In Part I we covered the selection of the appropriate tripod series, which in the Really Right Stuff tripod line leaves you with up to 3 choices of models that vary in size. We'll now cover the finer points of choosing a tripod within that series, by identifying limitations and priorities for what the tripod needs to do.
We'll approach this first with the most common considerations, and then potential restraints and restrictions that might change the best available option. Finally, we'll cover some of the most common scenarios and the recommendations we make for those photographers.
HEIGHT = VERSATILITY
The first question you will usually hear about a tripod is "How tall does it get?". And for good reason - the tripod is used, first and foremost, to position the camera where it needs to be for a given composition. We believe this versatility should extend well beyond your own height and is a primary consideration when choosing a tripod.
The tallest tripod possible gives the most options for positioning your camera.
In general the composition dictates the height of the camera, and aside from being completely out of reach of hands and eyes, there is utility to be found in every inch of available extension. Relating the height of the tripod to your own height is a useful guide, as it's better to choose a tripod that can easily reach a comfortable standing shooting position. Keep in mind that there are plenty of situations where having the camera above your head may be very advantageous, and it's important that your camera be just as stable in these situations:
Uneven Terrain - whether indoors or outdoors, any sort of uneven surface will require at least one leg of the tripod to extend below where the shooter stands. This extension essentially robs height from the tripod if the legs are already at their maximum extension for that camera height on a level surface. Having height in reserve prevents this compromise.
Shooting up - when pointing upwards at extreme angles on a tripod, the camera viewfinder may drop below the head, and require approaching from below. Shooting stars and sky or birds in flight are just a couple of examples.
Shooting down - A taller tripod, thanks to the leg geometry, has more space between its legs to stand over objects and surfaces to gain a top-down perspective. Products, food, and macro photography of all kinds can benefit from this capability.
Shooting over obstacles - fences, crowds, that annoyingly-placed sign - there are many times when you might need to get higher (or lower, for that matter) to keep an undesired object out of your composition. Standing on available objects can allow you access to the camera.
Generally, these considerations would mean selecting the tallest tripod of the series, which is currently the TVC-45 (85.0"/215.9cm) , TVC-34L (68.5"/177cm), or TVC-24L (66.8"/170cm).
3 VS 4 SECTIONS
This brings us to another very common question: "Should I avoid a 4-section leg in favor of 3?". For a tripod not made by Really Right Stuff, the answer has historically been "yes". The thinner leg section that can exist at the bottom of that leg can reduce the overall vibration damping capability, and the extra leg joint creates another point of potential flex. However, thanks to the "big and thin" tubes of Really Right Stuff tripods, which start larger at the top section and therefore end larger at the bottom, a 4-section model is rock solid from top to bottom. In fact, we find these differences are very small and often negligible in terms of their effect on image quality, for models within the same series.
3 Leg Sections or 4 Leg Sections
With RRS 'Pods, a 4-section leg is nearly as stable as a similar 3-section.
Because our carbon-fiber is so much stiffer than the average leg, even our TQC-14, with a relatively thin 4th section, manages to be as stable as other 3-section tripods of the same series. We haven’t been able to see a discernible difference in image quality from that comparison within the Really Right Stuff tripod line. The advantages of a four section leg in terms of collapsing smaller vastly outweigh any difference there.
A 4-section tripod can be taller while collapsing to the same length.
The best example of this comparing our TVC-24L to the TVC-23. Both tripods collapse to roughly the same length - about 23.5", but the TVC-24L manages to be 14 inches taller thanks to its 4-section "long" design. This means you have a much more versatile tool of the same stability fitting in the same space for packing, and the only penalty is about 0.5 pounds of extra weight. For many, the TVC-24L is the easy choice in that comparison.
On the other hand, a 4-section model can also allow you to have a much more compact folded dimension while extending to roughly the same height. For example, TVC-24 (not the "L" model) is about 5" shorter when collapsed than the TVC-23, and that 18.7 inch length makes it very friendly for packing within bags, including those approved for airline carry-on.
A 4-section tripod can collapse smaller while extending to the same height.
With the TVC-24 and TVC-23 within a few inches of each other in extended height, the TVC-24 becomes the best choice for those needing a go-anywhere tripod option.
TRAVELING WITH YOUR TRIPOD
If you plan on traveling by air with your photography equipment, you have the option of packing your tripod in either checked or carry-on luggage. The primary point of scrutiny is the collapsed length of the tripod, but the depth of the bag can come into play as well when you consider what else may need to be packed along with the tripod.
Our tripods are some of the most durable on the market, able to withstand hundreds of pounds of crush force at a single point. You may still wish to protect it from rough handling or loss by keeping it in the cabin within your carry-on bag. This gives a couple of options for tripod models, namely the TVC-24 and TQC-14.
Small 4-Section tripods are the most travel friendly, especially for carry-on.
While any of our models can easily fit within the checked bag limitations, having a more compact tripod leaves more breathing room within that bag, and can prevent the need for multiple bags. The TVC-43 tripod poses our largest collapsed dimension, measuring 27.4 inches long and 8 inches in diameter at the wide (apex) end.
VIDEO BOWL COMPATIBILITY
For those who will be using their tripod for support video cameras, or even hybrid DSLR setups that are tasked with both still photography and video shooting, it's usually expected to rely on some sort of leveling base. Some fluid heads will have built in ball bases of 75mm of 100mm size (the two standards), while others like our FH-350 will have flat bases that can mount to a separate leveling base or platform as needed. To accommodate this essential feature, you may need to select a tripod that has the appropriately sized Video Bowl accessory to match your fluid head or other accessories. Versa 3 tripods use the TA-3-VB 75mm Video Bowl, which accepts standard 75mm ball bases, or comes as a part of our Versa 3 leveling bases (for flat-bottomed video heads). Versa 4 tripods use the TA-4-VB 100mm Bowl for 100mm base compatibility, or the TA-3-AA3 Apex Adapter to step down to 75mm bowl compatibility (again via TA-3-VB or a Versa 3 Leveling Base), and can also use our TA-4-LB Versa 4 Leveling Base.
There are always factors specific to each photographer that may sway the decision in one direction or another. Considerations for multiple shooting styles or situations, multiple users, and frequency of special situations like travel all come into play. Below are just a few of the types of photographer we encounter most, and our usual recommendations. If one of these sounds like you, odds are that recommendation is the best option for you. If you need further assistance in making a tripod selection, feel free to contact our helpful Customer Service team!
SCENARIO A - THE WEEKEND WARRIOR
Owner of a DSLR, consumer or "pro-sumer" level.
Uses lenses ranging from wide-angle to 70-200mm/f/2.8 sizes. May rent or borrow bigger glass on occasion.
Shoots both indoors and outdoors.
Travels by car for most photography, probably wouldn't bring all their photo gear on vacation. Recommendation: TVC-24L
SCENARIO B - THE FREQUENT FLYER
Owner of a DSLR, or compact "Mirrorless" camera system.
Uses lenses ranging from wide-angle to 70-200mm/f/2.8 sizes.
Travels by air frequently, does not check luggage, or prefers to have the tripod in a backpack on location. Recommendation: TQC-14 Alternative: If weight is of little concern, or lenses may exceed the 200mm mark, we may recommend the TVC-24
SCENARIO C - THE STUDIO PRO
Owner of a professional or "pro-sumer" level DLSR or digital medium-format system.
Uses lenses ranging from wide-angle to 500mm.
Shoots primarily in the studio, and occasionally on location.
May use the tripod for supporting video cameras and rigs (with need for a 75mm bowl adapter). Recommendation: TVC-34L