Carbon-fiber legs consist of up to eight layers of crossed-ply carbon fibers. Carbon-fiber legs are 20 to 30 percent lighter than aluminum legs, yet dampen vibrations even better than wood and are more solid as well. This is the material of choice for many outdoor photographers today. The major drawback has been cost, although Adorama offers an economically priced Flashpoint carbon-fiber lineup.
Be sure to consider the working height when selecting a tripod. You want one that will allow you to shoot from as high or low an angle as your photography requires. Some, like Adorama’s new Flashpoint carbon-fiber series, feature full-spreading legs and detachable center columns for easy ground-level shooting. Sachtler’s new SooM video tripod (also usable with still cameras) can be configured to position the camera from eight inches to eight feet above the surface.
Weight And Stability
Be sure to get a tripod designed to handle the weight of the gear you intend to mount on it. Heavier gear requires a sturdier tripod, but you don’t need to lug around a tripod designed to support 150 pounds if you’re going to use it with a midlevel D-SLR and 300mm lens.
Bear in mind that tripods include components other than legs, such as the top spider and locks, so the entire tripod will offer slightly less weight savings than the leg material alone would suggest. The lightest sturdy tripods use magnesium or other light, yet strong materials for the non-leg components.
The “standard” tripod foot is a metal spike, with a rubber pad that can be screwed down over the spike to protect sensitive surfaces. Some manufacturers offer optional disc feet that won’t sink into soft ground.
Magnesium seems to be the material of choice for the piece the legs connect to at the top of the tripod. It’s about 30 percent lighter than aluminum, but sturdier. But aluminum costs less and is still quite light and strong.
There are some ingenious spider concepts out there, which allow you to adjust the center column to the side as well as up and down—handy for odd-angle shots or for shooting straight down on a subject. If such ability is important to you, check out designs like the Benbo Trekker, Giottos MT III, Gitzo Explorer and Manfrotto 190XPROB at your camera store.
Some tripods incorporate a bubble level in the top spider, handy for quick leveling of the tripod. Bear in mind that this won’t necessarily level the camera—you have to do that visually through the finder or via a level on the tripod head’s camera mount.