Essential camera accessories

If you plan to shoot landscapes, or perhaps in low-light conditions or at night, a tripod is an essential purchase. Although traditionally used for exposures longer than can be safely hand-held, their benefits are varied and plentiful.

They allow you, for example, to fine-tune composition and shoot the exact same image as many times as you need, as well as being useful for high dynamic range (HDR) photography, which requires the camera to be static between exposures.

They're also vital when using an intervalometer for the creation of time-lapse videos - a feature gaining popularity among enthusiast users.

More expensive tripods are based around a carbon fibre construction, although sturdy aluminium budget tripods can be bought too.

When choosing a tripod, look out for the way in which legs are locked - either through screw locks or clips - because one may suit your style of shooting and portability needs better than the other. Clips, for example, allow for small adjustments to be made quickly, although these are known to break over extended use, which explains why some photographers opt for screw locks.

The other thing to consider is the right tripod head; these are usually of the pan-and-tilt or ball-and-socket variety. The former allows for very precise adjustments and is ideal for panning, and many of these models are cheaper than ball-and-socket alternatives.

By comparison, ball-and-socket type tripod heads are far more compact since they don't require the rods of pan-and-tilt heads to make their adjustments.

Before you buy, make sure that both the tripod and head will support the combined load of your camera and lens.

It's also worth looking to see whether the tripod/head combination you plan on buying is available as a bundle deal, since these may have a lower asking price than if you were to buy the head and legs separately.

Joby Gorillapod Hybrid - £35/$40

Essential camera accessories

The Hybrid is a flexible support designed for CSCs weighing up to 1kg. It boasts a quick-release plate and bubble level. Sturdy, useful and surprisingly affordable.

Slik Sprint Pro II - £64/$90

Essential camera accessories

The baby Slik has many of the features you'd expect in a fully-grown tripod, such as multi-angle legs, but in a compact package that weighs only 0.95kg and folds down to 47cm. The maximum load rating of 2kg is enough for a beefy DSLR with telephoto zoom.

Giottos MTL9361B - £100 (about $160)

Best tripods under £200

Standing tall at up to 174cm (without a tripod head), the Giottos MTL9361B has a maximum load capacity of 8kg. It also features a pivoting centre column facility, which offers a full range of 180 degrees vertically and 360 degrees horizontally, giving you an extra option for low-level shooting.

The Giottos MTL9361B's chunky legs are stable at all operating heights, with minimal flexing, and they also extend and contract smoothly. Adjustments are intuitive, quick in use and firm when locked off.

This tripod is a star performer with great versatility. It's unbeatable value for money, and a cut-price kit is available, which includes the MH5001 head.

Read the full Giottos MTL9361B review

Benro A297EX - £105/$150

Best tripods under £200

From Benro's FlexPod series of tripods, the aluminium A297EX is impeccably finished and presented in a smart and stylish padded carrying bag, complete with handle and shoulder strap. Thankfully, the FlexPod tag doesn't refer to undue flexing in the Benro A297EX, but hints at flexibility in use. This stems from features that include multi-angle legs and a 180-degree pivoting centre column.

Despite it weighing just 2kg, the tripod's maximum load rating is a generous 10kg, which easily accommodates a hefty DSLR and large lens combination. Little extras include a bubble level on the tripod shoulder for easy levelling on uneven terrain, and a hook fitted to the bottom of the centre column to hang a stabilising weight off.

Read the full Benro FlexPod A297EX review

Manfrotto 055XPROB - £110/$170

Best tripods and camera supports

The Manfrotto 055XPROB feels rugged and substantial, has a maximum load capacity of 7kg and extends to 179cm. Additional features lacking on the more basic 290-series Manfrotto include a pivoting centre column, a bubble level and adjustable leg angles with four positions.

There's no weight hook on the bottom of the centre column, but the one built into the shoulder serves equally well. Sturdiness and stability are very good, equalling the likes of the aluminium and carbon versions of the Benro 297EX, and the Giottos MTL9361B.

The push-button mechanism for selecting different leg angles is very quick and easy to use, as is the pivot system for the centre column. The only drawback with the latter is that you can only use it in vertical or horizontal mode, so it lacks versatility compared with pivoting systems on other tripods, which enable 180-degree rotation in small increments.

Read the full Manfrotto 055XPROB review

Polaroid 65-inch Carbon Fibre Tripod - £140/$150

Essential camera accessories

This tripod may not break new ground, but it's based around a light carbon fibre build and comes with a ball head as standard, which locks firmly into position. The tripod's centre column has a hook you can hang a bag from, for extra stability, while the leg clasps are easily released, despite feeling a touch cheap.

At around £140, this is one of the cheapest carbon fibre tripod/ball head combinations available, making it ideal for both novices and bargain-seeking enthusiasts.

Davis & Sanford Traverse tripod - £192/$145

Essential camera accessories

With today's digital cameras now better than ever at producing clean images at high ISO settings, few photographers want to be burdened with a substandard tripod. The Traverse attempts to secure a place in your kit bag with its compact folded size allied to high- quality components and efficient design.

A side effect of the quest for outright portability can be lighter, but less durable, parts. Thankfully, with the Traverse, Davis & Sanford have avoided this pitfall. Plastic is almost entirely banished in favour of precisely machined aluminium for the five-piece legs, crown and hinges. Chunky rubberised quick-twist leg locks are easy to grip and hold securely, with foam leg pads further enhancing the ergonomics.

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Innovative leg hinges keep things as compact as possible and these are capable of folding through 180-degrees to rest alongside the head, bringing the tripod's total folded length down to just 40cm. Fully extended, the maximum operating height reaches 145cm, making this a comfortable tripod even for users over 6ft, although some rival designs extend significantly higher than this.

The included BHQ11 ball head doesn't let the side down either. It will hold 5kg comfortably, and thanks to precision engineering and fluid-damping, motion is kept silky-smooth in every direction.

There's little to find fault with in this tripod. It may not quite be the smallest or lightest option, and it's not really cut out for heavyweight full-frame set-ups. However, quality components, good design and slick operation make it a great compromise for most users.

Vanguard Alta Pro 263AGH - £195/$260

Best tripods under £200

The Vanguard Alta Pro 263AGH kit is based on the excellent Velbon 263AT's legs but also includes Vanguard's GH-100 'pistol grip' head. The tripod includes all mod cons, such as three-way multi-angle legs and a pivoting centre column that rotates 180 degrees. There's a simple push-button release for switching between leg angles, and the pivot facility works extremely well.

Maximum height is a useful 175cm and, with its three-section legs, the Vanguard folds down to 73cm for carriage. There's a bubble level on the tripod collar and one on the pistol grip head, though it's placed beneath the quick-release plate, so you have to remove the camera to view it.

The pistol grip feels insubstantial compared with the tripod, despite having a 6kg load capacity. We had to tighten the adjustable friction screw as far as possible to avoid heavy cameras slipping when shooting in portrait orientation.

And while the grip offers a full range of movement, this entails removal and replacement of the quick-release plate at any of four alternative orientations, making operation rather fiddly.

Read the full Vanguard Alta Pro 263AGH review

Giottos MTL8271B - £290 (about $450)

Essential camera accessories

At almost £300 (about $450) without a head, the MTL8271B is one of Giottos's priciest tripods. To justify the extra ackers, the company has focused on getting the basics right, and the result is an expensive yet compelling proposition for pro users.

Despite its rigidity the tripod weighs only 1.85kg, which is partly thanks to its carbon fibre build; the tubing is constructed from six layers of carbon fibre, both for strength and to help dampen vibrations that would otherwise translate to camera shake.

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The tripod's maximum weight support of 10kg makes it suitable for the heaviest professional SLR and lens combinations, as well as medium format and other systems. With a folded height of 72cm the model is perhaps a touch too large for everyday use, although its full extension to 177cm compares favourably against the competition. Smaller models in the same line are available for less demanding types of photography.

The length of each leg can be set with the help of two clasps, which open simply and lock the leg firmly in position. The legs themselves move fairly smoothly in and out of each other, and although there is some resistance as this happens, it's useful when opening up each section as the legs don't simply fall out to their maximum length. Each leg is also partially covered with a high-density foam sleeve for extra comfort.

Further clasps at the top of the legs allow the angle of each leg to be extended for low-level shooting, a facility further compounded by the reversible centre column, which allows the camera to be bottom-mounted between the legs. Sadly, the column cannot be positioned horizontally, although other models in Giottos's range offer this.

Although the rubber feet are slightly spiked for use on softer surfaces, they lack the extendable metal spikes common to other models, which some may prefer for utmost stability. On harder, flat surfaces, the tripod is as stable as needs be, with the rubber feet providing enough friction.

All of this comes at a price though, and with a head thrown in it's close to around £400 (about $630). This tripod is very much a luxury option, and you get what you pay for – it's hard to see how it could be improved.