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You need a tripod. Whether you shoot digital, film or video, you need a tripod.
That slight blurriness that you sometimes get from your 18-250mm superzoom zoom lens (or even from your long-range-zoom compact camera) is not the fault of your camera—t's the fault of camera shake. Why do you think shake reduction has become a standard feature on almost every camera or lens these days? Shake reduction is awesome, up to a point. Buy a tripod and you have the original—and still most reliable—way to eliminate shaky shots.
Tripods are also great for shooting available-light scenes without a flash, as well as seamless panoramas, fireworks, family portraits (with you in the picture, for a change!), shots of the stars or moon, and dozens of other situations that demand long exposures. You'll get better close-up images—and more of your picture will be sharp—if you use a tripod, because you can use a smaller aperture and a slower shutter speed without fear of camera movement.
At last count, Adorama carries roughly 550 tripods for still and video photography. How do you narrow down the choice to just what you want? What should you look for and how do you decide which of the bazillions of tripods to buy? (OK, not bazillions, but Adorama typically carries over 300 tripods and related items. That's a lot of tripods!)
There are eight characteristics common to all tripods: Collapsed size, size, load capacity, head type, feet, leg locks, and common material. The more you know about each, the easier it will be to buy the perfect tripod for your picture-taking needs.
Most tripods come with a head, which you can find in the Leg & Head Combo for Still & Video Tripod department at Adorama, but it may not be the ideal one for your purposes. Check our guide It's what's on top that counts for an in-depth look at what each kind of tripod head is for. The head sits atop the center column, a tube in the center of the tripod's construction that can be raised and lowered either with a hand crank or via a locking collar.
Leg locks are available in Twist (twist the leg to pull it out, twist it in reverse to lock it in position), Lever (open a lever to pull a leg out, close it to lock it) and custom options.
Feet come in rubber non-slip (used for most indoor and some outdoor shooting); spike (best for outdoor shooting, the spikes hold the tripod firmly in the ground); and custom (which could be anything, including ball-bearings).
Collapsed size is how long the tripod measures with everything folded up. This is important especially if you are travelling and need to pack the 'pod in a bag. This number will let you know if it'll fit. Read our round-up of these tripods especially designed for travelers.
Maximum Height Extension is how tall the tripod will stand when every leg is and the center post (a tube that the camera sits on, usually adjustable) is raised as far as it will go.
Don't confuse Weight with Maximum Load Capacity. The Weight is how much the tripod weighs. The Maximum Load Capacity is the heaviest camera and lens combination the tripod (or tripod head) can handle. If you put a camera that's heavier than the Maximum Load Capacity on a tripod, you run the risk of a piece breaking or collapsing, causing damage to both the tripod and the camera. So, it's important to know how much your camera weighs with its heaviest lens and flash attached, and buy a tripod that will handle it.
Common material (which is what most of the tripod is made of) is either plastic (the least inexpensive, it's not very durable), aluminum (inexpensive and most commonly used, but in heavy-duty tripods can add a lot of weight), carbon fiber (a relatively new material for tripods, it's durable, lightweight, and flexible--ideal for most uses--but it'll cost ya), and wood (typically used by nature photographers who don't mind toting large-format cameras).
Putting it all together: The best tripod for you
While there are many different kinds of tripods, we can divide them into five basic groups: Pocket, Tabletop, Portable, Medium Duty, and Sturdy Duty/Studio. The category names suggest their primary applications. Follow the blue links to browse each category for the best Tripod deals at Adorama.
Types of Tripods
ALTERNATIVES TO TRIPODS
There are other kinds of camera supports that might be a better fit for your style of photography. Action photographers and hikers should consider Monopods for their light weight and simpler construction. They have only one leg but they can give you that bit of steadiness that sometimes makes a big difference. You may also want to consider Car Window Mounts and Suction Mounts for specialized applications.
CHECK THE CHART
Whether you need a leg/head kit or will buy the legs and tripod head saparately, or you need other accessories, Adorama has one of the most selections of Tripods in the world. Visit the Adorama Tripods department when you're ready to buy, and thanks for your support!
Additional research by Mason Resnick; updated July 29, 2014
What's your favorite tripod? Leave a comment below...