The tripod is undoubtedly the most useful photographic accessory ever invented. Indeed, in photography’s earliest days you’d be hard pressed to take sharp pictures at all—unless you mounted a cumbersome daguerreotype or wet plate camera on a robust tripod or clunky studio stand. Today, of course, there’s a varied selection of pro tripods.
Using a tripod is the hallmark of a professional photographer. It enhances the ability to capture images of surpassing commercial quality even under challenging conditions. It also represents a commitment to technical excellence and sends that subliminal message to clients.
Most pros own at least three tripods: a large heavy-duty tripod for the studio; a hefty medium-to-large tripod for on location; and a sturdy lightweight travel tripod for trekking to more remote field locations. In short, there is no such thing as a generic “professional tripod,” because pros select tripods geared to specific assignments.
Obviously, it’s not possible to provide a comprehensive analysis of professional tripods in one concise article. We’ve done the next best thing; we selected 10 top pro tripods in all size/type classes for a broad overview of this crucial product category.
Moreover, all of the pro tripods on our short list come with heads. However, please note many of the tripods detailed here are available with a choice of heads not described in this article.
We’ve also tilted (no pun intended) our selection to favor video tripods and tripods with video heads, because more pros than ever are now shooting video along with stills as part of their professional profile. The reason: as a rule, video tripods work very well as still photography platforms, but the opposite is not always true. However, most pro tripods designed for still photography will accommodate various video heads, magically transforming them into full-fledged video tripods.
A Selection of Pro Tripods
Vanguard Alta Pro 2 264AP with PH-32 Pan Head
This Vanguard aluminum alloy tripod comes kitted with the PH-32 pan head. The robust, economical, lightweight video tripod extends to a maximum height of 61 inches* via a sliding center column. In addition, it offers a magnesium alloy canopy and head. It also has four leg-angle adjustments at 20º, 40º, 60º and 80º, as well as a dual-locking safety mechanism and an anti-shock ring.
Boasting low-angle capability, the tripod is comprised of four-section 26mm legs with flip-lock adjusters and foam grips for cold weather use. It also has rubber feet with retractable spikes. Moreover, the tripod folds to a compact 22 inches.
In addition, the lightweight PH-32 three-way, fluid-effect pan head has two panning handles; three bubble levels; a load capacity of 11 pounds; and a QS-51 quick shoe.
Total weight is just over 5 pounds. All told, this is a sturdy, high-value tripod for emerging pro still and video shooters, but it’s not equal to one with a true fluid head. $249.99.
Magnus VT-4000 with Fluid Head
Aimed at emerging pro videographers, this sturdy aluminum Magnus tripod has many features usually found on more expensive models. Among them are crutch-style two-stage, three-section legs with flip locks that provide height adjustments ranging from 27 to 59 inches. There is also a mid-leg spreader for added rigidity. In addition, a fixed 3.3-pound-rated counterbalance spring in the head provides enhanced stability and smoother movements.
The two-way fluid-effect head provides smooth panning action with fixed damping. It has convenient right-handed controls, separate pan-and-tilt locks, as well as a bubble level for precise leveling.
Other features include a sliding quick-release plate with a +20/-25mm adjustment range for balancing a variety of cameras; a 90º to -60º tilt range; a 65mm bowl; and retractable rubber feet with spikes for outdoor use.
The VT-4000 has a load capacity of just less than 9 pounds and will accommodate large DSLRs and midsize camcorders. Moreover, it folds to 30 inches and weighs 8 pounds. Well-built and sturdy, the tripod provides lots of features, a secure mounting system and a workable fluid-effect head—all at an affordable price point. $210.95.
ProMaster Specialist SP532K with Ball Head
Engineered to exacting standards for the discerning photographer, this high-capacity, high-grade aluminum tripod is built for difficult shooting situations. Compact when closed but generously tall when opened, its height spans from 11 inches on the low end to a maximum of 85 inches.
Moreover, its ProLocks system allows for quick opening and closing of leg sections. And leg-angle adjustments are made with a slide switch. In addition, its feet are made of heavy-duty rubber and twist to expose retractable spikes. A bubble level is also incorporated along with two 3/8-inch threaded accessory ports. And for easy identification, all touch points on the tripod are colored red.
The ball head features Arca-Swiss-compatible quick-release plates with a safety catch mechanism. The SP head pans from the base or from the top platform and has engraved degree-markings. A large tension control knob is complemented by a secondary knob called a “memory lock” that sets a repeatable tension when moving the camera on the ball head.
The Specialist SP532K folds to 25 inches, weighs 6 pounds yet boasts a load capacity of nearly 27 pounds. ProMaster tripods, sold to member retailers, are a terrific value for both the retailer and photographer. $299.95.
Davis & Sanford Provista 7518B with V18 Fluid Head
Aimed at pro videographers requiring an economical heavy-duty tripod for field and studio work, this three-section aluminum tripod extends from 28 to 64 inches. It has crutch-style double-strut leg tops; flip locks; a mid-level spreader for enhanced rigidity; rubber-tipped legs; and a bubble level.
In addition, a full-size 75mm claw ball with leveler aids in stability and allows photographers to easily upgrade the tripod by fitting a true fluid head. Its upgraded V18 fluid-effect head has two adjustable/removable pan handles. It can hold up to 18 pounds, provides smooth 360º panning and 90º tilting. Moreover, it features a 3×3-1/4-inch platform and separate locking easy-grip knobs for the pan-and-tilt mechanisms.
An included D&S universal dolly with a carry handle is a plus! Further, the tripod is compatible with a wide variety of video rigs and is pro caliber but affordable. It’s also remarkably adept and sturdy for the price and has a better-than-average fluid-effect head that’s easily upgradable. $205.99.
Benro S7 Video Tripod Kit with DL-08 Dolly
Here is a complete video tripod system from Benro that’s ideal for studio shooters and usable in the field. It pairs a solid two-stage, three-section dual-tandem aluminum tripod with a mid-level spreader; the robust F7 true fluid head with independent step-less adjustments for pan-and-tilt drag; and a four-step counterbalance that includes a zero setting.
The tripod extends to a maximum height of 63 inches and has a minimum height of 12 inches. It also features dual leg sections with twist-lever locks, a 75mm bowl and dual spike feet with removable rubber pads. Other features include an illuminated bubble level; a slide-in Benro QR11 quick-release plate; and a removable ball tie-down stud to convert the head to a flat base.
It weighs 10 pounds and has a maximum load capacity of 15 pounds. The included dolly has a 33-1/2-inch base diameter to maximize stability and enhance video and still shooting flexibility when covering action. This is an excellent video/photo tripod at a relatively modest cost that’s very convenient and easy to use in the studio or in the field. $385.95.
Manfrotto MVT502AM Tripod and MVH502A Fluid Head
This impressive combo from Manfrotto has a 15-pound load capacity (the counterbalance supports 9 pounds). The tripod features aluminum telescopic twin-tube legs in two stages and three twin elliptic sections; a 75mm bowl-type ball base; rubber feet; and a mid-level spreader for added stability. Moreover, its maximum working height is 61 inches.
In addition, the drag on the true video fluid head is continuously adjustable from zero to maximum level, and the tilt can also be adjusted over a -80º to 90º range. Offering robust construction and an effective true fluid video head at a relatively modest price, it’s a popular choice among independent filmmakers and studio videographers.
This is an excellent all-around choice for a midsize, mid-priced kit for pro video and still shooters looking for an economical well-made tripod to take along on assignments. $487.
Colorado Tripod Centennial 2 Tripod and Aspen Ball Head
Created by a Colorado Tripod, a small start-up design and engineering company in Denver, Colorado, this ingenious new photo/video tripod features four-section carbon fiber legs. Their spring-loaded top locks are said to be faster and easier than conventional twist locks. Its unique cage-like apex, locks and lever-angle adjusters are crafted from solid billets of aluminum (or titanium) using the precision CNC machining process.
With a maximum load capacity of an impressive 50 pounds, the tripod extends to 50 inches without the center column and up to 62 inches with the column at full extension. It also gets down to just more than 3 inches for enhanced grounder capability. Moreover, collapsing to a compact 20 inches for easy transport, it weighs just a bit over 3 pounds with column. Included is a universal Arca plate; a 1/4-inch to 3/16-inch adapter; and a hex wrench.
The tripod is complemented by the forthcoming new Aspen ball head. The head features a unique open design that provides an extended range of motion well beyond the typical 90º.
It also has a 50-pound load capacity and can be preordered in aluminum or titanium. It measures 4 inches in height, has a 2.1-inch base diameter and weighs less than a pound in titanium. The combo looks like a great choice for pros and aspiring pros that shoot with mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Centennial 2 tripod, $299; Aspen ball head, $199.
Gitzo GT2542 Mountaineer 2 Tripod with Fluid Head
This is a rugged, lightweight, ultra-versatile carbon fiber tripod from Gitzo It has four-section eXact fiber tubing legs that unlock with a quarter turn for quick setup and takedown. A rapid-action center column allows height adjustments from 10 to 70 inches for grounder or high-angle shooting. In addition, independent variable leg angle settings of 24º, 55º and 82º accommodate uneven terrain.
The tripod folds to a handy 27 inches for easy storage and weighs in at a portable just over 5 pounds. Its very respectable 29-pound load capacity will accommodate sizable video rigs and large still camera outfits. It also features rubber feet and has a ballast hook for added stability.
The kitted GHF three-way fluid head allows lateral tilts from -90º to 40º and full 360º panning. It also incorporates a bubble level and has an Arca-type quick-release plate and an independent pan lock. It’s a great choice for pros that shoot a combination of still images and video. $1,279.99.
Miller Air Alloy Tripod System
This tripod system is designed by the innovative company that pioneered the true fluid head with variable damping and one of the iconic makers of high-quality professional movie tripods. The Miller‘s Australian-made 3001 aluminum unit features a true fluid head with a 44-pound load capacity and a full range of adjustments on the pan-and-tilt controls. It has two selectable counterbalance positions as well as a camera plate that slides up to 60mm for best-balance camera positioning.
The tripod’s two-stage, three-section legs have concentric leg locks. Moreover, the tripod extends to a maximum height of 69 inches and can get down to an impressive 9 inches for grounder shots. In addition, its 75mm bowl accommodates a variety of professional heads. Other features include rubber feet with retractable spikes; neoprene leg grips; and an included weatherproof padded carrying case.
Sturdy, stable and weighing in at less than 7 pounds, it’s thoughtfully designed, beautifully made of first-rate materials and easy to carry, setup and take down. An ideal video tripod for serious field shooters using DSLR and mirrorless rigs, it can also accommodate midsize camcorders. Further, it is easily upgraded with a higher capacity Miller head that mounts securely in its hefty 75mm bowl. $749.95.
Sachtler Ace XL SpeedLock Tripod System
This high-end professional system includes the esteemed Sachtler SpeedLock carbon fiber tripod with a 75mm leveling bowl and the Ace XL fluid head, as well as a mid-level spreader. The system supports rigs weighing up to 18 pounds and will accommodate larger DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
The tripod features a traditional dual-tube design with two-stage, three-section legs employing proprietary SpeedLocks instead of twist locks for quick setup and take down. Its mid-level spreader adds enhanced stability. It also features specially designed spikes and rubber feet. The tripod extends from 30 to 63 inches with the head attached. It quickly collapses to 33 inches to fit into the included padded case.
What’s more, the fluid head provides eights steps of counterbalance and three steps of pan-and-tilt drag adjustment, plus a zero drag option for pan and tilt. Cameras are mounted using the slide-in balancing plate with an adjustment range of 4 inches to accommodate a variety of setups. It also has a detachable right-side pan bar, a bubble level and an integrated flat head base to use when shooting with a slider. Serious or professional video shooters should definitely put this highly regarded tripod on their short lists. $1,425.
*All specs have been rounded up.