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A tripod is a camera stand. It has three legs, and a 1/4"-20 screw or a 3/8"-16 screw to securely mount the camera to the top. Some tripods include non-removable heads, others are sold without heads. Early photographers adapted for their own use the tripods used by surveyors. In 1900 two standard tripod types existed, one common in the UK for field cameras, the other type already with screw as camera mount. Beside wooden tripods for view cameras simple metal tripods with telescopic legs were common for hand cameras. While during World War I complex tripods with multiple adjustments and azimuth scales were developed, most photographic tripods remained simple devices. It was not until the 1950s that companies such as Gitzo, Linhof, and Manfrotto started to design tripod systems comprised of a sturdy pair of extendable legs which could be fitted with a range of heads to suit the task at hand. In addition to standard tripods, tripods have been produced from very small, such as table-top units to very large, such as a 10-foot tripod made by Gitzo.[1] Wooden tripods often have a kind of double-legs which give them a great stability. Telescopic tripod legs, especially thin ones might give no very stable camera support. Thus experts sometimes measure how much the tripods are swinging, in the wind or by camera movements like mirror- and shutter-action.

Tripod Heads

Many consumer tripods have a built-on ball head or a 2-way head, often with spirit level. Professionals might prefer to buy their tripod head as precision accessory for a plain stable tripod w/o own head.

2-Way Head

A 2-way head moves on 2 axis; this design is older but is still often used in sports photography or by others using long, heavy lenses.

3-Way Head

A 3-way head moves on 3 axis, allowing the camera to be placed in just about any position relative to the tripod. It is more accurate than a ball-head but slower to use.

Ball Head

A ball head is a tripod head based around a ball. Loosening a tension knob usually allows the photographer to position the camera anywhere they want. Tightening the same knob locks the camera's position. It is faster to use than any other head but movements can be less precise. There are two main types, the most common being a ball head where the ball is in line with the centre(post) of the tripod. An alternative design, pioneered by Gitzo in the 1950s, is the off-centre ball head, which allows for much greater flexibility in composing shots, especially in downwards angles.

Fluid Head

Fluid heads are designed to dampen sudden movements for smooth panning. Though occasionally used by still photographers in sports and action photography, fluid heads are most often used in video production.

Geared Head

A geared head is a variation on a 3-way head but it allows more precise control of the camera's movements. Instead of loosening an axis, moving the camera and then locking that axis, a geared knob on each axis controls precise movements of the axis. These heads are used only where this kind of super-accurate adjustment is required, e.g. shooting with a view camera in the studio or in the field for architecture.

Fast camera mount facility

Many tripod heads have a fast camera mount facility, i.e. a plate with a 3/4-16 screw to fix a camera on it. This plate easily snaps in on the tripod head. Such a 'quick-release' plate is a long-established idea: one (apparently British made) was reported in a French journal in 1897.[2]

Tripod Alternatives


A monopod might be described as a one-legged tripod. It's a camera mount on top of a telescoping pole. A typical application are twilight shots with daylight film. Monopods are favored for light weight, for portability, and mainly for use in environments where tripods are too bulky. Naturally they are not as stable camera stands as tripods. They only eliminate vertical shake except when fixed in vertical position with strings and tent pegs.

Bean bag

Bean bags, either specifically designed for photographers, or improvised, make a useful and portable support when you don't want to carry a tripod.

String tripod

aka: negative or chain tripod - a cord that you attach to the tripod adapter on the camera, stand on the loose end, and then pull up on to brace your camera. Very simple and remarkably effective.[3]

Car mount

Either, a tripod head that clamps to your car's window, or a magnetic or suction-cup device that attaches to your car's external body work.

Ladder mount

In the 1970s Gitzo manufactured the GITFIX, a unit that attached a tripod column to any household ladder, thus allowing for great height.[4] In the 1960s same company had also made a tripod comprised of a foldable ladder with two telescopic legs.[5]


Glossary Terms