Tripods are three-legged animals used for holding up a camera when the shutter speed is too slow to get a decent photo while hand-holding the camera.
They come in quite a few different configurations, and they come in a really wide variety of prices. When buying a digital camera, a tripod may not be the first "must-have" item on your list, but at some point, you will probably want to get one for certain types of photography.
The kinds of photography that may require a tripod are long exposure photos such as night shots, very high telephoto shots in low light (like 500mm lenses), or extreme close-up photos.
Tripods are certainly not as widely used as they once were prior to the advancement of technology which now includes much better quality pictures at high ISO settings and the use of IS (image stabilization) or VR (vibration reduction) in cameras and lenses.
Because of this advanced technology, one can now hand-hold many more shots than was once possible. This includes night concerts and the like, where sharp shots are possible at high ISO settings and wide apertures.
Tripods come in several configurations. All of them have three legs, but there are differences in how many sections make up each leg, as well as the presence of a center column or not. In addition, there are small units that can be placed on a table or other stable structure. Construction material is also varied. Some are made of inexpensive metal while others are made from aluminum. However, the most costly tripods are made from carbon fiber material.
Guidelines for choosing a tripod
Every tripod has a rating for how much weight it can hold safely. Some are made for very light cameras like point and shoot models. They might have a recommended weight limit of a pound or two. You do not want to trust one of these units with your expensive digital SLR that weighs several pounds.
More substantial tripods, the ones that hold DSLRs secure are made of better material and can withstand, not only the camera weight, but also a certain amount of adverse weather conditions, while keeping your camera safe and secure.
For those who intend to put their tripod through the most extreme tests, a carbon fiber tripod is the best bet. These can be used in water, snow, wind, and cold. Versatility is another factor for consideration. Many of these camera stabilizers come with struts to hold the legs steady. These kind are not the most versatile, nor are the ones that have a center column that can be cranked up for addition height, although some of these have removable center columns which make them more usable when it is necessary to get low to the ground.
The range of cost for your tripod is as varied as camera costs. Simple, inexpensive tripods can cost as little as $25, while others can run into the thousands of dollars. Also be aware that when you spend lots of money for a tripod, there will be the added expense of a ball head, which will be needed to actually hold your camera on the unit. Less expensive models include a part that holds the camera.
There are a couple of recognized manufacturers as leaders in quality tripods. The three most reputable dealers in tripods are Gitzo, Manfrotto, and Bogen. These manufacturers produce high quality products that are the most desirable in photography circles.