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Are there are any "ultra-portable" tripods out there? I'd like to find one for backpacking that weighs 500 grams or less, but none seem to exist... there are tabletop tripods that weigh considerably less, and the full-size tripods that seem to bottom out around 1000g. But nothing in between?

I'm happy to sit down while photographing, but I'd like to make photos without needing a rock or log to put a tabletop tripod on, or a tree to strap one to.

In the spirit of a tripod is better than no tripod, I'd give up a lot. But I have not been able to find a product like this.

I would also be interested in directions for building one.

Clarifications

  • The 500g budget includes a complete tripod: both legs and head.
  • The goal is to support about 1.5kg (e.g., D90 + 18-200).
  • The 500g budget is for additional weight above and beyond what I'm already carrying. So, if an item I'm already carrying on a backpack can be repurposed or a new item substituted, only the net mass increase counts against the budget.
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I think your question is answered here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5/… –  Jessie Jul 15 '10 at 19:53
    
Thanks Jesse. That's related, but not the same question. I'm trying to find a tripod that meets the spec above, not avoid a tripod entirely. –  Reid Jul 15 '10 at 20:07
    
What sort of weight would the tripod need to carry on it? Does the 500g target include the head? –  Edd Jul 20 '10 at 8:37
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I (personally) don't see the need to spend cash on carbon fiber tripods. My manfrotto is just about 1kg with ball head, but I very seldom use it. What I do recommend is carrying empty lens pouches to fill and use for weights if you do get a carbon fiber tripod and shoot anywhere windy. –  Tim Post Jul 20 '10 at 8:51
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@jrista - Yes, you can usually add 1 - 2kg of weight depending on what you find laying around. Even my alloy manfrotto needs a little help being stable, especially when in "contortionist" mode. Its a problem that is not at all exclusive to carbon fiber tripods. –  Tim Post Jul 21 '10 at 13:18

16 Answers 16

up vote 14 down vote accepted

An alternative tripod that may serve your needs is the TrekPod. It might be the closest thing you are going to get from a weight perspective, but it has an interesting capability that may make its weight a moot point. The TrekPod XL weighs 630g (including the ball head), and is a cross between a tripod and a monopod. It can get up to 62" in height, but breaks down very small so it can easily be packed away. The real kicker: it can also double as a hiking staff! As a hiking staff, it wouldn't need to be something you have to stick in your pack, so the weight might not matter.

I chose the Gitzo over this since I needed a full tripod with the flexibility that a full set of telescopic legs offered. The TrekPod is probably the lightest full-height tripod I've ever encountered, though. Its 130g over your limit...but maybe it will still work.

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I'm marking this as the accepted answer, because it appears to be the best available under the given budget, but it really is a quite floppy tripod (as I've discovered after some use). I'm coming to believe that the answer to my question is really "no" (i.e., my weight budget is unrealistic), and +/- 1kg is the true floor for decent support. –  Reid Sep 21 '10 at 2:28
    
Aye, its pretty floppy. That was my concern about it, and the reason I went with the Gitzo stuff. Even the Gitzo one is a bit light, and just a couple days ago I was worried it would blow down a mountain I was photographing because of some strong winds. ;P –  jrista Sep 21 '10 at 3:21

If you're sitting with the camera, you might be able to get away with a small carbon fibre monopod, such as the Gitzo GM2561T

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A 1kg tripod is really light and I doubt it's possible to construct something lighter that is usable for anything except carrying around. I don't know what other stuff you are carrying around with you, but I suggest you rather try to restrict the rest of the load. Carrying a 1kg tripod is really not a problem if you are serious about photography IMHO.

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I don't think this kind of answer is very helpful. I believe it's fair for me to designate -- for meeting my own needs -- a specific weight budget for all the camera gear (2kg) and tripod specifically (500g). Keep in mind that this is backpacking, so I'm carrying up to 30kg of other stuff too. This does not make me an unserious photographer. –  Reid Jul 15 '10 at 20:06
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Have you considered rethinking using a DSLR for this? Depending on your photography needs, a good point and shoot (G11/G12, LX3, etc) might give you considerably more leeway in your weight budget. –  esm Jul 15 '10 at 21:12
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Sorry, I didn't mean to claim that you were not serious, but I doubt you will find anything lighter with good quality. My point is that it probably would be easier to cut down 500g on something else. –  grm Aug 6 '10 at 20:29

Tamrac makes a very lightweight tripod called the ZipShot, it's only 11oz (312g) but does not carry much weight, 3 lbs (1361g) by manufacturer spec., this will carry a small DSLR with a light lens, but don't expect it to do miracles. Regarding height it is only 44" (112cm) tall so it is somewhere in-between a tabletop and a full size tripod. Might be worth checking out if weight is that more important than stability.

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Thanks! I will check it out. –  Reid Jul 15 '10 at 20:10

There are lightweight tripods. I recently purchased a Gitzo Mountaineer GT0541 tripod. Its fairly expensive at $500, but it only weighs 1.7lbs, or 780g. I know its not quite 500g, but still very light weight as far as tripods go...one of the lightest weight tripods I could find. I think Gitzo only makes one tripod that is just a tad lighter at 720g, but it is also several inches shorter.

The GT0541 is one of Gitzo's carbon-fiber 6x line, and has some nice features. It has a decent load capacity of 11lbs (4990g), rises to a maximum height of 56" (1.42m) (with center extender and without a tripod head attached) with 4-section legs, and allows a minimum height of about 10" (2.54cm) when you remove the center extender and set it for ground-lock.

Adding a Gitzo ball head probably adds about another 3 inches (7.62cm) to its height, putting it at nearly 60" (1.52m) tall (I have not yet purchased a Gitzo head, and my current head adds about 3.5-4", but weighs more than the whole tripod by almost two fold.)

From some recent experience, without my old head attached, this tripod is EXTREMELY lightweight, and is a dream to hike around with. I have been searching for a Gitzo head to go along with it, and I know they have some very nice, very light-weight heads that weight in around a pound (450g) (probably less, as 1lb is the shipping weight), although I can't give you any more details than that yet as I haven't actually purchased one and hiked around with it.

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Thankfully, it also has hooks for weights, which are rather easy to find wherever you are. –  Tim Post Jul 20 '10 at 8:48
    
So the quoted weight for the GT0541 includes only the legs and not the head? I'm trying for 500g for the whole package. I'll clarify the question. –  Reid Jul 20 '10 at 14:14
    
@Reid: Ah, I didn't realize you needed a 500g total package. That might be pretty tough, as the Gitzo tripod above was one of the two lightest tripods with the hight that I needed that I could find. I looked at a variety of other manufacturers. There was one other brand...trackproof or something along those lines, that had a lighter one...but it didn't quite fit my personal needs. I'll see if I can find the details...it might be just barely light enough for you. –  jrista Jul 20 '10 at 18:53
    
@jrista: Thanks! I know it's a tall order. I've asked in several other fora and gotten nowhere, so I really appreciate it. –  Reid Jul 20 '10 at 19:07
    
@Reid: You're welcome. I've updated my answer with info on TrekPod. It weighs in at 630g with the head...a little over budget, but its the lightest thing I know of. –  jrista Jul 20 '10 at 21:27

The problem with lightweight tripods in my opinion is that they tend to be floppy. If you're using a decent sized camera that's not going to work, and hanging stuff off the bottom doesn't much help.

For air travel, walking etc I leave the big stuff at home and take an Induro A012, which is a tiny 800g tripod with two-section legs. That does not meet your criteria. You could save 100g or so if you chopped the centre column (never use them). A decent head weighs a few hundred grams, and I'd add a proper quick-release system.

That's more weight that you want to carry, but this is a serious alternative to the sort of floppy "accessory" table tripods you'll see. It will easily hold 1-series cameras and performs as well as any large "pro" tripod (I have several of those). The down-side is that you have to scrabble around on the floor a bit, but otherwise it's the only way to fly/walk.

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Yeah, the point is that weight is a true premium. I realize that I will have to compromise on other things. The question isn't "given good stability, how low can I get the weight", it's "given this weight budget, what is available?". Thanks though. –  Reid Aug 17 '10 at 15:33

In cases where my Gitzo GT1530 is too heavy for travel I bought a used Gitzo GT0027 which is very light with 0.94 pounds, folds to neat 11.8 inch which even fit inside my smallest photo backback.
The main limit is max height with 28 inches, which does not bother me. As head I use a GH1780, which is light but sturdy.

This combo works good enough for me with either the D700 or D90. Of course, when I need maximum stability I'll use mirror lockup and a cable/remote release.

Only drawback of the GT0027: no ALR (Anti Lock Rotation), which, if you are used to it, is really annoying not to have. There is a more modern version of the GT0027 (it might be the GT0531 someone else mentioned), which has ALR but is slightly heavier, I think.

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Hmm, the GT0531 is 700g for just the legs, and sounds like the GT0027 would go over budget when a head is added. Thanks though! –  Reid Aug 17 '10 at 15:31

When I needed a travel tripod, I also opted for a Trekpod. As noted, it doesn't meet the weight requirement, but it does double duty, which mitigated the weight, in my opinion.

One of the alternatives I considered, by the way, was a Gorillapod. I know you specifically indicated that you didn't want to "strap the camera to a tree", but this might give you some positioning options to take advantage of material around you.

If none of these options meet your needs, it might be worth stepping back a bit to consider your overall objectives. Others have mentioned some really nice carbon fiber tripods that miss your target by just a few hundred grams. If you're trying to get your entire pack weight down to a certain target, can you make that weight up elsewhere (lighter tent, lighter tools, etc.)?

If weight is the ultimate goal here, it may also be worth considering the rest of your shooting package. What about the camera body? Would you be better off with a lightweight body (D40 or similar) on a really stable tripod, rather than a D90 on an unstable platform? What about the lens? If I'm not mistaken, the 18-200 weighs around 560g; would you consider something like a Tamron 18-250 (430g) in order to save 130g? (hint: if you wouldn't consider swapping lenses or bodies, then you're indicating that there are some places where quality is worth a few extra grams -- consider that with respect to the rest of the package).

When I was in Canada this spring, I took some landscape shots where no tripod = no shot. In hindsight, I'm really glad I had the Trekpod along.

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Are you already using a walking stick? If so, converting it into a monopod is probably your lightest option.

There are a couple of options here and here (although the second one might be a challenge to adapt to a larger camera)

This tutorial from instructables looks pretty nifty too if you're hiking with a partner who also has walking poles.

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The lighest option ever is to take no tripod. I've been happily travelling without one and haven't really missed it. (Although I'm photographing mostly when there's some daylight available.) See expert opinion of Ken Rockwell.

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Certainly a fair answer. That's one of KR's more hyperbolic and controversial pieces, however; there's at least a few rebuttals out there though I don't have one handy. –  Reid Aug 17 '10 at 16:02
    
Any rebuttals? I'd like to understand this better. –  jfklein13 Aug 20 '10 at 20:30
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I'm always alarmed by the frequency at which KR is cited here, especially when he says things like tripods are obsolete because "IS and VR lenses eliminate blur caused by camera motion" and using a tripod "encourages the misuse of smaller apertures which soften images." The truth is that tripods, monopods, supports etc. are increasingly more important with digital as constantly rising megapixels counts throw the one-over-focal-length min shutter speed rule out the window! –  Matt Grum Feb 4 '11 at 17:56
    
@Matt: On the other hand, available ISO sensitivities go up as well. –  che Feb 4 '11 at 22:26
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@che Resolution is going up faster than noise improves. There's a limit to how high ISO can go, eventually physics comes along to spoil your party and you simply don't have enough photons for a clean image. Resolution is limited by physics too, but you can expect to get about 300 megapixels on a 35mm sensor before diffraction limits you at large apertures. With this angular resolution you'll need a tripod in daylight! –  Matt Grum Feb 11 '11 at 19:17

I've had this Slik Compact for years. It's 572g and is only rated for 1.24kg, but it comes very close to meeting your spec. It's very basic and a bit of a pain to set up with so many leg segments; mine is an earlier version that had twist-lock legs rather than the clamps pictured. Still better than no tripod at all.

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Its not exactly a tripod, but the mighty Gorillapod is back in an incarnation that can cope with dSLRs up to about 3kg. And, at under 170g, is well under your weight requirement.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joby-GP2-01P-Gorillapod-SLR/dp/B000HAVVFG

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Do you need something that will put your camera a couple feet above the ground, or do you just want something stable and flat for your camera? There are some bean bag tripods available, like at www.thepod.ca, that will give you a stable, level surface for your camera. Those come with tripod mounts, and I've heard (my sister used one with her Canon G9) they work well.

You could go the DIY route, too; I've read online that some people just make a small pouch and fill it up with pebbles or dirt when they are ready to take a picture then set the camera on the bag. That gives you an ultra-lightweight surface, since you only have to carry the outer material with you; although of course the tradeoff is the time it takes to fill the bean bag every time you want to take a picture.

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Look for the china-made sirui t025. It's carbon fibre, 600g, and is rated for 6kg. Not too pricy, too.

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I am looking for a good lightweight tripod. I agree with @grm's answer - it is difficult to design a tripod with a weight of less than 500 gms.

You can consider this 1kg Manfrotto Self Standing Monopod.

Advantages:

1) It has only 3 leg sections so you can set it up very quickly (with base three legs always fixed).

2) Loading capacity is 12 kg...

Disadvantages:

1) Since the base three legs are always fixed, it affects portability.

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I have the same problem as you. For now, I have found this option: Velbon V-Pod at 275g and 1Kg rating. It appears that there is no other option under 500g...

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Link for Velbon V-Pod though this is not sturdy enough for what was required in the question. –  Esa Paulasto Apr 4 '13 at 12:11

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