With many of the latest cameras and lenses boasting excellent image quality at high ISO (sensitivity) settings, along with state of the art image stabilisation, it's easy to think that the photographer's three-legged friend is going the way of the dinosaur. And yet, a good tripod is just as essential as ever.
For long exposures that capture movement - when shooting waterfalls, or for evening shots when the sun's gone down - a sturdy tripod is a must.
Even in broad daylight, a tripod not only minimises the risk of camera shake, but also helps you to fine-tune a composition with precise camera adjustments.
On top of that, a tripod enables you to keep the camera firmly in place through a sequence of shots - ideal for time-lapse photography, say, or for creating composite images from multiple, exposure-bracketed photos.
Alternatively, you can keep the camera on the level and pan by precise increments to create a sequence of images that you can stitch into a panorama.
A tripod is also great for macro shots, where even the smallest movement of the camera is likely to cause blurring from focus errors as well as camera-shake. And when you're in tourist mode, a tripod and self-timer combo will help you get yourself into the frame. The possibilities are almost endless.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that a tripod is just three legs with a head on top.
Like most things photographic, however, there's been plenty of revolution and evolution over the last few years. All the models in this test group feature multi-angle legs. This enables you to swing the legs out to alternative angles away from the centre column, which is great for shooting on very uneven terrain, or for reducing the overall height of the tripod for low-level shooting.
Another new trick featured by five of the tripods on test here is a pivoting centre column, which can extend as a horizontal boom. This is a big bonus for macro photography, as well as for shooting with ultra-wide-angle lenses, as it reduces the risk of a tripod footappearing in the bottom of your picture.
The most common construction material is aluminium - or rather aluminium alloy, since there's generally some magnesium or titanium mixed in.
The other main choice is carbon fibre, although this tends to be more expensive. The main advantage is that, for any given size, carbon tripods are likely to be about 25 per cent lighter than comparable aluminium models. Both should be fairly rugged, but there's a danger that carbon fibre will shatter if it gets a sharp knock.
For general use, the main considerations are ultimately how much stability the tripod offers, and the trade-off between maximum load capacity and carrying weight.
Similarly, there's a balance to be struck between the maximum height when the tripod is fully extended, and its carrying length. All the tripods in this group have three sections to each leg, apart from the Hama Omega Carbon II, which has four.
Extra sections enable the tripod to fold down smaller, but stability can be impaired. Not only is each additional joint a potential weak point, but the lowest leg sections can end up being very thin and spindly.