RRS tripod lineup.

Choosing a Tripod: Part II

TQC-14, TVC-23, TVC-33

In Part I we covered the selection of the appropriate tripod series, which in the Really Right Stuff tripod line leaves you with up to 3 choices of models that vary in size. We’ll now cover the finer points of choosing a tripod within that series, by identifying limitations and priorities for what the tripod needs to do.

We’ll approach this first with the most common considerations, and then potential restraints and restrictions that might change the best available option. Finally, we’ll cover some of the most common scenarios and the recommendations we make for those photographers.

Key Considerations
Height = Versatility

The first question you will usually hear about a tripod is “How tall does it get?”. And for good reason – the tripod is used, first and foremost, to position the camera where it needs to be for a given composition. We believe this versatility should extend well beyond your own height and is a primary consideration when choosing a tripod.

The tallest tripod possible gives the most options for positioning your camera.

RRS Tripod height comparison chart.
In general the composition dictates the height of the camera, and aside from being completely out of reach of hands and eyes, there is utility to be found in every inch of available extension. Relating the height of the tripod to your own height is a useful guide, as it’s better to choose a tripod that can easily reach a comfortable standing shooting position. Keep in mind that there are plenty of situations where having the camera above your head may be very advantageous, and it’s important that your camera be just as stable in these situations:

  • Uneven Terrain – whether indoors or outdoors, any sort of uneven surface will require at least one leg of the tripod to extend below where the shooter stands. This extension essentially robs height from the tripod if the legs are already at their maximum extension for that camera height on a level surface. Having height in reserve prevents this compromise.
  • Shooting up – when pointing upwards at extreme angles on a tripod, the camera viewfinder may drop below the head, and require approaching from below. Shooting stars and sky or birds in flight are just a couple of examples.
  • Shooting down – A taller tripod, thanks to the leg geometry, has more space between its legs to stand over objects and surfaces to gain a top-down perspective. Products, food, and macro photography of all kinds can benefit from this capability.
  • Shooting over obstacles – fences, crowds, that annoyingly-placed sign – there are many times when you might need to get higher (or lower, for that matter) to keep an undesired object out of your composition. Standing on available objects can allow you access to the camera.

Generally, these considerations would mean selecting the tallest tripod of the series, which is currently the TVC-34L (68.5″/177cm) or TVC-24L (66.8″/170cm).

3 vs 4 Sections

This brings us to another very common question: “Should I avoid a 4-section leg in favor of 3?”. In the broad sense, the answer is yes, especially for a smaller tripod. The thinner leg section that can exist at the bottom of that leg can reduce the overall vibration damping capability, and the extra leg joint creates another point of potential flex. Thanks to the “big and thin” tubes of Really Right Stuff tripods, we find these differences are very small and often negligible in terms of their effect on image quality.

Tripod leg section comparison.

3 Leg Sections or 4 Leg Sections

With RRS ‘Pods, a 4-section leg is nearly as stable as a similar 3-section.

Because our carbon-fiber is so much stiffer than the average leg, even our TQC-14, with a relatively thin 4th section, manages to be as stable as other 3-section tripods of the same series. We haven’t been able to see a discernible difference in image quality from that comparison within the Really Right Stuff tripod line. The advantages of a four section leg in terms of collapsing smaller vastly outweigh any difference there.

A 4-section tripod can be taller while collapsing to the same length.

The best example of this comparing our TVC-24L to the TVC-23. Both tripods collapse to roughly the same length – about 23.5″, but the TVC-24L manages to be 14 inches taller thanks to its 4-section “long” design. This means you have a much more versatile tool of the same stability fitting in the same space for packing, and the only penalty is about 0.5 pounds of extra weight. For many, the TVC-24L is the easy choice in that comparison.

On the other hand, a 4-section model can also allow you to have a much more compact folded dimension while extending to roughly the same height. For example, TVC-24 (not the “L” model) is about 5″ shorter when collapsed than the TVC-23, and that 18.7 inch length makes it very friendly for packing within bags, including those approved for airline carry-on.

A 4-section tripod can collapse smaller while extending to the same height.

With the TVC-24 and TVC-23 within a few inches of each other in extended height, the TVC-24 becomes the best choice for those needing a go-anywhere tripod option.

Travelling With Your Tripod

If you plan on travelling by air with your photography equipment, you have the option of packing your tripod in either checked or carry-on luggage. The primary point of scrutiny is the collapsed length of the tripod, but the depth of the bag can come into play as well when you consider what else may need to be packed along with the tripod.

Our tripods are some of the most durable on the market, able to withstand hundreds of pounds of crush force at a single point. You may still wish to protect it from rough handling or loss by keeping it in the cabin within your carry-on bag. This gives a couple of options for tripod models, namely the TVC-24 and TQC-14.

Small 4-Section tripods are the most travel friendly, especially for carry-on.

While any of our models can easily fit within the checked bag limitations, having a more compact tripod leaves more breathing room within that bag, and can prevent the need for multiple bags. The TVC-33 tripod poses our largest collapsed dimension, measuring 26 inches long and 6″ at the wide (apex) end.

Real-World Examples

There are always factors specific to each photographer that may sway the decision in one direction or another. Considerations for multiple shooting styles or situations, multiple users, and frequency of special situations like travel all come into play. Below are just a few of the types of photographer we encounter most, and our usual recommendations. If one of these sounds like you, odds are that recommendation is the best option for you. If you need further assistance in making a tripod selection, feel free to contact our helpful Customer Service team!

Scenario A – The Weekend Warrior

  • Owner of a DSLR, consumer or “pro-sumer” level.
  • Uses lenses ranging from wide-angle to 70-200mm/f/2.8 sizes. May rent or borrow bigger glass on occasion
  • Shoots both indoors and outdoors.
  • Travels by car for most photography, probably wouldn’t bring all their photo gear on vacation.
  • Recommendation: TVC-24L

Scenario B – The Frequent Flyer

  • Owner of a DSLR, or compact “Mirrorless” camera system.
  • Uses lenses ranging from wide-angle to 70-200mm/f/2.8 sizes.
  • Travels by air frequently, does not check luggage, or prefers to have the tripod in a backpack on location.
  • Recommendation: TQC-14
    Alternative: If weight is of little concern, or lenses may exceed the 200mm mark, we may recommend the TVC-24.

Scenario C – The Studio Pro

  • Owner of a professional or “pro-sumer” level DLSR or digital medium-format system.
  • Uses lenses ranging from wide-angle to 500mm.
  • Shoots primarily in the studio, and occasionally on location.
  • May use the tripod for supporting video cameras and rigs (with need for a 75mm bowl adapter).
  • Recommendation: TVC-34L

Part III of Choosing a Tripod >>>

<<< Back to Part I

Article written by Jim Weise of Really Right Stuff

7 Comments

  1. Reagan Bradford says:

    Informative. Useful for the “pro-sumer”.
    Thanks.
    Reagan

  2. Todd says:

    Just received my TVC24 today, mated to my existing BH55 – a really great setup. I also ordered the center column and combined with the ball head puts the camera just a wee bit lower than eyesight (I’m 6’3″). Simply perfect. Just like every other RRS product I’ve purchased over the years. And it fits nice and neat in my carry on bag.

    Cheers,
    Todd

  3. Chris Kiez says:

    I have just received my TVC-34L. Its solid and well made no doubt, but two things leave me a bit cold; there’s no foam on the upper leg and no printed indices on the legs to assist in accurate play-out of the legs. Let me explain.

    On my monster carbon-basalt Velbon Geo 840, which the TVC-34L will replace, the Velbon legs have beautifully-printed white marker number indices. On tall tripods, you often don’t extend the upper leg, in particular, all the way out, or the tripod will be too tall. Having number indices are great, because I know that if I extend to “5″ on the upper leg of my Velbon, then the other legs–fully extended–will make the tripod at a point when my camera will mount perfectly at eye level every time. Now that I don’t have that feature on my new RRS tripod, I miss it.

    Also, the foam on the upper leg; even my RRS monopod has a foam grip. Foam-grip tripods and monopods are much better in cold weather in my experience, they generally take being dropped and battered about in the field better, and its nice to grip onto when setting the shot. It would be handy to have foam grip on the upper leg at this price point, but there may be a reason that RRS doesn’t do that, I don’t know.

    Finally, my Velbon had captive feet, but the rubber foot could screw up into the leg to reveal stainless spikes, or screw down to cover the spike, with never a foot lost.

    I know the owners manual suggests Loctite on the feet, but I would prefer a captive system. This is a preference and having both the round balls and the captive on my Velbon, I guess I just got spoiled.

    That all said, the RRS tripod is more rigid when open than my monster Velbon, has about twice the support capability and more apparant rigidity. Also, RRS gives the rock-solid guarantee that I can carry my DSLR and large lens over my shoulder with the RRS tripod/ball head set up is what fnially led me to buy the RRS system. It is beautifully made, no doubt, but those few things struck me when I began experimenting with it today.

    Anyways, I look forward to Loctiting the feet to the legs and getting out there to go to work!

    Love your products; I have a BH030 on my travelling Gitzo CF tripod, a RRS monopod and head, and now the big boy tripod and BH-50 head. Nice kit.

    Best,

    Chris

    • Jim @ RRS says:

      Greetings Chris,

      Thanks for taking the time to provide your feedback! We always appreciate it, and it’s a major reason why we are continuing our direct-to-customer business practice.

      A couple of points I’ll bring up about the tripods and why we designed them as they are:

      • Because the Versa tripods don’t have center columns, the ballhead mounts directly to the platform and get the camera level. There’s no need to worry about the apex or platform being level, and thus the even extension of the legs is a non-issue. Most of us can eyeball within 1″ of where we need it on the first try – I’d say that will be true of you after a few weeks as well. As someone who uses my tripod just like that – run the bottom sections out first and keep the top-most section in reserve – I can tell you it works great for me without any sort of markings. I’m not sure how Velbon mark theirs, but doing so on our CF tubes would be costly as well, provided it was a permanent enough mark to not rub off through use. When you also consider that eye level is just one position for the camera, and for most shooters not necessarily a common one, getting exactly to such a height is not a huge concern.
      • Having padding on the upper leg section is a very subjective point, and since our friends at Lens Coat offer after-market leg wraps to fit our tripods, we don’t want to force everyone to have such a feature if they don’t want it. I completely understand wanting to have it in cold weather – but here in California we like our tripods without puffy coats. The monopod has that foam rubber grip primarily because unlike a tripod, your hand must remain there to hold the monopod up – that is for grip and not padding.
      • Our tripod feet were meticulously designed for the best performance - combining the rubber feet with the spikes would result in too much compromise, and a loss of benefit to one or both purposes. The shape and size of the feet are optimized for their purpose, and so we want to preserve that. Of course this does mean interchanging them from time to time. I’ll usually put the spikes on when I know I’m headed to the coast – they do well in almost any terrain just like the rubber, but can drive into dirt/sand/mud.
  4. Chris Kiez says:

    Jim, thanks for taking the time to reply. One thing I will say about RRS is that the customer service and interaction with the client is second to none.

    I read through your points; I may disagree on some, but they are subjective design elements (to use or not to use foam padding, indices on the legs, etc) and ultimately, you can’t please everyone. I appreciate your taking the time to explain why these design features are as they are.

    Recently, a near-disaster with a non-RRS product lead me to finally say, “Enough already and get the RRS setup!” Too much money rides on the end of my tripods, and I don’t want to fight my equipment.

    My Gitzo 1542T and RRS BH-30 setup are a great travel pair, but not really enough tripod and head for heavy equipment use. My Velbon monster is a really good rig, but it tops out at 25 lbs in support, and I just wanted something that I could be 100% certain that if I put it over my shoulder, my camera and lens (assuming I attach things properly) would be safe, regardless of the loads I’m likely going to ever be able to afford; I hate outgrowing equipment, preferring to buy it right the first time and grow into it if needs be.

    Then there it was in the RRS catalog I recently was sent; describing the apex lock, the comment that made me buy the TVC-34L and Bh-50. Describing the apex build, its written, “Carry your tripod over your shoulder with complete confidence.”

    That was it. I was adding a RRS tripod to compliment my RRS monopod setup and the older BH-30 that’s been used on three different continents, from southern California to Asia.

    I’m looking at getting out this week when I have some time off work, and will be putting my new 34L to work. I’m very anxious to do so and to see how it performs.

    I’ll check lens Coat for the legs wraps, because we Canadians like our winter coats it seems. And one last thing; how nice to see the “Made in the USA” engraved on the underside of the apex lock. Also a large factor in choosing RRS for me was that its made entirely in the USA.

    Thanks,

    Chris

  5. Michael Noonan says:

    I have a question regarding the tripod recommendations based on lens focal length. Is the recommendation based on the actual FOV or on the weight of the lens at that focal length? For example, if I’m using a Canon 400mm/5.6 lens with a 2X extender, I’m at 800mm, but, far less weight than an actual 800mm lens. I’m trying to decide between the TVC-24L and TVC-34L. The Canon 70-200/2.8 IS USM II is my heaviest lens and I’m shooting with the Canon 5D3.

  6. RvB says:

    Hi,Is there any chance you could add the heights of the tripods when they have all legs extended,3 legs extended and finally 2 legs extended?

    I think it would give a better idea of how they function in different situations.

    Best

    Rob

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