As the previous articles I wrote the best that I can do for You is to provide a checklist of the most important things to consider.
Let us start with the most important: There is nothing more anoying than having the tripod fall over or getting unstable when tilting the tripod head so the camera is in an “portrait” position. The smallest and lightest tripods do reach this limit fairly quick. Some do however have one important feature that might save the day, a hook under the camera that allows you to hang i.e the camera bag to stabilize the gear.
Another important thing, specially when doing long exposure (night shots) is how the tripod legs perform. Some tripods have legs constructed in a way that they vibrate almost like a tuning fork and never really stop. This vibration is not easy to detect before being home on the pc screen, printing or enlarging the image. So when doing macro shots or night shots this may prevent you from ever taking the picture of a lifetime.
The tripod also gives you the ability to take pictures everywhere in any possition as supposed to using a rock or something else to make sure the camera is still.
Some tripods have additional support on bottom of the first section of the legs, others have the legs constructed in a way that this vibration will be zero or absolute minimum. Looking at really heavy duty tripods there are horisontal supports added to handle the weight and expectation of perfection in the image. In this post I will not explain the really heavy duty ones since that will be subject in a separate one.
So the first you need to find out are,and then which tripod you should buy:
Weight of your camera body + lens
If you would like to have a tripod best for video and/or macro shots.
Travelpattern, heavy tripod may contribute to extra fees when travelling with plane
There are a few versions of this, I will cover the most used one for Active/Family users.
Very easy to adjust, compact without any adjustment handles sticking too far out. This to me is a 1st choice of still photo, and if you get one with libelle (to ensure it is perfectly level) it will be good also for video (even though not the very best choice). The ball head is usually really easy to fine adjust and of that reason taking a 360 shot or doing video (paning) will be easy. If you want a still shot, tighten it really good, if you would like movie just loosen the handle for horisontal movement slightly.
More of a heavy duty choice and has funcions that really makes shooting videos with a DSLR a lot easier. The one on the image also has a sliding plate on the top. With the long handle it does have a very smooth panoramic function and i addition it has aids that will make you able to position it perfectly level.
Pan Tilt Head:
This choice have been around for generations and do carry heavier equipment and will make you control heavy equipment easier than the ballhead. The handles make you counterweigh the motion of the camera and lens, and may make for a smoother action. It also have a arm for panoramic movement. The cons on this version I do fint to be the weight and the possibility on shooting straight upwards (i.e the stem of a tree) since the arms may limit the motion.
Quick release plate:
Always recomended and probably not many tripod manufacturers that do not use one. However stay away from those without it.
This plate is attached to your camera or lens for a click-on click-off function and is a must. When you buy a tripod or tripod head make sure to get enough plates for the equipment that need it, having one plate to move between the gear is not a recomended option. If you only have one camera this is a easy choice, but remember that if you (or someone in the house) have a compact camera they may benefit from having a plate on that one as well.
Some Quick Release Plates have a sliding function that will make it a lot easier on macro shots and other kinds of photography with accuracy as a target. The plate simply makes it possible to slide the camera a few centimeters instead of having to re position the whole tripod.
Aluminum and Carbon are the winners in this choice and under normal use and handling they both work perfectly fine.
Carbon is a “dead” material and may have less of a problem with small vibrations however it may crack easier if put under stress (bent or knocked into things).
Aluminum will be a bit heavier than the carbon and this may have the effect that you do not need to weigh it down with something in order to keep it from falling over or standing still. The disadvantage would be that travelling on airplanes may cost more, or that it will add weight to a backpack when taking a hiking trip.
The prices will vary a lot depending on the choice of combination so your budget will set the final standard of what to get. However a proper tripod will most likely outlive most equipment and almost be a investment for lifetime (unless you change use of the DSLR completely). Common brands do usually also have a nice system for service and parts if it should be necessary, however the tripods do last a long time if taken care of.