Best Tripods For Video: Top choices for serious and professional video shooters at every price point

by Jason Schneider

posted Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 4:59 AM EST


A tripod is the quintessential must-have video accessory for capturing smooth, shake-free video.  Practically any tripod -- even the medium-sized pan/tilt unit you're already using for stills -- can be pressed into service as a video tripod. But if you expect to execute smooth pans and shoot professional caliber videos that engage your audience and focus their attention on the content rather than the lapses in your technique, you really need a tripod that's optimized for video. Indeed, the video tripod you choose is almost as important as the camera in determining the final results.

Video tripods: They're all about the heads!

What differentiates a video tripod from one that's used primarily for shooting still pictures? The most important feature is the head, typically a pan/tilt head that's controlled by one or two adjustable extending arms which allow you to easily move the attached camera horizontally (panning) and vertically (tilting) to follow the action. Ball heads with separate locking pan and tilt adjustments can also be used for video, especially those that provide fluid damping and accept accessory control arms.

The head is the most important difference between tripods used for still and video shooting. A good video tripod head provides smooth motion, often a sliding mount and counterbalance for the camera so it won't be front or back-heavy when you're panning and tilting.

What makes for a good video head?

The best video heads are those that allow you to pan and tilt the camera very smoothly, evenly, and fairly slowly in either direction as the camera records the action, and which can also be set to hold the camera in place without drooping or sagging when you leave it unattended.  The simple friction-locking three-way pan/tilt heads found in the typical still photography tripod are unable do all these things because they have no damping mechanism to even out the panning or tilting actions.

To consistently achieve the smooth, natural fluid motion seen in Hollywood movies and professional videos requires a well made "fluid head", which provides an effective damping mechanism, using a viscous substance such as grease or oil contained in a restricted reservoir or channel that's integral with the pan/tilt mechanism itself.  The term "fluid head" is actually used to describe two distinct types of fluid heads -- fluid-effect heads, and true fluid heads -- and understanding the difference is crucial.

Fluid-effect or true fluid heads: What's the difference?

Fluid-effect heads, which typically use high-viscosity grease to obtain their damping effect, are simpler in construction, less expensive, and generally provide a fixed amount of damping to smooth out and slow down the head's panning and tilting actions. They're a reasonably good solution for many beginning and intermediate video shooters, and will yield noticeably better videos than you can possibly get with the basic friction controlled three-way pan/tilt heads found on many still photography tripods.

You can go pretty crazy with fluid heads if you want. The Oconnor 120EXe can handle up to 120 lbs of camera and lens, and costs $19,800. Fortunately, you can probably get all you need for just 1-2% of that price!

True fluid heads are considerably more complex in design and require a greater degree of precision to manufacture them to close tolerances. As a result they're noticeably more expensive, but they provide a range of damping and resistance adjustments to suit a variety of shooting requirements--such as less damping and drag to provide greater responsiveness when shooting fast action that's moving across the frame, or more damping when using long telephoto lenses or panning more slowly. They also deliver smoother, more predictable and controllable panning and tilting actions than fluid-effect heads.  Practically all professionals -- and a majority of serious video shooters -- opt for the enhanced performance and flexibility of a true fluid head. Indeed, their extra cost is more than justified in view of the time and effort put into serious video productions.

Getting a leg up on tripod legs

The, strength, weight and load capacity of a tripod's legs, and the maximum height of the extended legs at the yoke (the top section that holds the legs together) are important considerations when choosing a video tripod. Larger diameter leg sections are generally stronger and resist flexing better than smaller ones, and it's the diameter of the narrowest leg section that sets limits on the tripod's stability and load carrying capacity.  Indeed, if the head has a higher load capacity than the legs or vice versa it's the lower of the two figures that determines the weight of the video rig the tripod will reliably support. Choose a tripod that will accommodate at least twice the weight of your present rig, so you'll be able to use a larger camera or larger, longer, heavier lenses in the future without having to change tripods.

You don't want your tripod to wiggle when you put torque on it to pan left or right, making so-called "crutch-style" legs a common design. Seen here on an E-Image EK60AAM (one of our recommended models below), their ability to resist rotation makes them a popular choice, despite the added weight they bring.

Titanium and carbon fiber legs are lighter and stronger than aluminum ones, and carbon fiber legs don't require "leg warmers" when used outdoors in cold weather. However, there are many great aluminum tripods that aren't much heavier than comparable carbon fiber units, and they can be significantly less expensive. Flip-lock legs are generally faster to set up, but after a while you'll have to tighten the flip-lock mechanism to avoid slippage, so you may want to tape the required Allen wrench discreetly to the tripod. Twist-lock legs may take a bit longer to deploy but they're self-adjusting for wear. Crutch-style legs (with tubes on top, and the lower tube sliding between them) were once the hallmark of cinematography and video tripods and are still found on some units, but tubular carbon fiber and aluminum legs with flip locks or twist collars now predominate. It's worth noting that wooden crutch-type legs are superior to metal ones at damping out vibration, and that's why they're making a comeback among savvy video shooters.

Height and weight: What you need to know

Most tripod makers' specs list maximum heights with the center post fully extended, but for maximum stability you'll want to be able to shoot at eye level with the center post all the way down or extended only a few inches. This means you should choose a tripod with a yoke which stands at about 60 inches with the center post down and the legs fully extended. The best video tripod legs have retractable soft rubber feet that provide a reasonable grip on smooth floors and can be screwed in or pulled back to reveal metal spikes that are great for shooting outdoors on dirt or grass. Avoid cheap tripods with hard rubber or plastic feet; these often slip on smooth surfaces and have a tendency to break.

Leg struts can help a lot with overall stability, particularly on lighter-weight video tripods.

What else to look for in a video tripod

Other features often found on video tripods include:

  • Extended platforms designed to accommodate and position a variety of video rigs for optimal balance, a key factor in being able to move the camera smoothly and predictably.

  • Plain or illuminated bubble levels for leveling the legs and head to allow smooth panning with a natural looking horizon line.

  • Leg strut supports for added stability and resistance to flexing. (These are supports that tie the legs together to stiffen the whole assembly. They're particularly helpful for lighter-weight models.)

  • A variety of ball heads that can be locked in position for panning and which may have accessory handles for more convenient panning and tilting.

  • Accessory dollies with caster-type wheels that let you move the entire tripod to track action more smoothly. 

Whether you're a committed video shooter at any level or you have any intention of getting into video in the near future, it's a great idea to make your next tripod a video tripod with some kind of fluid head. Virtually any video tripod can be used for shooting still pictures, but not all still photography tripods are great for shooting video. However, so long as your present tripod has a removable, replaceable head and its legs are in spec for your intended video use,  you can often transform it into a great video tripod (and save some money in the bargain) by simply adding a good fluid head, a device which will be the subject of my next "best of" article. In the meantime, here are 10 cool video tripods worthy of your consideration.

Best video tripods under $300


Vanguard Alta+ 264AP Aluminum Alloy Tripod with PH-32 Panhead

This robust economical, lightweight video tripod extends to a maximum height of 61 inches via a sliding center column, offers a magnesium alloy canopy and head, three-position leg-angle adjustments at 25-, 50- and 80-degrees. It also sports a dual-locking safety mechanism, anti-shock ring, low-angle capability, and four-section, 26mm legs with flip-lock adjusters and foam grips for cold weather use.  It has rubber feet with retractable spikes, and folds to a compact 22.3 inches . The included, lightweight PH-32 three-way fluid-effect pan head has two panning handles, three bubble levels, a load capacity of 11 pounds, and a QS-51 quick shoe. Total weight is 4.39 pounds.

Users say: A versatile and stable compact tripod with smooth panning action but less-smooth tilting action. Well made with sturdy legs. Not easy to get in and out of its case, though.

Bottom line:A decent low-cost compromise for stills and beginning video shooters, but not equal to a true fluid head. The Vanguard Alta+ 264AP is also the lightest tripod here, and the second-smallest when folded, making it a great choice if you need portability on a budget. (The Benro A2883FS4 listed below folds a bit smaller, is a bit heavier and more fully-featured, but also costs about $80 more.)

List price:
US$210 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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Magnus VT-400 Tripod System with Fluid Head

Aimed at emerging video shooters, this sturdy aluminum video tripod has many features usually found on more expensive models, including crutch-style two-stage, three-section legs with flip locks that provide height adjustments ranging from 27.6 to 59 inches, a mid-leg spreader for added rigidity, and a fixed 3.3-pound-rating counterbalance spring in the head for enhanced stability and smoother movements. The two-way fluid-effect head provides smooth panning action with fixed damping, has convenient right-handed controls, separate pan and tilt locks, and a bubble level for precise leveling. Other features include a sliding quick-release plate with a +20/-25mm adjustment range for balancing a variety of cameras, +90 to -60-degree tilt range, a 65mm bowl, and retractable rubber feet with spikes for outdoor use. The VT-400 has a load capacity of 8.8 pounds and will accommodate large DSLRs and mid-size camcorders, folds to 30.3 inches, and weighs just 7.9 pounds.

Users say: Well built, sturdy with lots of features, secure mounting system, a great economical choice for getting into video, fluid-effect head has smooth panning but isn't equal to a true fluid head.

Bottom line: A sturdy, well-made tripod with a decent fluid-effect head at a rock-bottom price. If you're needing smoother pans for your videos but are on a strictly limited budget, the Magnus VT-400 is a solid choice for the money.

List price:
US$170 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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E-Image EK60AAM Fluid Drag Video Head and Tripod

This robust, high capacity tripod provides an impressive 17.6-pound load capacity, a three-step adjustable spring-loaded counterbalance system, and a shifting balance plate with safety lock. Its crutch-type two-stage, three-section legs have rotary clamp adjusters, extend to a maximum height of 63 inches, and a minimum of 31 inches, have an integral spreader brace for added rigidity, and non-retractable spike feet with removable spike protectors. Its fluid-effect head provides a single fixed drag level for panning and tilting actions, and features left- and right-hand rosettes for the panning handle, and a built-in bubble level.  The EK60AAM folds to 32.5 inches, weighs in at 11 pounds, and comes with a roomy tripod bag.

Users say:A great tripod for the price, this tripod comes highly recommended and has clean movements. It could use a little more in the way of adjustments though, its foot pads get in the way of the lower leg locks, and capacity may be overrated.

Bottom line:An outstanding value and a big step up from a still tripod for new video shooters.

List price:
Unclear (street prices around $300-400)
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Davis & Sanford ProVista 7518B with video head and dolly

Designed for videographers requiring an economical, heavy-duty tripod for field and studio work this three-section aluminum tripod extends to 64 inches, has crutch style double-strut leg tops, flip locks, a mid-level spreader for enhanced rigidity, rubber tipped legs and a bubble level. Its full-size 75mm claw ball with leveler aids stability, and allows the tripod to be easily upgraded by fitting a true fluid head. Its V-18 fluid-effect head has two adjustable/removable pan handles, can hold up to 18 pounds, provides smooth 360-degree panning and 90-degree tilting, has a 3 x 3-1/4-inch platform, and separate locking easy grip knobs for the pan/tilt mechanisms. Included: D&S Universal Dolly with carry handle. Note that the earlier 7518 version (as opposed to the 7518B) is still sold at some retailers with an earlier FM-18 head that has a less-smooth pan/tilt action.

Users say: Compatible with a wide variety of video rigs, pro caliber but affordable, sturdily built, very few plastic parts, although some nuts are poorly positioned for tightening. The dolly works very well.

Bottom line: A remarkably adept and sturdy tripod at a surprisingly low price, with a better-than average fluid-effect head that's easily upgradable. The included dolly is an added plus.

List price:
US$200 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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Benro A2883FS4 Aero 4 Angel Travel Video Tripod Kit

Optimized for video shooting thanks to its robust video head with separate pan and tilt adjustments, this rugged aluminum tripod with three-section flip-lock legs is also suitable for still photography. It has an integrated leveling platform, three adjustable leg stop angles, spiked or rubber feet, a slide-in QR6 video quick-release plate, a bubble level, and one leg that's easily removable for use as a monopod. (A great "twofer"!) Its height can be adjusted from 21.9 inches to an eye-level 65.2 inches, and its minimum folded length is 21.7 inches for easy transport. The Aero 4 weighs 5.8 pounds and comes with a padded carrying case and strap.

Users say: Although the word of mouth on this lightweight, compact tripod is overwhelmingly positive, praising its high value, ease of use, pro-level quality, and compatibility with a variety of camera sizes and types, there were a few complaints about the difficulty of fitting the monopod back into the tripod, and the build quality of the head.

Bottom line: The video head and extra stability cost you in terms of weight and bulk, but if you're looking a great travel tripod for video shooting at an affordable price, the Benro Aero 4 Angel Travel Video Tripod Kit is a great choice. (This tripod folds to the shortest length of any in this listing, so is great when you need everything to fit into a suitcase.)

List price:
US$260 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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Best Video Tripods from $300-$500


Benro S7 Dual Stage Video Tripod Kit

A complete video tripod system that's ideal for studio shooters and useable in the field, it pairs a solid two-stage, three-section Dual Tandem aluminum tripod with a mid-level spreader, the robust F7 true fluid head with independent step-less adjustments for pan and tilt drag, and a four-step counterbalance that includes a zero setting. The tripod extends to a maximum height of 62.2 inches, a minimum height of 30 inches, has dual leg sections with twist-lever locks, a 75mm bowl, and dual spike feet with removable rubber pads. Other features include an illuminated bubble level, slide-in Benro QR11 sliding quick-release plate, and a removable ball tie-down stud to convert the head to a flat base. It weighs 9.9 pounds and has a maximum load capacity of 15.4 pounds.

Users say: A great video tripod at a relatively modest cost. It's very convenient and easy to use in the studio or in the field.

Bottom line: A versatile lightweight tripod for all-around video use with a high features-per dollar quotient. This is IR's top pick as the best option for stepping up to a video tripod with a true fluid head without breaking the bank.

List price:
US$450 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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Manfrotto MVH502A Fluid Head and MVT502AM Tripod with Carrying Bag

This impressive combo has a 15.43 pound load capacity, and the counterbalance supports 8.8 pounds. The tripod features aluminum telescopic twin tube in two stages and three twin elliptic sections, a 75mm bowl-type ball base, rubber feet,  and a mid-level spreader for added stability. Its maximum working height is 61.8 inches. The drag on the true fluid head is continuously adjustable from zero to maximum level, and the tilt can be adjusted over a – 80 degree to + 90 degree range.

Users say: Provides robust construction and an effective true fluid video head at a relatively modest price according to independent filmmakers and studio videographers. Although it's lightweight for its load capacity, some say the carry bag is too narrow, and note that the drag resistance adjuster has a little play in it.

Bottom line: An excellent all-around choice in a mid-sized, mid-priced video tripod looking for a n economical well-made unit.

List price:
US$490 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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Best Video Tripods $750 And Up


Miller Air Alloy Tripod System

Designed by the innovative company that pioneered the true fluid head with variable damping, and one of the iconic makers of high quality professional movie tripods, this Australian-made unit features a true fluid head with an 11-pound load capacity, a full range of adjustments on the pan and tilt controls, two selectable counterbalance positions, and a camera plate that slides up to 60mm for best-balance camera positioning. The leg section features a two-stage, three-section configuration with concentric leg locks that extends to 69.4 inches, has a 75mm bowl to accommodate alternative heads, and has an impressive load capacity of 44 pounds. The head and legs together weigh in at 10.8 pounds, on the lighter end of the range in this category.

Users say: Sturdy, stable and lightweight; it's thoughtfully designed, well made of first-rate materials, and is easy to carry, set up, and take down.

Bottom line: An ideal video tripod for serious field shooters using DSLR and mirrorless rigs, it can accommodate mid-size camcorders and is easily upgraded with a higher capacity Miller head that mounts securely in its 75mm bowl. This is an all around great choice for a truly professional video tripod for DSLR and mirrorless shooters.

List price:
US$1,165 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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Manfrotto 545GBK Professional Video Tripod System with 526 head

Designed for professional videographers using ENG and EFP camcorders (Electronic News Gathering and Electronic Field Production; basically big pro stuff), this robust aluminum tripod has three-section, two-stage crutch style legs with flip locks, provides great torsional rigidity and stability, features a ground-level spreader, and will support loads up to 55 pounds. The system includes a heavy-duty model 526 true fluid head with a 35-pound load capacity that has a replaceable pan arm rosette and oversized rubber pan, tilt, and drag arms with low, medium, and high drag settings -- plus a zero setting for quick pans and tilts. Other features include an adjustable spring counter-balance, quick-release plate, sliding balance plate, +/- 70-degree tilt range, rubber feet, and included soft case. The tripod extends to 66.5 inches without requiring a center post, provides a minimum height of 29.1 inches, folds to 32.8 inches in length and weighs 15.6 pounds.

Users say: It's very solid, performs very well with heavy cameras/camcorders, is lightweight for a tripod in this class, is easily adjustable, and provides extremely smooth pans.

Bottom line: An excellent value for pros and serious videographers who may upgrade to a larger pro camcorder in the future. If you'll never go beyond a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you may not need the heft this beast provides, but if you'll be using a big camera and big lenses, it'll handle most anything you're likely to throw at it.

List price:
US$2,550 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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Sachtler 0775 FSB-8 Tripod System with Speed Lock 75 Tripod

This high-end professional video tripod system includes the esteemed Sachtler 4588 Speed Lock 75 carbon fiber tripod with 75mm leveling bowl that supports up to 44.1 pounds, and features a traditional dual tube design with two-stage, three-section legs with proprietary Speed Locks instead of twist locks for quick setup and take down, a mid-level spreader for enhanced stability, and specially designed spikes and rubber feet. Its Sachler FSB-8 true fluid head provides a maximum load capacity of 20 pounds, variable damping of pan and tilt movements, has counterbalance and tilt drag settings from 0 to 5 (arbitrary units, but basically a wide range of control), a balance plate that slides over a long 4.7-inch range to accommodate a wide variety of cameras and camcorders, a tilt range of -75 to +90 degrees, and pan and tilt locks. Beautifully made and finished, the tripod extends to 63 inches, has illuminated bubble levels, and weighs a surprisingly light 11.4 pounds.

Users say: Best head movement in the business, super-smooth panning, heavy, but robust and extremely stable. They love the Speed Lock system even if it takes some getting used to, but note that the rubber feet are not up to the standard of the tripod.

Bottom line: If you're a really serious or professional video shooter, the smooth-as-silk panning and exceptional stability should put this highly regarded video tripod on your short list. If you have the budget, you won't regret spending it on this superb support system.

List price:
US$2,700 (check our affiliates below for current street pricing)
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