A tripod plays a big part in what makes a smartphone photo look good. If you’re looking to invest in one for your smartphone, then you probably know that already.
The problem is there are just too many options to choose from. The various sizes, designs, functions, and features make it difficult to decide which one to get.
In this article, we’ll look at four common types of tripod you can find. I’ll discuss each of them in detail, as well as highlight some of their advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s jump right in…
Most tripods that are available have telescoping legs, which means that they’re extendable. The legs are divided into sections, each slightly bigger or smaller than the other. These sections extend or retract to adjust the height of the tripod. The more sections the legs have, the more they can be extended.
The legs also have a locking mechanism. Engaging the leg locks will keep the tripod at the set height.
Some tripods have a centre column that can extend from the chassis where the legs connect to add extra height. A hook can be found at the bottom of the centre column, so you can add weights to hold the tripod in place.
This particular type of tripod is useful for things like landscape photography, time-lapses, long exposures, and portrait shots including self-portraits.
Pros: You can adjust the height. Can be very steady. Folds easily for travel and storage.
Cons: Extending the legs or centre column too high can compromise stability.
As the name suggests, the distinguishing feature of this tripod is its small stature. Depending on the design, mini tripods can be anywhere between about 10cm (~4 in) to roughly 50cm (~20 in) in height when in use.
These tripods usually have no centre column and only single section legs, which means they cannot extend. However, it is not unusual to find mini tripods with telescoping legs.
And although they don’t commonly have centre columns, some mini tripods have a detachable one that can be attached to add height.
Mini tripods are also known as table-top tripods. This is because they are often placed on tables or other elevated surfaces. They work great for things like vlogging and travel photography.
Pros: Small and lightweight. Easy to carry around. Some can support the weight of a DSLR camera.
Cons: Limited height. Attaching a centre column can compromise stability.
Flexible tripods, in my opinion, are a sub-category of mini tripods but can stand on their own (excuse the pun) due to their uniqueness. What makes these tripods special is the fact that their legs can twist and bend.
With flexible tripods, versatility is the name of the game. Not only can you bend and twist the legs around trees and poles, but you can also position this tripod anywhere you can wrap its legs around.
You can even bend the legs for use as a selfie stick or hand stabiliser.
Because of their small size, flexible tripods are portable and therefore great for travelling. Their use is very similar to that of the mini tripod but it’s their versatility that puts them a step above.
Just think of all the unique angles you can get from positioning the tripod in interesting places.
Pros: Small yet steady. Very robust and versatile. Opens up unique shot opportunities.
Cons: Can be very limiting if there’s nothing around to wrap the legs around.
Overhead tripods are the least common type of tripod because their function is so specialised. The legs of these tripods are no different from the normal telescoping legs of the adjustable tripod. The main difference is in the centre column.
Where regular tripods may have a centre column that extends upwards to add extra height, the centre column in overhead tripods lies horizontally and serves as a lateral arm.
Add-on lateral arms are available for tripods that don’t have a centre column that can double as one.
Mounting your smartphone at the end of the lateral arm makes this the perfect tripod for food photography, product photography, or any shot that needs to be taken from directly above.
Pros: Provides a unique angle. Frees your hands so you can monitor and set up your shots.
Cons: Centre of gravity may shift and tip the tripod over. May need counter-weights.
Should you invest in a pre-assembled tripod kit or buy the parts separately?
When buying a tripod, you have an option of getting one that is pre-assembled with all the parts or you can buy each part separately and assemble the tripod yourself.
To help you understand all the different parts of a tripod and how they come together, I have written a very detailed guide that you can learn from here. Be sure to check it out.
The benefit of buying the parts separately is that you can build a tripod unit that suits you perfectly.
For professional photographers using larger cameras, this is a big deal. They can get a tripod head that can support the weight of the camera and lens, as well as legs of their preferred material and locking systems.
Because smartphones aren’t as heavy as regular cameras, a pre-assembled tripod kit can work just fine for mobile photography in everyday situations.
Of course, the choice is yours, should you need to assemble a more rugged and sturdier tripod to suit your needs.
For you to be able to attach your smartphone to a tripod, you’ll need a smartphone mount. Some tripods come with one, but most of the times you’ll need to buy it separately.
Because this is the part that holds the phone, make sure you get a reliable, good-quality smartphone mount that is the right fit for your phone.
Whatever type of photos you wish to take, there’s a tripod that can help you get the best shots possible. You need to make sure you pick the right one that suits your needs before you make a purchase.
Once you’ve figured that out, you’re ready to take your smartphone photography game to another level.
If you’re looking for something other than a tripod to support your phone, check these alternative smartphone camera support options.