Q and A: What is the best type of tripod to use when shooting in video mode with a DSLR camera?

Question

What kind of a tripod do I need when shooting video clips with my new Nikon D300S? The old tripod that I own is too small and I’m sure I need something better. I’d want one that’s also useful when shooting regular photos but I’d prefer not to pay more than $150. Dawn K.

Answer

That’s a good question, Dawn, but you should also be wondering about the type of tripod head to use. Granted, you may buy a tripod kit that includes a head, but it will probably be a conventional pan/tilt or ball head. Either is perfect for taking still photos but neither is ideal for shooting movies, as I’ll explain in a moment. So, you will probably need two tripod heads; perhaps your old one will be adequate for some purposes.

Start by finding a rigid tripod that is tall enough – without extending the centre post by much – so you don’t need to bend too far down. Extending the centre post too far will really minimize rigidity. Regardless of the size, look for one that is rated for supporting at least 8 lbs. of weight. Your camera/lens and video head will probably weigh less but the higher weight capacity confirms greater stability. There are many multi-purpose tripods that are suitable for people of average height. In the relatively affordable category (without a tripod head), check out models like the Giottos 9371B (about $196), the Slik Pro 700 DX (about $100) and the Manfrotto 055XDB (about $139).

When shooting movies, you’ll definitely want a “fluid” video head. I strongly recommend the Manfrotto 701HDV (about $125) with a capacity of 9.5 lbs. This type of head employs a fluid cartridge – or Teflon pads or a special lubricant – for much smoother pan/tilt effects than a conventional head, to prevent jerkiness in your videos. The most frequent adjustments can be made with the long handle which can be loosened, tightened and locked. If your budget is very tight, consider the Slik 504QF-2 model (about $65); it’s not as well built, but it should provide adequate support.

Check out many tripods and heads in person if you live near a well-stocked photo store. Look for one that’s convenient to operate and very rigid but not excessively heavy. If that’s not practical, start by doing some research at B&H or Amazon. Then read reviews about suitable models in your price range. (Try a Google search to find reviews, using the brand name and/or model number.)

Buy the best that you can afford. Rigid, high-grade accessories should easily last for a decade and they will provide maximum image sharpness whether you’re shooting stills or video clips.

A tripod with bracing struts is often recommended for video because of its extra stability; a geared center column is also a bonus. In an all-purpose tripod however, I recommend one without struts because those components make it impossible to fully splay the legs for low level placement of the camera.


A ball head - like a conventional pan/tilt head - was designed for still photography and works well for that purpose. But when you start shooting movies with a DSLR (or a camcorder), it's worth buying a fluid video head for much smoother results.




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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. What about the best camera to shoot vide? I recently got a Nikon D3S and love it. It has great HD video, apparently this clip was made using it http://vimeo.com/9337388. Check it out!

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