Does your video make your viewers sea-sick? As basic as it may be to pros. Novice videographers tend to take the easy route and free hand everything. No matter how steady your hand, or how super duper your image stabilization feature. A good quality tripod is the anchor of a smooth video shoot. A tripod is not "training wheels" for your camcorder, but rather an essential extension of it. A good tripod is equally as important as your video light or external microphone.
Video shot for the Internet will gain huge advantages when using a tripod. This is because all compression and encoding software uses "sampling" . Even if the human eye can't detect it, software can. The smoother the movement the better. This will result in a crisp and cleaner export to the video codec of your choice. Not only will it stream better and avoid buffer hang-ups. The file size will be smaller as less information needs to be saved.
This is not a comparison or best tripod article. Instead I hope to enlighten you on what to look for and what not to buy. Following is a list of tripod manufactures so that you may shop and compare what will best serve your needs and budget.
1st - what not to buy. The 19.95 tripod sold by a major discount retailer is absolute junk.
When the only thing important is low price - corners are cut in an effort to undercut any pricing competition. Since you will be replacing it in a few months and therefore spending at least another $19.95, just go ahead and spend at least $40.00 the first time. There is a huge difference in quality between a $20.00 tripod and a $40.00 one. For the video hobbyist, this may be all you need or want to invest. The rule here, as with most things in life, is you get what you pay for. From $40.00 to $100.00 you will find a wide variety of features and options. Here is what to look for and consider.
Quick Release: Look for a head mount that has a quick release lever. Also a flip -out turner versus just a plain flat head screw that detaches your cam from the mounting plate.
Bubble Level: Just because your tripods legs can be set exactly at the same height, does not mean the ground is level. This will help you avoid uneven horizons and crooked rooms.
Feet: Avoid plastic cap feet found on cheap tripods. Rubber is much better, preferably with metal spikes. Especially on a light weight tripod. Plastic cap feet will slide all over tile floors.
Leg locks: Quick release levers are more convenient than turn and tighten systems. None of your family or friends wants to wait for you to collapse your tri pod. Quick release levers - and a spreader are ideal. Unless you want to keep chasing after everyone on your next visit to the amusement park.
Weight: Heavier is better because they are more stable. But light weight ones are easier to carry. Decide which is more important. I keep both an inexpensive lightweight tripod and a rock solid pro one.
Height: Check to see how high and how low the tripod adjusts. Storage and portability need to be considered. Generally tripods go up in price as height increases. Personally, I like to shoot at a variety of heights for different effects. Try shooting the kids at 1/2 the average tripods height on their level. You will see the difference in perspective. Another trick is to grab the tripod at the bottom of the legs and hold it up over your head. This will give you about 12 feet instantly to shoot for example a crowd of people. Use the cams playback screen as your view finder.
Mount: There are basically two types. Flat or bowl mount. Flat is all you will get under $100.00. But some pro tripods have a bowl mount which allows you to level the head without adjusting the legs.
Head type: A true fluid head provides for incredibly smooth pans and tilts. This is a strong indicator of a quality tripod. Expect to pay over $75.00 to gain this feature. Be aware of the deceptive marketing used by some companies who use descriptions such as "fluid like" or "fluid action" on their packaging. This does not mean it is a true fluid head.
TIP* If you find your non fluid head sticky, grease it with a dab of petroleum jelly.
Other Considerations for the pros: Adaptability for tripod attachments such as auto zoom or pan remote controllers. Sony sells a nice line of these tripods equipped with these features at some savings over buying them separately. As do other companies. The price on remote control tripods have dropped considerably in the last 5 years. Can dolly legs / wheels be attached? While it is possible to spend as much as a $1,000.00 for a pro tripod. $300.00 is all 95% of pro videographers ever need to spend. Unless your situation demands a very specialized tripod above $300.00 --$400.00 you are either wasting your money or paying for features you will rarely use, or simply don't need.
Occasionally I am asked what is the secret to good video. My standard answer is good equipment and experience. While experience only comes in time. Good equipment includes the best tripod your budget will afford, and you can get one today. My personal preference for budget priced light weight tripods is SILK. Then Bogen for a pro tripod. However, to be fair because my Bogen has endured many years of abuse and service, I have limited use of other manufactures products. Bogen is well deserving of their reputation for quality and I see more Bogen tripods in the field than any other pro tripod.
I hope this article has helped to enlighten you on what to look for and the importance of a good tripod. If you do not have one and are ready to vastly improve your videos click on the B&H banner above and help support Internet Video Magazine with your purchase. They carry many brands at all price points. Just as a foot note, I have always had a pleasant buying experience whenever I have ordered through B&H.
Here are some of our favorites with direct links for more info and to buy them
This is a incredible value buy. Normal retail $47.95 - Discounted to $18.95 !! Titanium finish, quick release legs, spreader & rubber tip feet. Sunpak SU2001UT - 2001UT Tripod - Supports 4.40 lb (2.00 kg)
If you have the budget for the best - get a Gitzo. The Gitzo G1257LVL Leveling Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod uses advanced "Carbon 6X" carbon fiber material for its leg construction. This Leveling tripod has a ball joint-mounted center column designed to let you get your camera perfectly level simply by adjusting the column inclination instead of having to set each leg individually.
Looking for a new way and better way to handhold your video camcorder? Check out the new "Fig Rig" from Manfrotto.
Manfrotto worked alongside director Mike Figgis, whose films include Leaving Las Vegas and Cold Creek Manor, to develop a hand held DV camera support system that offers the shake-free stability of a tripod with the framing flexibility of handheld shooting. Respectively named for Figgis, the FIG RIG was the result of their collaborative efforts.
Ambico http://www.ambicoproducts.com Bencher http://www.bencher.com Bogen Photo http://www.bogenphoto.com Bogen / Manfrotto http://www.manfrotto.com Cartoni US http://www.cartoni.com Gitzo http://www.gitzo.com Hakuba USA http://www.hakubausa.com Hollywood Microdollys http://www.microdolly.com Matthews Studio http://www.msegrip.com Miller Camera http://www.miller.com.au O'Connor http://www.ocon.com RIES Tripods http://www.riestripod.com Sachtler http://www.sachtler.com Sima http://www.simacorp.com Skyeye http://www.skyeye.com SILK http://www.thkphoto.com Sony http://www.sonystyle.com Sunpak http://www.tocad.com/sunpaktripd.html Tiffen http://www.tiffen.com Vanguard USA http://www.vanguardusa.com
Bogen Photo http://www.bogenphoto.com
Bogen / Manfrotto http://www.manfrotto.com
Cartoni US http://www.cartoni.com
Hakuba USA http://www.hakubausa.com
Hollywood Microdollys http://www.microdolly.com
Matthews Studio http://www.msegrip.com
Miller Camera http://www.miller.com.au
RIES Tripods http://www.riestripod.com
Vanguard USA http://www.vanguardusa.com