Besides your camera, there is a range of additional equipment that you may or may not need to help you get the good photographs you want. DSLRs, being the most expandable system, naturally have a wider range of accessories available – but compact and bridge cameras can also benefit from various add-on items.
The information on this page is intended to help you choose the equipment you need – it suggests features that you may want to look out for, and possible compromises that you may need to make when selecting a product.
A tripod is a valuable, if not essential, addition to any enthusiastic photographer’s collection. It allows the camera to be held absolutely steady when taking photographs that would otherwise be blurred by camera-shake, and it also allows hands-free photography where you want to take photos of yourself.
A huge variety of tripods are available, with a corresponding variety of price points. Cheap table-top tripods are suitable for small cameras, and can help when shooting close-up ‘still life’ photos, self-portraits, etc. They may not take the weight of a DSLR with its heavier lens, particularly an extended zoom lens – check the product description for a weight limit. If you have a DSLR with a separate wireless flash unit then a small tripod can be a handy way to mount the flash and position it where you want it. Some tripods are made with flexible rubberised legs that can grip onto railings, branches, etc – this can also be a very handy way to mount a flash.
Larger, full-sized tripods come at a range of prices – generally the more robust the tripod the more expensive it will be. They may come with a mounting point for your camera, but many require a separate head to be attached so that you can pan or tilt the camera. Features to check when buying a tripod include:
Maximum height fully extended – if you are tall, it may be awkward to have to stoop to look through your DSLR’s viewfinder when it is mounted on too short a tripod. Bear in mind that a fully extended tripod will be less stable, since the central column is unbraced and can flex or oscillate if it is not sturdy enough.
Locking system – ideally the leg sections should be quick and easy to lock or unlock, but should be completely rigid when locked. The central column should similarly be able to lock firmly at a range of heights.
Size when legs retracted – a more compact tripod may be easier to carry. But beware that increasing the number of leg sections means more possibility of flexing when extended if the locking mechanism is less than perfect.
Weight – this is an important consideration. A heavier tripod will be much more stable than a lightweight one, particularly when supporting a DSLR with a heavy lens. However you will need to be able to comfortably carry the tripod and all your other equipment, so there is a trade-off of weight against portability. A heavy-duty tripod is also likely to be more expensive. Some tripods allow you to hang a weight (such as your camera bag) from the bottom of the central column to increase stability.
Reversible central column – for taking low-level shots such as macro photographs of plants, it is useful to be able to mount the camera upside down on the bottom of the central column. Some tripods allow you to do this more easily than others. Some do not allow it, and some do not have a central column at all.
Camera mounting device – does the tripod come with a tilt/pan or ball head, or will you have to purchase one separately?
Just as with tripods, there is a wide variety of tripod heads available. The head needs to be attached to the top of the tripod, and the camera attached to the head. Usually there will be a separate plate that is screwed to the mounting point at the base of the camera, and the plate then snaps into the head using a proprietary mechanism, allowing for quick mounting and dismounting of the camera. It is important to have a head that is rated for the weight of the camera and lens, otherwise it may not be able to lock the camera in position at certain angles.
Some tripod heads are designed more for video use, allowing tilt (up/down) and pan (left/right) positioning controlled with a single handle that can be twisted to lock or unlock the head. Greater flexibility is achieved with a ball head, which has a ball and socket arrangement that also allows the camera to be rotated between landscape and portrait modes, or anywhere in between. Initially it can seem awkward to use a ball head but the flexibility is often worth having.