Do you still use a tripod? That seems to be a more common question these days and it got me thinking about the “lowly” tripod and it’s history and how I feel it is still an important aspect of photography.
Tripods have been around since the beginning of photography. Back in the day, the cameras were massive and impossible to handhold, along with incredibly slow shutter speeds. A tripod was mandatory to take a reasonably sharp picture. Even as technology progressed, a tripod continued to be a mandatory piece of kit for every “serious” photographer. For a film photographer, the film quality and technology meant that it was highly desirable to shoot at the lowest ISO to prevent as much noise as possible from being introduced to the image. Even as films improved, it still wasn’t outstanding at higher ISO’s, so yep, grab the tripod and shoot at the lowest ISO and typically corresponding long shutter speed.
As digital cameras came in to being, tripods came right along with them. The early cameras were noisy and photographers worked at the lowest ISOs/shutter speeds to reduce as much noise as possible in the file. To do that, it was standard practice to always use a tripod. The use of tripod, whether it was a holdover from the film days, or just because it was the “right” thing to do to achieve the ultimate in sharpness in an image, continued alongside developments in digital technology.
The tripod business is still huge and continues to bring technological and material innovation to their products. Tripods have progressed from wood, to aluminum, to carbon fiber, incorporating engineered bullheads and clamping mechanisms made of aluminum, magnesium or some mix of un-obtanium. Stronger, lighter, more stable, easier to use…..great improvements in tripods have come about in the last 15 years, but is it enough?
Which all brings me to the present day……..have we reached a point in digital camera technology where tripods are now optional or obsolete? Camera technology is so good at reducing noise at higher ISO’s that many shots that were only possible on a tripod are now possible shooting hand held. Granted, there are still situations where a tripod is mandatory, like shooting during the very low light of blue hours or shooting star trails. But otherwise, we can achieve outstanding results with our modern cameras without using a tripod. Shooting above ISO 400 was considered a no-no not that many years ago. Now, we can regularly shoot at Iso 1600, 3200 and beyond and get great quality files out of the cameras. Plus, advances in noise reduction filters in post processing means that we can clean up even noisy shots and make them presentable. Some argue that tripods can slow you down, it’s another thing to carry, can “fix” you in one spot and limit your movements to get just the right angle. All true in my opinion. However, they can slow you down so you think about your shot, they allow you to shoot at the lowest ISO possible to get the cleanest file possible in camera and they reduce chances of blurring the image.
In fact, before our recent workshop to photograph bears in Alaska, my partner was seriously contemplating not bringing a tripod, he was that impressed with the high-ISO capability of his Fujifilm cameras. I was a bit shocked by this discussion because it has been ingrained in me to always shoot with a tripod, but once I stepped back from history and my own perceptions, his argument did make some good sense. In the end, both he and I brought our tripods to Alaska.
For myself, I forsee continuing to use a tripod for many years to come. I value the stability that they bring, despite technology advancements in noise reduction, I still strive to shoot at the lowest ISO possible, and I really value how a tripod causes me to slow down and think about my compositions (instead of firing a machine gun burst of frames)
What about you? Do you still tripod?