You are using a tripod aren’t you? If you are often disappointed that your images are just a little blurry or not as sharp as everyone else, consider the tripod. Tripods are a novice’s most neglected asset. A beginner does not own one. An intermediate owns a rickety one. A serious photographer owns at least one sturdy good one. A sturdy tripod is as essential as the camera and the lens!
Legs: A sturdy tripod should be able to raise the legs above eye level without use of the center post – think about setting it up on a steep slope. The legs should operate easily. Aluminum legs are cheaper and heavier, the alternative is carbon fiber legs. They are much lighter and unfortunately more expensive (well worth the upgrade though). Legs generally come in section which can be lengthened or shortened by either a clasp closure or a ring lock. This is personal preference. I prefer the rings as I can pinch fingers with the clasps. Others like the clasp because it is easier to see that they are indeed closed.
Center Post: Please don’t buy a tripod where the legs aren’t long enough on their own for you bring the camera up to a comfortable eye level without using its center post. A center post is only for stability while carrying it. It is not stable enough to raise and shoot from because when you raise the center post it changes the center of gravity and the whole tripod is less stable.
Heads: A tripod head is usually sold separately so you will have some other choices to make. Regardless of how it operates, it should have a quick release mechanism or plate which attaches to your camera or lens mount. This plate stays put even when the camera is off the tripod. The head you choose should be easy to operate and support your heaviest lens. Every respectable head should allow you to Pan side to side, tilt and switch to vertical from horizontal. There are three basic types of mechanisms, the most common of which is a Ball head with 3 way pan tilt. This will have three different levers or knobs you have to adjust to get set. Your second option, and my personal favorite, is the ball head with a pistol grip. It is a one hand squeeze and head moves where ever you want to go. Release and it is set. Finally, for the heavier large telephoto lenses, a Gimbal or Wimberly head is the only way to go.
REMEMBER: The heavier and more difficult the tripod is to use, the less likely you are to use it. A tripod is as essential as the camera and well worth the investment. Many students complain that the tripod slows them down. To that I say: Yeah, that’s the point! It slows you down and gives you time to think about your settings and what you are doing. It reminds you that you care enough about your images to make them sharp!