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Best tripod for photography and video in 2021 – CNET

Thinking about getting a new tripod to take into the mountains to shoot glorious landscapes with your DSLR camera? Or maybe you’re a videographer looking to stabilize your shots on your next adventure. Whether you shoot stills or video, a camera tripod can be an essential bit of your kit, but finding the right one can be confusing, time-consuming and, let’s face it, dull.

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That’s why we’ve done all the hard work for you and picked our top camera tripod choices, whether you shoot landscapes, macro, stills, video, whatever. You’re welcome.

All the models on this best tripod list have been tested by us and each one individually picked as a great example of its category. We took into consideration factors like maximum height, the folded height, load capacity, the ease of using the tripod mount and so much more to ensure that we’re only including the best of the best. We’ll be updating this list over time as new models arrive and manufacturers update their ranges.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The 290 Xtra’s tall maximum operating height of 165 cm makes it great for wildlife photography or for landscape photographers who want to shoot at eye level, but its sturdy tripod build means it can also work well in studio. The carbon fiber legs keep the weight to only 3.4 pounds (1.43kg), without a tripod head attached.

Speaking of which, I tested the tripod with Manfrotto’s MH804-3W three-way head that uses different handles to control pan and tilt. I didn’t love it, though, as it can be difficult to make accurate adjustments — particularly when you’re trying to get your horizon absolutely straight. My advice? Pair the 290 Xtra with a ball head like the XPro ball head. You’ll have a lightweight, tall and sturdy tripod that’s well suited for most genres of photography.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

At only $50, the Manfrotto Compact Light is one of the cheapest full-size tripods money can buy. It has a ball head with a built-in screw thread (rather than a detachable plate), which can be fiddly to attach in the field, but it helps keep cost down. It’s a light and compact tripod, too, weighing only 1.8 pounds (840g), so it’s great for strapping onto a backpack and heading off to search for photo opportunities. 

The small ball head can’t take a lot of weight — it couldn’t support a 5D MkIV with 70-200mm lens, for example — but it’ll work well with smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras like the aforementioned Canon EOS M50 or a Fujifilm XT20. If you’re new to photography and looking to tentatively experiment with tripods, the low price of the Compact Light makes it a low-risk option to consider. It’s also well worth keeping in mind as a second tripod — perhaps for the YouTubers among you who want to set up an additional fixed camera for filming.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Peak Design is best known for its range of stylish camera backpacks, but it recently launched its first tripod. The Travel Tripod, as it’s known, is best for exactly what its name suggests: traveling. The carbon fiber version I tested weighs only 2.8 lbs (1.27kg) and packs down to only 15.4 inches (39.1cm) long, making this portable tripod easy to chuck in a backpack or camera bag. The aluminum tripod model weighs 3.4 lbs (1.5kg).

Its ball head is quick and easy to use, it’s sturdy enough to hold a Canon 5D MkIV DSLR with 24-70mm lens and it comes with its own grip so you can mount your phone on the tripod that tucks away inside the central column. It’s all extremely well thought-out and feels reassuringly sturdy — I certainly have no concerns about its ability to handle a rough-and-tumble life on the road.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Jay’s transforming design allows it to convert from full-size tripod to monopod in moments. Getting down low? Take each tripod leg off, add the optional feet and it becomes a tiny tabletop tripod. It has a leveling base that makes it quick to get a straight horizon, while its compact carbon fiber design makes it both exceptionally portable and an extremely lightweight tripod. 

We reviewed the Jay with the Cine video head, which makes the Jay perfectly suited for videographers wanting to shoot smooth panning shots. It happily supported our Canon 5D MkIV DSLR with 70-200mm lens, while the friction-free motion of the fluid head makes it easy to get buttery-smooth results. 

It doesn’t come cheap, but this is a real quality piece of kit that’s beautifully put together and will suit traveling pros and enthusiastic amateurs alike.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This tripod’s headline feature is its center column, which can tilt 90 degrees to a horizontal position. This aluminum tripod allows you to get your camera to only 9 cm above the ground and lets you shoot directly down, making it an extremely useful tool for macro photographers. Food photographers also will love getting those top-down shots of beautifully presented meals.

Its legs are easy to extend thanks to the twist lock design, the ball head held a Canon 5D Mk IV and 70-200mm lens without issue and its 4.4-pound (2kg) weight means it’s fairly easy to carry attached to a backpack.

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