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I'm a very amateur photographer who enjoys taking HDR and Panorama photos. My biggest problem right now is that I don't have a tripod. Many will tell me $75 is too cheap for a tripod, but I really don't photograph too often and don't want to invest too much. I would like one that is full height (rather than those ones with the bendy legs that wrap around stuff, like the GorillaPods).

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and the many will be right in their statement... You simply won't get a tripod that's worthy of the name for $75, expect to pay at least 2-3 times that. –  jwenting Jan 10 '12 at 13:27

7 Answers 7

For HDRs you don't need anything special, just any tripod that can sustain the weight of your camera will do. So select by price, weight, robustness (choose any two). If you want to take panoramas too, consider buying a tripod with interchangeable heads.

Regarding the head. I find ball heads easier to use in most situations, you can compose quicker. But ball heads are less precise, and they are definitely not good for panoramas, because it's difficult to rotate around the same axis.

For panoramas you can use the same tripod, but you better use a two- or three-axis head or any head + rotator. And if you have more money to spend, the best you can do is to by a specialized panoramic head (e.g. one of the Nodal Ninja heads). They allow to adjust your camera's position in such a way, that the rotation axis passes through the pivot point.

See this article to learn about the pivot point: The proper pivot point for panoramic photography [PDF].

Definitely, panoramic heads are beyond your current budget ($75), but there are some decent tripods with interchangeable heads (see, for example, this question). So you may buy a good tripod now, and buy a panoramic head later if you really want it (Or maybe you'll be satisfied with the standard head). Or you may save more and buy a lightweight tripod with a non-interchangeable head. In this case prefer three-axis heads if you are going to shoot panoramas. I used such a tripod (≈ $30) with a compact camera, it was usable but not perfect.

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Some ball heads have a separate panorama rotation mechanism allowing you to turn them without unlocking the ball. Also tripods with a centre column should allow this by just unlocking the centre column and turning it (assuming you don't want it raised) –  drfrogsplat Nov 25 '10 at 10:46
    
That's why I've written "or any head + rotator" below. Good point about the centre column. The mine doesn't rotate though (the head can rotate, but only when the ball is unlocked too). –  sastanin Nov 25 '10 at 11:05
    
Better than my answer! ;) –  AJ Finch Nov 25 '10 at 11:36

I've got to point out this almost-classic article by Thom Hogan on how to save $700 on a tripod. It specifically mentions the $75 tripod as the first wasted money. :)

I don't really think that everyone needs the $1000 tripod that he suggests, but I do think that if you're planning to use the tripod for more than the occasional family-christmas shot, it's worth budgeting $200-300 to start. The plus side is that this will last a lot longer than any electronic gear.

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Hehe... I went through the same thing as Thom, although I ended up with a smaller budget then him (under $600): blog.neocamera.com/?p=56 –  Itai Nov 26 '10 at 20:50
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My biggest issue with that article is that he assumes everyone is going to mount a 300mm f/2.8 lens to a tripod. I never use anything that heavy, and am never going to need the the equipment to support it. –  dpollitt Jan 9 '12 at 15:11

You definitely can get a tripod for $75 - it wouldn't be a good tripod but it's better than nothing.

It will usually be an aluminum tripod with a built in 3-way head, you can those tripods in any photo store (and usually in non-photo electronic stores), just make sure it can hold your camera's weight.

Those cheap tripods are better than nothing - but you should know in advance what you are getting:

  • It's not as stable as a good tripod, but it will generally be usable with the center column down (so don't plan to use it at any height other than legs fully extended, center column down).

  • It's not easy to fine tune the head, pointing the camera at exactly the right angle while keeping it level will be difficult and require some trial and error (and a bubble level on the camera wouldn't hurt).

  • You need to use a cable release or a remote, pressing the shutter button will move the camera.

  • Forget about low angle shots, pointing the camera strait down, using the tripos on uneven ground, etc.

  • It will break or bend eventually, if you use the tripod occasionally it can survive for a while, if you use it every day don't expect it to last.

  • On the plus side it will be light and small and easy to carry with you.

My current tripod is one of those cheap ones and it cost me less than $75, it works (under it's limitations) and I love it's weight and folded size - but it sure has it's limitations and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who needs a tripod more than once in a while or to anyone who needs to work quickly.

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$75 really is too little for a reasonable full-size tripod, but not by a huge amount - you can probably do OK for under $100 or $150. This question comes up a fair amount; search on "tripod" to see others.

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I sometimes use our company tripod, which is Velbon CX series (I think it is CX-640) - simple, full sized tripod for a good price. I use it with my Pentax K-x with kit lens, so relatively light combination, but also with Samyang 8mm fisheye (for panoramas), which is little bit heavier.

OK, it is hobby use, I shoot few HDR and panorama photos per year (less then 10-20) and in my case the tripod is enough. I only added DIY mount from L-shaped piece of metal and few other parts to mount the camera vertically and in the nodal point.

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In order to get something cheap and stable, I would go for a small tripod and mount it on a stable surface (a table, bench, car, ...)

A Joby GorillaPod would be a great example.

This will work find for HDR (using auto-bracketing on the camera and a remote shutter release of some kind), but will be tricky for Panos, because keeping the mount level is not the easiest thing in the world. For this reason, I would consider using the Joby Gorillapod Ball Head as well.

... just a suggestion.

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The Gorillapod SLR Zoom, which I have, is good enough for single shots but I find that it is not suitable for HDR brackets (unless your camera can fully automate it) because when you press the buttons it can move quite easily. I have not tried the new 'Focus' one though. –  Itai Nov 26 '10 at 20:54
    
Good point. I was assuming that one would use a remote release and a camera that will auto-bracket. –  AJ Finch Nov 29 '10 at 9:56

If you don't want to get a quality tripod because all you need is for HDR, then skip the tripod. Seriously. I do a lot of HDR, hand held. The alignment algorithms are very good in Photomatix.

If you want a tripod, read the Thom Hogan article that's already linked.

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