WHO NEEDS A TRIPOD? You do! Regardless of the camera you use, your photos will be sharper with a good tripod/head combination. Besides our own shakiness, cameras produce multiple vibrations every time you release the shutter. SLRs, the pro shooter’s favorite, are the most prone to vibration-induced image softness. Every time you release the shutter, the mirror swings up and comes to a sudden stop, the lens diaphragm is jolted to the selected aperture, and a shutter curtain opens, coming to a sudden stop. This sequence begins a fraction of a second before your exposure, and the vibration it causes continues even after the shutter closes. Professionals know this affects image sharpness; their use of a tripod often separates professional photographs from amateur snapshots.
A common misconception is that using a shutter-speed equivalent to the lens focal length produces sharp hand- held images equal to those taken using a tripod. That rule originated before SLR cameras became mainstream, when rangefinder cameras with leaf-shuttered lenses were most common. Some medium-format pro SLR cameras, when handheld, produce image blur above 1⁄125 second with an 80mm lens. Even with rangefinder cameras, it is at best a minimum standard to apply only when a tripod is unavailable, or shooting conditions make using one impossible. The difference between handheld and tripod-mounted shots may be less notice- able up to an 8×10 print, but by 16×20, it’s quite obvious.
Photographers who eschew tripods often sell or trade-in excellent lenses they considered inadequate but which, in reality, were victims of camera movement. If you are like me and use only prime lenses for ultimate resolution, then using a good tripod/head combination should be a regular part of your shooting technique.
Choose your support intelligently
Not all tripods and heads are equal. An inferior tripod is worse than no tripod; it gives one a false sense of security. Buying a top-quality tripod and attaching an inferior head still introduces a weak link. Poor-quality heads are unstable and can be so inconvenient to operate that the photographer simply avoids using the tripod. Many new photographers incorrectly assume the tripod head made and sold by their tripod manufacturer is the best for that tripod. Some of the best tripods are sold as leg sets separately from the heads; it is wise to look into tripod heads from manufacturers who specialize in them. Regrettably, it is common for photographers to buy several tripod/ head combinations in succession before they settle on the one that works best. If you go with the high-quality combination right from the start, it may cost less than the failed experiments.