Handheld vs Tripod

By November 6, 2018Tech Talk

Do you own a tripod?  Do you use it often or do you find it too annoying carry and use? Why bother using a tripod at all?
I know that tripods can be unwieldy and for some people frustrating to use.  There’s a person I know (my wife’s name won’t be mentioned here 🙂 ) who, during our travels would often have a ‘tripod moment’ – these were moments of frustration due to carrying her tripod during times that it felt heavy and cumbersome – these moments were short-lived, especially when an ultimate photo opportunity came about that required the use of a tripod.

A good quality tripod is a way to improve your images and the choice to use one really comes down to the quality of the final result, especially with modern high pixel count digital cameras.  The key is to create sharp images by avoiding camera motion blur.  In fact, using a tripod for some types of photography is essential.

When is it essential to use a tripod?  Some examples…

  • Long exposures times where you can’t physically hold your camera steady enough.
  • Close-up or macro photography where a difference of a few millimetres back or forth could mean your subject is in or out of focus.
  • When you are doing nature photography with a long focal length lens.
  • Having your camera on self-timer and photographing yourself (and/or others with you in the same shot).

A tripod can also make you slow down to appreciate the scene in front of you and take the time to think about your composition before you take that ultimate shot.

There are different types of tripods that can make it easier for you.  Some have fewer segments in the legs for quicker setup (but they aren’t as compact folded down).  Some are made out of Carbon fibre that makes them lighter and not so cold to touch (compared to aluminium).  Some have lots of adjustability in the legs and stem so that you can set them up for different positioning and reach.

Having a tripod head with a removable release plate is quite useful.  This plate attaches to the bottom of your camera and snaps into or slides into place on the tripod head.  This saves having to unscrew your camera from the tripod all the time.

Tripods also come in different sizes depending on how much weight you want to put on them or how tall you want them to be.  The key to picking a tripod is to first try some for yourself in a camera store with your own camera attached.

Some things to think about before buying a tripod: –

  • How easy is it to set up?
  • Can it hold the weight of your camera (with your heaviest lens)?
  • How sturdy is it?
  • When folded can it fit in your suitcase for travel?
  • Does the tripod head have a removable release plate?

Various tripod types

Some high-end models don’t even come with a head to mount your camera to.  This is usually an option for the professional end of the market where there are many different types of tripod heads to choose from – your choice will mostly be relative to the type of photography you mostly do.  My personal preference is to use a ball head and this type of head allows me to lock my camera position at almost any angle with just one adjustment (position lock).  More common tripod heads have 3 adjustments – pan, tilt and camera orientation.

What happens if you don’t have a tripod but the shutter speeds are too slow for handheld photography (for example in low light)?  The options are for you to, use your flash (but you lose the ambience of the scene), increase the cameras ISO (which results in more noise in your final image) or find a tripod substitute.

Possible tripod substitutes are your camera bag, a table, or something else convenient and sturdy enough to sit your camera on.

When are tripods not so useful?  A tripod is not so useful for fast moving subjects for example photographing children, fast moving animals.  If you are photographing people (portrait) then handheld photography may be less intimidating for your subject’s especially if you are into street photography.

At what point would the shutter speed be considered too slow for hand-held photography?  The general rule is to put 1 over focal length of the lens you are using. For example a 15mm lens (or on the 15mm setting of your zoom lens) would be a 1/15th of a second minimum shutter speed and a 200mm lens would be 1/200th of a second minimum shutter speed.  The reason why I call it a general rule because some cameras or lenses have image stabilisation that helps dramatically reduce motion blur for handheld photography and therefore can get away with around 2-stops slower shutter speed.  When taking hand-held photographs you still need to take care to hold your camera steady in the first place.

So if you want to avoid blurry images caused by unwanted camera shake and a too a slow shutter speed then a tripod will become a reliable friend during pursuits of photography.
On all Shutterbug Walkabouts experiences we recommend that participants bring their tripod along… we have tripods available for loan for those who haven’t yet purchased one, or have decided not to bring it along on their travels.  It’s also a good way to learn more about using a tripod and decide on the type of tripod that you may wish to research for purchase at a later date. 

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