The first step in deciding which tripod to buy is to analyze where and how you are going to use it. While most tripods come with adjustable feet that can be used on any hard surface, only a few also have a spike for soft ground. If you're planning on taking outdoor photographs, it may be worth it to spend the extra money for a tripod that has both features.
The next thing to consider in a tripod is the type of head. Cheaper tripods usually have a fixed head, while professional tripods come with a replaceable head that can accommodate different cameras and be tilted side to side and up and down. Ball heads use a ball-and-socket joint that moves softly in a circular motion.
Size and weight become important when a tripod is used for outdoor photography and needs to be carted around. A good tripod should reach at least to eye level, but still fold down to a size that's easy to carry and store. When it comes to weight, heavier tripods with tubular or closed section legs tend to be more stable, while lightweight tripods have the advantage of portability, but tend to perform poorly on uneven terrain. A new generation of tripods are now made of carbon fiber, which is lightweight but considerably more expensive than the traditional aluminum tripods. A good quality tripod averages eight pounds.
Another important feature to look for in a tripod is a locking mechanism. This consists of a simple switch that locks the legs in place so there is no risk of the tripod collapsing in the middle of a photo session. A similar locking switch, called a quick release fitting, is sometimes attached to the camera and used to lock it into the tripod head.
The centerpost of the tripod is available in smooth and geared options. A smooth centerpost can be lowered or raised manually, while a geared centerpost can be extended by using a small crank on the side. While there are no major differences between the types of centerposts, the geared post can be raised with just one hand, a definitive advantage when time is of the essence.
Prices for a tripod vary depending on many of the factors mentioned above. A simple tripod for amateur photography can be bought for under 100 US dollars (USD). The Gitzo 1325 tripod, a preferred choice among nature photographers, runs about 530 USD.