Landscape photography is one of the few genres where photographers use a tripod for almost every photo they take. Even in the daytime, when hand-holding is possible, some landscape photographers still use a tripod!
Why? Because a reliable tripod doesn’t just help you get sharp photos in low-light, it also helps you frame your shot with much more precision, and it allows you to use special techniques such as focus stacking or exposure bracketing.
So, if you’re into landscape or outdoor/nature photography, you really must own a tripod. Which one should you get? Unfortunately, as soon as you ask this question, everybody will recommend literally every tripod ever made, it seems.
Don’t listen to those unhelpful, confusing recommendations! Instead of blindly buying a tripod from a brand you never heard, in this article we are going to teach you what makes a good tripod, and what might not make such a good investment.
HINT: You don’t need to spend a ton of money, however, you also don’t want to buy junk. This might seem contradictory, but thankfully there are plenty of great tripods to fit any price range and any type of need.
What Is The Best Tripod For Landscape Photography?
First, before we go any further, this needs to be said: For most photographers’ needs and budget, the best tripod for landscapes is NOT an expensive, exotic one.
The best tripod for landscape photography is a big ol’ heavy brick of an indestructible tripod from the 80’s or 90’s. Why? Because they’re strong and durable, in fact they’re virtually indestructible if you take good care of them, and what’s more, they don’t cost very much these days, because everybody is too busy buying cheap junk.
[Related Reading: The Best Tripods of 2019 According to SLR Lounge]
So, before we dive deeper into this article and start mentioning tripods that cost $300, $600, or over $1000, just keep this one bit of timeless advice in mind, in case those figures are out of your budget…
If you don’t have a very big budget, the best tripod you can buy for landscape photography is not a brand-new “cheapo” one from a name you never heard. The best tripod is an old, heavy-duty one from a tried-and-true brand name. They’re affordable, strong, and will last a lifetime.
Someday you may upgrade to a more expensive, fancy tripod, but at least your investment in an “indestructible” tripod today will not go to waste; instead of having a cheap tripod that you throw away because it broke, you’ll always have a “beater” tripod that you can just leave in the trunk of your car, use on the beach, in a river, or when you go on a trip to the sand dunes. This practice will lengthen the life of your expensive tripod, and a quick rinse-off in the shower will still ensure that your old beat-up tripod lasts forever.
Twist Lock VS Lever Lock Tripod Leg Joints
Everybody shopping for a tripod wants to know; which is better- twist-locks, or flip-lock/lever-lock leg extension joints? Here’s the not-so-surprising answer:
If you’re getting a good quality tripod from a reputable brand name, both types of leg locks are good. But, if you get a cheap quality tripod from an unknown or very new brand, then either type of leg lock could fail and potentially destroy your camera gear. Are you seeing a trend? Don’t buy a cheap tripod.
Twist-lock tripod legs are the more popular style with serious landscape photography tripods, but lever-lock joints are fine too; some people just prefer one or the other.
Tripod Leg Sections… 3? 4? 5?
The real important thing to be aware of is not the type of leg locks, but the NUMBER of leg locks! In this article, we are almost exclusively recommending 3-section and 4-section tripods. This is because in almost every case, 5-section (4 locks per leg) tripods are just significantly more wobbly and less reliable.
If you want a tiny, portable tripod, you can still find a very compact one that has only 4 sections, or 3 locks, per leg. The only exception to this rule is the Peak Design Travel Tripod, because its unique design is so extremely compact, and yet it is still decently tall, and stiff enough for most lightweight, compact camera kits.
Aluminum Versus Carbon Fiber
Before we get into actual recommendations, let’s clear up one more thing: Which is better, aluminum or carbon fiber?
You might think the only advantage of CF (carbon fiber) is that it’s more lightweight than metal materials. That is true, however, carbon fiber also offers a few other advantages that are just as important!
The biggest thing is that carbon fiber offers greater stiffness characteristics. In other words, despite being lighter, a carbon fiber tripod will actually be stronger and stiffer than an aluminum one! This means that carbon fiber could literally make your pictures sharper, especially if you shoot in slightly breezy or windy conditions.
Additionally, as a matter of comfort, carbon fiber doesn’t get as ice-cold as metal does, if you frequently shoot in freezing cold conditions. This is one really nice perk that can’t be fully expressed in words, but if you do a lot of hiking or walking with your tripod in your hands, in winter conditions, then CF is a real treat.
Lastly, CF does have one slight drawback- it’s not as impervious to aggressive abuse as aluminum alloys are. If you do a lot of rock scrambling in the mountains, then dragging your tripod legs across sharp objects can do some visible damage. It usually isn’t extensive enough to actually compromise the strength of the tripod, but an aluminum tripod can be just a little more impervious to heavy abuse. (True story: I once used an aluminum tripod with its spiked feet to carve out a snow shelter! My hands were cold, but my tripod survived ice axe duty…)
Carbon Fiber vs Aluminum – Not All CF Is Created Equal
One more thing to remember is that, once again, there is no substitute for a good quality product. In other words, if you’re on a budget, and you can afford a generic, no-name brand CF tripod, or a good reputable brand’s aluminum model, …go with the name-brand aluminum tripod every time! The low-quality CF tripod will be more wobbly, and less durable overall, than the name-brand tripod.
Best Landscape Photography Tripods: Under $200
If you only have $100-200 to spend, again, we cannot stress enough- in this price range, if you get something that looks exotic and fancy, from a brand you never heard, it will probably break in 6-12 months. Landscape photographers use their tripods all the time and in harsh conditions, so this price range is only good for one or two things- heavy old tripods that you find on eBay for $50-75, or a select few name brands that still offer affordable, durable options.
Our favorite heavy-duty tripod lineup in the sub-$200 price range is the Slik AMT lineup. This is one of the few designs that hasn’t changed in forever, and yet you can still buy a brand-new set of Slik AMT 700DX legs for $99.
- Slik Pro AMT 700 DX, 500 DX ($89-99)
- 3 Legged Thing – Travis ($179)
- Manfrotto BeFree Advanced Aluminum ($158-189)
NOTE? Trying to find a complete tripod and head for under $100? Just DON’T. Think of it this way: Your camera is probably worth $1,000-3,000, and your lens might be worth almost the same amount. Don’t risk smashing thousands of dollars worth of gear on a rock, just because you couldn’t afford to invest an extra $100 in your camera’s support system. Up your budget, and get something that won’t fail catastrophically.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, don’t leave your tripod un-attended in strong winds, either, because even the best tripods can’t save you from your own human mistakes!
Best Landscape Photography Tripods: $200-500
Okay, now that we’ve cleared things up regarding affordable tripods, let’s talk about some of the tripods that a landscape photographer might invest in if they have a little bit more money, or upgrade to if they want something more lightweight than that big ‘ol boat anchor they got on eBay.
Thankfully, there are quite a few brand names that make good quality products in this price range. You won’t be able to afford the truly exotic brand names yet, but that’s OK, these tripods will last a very long time if you take good care of them, and they’ll offer a fantastic balance of strength, height, and portability.
Slik Pro CF Tripods
Once you start getting towards the ~$300 price range, there are a ton of different brands of tripods available. Unfortunately, many of them are very new brands, or completely unknown or fake products. Why trust a $300 fake of a more expensive brand, when you can get a “legit” tripod from a name brand?
Slik is one of the oldest brands around, and their tripod designs are some of the most tried-and-true (and most copied/faked) on the market. And yet, their prices have remained affordable. Their tried-and-true quality is an unmatched overall value.
Feisol CF Tournament Tripods
Feisol is a newer brand that isn’t just doing the copycat thing; their tripods are some of the lightest and strongest on the market. Somehow, they manage to be decently tall, ultra-strong, and yet their Tournament series in particular only weighs ~2.4 lbs and only costs about $400. If you want to only ever invest in one tripod. just save up and get one of these!
3-Legged Thing Tripods
- 3 Legged Thing Billy Carbon Fiber ($246-279)
- 3 Legged Thing Winston ($379) / Carbon Fiber ($479)
- 3 Legged Thing Mike Carbon Fiber ($549)
3 Legged Thing is another one of the relatively new brands that isn’t just creaking “fakes” of other tripod designs. Their unique designs are very good quality, presenting another good value. They’re also the only tripod on our recommendation list that comes in different colors, if you like flashy things.
Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Fiber Tripods
- Manfrotto BeFree Advanced Aluminum ($158-189)
- Manfrotto BeFree GT XPRO Aluminum ($269)
- Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Fiber ($293)
- Manfrotto Befree GT XPRO Carbon Fiber ($429)
Manfrotto is a brand that has been around for a very long time, however, over the years their various models of tripods haven’t always been the most reliable quality, especially the more affordable ones.
Lately, they have upped their overall quality in every regard, and their latest Befree models are impressive. They come in both CF and Aluminum, as well as both twist-lock and lever-lock legs, which no other brand currently offers. Lastly, with their GT XPRO models, Manfrotto offers their unique horizontal center column option. It’s not the most stable setup, but it’s extremely useful if you do a lot of macro and close-up landscape work.
Best Landscape Photography Tripods: $500+
Let’s be honest- spending this much money on a tripod is NOT an absolute requirement. It’s like buying yourself the Rolex (or, in some cases, the Patek Philippe) of tripods. Do you really need it? No. But, is it still the best that money can buy? Yes, absolutely.
Of course they’re a little bit more durable, and a little bit stiffer/stronger. However, you’re more likely to get sharper photos by simply having impeccable technique with a $300-400 tripod, than shooting “sloppy” with a $1,000-1,500 tripod.
Landscape photography definitely has “tripod aficionados”, though, just like how some people can appreciate a really good watch, car, wine, or cigar…you get the idea. In other words, if you appreciate truly fine craftsmanship, a a luxurious user experience, and overall level of performance and reliability, then yes, these brands are absolutely worth every penny.
Gitzo – Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripods
- Gitzo Systematic Series 3 ($847-899)
- Gitzo Systematic Series 4 ($955-1029)
- Gitzo Systematic Series 5 ($949-1499)
For those who want some of the stiffest tripods around, the Gitzo Systematic tripods offer a large, flat platform for mounting your ballhead directly, instead of a center column. To make up for this, some of the Systematic tripods offer longer legs and extra leg sections, without compromising much on overall leg stiffness, allowing them to be very tall.
Gitzo – Mountaineer Carbon Fiber Tripods
- Gitzo GIGIT1545T Traveler ($573)
- Gitzo GT0532, GT2542, GT1542, GT1532,
GT0542, GT2532, GT2543, GT3532, GT3542 ($613-978)
If you want Gitzo’s quality craftsmanship but you’re on a bit more of a weight and/or price budget, the Mountaineer series is the slightly lighter, more compact sibling to the Systematic line. These tripods have center columns, but their overall stiffness is still incredible.
Really Right Stuff – Series 1-3 & Versa Carbon Fiber Tripods ($835-1,555)
- Really Right Stuff TFC-14, TFC-23, TFC-24, TFC-34 ($835-1,115)
- Really Right stuff TVC-23, TVC-24, TVC-33, TVC-34, TVC-43, TVC-44, TVC-45 ($1160-1,555)
Really Right Stuff has been around for quite a while now, and they epitomize the next generation of high-end, high-quality camera support equipment. They’re also one of the few brands that offers both highly recommended legs and heads, although adding a RRS ball head to your legs can cost hundreds of dollars more. The below recommendations are for legs only; we’ll get to ball head recommendations later.
Best Lightweight Tripod For Adventure & Travel Photography
Last but not least, what if you actually want a tripod that only weighs 2-3 lbs? While “travel tripods” aren’t exactly the best choice for serious landscape photography, sometimes they are required. If you plan to climb mountains or hike many miles, but still want to do serious landscape photography, then be forewarned: these tripods are much more delicate, and although they are good quality, they can’t be heavily abused, and they will be barely usable in a strong wind.
Best Lightweight Tripod: Under $200
If you’re on a budget and you have just $100-200 to spend, be very careful when shopping for a lightweight travel tripod. Simply put, most of them are terrible quality, wobbly, and short. So, you’ll put your camera at serious risk of being destroyed if/when the tripod fails.
This is the only time we are going to recommend a few tripods that include heads, and cost less than $100. NOTE, HOWEVER: The heads that come with these ultralight tripods are not very strong! You will likely want to replace the stock heads with aftermarket ballheads; see below for a section on ultralight ballheads.
ANOTHER NOTE: even if you buy one of these recommended tripods that you can trust to be sturdy for many years, you are still at significantly greater risk of your tripod tipping over in even a light breeze, because a big camera on top of a 2-lb tripod is like a sail in the wind. Never leave your ultralight tripod un-attended, and for maximum stability/safety, use a tie-down cord to secure your center column to something heavy, or even a rock on the ground beneath you!
Best Lightweight Tripod: $200+
If you want a sub-3-lb (1.3kg) tripod, but you have just a little bit more money to spend, then you’re going to get a lot stiffer, stronger, and durable tripod. However, as they are still in the ultra-light category, you’ll still want to be careful- don’t leave your camera unattended, a gust of wind could easily knock it over!
- Slik Lite CF-422 ($329)
- Slik Pro CF-600 Series ($197-227)
- Feisol Tournament CT-3422/3342 ($409-419)
- Gitzo Mountaineer GT0532 ($613)
NOTE: That Feisol Tournament may only weigh 2.4 lbs (~1kg), however, it deserves its spot in the “heavy-duty” tripod category because it is just incredibly strong and durable. That is why you’re seeing it listed twice. Even the $600 Gitzo doesn’t offer the same type of platform w/o a center column.
Travel Tripods – Lightweight, compact, or both?
When it comes to travel tripods, there are two groups of photographers- those who only care about the weight, and don’t necessarily need a “tiny” collapsed size, …and those who need a tripod to be both lightweight and as small as possible.
If you’re in this second category, you get a special recommendation. Why? Because too many travel tripods either don’t collapse to truly “small”, or if they do, they are wobbly and very short when fully extended. There is only ONE tripod that collapses to truly “tiny”, weighs less than 3 lbs (1.3kg), and yet is still decently tall when fully extended.
That tripod is the Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod ($599). It is as pricey as a Gitzo Mountaineer/Traveler, (and not as stiff,) however, its unique design allows it to be far more compact than any other tripod on the market that can extend to ~60″.
The Best Ball Heads For Landscape Photography
So, unfortunately many of the tripods that we just recommended come without a head. For landscape photographers, however, it is very common to buy tripod legs and heads separately, because both are such a specific matter of personal preference.
Here are our recommendations for good quality ball heads that should last quite a while, in the various price ranges you might have. We are going to organize them by their overall strength, not price, because it’s very important to get the right type of head for the weight of camera+lens that you’re going to put on it, even if you have to spend a little more money.
Ball Head & Tripod Weight Ratings (Load Capacity)
NOTE: Just like tripod legs, all ball heads have a rated load capacity. In our experience, this number can be very misleading. Most camera setups these days only weigh 2-4 lbs (0.9-1.8kg) total, and yet tripods and ball heads have ratings from 5-50+ lbs (2.2-22 kg)!
What’s the point, if you don’t have 25-50 lbs worth of camera/lens to support? The point is, these numbers should only be used as a generalized representation of how stiff and strong the setup is. Even if your camera only weighs 5 lbs or less, having a ball head that can support 50 lbs will give you much sharper images in light winds, and especially at telephoto focal lengths.
On the other hand, lightweight travel tripod ball heads can still support very heavy loads, but they will take longer to settle, (use shutter delay/timer mode!) …and your telephoto shots could all be ruined in a light wind.
Lastly, some companies give very conservative estimates, while others are more than generous. We have categorized these ballheads based on their ACTUAL ability to hold a camera strongly, not based in their potentially misleading load capacity rating.
Heavy-Duty Landscape Tripod Ball Heads
- Oben BC-126 ($129)
- Feisol CB-40D ($145)
- Oben BC-139 ($149)
- Oben BC-166 ($169)
- Really Right Stuff BH-40 ($370+)
- Acca Swiss MonoBall Z1 ($380+)
- Kirk BH-1 ($385)
- Markins Q-Ball $420+)
- Really Right Stuff BH-55 ($490+)
Every landscape photographer should own at least one heavy-duty ball head, to go on your heavy-duty tripod legs, for any type of photography you might be doing close to your home or car etc. These may be overkill for some camera & lens setups, but that’s OK, it just means more rock-solid stability!
Medium-Duty Landscape Tripod Ball Heads
- Oben BE-117 ($84)
- Manfrotto 496 ($99)
- 3 Legged Thing AirHead Pro ($149)
- Induro BHD1 ($180)
- Really Right Stuff BH-30 ($260+)
In this range, there are plenty of good quality ball heads, but there are also innumerable options with rather poor quality. Stick to these recommendations to get the best value for your investment.
Lightweight Travel Tripod Ball Heads
- Field Optics Research FBH-35D ($47)
- Oben BE-108 ($69)
- 3 Legged Thing AirHead Neo ($79)
- Really Right Stuff BH-25 ($155+)
If you’re a serious landscape photographer, then these ball heads shouldn’t be the first head you buy. In fact, they should only be on your radar if you do a lot of hiking and you need a tripod in the 2-3 lb (0.9-1.3 kg) range. Yes, these heads can support most full-frame camera bodies and even big heavy fully-frame lenses. However, you’ll be cutting it very close, and if there is the slightest breeze you can kiss your telephoto images’ sharpness goodbye.
Conclusion – Landscape Photography Tripods
In landscape photography, a tripod is by far the most useful accessory you can buy. In fact, I would rather have a great quality tripod that I can trust, more than the best camera or lens. Otherwise, you never know when a cheap tripod might break, and your low-budget investment could destroy your camera and/or lens.
So, if you do any type of low-light photography, then you should definitely get yourself a strong, stable tripod. However, even if you shoot mostly in brighter conditions, and could possibly get away with hand-holding, a tripod still helps with achieving a perfectly framed composition, among other things. Just remember, regardless of your budget, there is a tripod out there you can get that will serve you well.