The latest DSLRs and lenses stretch the boundaries of handheld shooting. Cameras such as the Canon EOS 1100D, EOS 600D, EOS 60D and EOS 7D and Nikon D3100, D5100, D7000, and D300S offer low image noise at very high ISO ratings, enabling faster shutter speeds in dull lighting conditions, and many recent lenses boast 4-stop optical stabilisation to help fend off camera shake. So why buy a tripod?
For the ultimate in image quality, you just can't beat sticking with your camera's base sensitivity setting, typically ISO 100. And image stabilisation can be hit-and-miss, especially with long telephoto lenses or in very dull lighting conditions. With a sturdy tripod, you're assured of a stable shooting platform. But that's just the start of the story.
Positioning your camera on a tripod can help nail shot composition for best effect. Tripods are also essential when you want to keep the camera locked in place through a sequence of shots, in time-lapse photography or when taking a number of exposure-bracketed shots for creating a single HDR (High Dynamic Range) image.
Another option is to level the camera and take a series of panned photos, so you can stitch them into a panoramic image. And when you want to get into the picture, using a self-timer, a tripod comes to the rescue.
Tripod build and design
When it comes to construction, aluminium or carbon fibre are the main choices. Tripods with aluminium legs often have a little magnesium or titanium in the mix, so are technically aluminium alloy. They should be solid and dependable, provided that the legs aren't too thin.
The obvious advantage of carbon fibre tripods is that, size for size, they can be about 25% lighter than aluminium models, although this isn't always the case. They're reasonably rugged, but a sharp knock can shatter a carbon fibre leg. Both the carbon fibre tripods in this group test - the Hama Omega Carbon II and the Jessops Major - come with padded carrying bags.
Carbon fibre tripods and monopods are typically more expensive than their aluminium cousins for any given size and feature set – but bear in mind that they're steadier, too. The flexibility of the mesh-like material means they absorb vibrations, helping you get sharper shots.
Most manufacturers offer complete tripod kits, which include legs and a head. The Hama Omega Carbon II, Jessops Major, Slik PRO 500 DX Complete, Vanguard Alta Pro 263AGH and Velbon Sherpa 600R fall into this category.
Buying a kit can save you a bit of money but restricts your choice. If you buy the legs and head separately, you can get exactly the combination you want, even if it means buying the separate parts from different manufacturers.