On the hunt for a new tripod? After researching over 60 options, we purchased the best 9 models to test side-by-side. Not only did we order each at retail price and meticulously compare them, but we tested performance by using each one extensively. We set them up, mounted them with different cameras, put them on uneven terrain, and took over 100 photos to compare quality. We set up timed photos outside in the wind and through the night to test stability. We even took some backpacking. After 24+ hours of in-depth testing, our team of experts offers unbiased recommendations to help you find the best option for your needs.Related: The Best Tripods for iPhones of 2020
The Best Tripods of 2020
The Vanguard Altra Pro 2+ is built for any photographer, whether you're a professional or amateur. Its durable aluminum construction is beefy and stable, allowing you to take timed, clear exposures, even in windy conditions. The three-section leg design with twist locks stands tall and stable with easy manipulation. Its hefty ball-socket joint allows 360 panning capabilities, while the Arca-swiss style plate is sturdy and reliable. With a load capacity of 15.5 pounds and additional attachments, you can use it with your DSLR and accessories. What's more, its versatile set-up options will allow you to take photos from all angles, with the center post converting into a monopod. It's built for both studio and recreational use and is our favorite of the fleet.
The heavy and large packed size make this a great option to take with you on any car trip, but it's not our favorite for backpacking due to its heavier construction and larger design. We do, however, love its convenient carry case with a roll-top feature, which offers excellent protection from dust and rain.
If you're a recreational photographer or an amateur getting your feet wet with outdoor shots or studio work, the MeFOTO RoadTrip Classic should be considered. It can handle a fairly large camera capacity (17.6 lbs) and has an array of set-ups. One of its legs can detach into a monopod, it can be turned upside down for macro shots, and it comes with a variety of options for height set-ups. The knobs and leg locks are crisp and smooth, making adjustments in height or camera angles a breeze. It utilizes an Arca-style plate with a ball-joint swivel and a three-way adjustment. We also love that the rubberized feet can be switched out for a different design.
While we can appreciate the shoulder locks that offer a multitude of angles and adjustments at a variety of heights, it can only shoot on the ground up to 15 inches. When fully set-up, it was a bit unstable, but we fixed this by drawing in the lowest legs in a few inches. Aside from that, we almost granted this model our top award, as it's versatile and can handle a large load.
If you travel frequently and need a high-quality product for your heavier DSLR (or lighter sports camera), the TYCKA Ranger Compact is our top pick. It stands out for its smooth knob adjustments, which make manipulating height and angles fast and easy. It'll easily convert into a monopod, invert for macro shots, and even has a smaller column attachment that'll set you up nicely for shots just eight inches off the ground. The pano option and removable Arca-style plate allow you to easily switch out devices, making it worthy for travel and studio use. With ample adjustment options, a low packed weight, and only 15 inches of space taken up in your suitcase for travel, you'll be taking photos of anything you wish while you explore the globe. It can support a massive weight; DSLR with a large lens? No problem.
While it is excellent for heavy cameras, when fully extended, its stability begins to waver. We rarely used it fully extended, especially when taking timed exposures. Also, while it does get to a height of 49 inches, our 5'6 main testers still couldn't stand up straight when using it. While it seems to be of high quality and quite sturdy at most heights, it isn't perfect.
The Manfrotto brand is known for its exceptional construction. The Aluminum Compact is a pan and tilt option that uses a removable Arca-style plate that is interchangeable with other models. The three-way tilting adjustments are easy to use. The 5-section leg design is stable when it's not fully extended; the hefty rubberized feet and wide base provide stability, especially when using heavier cameras. Of the options we've tested with pan and tilt heads, this one is the easiest to adjust and use. We would use this both in the field and in the studio, with a small DSLR, point and shoot, or iPhone adaptor.
While some photographers prefer a pan and tilt head, we prefer the ball-swivel joint. For videographers who want smooth 360 panning options, this isn't a great choice, as it needs to be supported from underneath to avoid vibrations, especially under a larger load. Also, we notice that the head uses cheap plastics that bend and could break. Online reviews confirm this worry. While this is a brand known for refined products, we aren't too impressed with its construction. Using more durable materials like metals would make it better. However, of the pan and tilt options tested, this is the best quality option we tested.
The YoTilan DSLR 49-inch is built for travel at an exceptional price. The metal and aluminum construction features knobs that are smooth, well-oiled, with excellent panning performance for videography. It will take up to 7 pounds of load on its Arca-swiss style plate with easy and quick adjustments. While this isn't the cheapest option in this review, it offers the best value. For the level of quality in its materials and functionality that'll hold up your DSLR, point, and shoot, or even iPhone, you can't go wrong with the price. It packs down to only 18 inches in a minimalist carry bag. We also like the adjustable shoulder locks that'll allow you to take macro shots with ease. Not only is it a great price, but it offers a wide range of angles and adjustments. While it's not a professional studio-grade tripod, it's a high-value choice for any family trip, recreational photographer, or amateurs.
Unfortunately, the height is quite short (48.5 inches), causing even our shortest testers to bend over when using it, even when fully extended. While we like the quick flip lockers on the legs, when this set-up is completely extended, it shakes and vibrates in the wind. If you do take it backpacking, be ready to keep it low to use it for timed exposures. That said, it'll still get a great shot of the stars.
If you're seeking a durable carbon fiber construction that'll take the brunt of most beatings, the Benro Slim Carbon is one to consider. Its low weight and small packed size (20 inches) make traveling with it a breeze. It features a metal ball-joint head that makes finding a precise angle easy, while the legs extend and unlock with just a quarter-turn. It features a locking shoulder joint, which allows you to change the angle and base stability, also providing a stable shot 18 inches off the ground. While we wouldn't recommend this at our top choice for a professional, it's great for any recreational hobbyists.
While this set-up is stable when set-up in a lower configuration, it begins to sway and move in the wind when fully extended. We appreciate the carbon fiber design, but the leg locks are flimsy. When we first opened them up, one leg screwed off completely and came apart. It's never been the same since. Finally, and perhaps the most significant design flaw is the adjustable ball head. There is only one adjustment that controls both the pano and tilt angles. Normally, this is split into two different knobs. You can't pan with this ball joint without releasing the angle control as well. For such a high price, we'd expect better design, making it a relatively poor value in comparison to the rest.
If you're seeking a travel option that's light as a feather, the AmazonBasics Lightweight is a favorite. We've backpacked this into several backcountry basins, setting up for night shots, and taking shots of ourselves along the way. The all-in-one design doesn't allow you to change out the head or any components but is simple to use and operate. The pan and tilt head features a removable plate (not Arca-swiss style) with a small D-ring on the plate. You can get photos from all angles with the three-way adjustment when using a light DSLR, point and shoot, or iPhone attachment. The price is also hard to beat.
Like any lightweight contender, stability is the most significant caveat. We tried setting it up in windy conditions for an eight second exposure only to get super blurred images. Even when it's not fully extended, stability is poor. Since the materials are light and plastic, it's also not the most durable option out there either. Another note is that over time, the pan and tilt function loosens up. After two years of use, it hardly holds up our 2-lb DSLR Canon. You get what you pay for, and at such a low cost, don't expect optimal performance or durability.
If you're looking for an inexpensive, tall, and lightweight option, the Amazon Basics 60-inch could be for you. We appreciate that most photographers just under 6 feet can use it with ease. Extensions support the main column to the legs, which adds an element of stability to its aluminum and lightweight frame. The legs are also thicker, which helps reduce vibrations that most lightweight contenders struggle with. We also love the wind-up functionality of the column that elevates and lowers the three way directional head. It is best for recreational photographers that require a wide range of adjustments. We also appreciate the stability hook at the bottom of the center column, which increases functionality in windy conditions.
Unfortunately, the materials used in construction are cheap and can break. The head, knobs, handles, and leg locks are all made of a think, cheap plastic; in fact, right out of the box, we ended up breaking the handle with very little force. The apparatus that lowers the center column is coarse, and seems to get choppier the more we use it. While it is a bargain buy option, know that this isn't a smooth operator.
The Tack Life 55-inch is another simple, lightweight, pan, and tilt option built for smaller cameras. While it has a capacity of 6.6 lbs, it's best to use it with smaller DSLRs and point and shoot cameras. The all-in-one design is easy to set-up and manipulate. Take night shots or set your camera up for family photos with ease. If you want to take it backpacking, throw it in with your gear as it takes up little packed space (17 inches). We especially like the robust pan and tilt arm that makes adjustments simple and easy.
Stability is the main caveat for this design. The center post is thin and wobbly, as are the legs, especially when fully extended. The camera can only attach to a fixed screw, which is quick to set-up, but not very trust-inspiring or safe when attaching larger DSLRs. The materials seem cheap, and we worry about durability with this design. Many online reviews confirm this concern; however, if you want a low-cost option that'll just hold up your camera when you need it to, you'll find this a decent option — especially for lighter cameras.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by our experts Amber King and Laura Casner. Amber has been writing and taking professional photos for gear reviews for over seven years, writing, and testing for 25+ different categories. Using a Canon EOS 7D, she has specialized in outdoor photos and product shots. Laura Casner has over a decade of professional photography experience both in the field and in the studio. Both have strong opinions on tripods and regularly use them in their line of work.
Our team of experts spent over 24+ hours testing each of these products. Not only did we research and assess the construction and features comparatively, but we also used them in the field. We trekked with them in backpacks and set them up on unstable surfaces. We tested stability by attempting night shots of the sky in windy conditions, at different heights. We primarily tested a two pounds DSLR Canon camera, but also tried each with a regular point and shoot, and iPhone adaptor. Our testing is extensive, well-researched, and unbiased to help you find the best product for your needs.
Analysis and Test Results
This review focuses on full-extension affordable tripods that are typically used by recreational photographers. These are options that can be used with DSLRs, point and shoot, and iPhone adaptors. We select models with pan and tilt and ball and swivel heads. While we focus on photography as our primary form of testing, these can also be used for videography and other areas of use. We tested in our homes, on backpacking trips, and outside our front door. Each option is comparatively rated, using five critical metrics to evaluate overall performance and versatility.
Ease of Use
When looking at ease of use, we assess a few key 'micrometric' that make up the entire score. First, we time how long it takes each to be taken down and set-up. Second, we assess the functioning of all adjustment knobs to manipulate camera angles. Third, we look at the pre-mount system and whether or not it is interchangeable with other plates.
Set-up time is important, especially when you want to whip out your tripod quickly to capture a special moment. The fastest to set-up is the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+. It has only two twist locks on each leg that are rock solid, making it easy to grab most of them at once, twist to a quarter turn, and have the legs up and ready to go in under 15 seconds. Other twist locks legs seem to be flimsy, without a stopper mechanism in place, and aren't as fast as flip locks. The Vanguard twist locks are by far the best design.
The others that did best here are flip-locked legs. Those that are shorter are easier to grab in one hand and open up with ease. For example, the AmazonBasics 60 and 50-inch could be set-up in 18 seconds, alongside the Yo Tilan DSLR. The Amazon Basics 60-inch only has two flip locks per leg, while the 50-inch and Yo Tilan DSLR have three flip locks per leg. Those with more flip locks that are smaller or facing inwards typically take longer to set up, while those with coarse functions take more time to set-up.
Ease of Take-Down
Takedown times varied from the set-up times. We find that those with larger flip-locks are easier to grab and close all at once than twist locks. The times for take-down ranged from 20 seconds to 52 seconds. The Manfrotto Compact wins this test, smoothly and easily collapsing with little effort in just 20 seconds. Both AmazonBasics models prove to be super easy to take down as well, collapsing and storing in just 25 seconds. Of the twist and lock options, the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+ is the fastest as the twist locks are solid. Those with slower times were twist locks without stopping mechanisms. Some can accidentally be unscrewed, which takes more time to adjust and successfully take down with ease.
Adjusting Angles and Camera Attachment
Adjusting angles, panning, and attaching the camera is incredibly important when using a tripod in the field. Those tested fall into two main categories — tilt-pan and ball-swivel heads. Those with removable heads (so they can be interchanged with other options) with independent adjustments are ideal. Our favorite is the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+ because it's easy to use, and has functional knobs that are solid and smooth.
Most tested use a ball-swivel head; this is the type of head we prefer to work with, as precise camera angles are easy to achieve and fast to adjust. The best utilize a metal ball head, like the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+. In fact, all those with a ball and swivel joint are metal. Those that are well oiled and smooth offer excellent pano control, like the Yo Tilan DSLR, our Best Buy award winner, and the TYCKA Rangers, our favorite for travel.
Pan and tilt heads are also simple to use, but we found they take more time to adjust. The Manfrotto Compact 5 Section uses two large adjustment arms that provide two axes of adjustment. While these heads aren't as smooth for panning, they are great for micro-adjustments, and you don't need to release the whole head to move them like is required with a ball-swivel joint.
The design of the attachment plate is critical in design. The camera plate must provide security, so the camera doesn't move. More importantly, it should be detachable so you can ensure you don't accidentally strip the internal housing that the screw fits into on your camera. Our favorite plates are Arca-style options that are large with an additional safety pin and rubberized pads to prevent lateral movement on the plate. Once again, the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+ is our favorite, as it features this design. All the ball and swivel joint camera heads tested utilize a detachable plate.
Of the pan and tilt camera heads, the Manfrotto Compact 5 section utilizes the most stable base plate, followed by the AmazonBasics 60-inch. The AmazonBasics 50-inch also has a removable plate, but it's much smaller. The Tack Life is the only camera that doesn't have a removable plate, and you need to screw the camera right onto the head. While this is fast and easy for smaller cameras, it's not ideal or safe for larger, expensive cameras.
Stability in the wind and across uneven terrain is paramount for great shots and angles. To test this, we set up all products over flat and uneven terrain to see how weight distribution affected our trust in its ability to hold up a DSLR camera. We also set up each up in the wind and took a one-second exposure at three different heights. We even tested each outside at night, setting our camera for long exposures (~20 seconds) to get photos of the magnificent starry sky above. Those with the clearest images and best construction win in this category.
The most stable tripod tested is the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+. Of all tested, its the heaviest, features thicker legs, a wide base, and rubberized feet with a large surface area. The heavier it is, typically, the more stable it is. This is the only one of the fleet that when fully extended could still take a timed exposure and get a clear shot.
Of the lighter options tested, the MeFOTO Roadtrip and Manfrotto Compact 5-section stands out. Both use solid, rubberized feet and a wide base. However, fully extended, they get shaky, much like other contenders in this review.
Some feature a 'hook' underneath the main post. You can use this to hang a backpack or extra weight to promote an even more stable construction, with the advantage of a lower carry weight. The TYCKA Ranger, Benro Carbon Slim, and MeFOTO Roadtrip all have this accessory. The hooks are retractable, so they stay out of the way. The AmazonBasics 60-inch also has a large hook, but is less durable, flexing under a heavier load.
Those that contort to all the weirdest positions and angles crush in this category. Those that extend high and can take pictures close to the ground, in seemingly unbalanced positions, also do well. Some can convert into a monopod when you only need one leg for stability, while others are welded together and can't be taken apart. For our purposes, if a tripod can change shape, stability, and come with a plethora of features, it's more versatile to use in an array of conditions.
The Vanguard Altra Pro 2+ is among our favorites for its removable center post that can be set to a variety of positions. It also has several attachment points for accessories like ring lights or microphones. This makes its utility far superior to any other option tested. It can take photos as low as five inches (none can take a lower shot) and extend out for macro close-ups and more.
Others that are quite versatile include the MoFoto Roadtrip and TYCKA Rangers. Even though both have different brand names, they seem to be of similar architecture. Same company? Probably. Anyway, both feature a removable monopod with a padded arm. You can easily unscrew the head of both and attach it to the monopod. This makes it versatile for travel and backpacking, especially if you have a heavier camera with a large lens, which will need additional stability.
Shoulder locks are also an important feature to look for when versatility is considered. Many, like the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+, Benro Carbo Slim, and MeFOTO Roadtrip, have at least two levels of locking capabilities. This allows you to take stable photos at lower heights. The MeFOTO Roadtrip and TYCKA Ranger can both be inverted to take macro shots.
The ability to easily lug around your tripod is of utmost importance. When evaluating portability, we weigh and measure the packed size of each option. We also look at the carry bag included and whether or not it's protective.
Our favorite for travel is the compact and yet well-performing TYCKA Rangers 56" Travel. Not only is it versatile, but packs to only 15 inches and weighs just under three pounds. While it's not the lightest of them all, it's the one that balances portability with functionality.
We found that the lightest options often sacrifice performance and stability for its portability. Even though the AmazonBasics Lightweight 50 (1 lb, 3.4 oz) isn't a fully-featured or super stable model, it's the lightest tested, making it an excellent choice for carrying when light loads are essential. We tested it extensively while backpacking on a three-day trip, and it serves its purpose well. Strapped to the outside of a backpack, it felt like we were carrying hardly anything at all. The AmazonBasics Lightweight 60 (1 lb, 11.40 oz) is a taller, more stable version of the 50, but the packed size is 25.5 inches, versus the 18 inches that the 50 inch model takes up.
Larger contenders like the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ (5 lbs, 5.05 oz) didn't score as well in this category. However, all models, like our Editors' Choice, are great options if you just need to put it in the car. None were too heavy or clunky for this use case scenario.
Our testing period only lasted for a few weeks, but we tested each extensively for over 24 hours. We also took the time to assess materials used, which showed lackluster performance after a few uses. We researched online reviews from thousands of users on Amazon and took into consideration the experiences of many.
Once we received all products, we comparatively evaluated them. It is no surprise that we are most impressed with the construction of the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+. Not only is the full construction outfitted with aluminum and metal, but any of the plastic used is heavy duty and durable. All adjustment knobs are smooth, solid, and clean. This is a highly durable option that'll last you a long time.
Given that most of these contenders are in the lower price range, many aren't super durable. Most get some negative reviews, which is to be expected. The MeFOTO Road Trip, despite some flimsy design, is quite durable due to the metal used throughout its construction.
We've found that lighter models are far less durable than the heavier ones. Those that use plastics that are thin, like the AmazonBasics 60-inch, may not last as long as those with a more solid construction, like the Manfrotto Compact 5-section. The Benro Carbon Slim using carbon fiber in its design, which is excellent from a materials standpoint, but the spinning locks on the legs prove to be less durable than you'd expect for the price. Overall, while many of these products aren't made of super durable materials, except for the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+, they'll still last you a while if you treat them with care.
Armed with this information, you're now ready to transition from taking hours setting up your camera on rock piles to setting it up on a solid and well-priced tripod. Whether you are a professional or amateur, we hope our research and recommendations have helped you find the best option for your needs.
— Amber King