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I have a pretty light and flimsy tripod that's rubbish for anything that requires any sort of stability, for example long exposure shots. I'd like to upgrade but I'm unsure of how much weight directly affects the stability of a tripod.

Thinking purely in terms of weight rather than design/ingenuity, is heavier generally better for stability?

Edit: I've rephrased the question to ask about the importance of weight in the stability of a tripod rather than asking for a suggestion on a 'good' or 'best' weight range which is subjective and situational.

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    Related: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2505/… – Michael C Sep 1 '16 at 5:59
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    All other things being equal heavier is always more stable but also less portable. Where the balance point is will vary for each user and even each use case for the same user. – Michael C Sep 1 '16 at 6:17
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    Or just bring a big bag with you with some weights (bottles of water, stones etc.) which you hang from the tripod. If you can find stones at the site, you don't even have to carry that weight with you. – Count Iblis Sep 1 '16 at 17:19
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    Heaver is more stable, but the material makes a difference too. A good carbon tripod of some weight will have less vibration than an aluminium tripod of the same weight. However your wallet will be much lighter with a carbon tripod. That said, I'm very happy for my purposes with my Gitzo Traveller Carbon fiber tripod. – Erwin Bolwidt Sep 4 '16 at 4:46
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A heavier tripod is indeed more stable, as it lowers the center of gravity. A 200 g plastic tripod with a 1 kg camera mounted could easily topple over. A 30 kg studio tripod won't topple over, even with a 3 kg camera mounted.

A second reason why heavier is better is that a heavier tripod will have a more sturdy construction. Plastic tripods should be avoided at all cost. Steel is stronger than aluminium, but is too heavy for field use. My Manfrotto tripod is aluminium (but seems like steel), weighs 2.5 kg and has a safe payload of 4 kg. A studio tripod like the Studio Titan Pro may weigh as much as 30 kg, but then it can also carry just any photographic camera.

It's impossible to say what's a good weight for you. Much depends on how much you have to carry it, much much other stuff you're already carrying, and your physical condition. I'm quite happy with my Manfrotto, though I don't fancy the idea of carrying a 2.5 kg for hiking.

  • How can 2.5 kg be too heavy to carry? Even if you weigh just 50 kg, 2.5 kg would just be 5% of your weight. – Count Iblis Sep 3 '16 at 18:22
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    That's not what Peter suggested. – Phil D. Sep 4 '16 at 2:34
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You might want to rephrase your question in a more general way (e.g. "What features are needed in a tripod to make it suitable for long exposures?")

It's not as simple as more weight = better for long exposures. For that, what matters is rigidity and stability. So, larger diameter sections (a large diameter tube is more rigid than a small diameter one as stresses are primarily on the surface.), which use more material than smaller diameter, and more material = heavier. I'd also suggest you ditch the center column, so more material for a given camera height, and more material = heavier. The bright side here is that, without a center column, the legs are longer, making the feet wider apart, making the tripod more stable. Oh, and no center column means you'll probably need an 'L plate' for on-tripod portrait orientation - and those weigh a bit more than a standard plate. About the only thing you can do for rigidity that won't cost you weight is use 3 sections rather than 4 or 5 - but you pay in a larger collapsed height, so more awkward to move around.

There's also a weight/cost tradeoff to be made. Switching to an equivalent CF tripod will save, hmmm... 20% of the weight of an equivalent alu tripod for, hmmm... around double the cost. CF has the advantage of also being less resonant than alu, so vibrations from shutter release are better damped.

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A "good weight" depends completely on you.

Are you a 22-year old guy, or a 65-year old woman? Do you do street photography or climb mountains? Do you hike .5 mile, or 15 miles? Do you photograph closeup, or landscapes?

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Weight is a factor, so is robustness of the construction and used materials. Good technique is also very important. So you can get by using lighter (not flimsy, though) tripods and still have excellent results.

I would suggest starting with an inventory of real requirements. What kind of vibrations is a problem? Do you use very long lenses? Heavy camera? Camera and lens combo with center of gravity far from the tripod mount? Does your camera have uncontrollable mirror slap? Do you shoot in strong wind? Do you print very large? What is your typical range of exposure times? Are you able to avoid the critical ones (around 1/15s)? You will probably find that you don't need the heaviest tripod...

By the way, if you want to increase stability of your existing tripod, try increasing its weight by hanging something like your camera bag on it. It sometimes helps.

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Weight can be a factor in how sturdy the tripod is, but a heavier tripod will not always be more sturdy. I recently switched from an aluminum tripod to a lighter carbon fiber tripod and I find the newer, lighter one to be more sturdy. Each tripod will be made to handle a certain amount of weight from the camera and the lens, so be sure that any tripod you buy will be able to easily support the weight of your camera and lens combination. Also be sure that everything is tightened as much as possible.

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