Camera shake is one of the most common sources of complaint about home movies. That dizzying, swerving sensation that comes when someone can't quite hold their camcorder steady. In times of video turbulence, many people turn to a tripod to stabilize their footage. If you’re considering a tripod, here’s what you need to know.
Will Your Camcorder Mount to Your Tripod?
Camcorders mount to a tripod via a small round socket at the bottom of the unit. This socket is the same size on all camcorders (including pocket camcorders and digital still cameras) so tripod makers have a universal screw that can fit into your camcorder, no matter who makes it or when you purchased it. So breath easy, you don’t have to worry about whether your camcorder will work on a given tripod.
Tripod vs. Monopod
As the name suggests, a tripod uses three legs to brace your camcorder. This three-legged design not only keeps your camcorder steady but allows you to walk away from it so you can be a part of the action. However, since it uses a three legged design a tripod can be get heavy and somewhat cumbersome to carry around. It also takes up more space – it’s not easy (or polite) to pop open a tripod in a crowded stadium, for instance.
A monopod uses a single poll design, so it’s lighter, more compact and easier to use in crowded settings. However you’ll need to hold onto it the whole time you’re using it, or it will fall over. A monopod will stabilize your video just about as well as a tripod, but since you’re constantly holding onto it, it is somewhat less stable than a tripod.
Full Size vs. Mini
Tripods can extend quite high – often up to six feet high or possibly higher. How high your tripod extends is a matter of personal comfort (if you’re very tall, you may one to go higher to accommodate you) as well as what you’re using it for. If you setting on a field to record a child’s soccer game and the odd family portrait, you don’t need something that soars into the air. Bear in mind too that the longer a tripod is, the heavier it’s going to be and the harder it is to carry around. You can always compensate for a lack of height by swiveling the tripod head to adjust the angle that you’re recording in.
Tripod vendors provide two measurements for their products: how long the tripod is when fully extended and how compact it is when it’s “collapsed.” If portability is a big concern, look for a tripod that, when collapsed, can fit inside your camcorder bag (if you own one).
You can also get smaller, table-top tripods that measure in at just a foot or smaller. As the name suggests, these tripods aren’t meant to be placed on the floor but on another solid surface. The upside: they’re less expensive than full-sized tripods and much easier to lug around. The downside: they’re less functional. Small tripods can also feature flexible arms so that you can wrap them around surfaces – like fences, tree limbs, etc. – for unique recording angles. It’s important to ensure that any smaller tripod you purchase can support the weight of your camcorder – this is particularly important for flexible tripods that are designed to hang off a surface. Too much weight and the legs won’t grip properly.
Swivel or Stationary?
As the song goes, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Tripods don't necessarily swing, but their heads (i.e. the place your camcorder or camera rests) can swivel, providing you with a variety of angles to shoot in. If you want to save money, you can purchase a tripod that will mount you camcorder in a single direction, but most tripods worth their salt should swivel in a variety of directions and provide a locking mechanism to keep your camcorder in place - no matter what angle it's in.
Do You Need a Tripod If Your Camcorder Has Image Stabilization?
Most camcorders offer a form of image stabilization – either optical or digital. While digital image stabilization is not all that effective, optical stabilization systems can help reduce camera shake. However, they can’t totally eliminate it. This is especially true in camcorders with long zoom lenses (beyond 10x). As you zoom out that far, your camcorder becomes very sensitive to even the slightest hand movements. Even optically stabilized lenses will shake – sometimes violently – at the end of their zoom. A tripod can minimize this.
The same goes for low-light environments. While optically stabilized camcorders can let you record video at slower shutter speeds, there’s a limit to how far you can slow your camcorder shutter before your video becomes a blurred mess. A tripod will let you slow the shutter more than you could shooting hand-held, so filming night scenes, indoor scenes (like weddings) and fireworks are much easier with a tripod.