is portability, since monpods and tripods can be a lot to lug around.

Tripod Features

In this section I'll talk about some of the features to look for when you get a tripod for your digital SLR.

First, don't skimp on price.

Here's what you get when you don't pay enough for a tripod:

  • Legs that don't extend and retract smoothly
  • A tripod that weighs a lot
  • Made of a flimsy plastic material
  • Can only be used on a flat surface

When the tripod isn't easy to set up and take down or it weighs a ton, you won't want to use it very much - your tripod will sit at home a lot.

If the tripod is too light, a heavy wind can move it around and even knock it over - that's even less of a support than just holding the camera in your hands.

The last point is reserved for tripods that don't have flexible leg positions, and are hard to set up on uneven ground.

Tripod Parts

There are two parts to any tripod:

  1. The head that attaches to the camera
  2. The legs of the tripod

Some tripods have the head fused to the legs and on others they can seperate.

The tripod head attaches to your camera by screwing into the base.

Quick-Release Plate

When you're comparing tripods for your digital SLR, look for this feature.

The convenience of a quick-release plate is worth it's weight in gold.

The detachable plate is part of the head assembly. All that you screw into you camera is a metal plate.

The plate snaps snugly onto the tripod head, and can be removed with a quick-release lever.

A detachable plate lets you pull the camera off the tripod in an instant, instead of having to unscrew it ever time.

It's an immense convenience. Once you've used one, you'll never go back to the permanently attached variety.

Tripod Heads

There are two main types of tripod heads: ball heads and pan/tilt heads.

Ball Heads

A ball head is exactly like it sounds: it's a ball that attaches to your camera and is held in an enclosure that allows you to rotate and tilt the camera at all angles.

You can lock the ball in place so that the camera is immobile, or you can keep it loose so that you can track moving objects while retaining a stable base of support.

If you really want to go high-end, take a look at a grip ball head.

These ball heads give you the most flexibility and freedom to position your camera any way you want and still keep it stable.

With a standard ball head, you have to "unlock" it with a screw clamp whenever you want to move the camera.

With a grip ball head you just squeeze a trigger, and that releases the ball head to move freely in any direction.

Be warned: they are expensive. The Bogen grip ball head runs about $80, and the Manfrotto will set you back $105.

Pan/Tilt Heads

A pan/tilt head has separate adjustments for spinning the camera around and tilting it to the side.

A three-way pan/tilt head lets you move the camera along 3 axis and includes special locking mechanisms for precise camera positioning.

The type of head you choose depends on the photos you want to take.

A ball head is suited for action photography, since you can move or tilt the camera in any direction quickly and easily.

I photograph a lot of parades with a ball head and I can track subjects as they go by without shaking the camera a lot.

Pan/tilt heads are good for landscape and architecture photographers, since you can tweak the camera position until it's just right.

Special Note: the important thing to pay attention to when you're comparing ball and pan/tilt heads is how much your camera weighs.

Each head is rated for a certain weight, and if you exceed the weight, the head won't lock into place to keep the camera stable.

Tripod Legs

Here's what to look for in tripod legs: height.

First, take into account how tall you are: figure out the distance from the ground to your eye level.

There are two elements to most tripod legs: the three legs, and a center column where you attach the head.

Once the tripod legs are fully extended, the center column can be raised for additional height, although this is considered bad practice.

The reason you want to limit your use of the center column is that it makes the tripod's center of gravity too high and leads to instability.

If you camera is unstable on the tripod, you're still going to get blurry photos.

To ensure that you won't have to use the center column all the time, make sure that the legs of the tripod can bring your camera up to eye level when fully extended.

I hate to say it: you tall people are going to have to pay more for a tall tripod.

Tripod Weight

Now that you know the height of the tripod you need, consider the weight.

This is expecially important for hikers who want to carry a tripod - the more it weighs, the less inclined you'll be to take it with you.

But be careful: there are two ways to get a light tripod.

You can either buy something that's just plain flimsy and will blow over in a mild breeze, or you can get a composite tripod that is light yet sturdy.

The composite tripods are expensive, but this one purchase should last you a lifetime (unless you really abuse your tripod).

Ultimately the right tripod for your digital SLR will be a tradeoff between features and cost.

Some of the high-end composite tripods can run upward of $400, so be sure about your size and weight requirements before you buy.

Learn More About Digital SLR Cameras - Free!

The monthly newsletter is packed with digital SLR tips and advice. Current Issue
First NameE-mail Address 
Your privacy is respected and your information is NEVER shared with anyone.
previous pageLens Filters Digital SLR Home              
digital slr lessons
What's New? On Facebook: On Twitter:
Home Lessons Free Newsletter DSLR Store About Contact Site Map Mirrorless Cameras