After researching over 60 models, our photography experts purchased 10 of the best tripods of 2021. Testing each side-by-side, we dragged them with us on adventures, taking shots of lavish mountains, portraits of friends, and night imagery of planets. We set each up model on stable and uneven terrain, played with angles, turned all the knobs, and pushed all the buttons. Comparatively testing with a DSLR and point-and-shoot camera, we were able to identify which options were the best and which should be left at the warehouse. Our recommendations are built to help you find exactly what you need, no matter your preference or budget.Related: Best Tripod for iPhone of 2021
Best Tripod of 2021
We love the Manfrotto Aluminum 4 Section and deem it a top choice for many reasons. This midweight option shrinks down to 19 inches and stands to a tall height of 63.5 inches to the base plate. It offers 360-degrees of swivel, with the ability to mount cameras of all sizes on the head of your choosing. While many other competitors have several knobs and a less easy-to-use interface, this only uses one, with an additional push button to release and extend the shaft of the tripod for a variety of positions. You can position it as low as two inches off the ground in portrait view. Though we might not opt to lug it along on a long hike, it's portable and is a decent weight for its size.
As is usually the case, quality costs a little extra. When performing our stability tests, this model did better than most of the other options in the review, with the exception of the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+. While the knobs are easy to use, the shoulder tabs take some fiddling to unlock and adjust. Our main complaint is that the Manfrotto doesn't come with its own head, so you need to purchase this separately. For those seeking a general-use tripod, this is our favorite for its winning combo of versatility, portability, and a reasonable weight without being over-engineered.
The YoTilan DSLR 49-inch is built for travel at an exceptional price. The metal and aluminum construction features knobs that are smooth and well-oiled, with excellent panning performance for videography. It can handle a load of seven pounds of load on its Arca-Swiss style plate with easy and quick adjustments. We're impressed by the value this tripod offers; for an approachable price, you get quality materials and functionality that'll hold up your DSLR, point-and-shoot, or even iPhone. It packs down to only 18 inches in a minimalist carry bag. We also like the adjustable shoulder locks that allow you to take macro shots with ease. While it's not professional studio-grade, it's a high-value choice that offers a wide range of angles and adjustments for any photographer.
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 setup is completely extended, it shakes and vibrates in the wind. If you choose to take it backpacking, as we did, you'll want to keep it low when taking longer exposures. That said, it'll still get a great shot of the stars.
The Vanguard Altra Pro 2+ is a super stable and high-quality tripod that sets up in a myriad of positions. Designed with durable aluminum construction, beefy legs, and a wide base, it's the most stable option we've tested. When fully extended and shaking the base of the legs, it takes less than two seconds to get a level photo set up and stays stable even when the wind picks up. The three-section leg design features twist locks that are easy to take down and put up in less than thirty seconds. It stands tall (65 inches) and can take ground-level photos as low as ground level. Its hefty ball-socket joint allows 360 panning capabilities (with degree markings), while the Arca-swiss style plate is sturdy and reliable. With a high load capacity and additional attachments, you can use it with any small or large DSLR and its accessories. What's more, this versatile setup will allow you to take photos from all angles, with the center post converting into a monopod and even flips upside down.
The heavy and large packed size makes for a great option on any car trip, but it's not our favorite for backpacking or lightweight adventures. It has a lot of knobs, some of which seem to do the same thing, and learning how it works takes more time than most of the tripods tested. Some would say this tripod is overengineered, but if you are seeking a high-quality, super stable, and techy tripod, this is our recommendation.
If you travel frequently and need a high-quality product for your heavier DSLR (or lighter sports camera), the TYCKA Ranger Compact is an excellent choice. 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 panorama 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. But, if travel is your focus, you've got to check this one out.
If you're seeking a travel option that's light as a feather, the Amazon Basics Lightweight 50-Inch is our go-to. We've backpacked this into several backcountry basins, set up for night shots, and took beautiful scenery images. 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 two-pound DSLR Canon. You get what you pay for, and at such a low cost, don't expect optimal performance or durability.
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 and has an array of setups. One of its legs can detach into a monopod, it can be turned upside down for macro shots, and it comes with various options for height setups. 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 various heights, they 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 a few inches. Aside from that, we love it for its number of positions and stable construction.
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 five-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 like 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. 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, this is the best quality option we tested.
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. The locking shoulder joint allows you to change the angle and base stability, providing a stable shot 18 inches off the ground. This is an excellent choice for any photographer seeking a durable yet light option.
While this model 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 a better design, making it a relatively poor value in comparison to the rest. That said, we do appreciate the lightweight design and durable materials.
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 pounds, 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 make 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. 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.
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 six 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 like the stability hook at the bottom of the center column, which increases functionality in windy conditions.
Unfortunately, the materials used in construction don't seem very durable and can break (which we experienced). The head, knobs, handles, and leg locks are all made of thick, seemingly less durable plastic. In fact, right out of the box, we ended up breaking the handle off the column 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.
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 testing is rigorous, comparative, and objective. Not only did we pack these tripods into the backs of our cars and backpacks, but we set them up on uneven terrain in a variety of conditions, including wind, sand, rain, and sun. We timed how long each took to set up and take down. We note special features and see how easily we can set them up in different configurations. After over 25 hours of hands-on testing over a few weeks, we rate each across important metrics to figure out which have the best performance.
Analysis and Test Results
When looking at the selection, we focused on tripods with full extension, designed for DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras. All have a screw for an iPhone adaptor, but they aren't specific for iPhones. After testing each hands-on, we rated each design across important metrics that we discuss. Take a look to learn more about how each performs comparatively.
Ease of Use
When looking at ease of use, consider a few different variables. 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. Using all these variables, we can assess which is easiest to use and which simply take too much time to make adjustments and/or set up.
Timed Set Up
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 and aren't as fast as flip locks. The Vanguard twist locks are by far the best design, with the Manfrotto Aluminum 4 Section have the best flip locks on the market.
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 Amazon Basics models could be set up in 18 seconds alongside the Yo Tilan DSLR. The Manfrotto Aluminum 4 Section was set up in a mere 15 seconds. 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 setup 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 Amazon Basics 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 takedown with ease.
Adjusting Angles and Camera Attachment
Adjusting angles, panning, and attaching the camera is incredibly important when using a tripod in the field. The models 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 Manfrotto Aluminum 4 Section because it has one simple knob and a button that adjusts most angles on the tripod.
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 and the TYCKA Rangers.
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, which 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 Amazon Basics 60-Inch. The Amazon Basics 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 product tested is the Vanguard Altra Pro 2+. Of all tested, it's 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. The Manfrotto Aluminum 4 Section comes in second. When vibrating them both at the base, the Vanguard took under two seconds to find stability at top height, while the Manfrotto Alumunium 4 section took almost six seconds! Other lighter and less stable contenders took even more time. At the regular height, both had similar stability performance.
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 Amazon Basics 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 it 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. The Manfrotto Aluminum 4 Section also offers excellent versatility, but the center post can't be removed, nor can it be flipped upside. The Vanguard also has more panning and adjustment options to capture numerous angles.
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 it 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 their portability. Even though the Amazon Basics Lightweight 50-Inch (one pound, 3.4 ounces) 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 Amazon Basics Lightweight 60-Inch (one pound, 11.40 ounces) 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+ (five pounds, 5.05 ounces) didn't score as well in this category. Of the mid-weight options, the Manfrotto Aluminum 4 Section is able to condense to just 19 inches, whereas the Vanguard is a touch bit longer. However, all models are great options if you just need to put them into 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 the materials used, which showed lackluster performance after a few uses.
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 heavier ones. Those that use plastics that are thin, like the Amazon Basics 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.
As you search for your next tripod, you'll be sure to come across many different reviews. Know that ours are unbiased and designed to give you the best recommendations. While we all have different needs with the plethora of cameras out there, we hope to steer you in the right direction to find the best tripod for your needs.
— Amber King