A tripod is a tool to keep your camera steady. They are especially useful in difficult light conditions or when taking photos with super zoom lenses. In such situation a lack of tripod could result in blurry photos.
When looking for a perfect tripod, there are a few things to look out for:
As the name suggests, tripods have three legs. They are usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminum tripods can be very stable, but that also depends on the leg thickness. Similarly sized carbon fiber legs can be even stiffer and stronger than their aluminum counterparts, and they will usually be significantly lighter. The downside to carbon fiber tripods is that they are usually roughly twice as expensive.
Most tripods have telescopic legs, which you can extend and lock in their place. The numbers of sections vary, but it's rarely more than four.
More sections mean that your tripod will collapse to a more portable size, so that you can travel with it easily. On the other hand, there will be a bit more locking/unlocking to do each time you will want to use it.
After you extend your tripod's telescopic legs to their full length, you will need to lock them into place. There are two main types of leg locks, the most popular being quick release lock. It is fast to use and you can see clearly whether the leg section is locked or unlocked.
The second type is twist lock. It is usually a bit more difficult/slower to use and it can be harder to see the current lock/unlock position. The advantage of twist locks is that they don't stick out and therefore take a bit less space.
Tripods usually have rubber feet, but there are also tripods with spikes. They can work better on unstable or loose terrain. Some tripods have both, where spikes are covered by screw-on rubber feet.
The column makes it possible to raise the camera even higher that the fully extended legs allow. The center column allows you to direct the camera at different. In addition, some of them have a built-in hook at the bottom so that you can hang extra weight there (e.g. your camera bag) to further stabilize the tripod. This could be useful when your camera is heavy relative to the size of the tripod, and in strong wind.
Usually tripods come with one of the two types of heads: ball head and pan & tilt head. Ball heads allow camera movement in all different directions, which can then be locked still in place. They are easy and fast to use and sometimes come with a bubble leveler for assistance.
With pan and tilt heads you can adjust your camera mainly with a pan and tilt, which makes them especially suitable for tracking moving subjects such as wildlife.
There are few things to look for when buying a tripod. First of all, stay away from cheap plastic tripods, which might not be able to hold your camera safely in place and will not last long. Secondly, take into account the weight and size of tripod, especially if you intend to go hiking with it. Thirdly, do your own research, read as many reviews as possible.
Below you find a few tripods we found particularly interesting:
GT2542 is one of the most popular professional tripods from Gitzo. It is both stiff and ultralight thanks to its carbon fiber tubes. It weighs only 3.7 pounds and can hold D-SLR cameras with lenses up to 300mm at the maximum height of 65.75 inches.
This GlobeTrotter tripod is made of carbon fiber and is both very sturdy and lightweight. It is perfectly balanced, but to further increase stabiIity it comes with a hook on the center column, which can be used to hang additional weight. It features 360-degree panning which makes it very easy to align panorama images. It has a built-in bubble level to prevent uneven panning.
Manfrotto MVH502A is a professional tripod built for use with HDSLR cameras. It features a 75mm half ball video mount and a counterbalance for the most popular cameras and accessories. It's made of aluminum, weighs around 12 pounds. It has a spreader in its mid-section to further increase stability. It can support equipment up to 15.4 pounds. (7kg)