The humble tripod is an often forgotten but vital part of crafting beautiful shots. Even if you want all the shots in your work to be locked-off and rigid, you need a tripod capable of at least holding the camera still while you do that. If you want any kind of smooth movement, you'll need a well-built tripod head that enables you to manipulate the camera to craft truly pleasing imagery.
It's most often forgotten while budgeting. So often people get so excited to put together a new camera package and focus so much on the body and the lenses and then decide to skimp on the tripod.
Bad idea. Nothing is more painful than needing to do 20+ takes because the tripod head is not smooth enough.
To avoid this we recommend that people be prepared to spend 20-30% of the cost of their camera body on a tripod. There are certain rare scenarios where this doesn't hold true, but generally speaking, it's a good rule of thumb.
The floor on tripods is around $300, which you should not go below. Even with a $500 camera, a $100 tripod may not get the job done. Let's highlight some of our favorite tripods.
Best Overall: Sachtler Aktiv with Flowtech Legs
The Aktiv6 Flowtech75 system is both lightweight and durable, designed to be a long-serving and high-performing part of your kit.
- Switch Between Tripod & Slider
- Fluid Head
- Quick to Adjust
Our current pick for a tripod that will give you amazing shots, faster, and last you through several camera cycles is the Sachtler Aktiv with Flowtech legs.
This combination, often sold as a set, offers you the ability to execute smooth, beautiful shots with a wide variety of cameras and setups. Currently available in multiple weight classes, with more to come, the combination features a bowl-mounted connection to make leveling fast and convenient.
Where this combination really shines is not just in function, panning, and tilting (where it excels, but that's just the start), but its really amazing ease of use. Sachtler has done a deep look into how tripods are actually used day-to-day on set and refined a lot of the common tasks of the operator to make them faster and easier in a way that feels revelatory.
The Flowtech legs allow for adjusting the height of all stages from the top without bending over. It seems simple, but after a lifetime of bending over to adjust your sticks, it's really quite wonderful to do it all while being up by the camera.
The same is true for the tie-down for leveling the ball mount. You can adjust it while standing upright and watch your image at the same time. It's great, especially if you don't want to use the ball mount for level, but to create an off-level shot for special purposes.
Sachtler has taken this one step further with the SpeedSwap system to make it easier to move back and forth with a slider. This system solves one of the biggest frustrations of working with a ball head; how to quickly move back and forth with the ubiquitous sliders that dominate film production today. Without the speed swap, you need to either take your ball mount off (time consuming if it is even possible), or use a ball-to-flat adapter, which adds height and, worse, instability.
With SpeedSwap, you put a nubbin on your slider, and you can move your whole head and camera setup over to the slider in literally seconds.
It's a complete game-changer on busy shoots.
Table of Contents
- Best Overall: Sachtler Aktiv with Flowtech Legs
- How We Picked
- Best Budget: Sachtler Ace
- Best High-End: O'Connor 1040 and 2575D Fluid Heads
- Best Monopod: The Manfrotto XPro
- Best Alternative Monopod: Steadicam Air
- Final Thoughts
How We Picked
We've used in tests and on shoots tripods from all the major manufacturers, including Manfrotto, Miller, Sachtler, O'Connor, and Vinten. We follow the current lineup and offerings closely and make sure we evaluate the newest gear as it becomes available.
Best Budget: Sachtler Ace
The Sachtler Ace XL premium tripod system suited for digital cine style cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro, Canon C300 Mark II, Panasonic S1H, and Sony FX6.
- 3 Grades Each of H/V + Zero
- 8-Step Counterbalance
- Supports up to 17.6 lb
- Limited Payload
An alternative to the Aktiv is the Sachtler Ace. It uses plastic pieces in areas where the Aktiv is metal, but otherwise, it's a very similar unit. For lower-weight camera/lens combinations it will treat you well.
If you are going for a Canon C70 or a Sony FX6, you can likely get away with the biggest Ace units. If you are going for an URSA Mini Pro, various RED cameras, or anything else larger, the Aktiv will treat you better.
Best High-End: O'Connor 1040 and 2575D
Features of the lightweight yet sturdy fluid head include a stepless, ultra-smooth pan and tilt fluid drag custom designed to provide ultimate control and stability, as well as the OConnor Sinusoidal Counterbalance system that provides true, accurate balance at any point in the tilt range.
If money is absolutely no object, the O'Connor 1000 and 2575D fluid heads are absolutely stellar, especially as your camera package gets larger. There is really no comparison to the kinds of slow, beautiful moves you can choreograph for those heads.
However, these are primarily rental items for most filmmakers, and unless you've invested in a personal ARRI Alexa LF or similar camera body, it's likely overkill.
They also tend to cost more than most of us spend on our camera and are frankly slower to work with. Moving from dolly to sticks to slider will take more time, and these heads are really designed for traditional narrative production, not fast-paced events, sports, or indie work.
Best Monopod: Manfrotto XPRO Series
The Manfrotto XPRO monopod series is a professional monopod made to satisfy videographer who leverage the height of their monopod to get above crowds and to achieve a wide range of shooting angles.
- High Payload Capacity
- Aluminum or Carbon Fiber
- Easy to Use
- Not Much
Monopods offer a single adjustable tripod leg for camera support and are more popular in still photography than video. They do have a great place in filmmaking when you are working with smaller camera packages, especially when working on action, documentaries, or red carpet events.
They allow you to move more quickly, repositioning yourself with great ease. Once you master operating with them, you can get some great shots. While they do take some effort to use well, they have their place. If you're framing a shot that should feel "semi-handheld," they're a great tool to take some weight off your shoulder while still giving you the flexibility to create the feeling you're looking for.
Currently, the best monopod for video shooters is the Manfrotto XPRO series. Available in both aluminum (less expensive, heavier) or carbon fiber (more expensive, lighter weight), the Manfrotto XPRO setup is robust enough for the heavier weights of video fluid heads and video cameras and lenses.
The quick power flip locks are designed for fast and easy adjustments from a variety of positions. There's an optional attachment for the bottom to create a more secure grip. Manfrotto makes a variety of fluid tripod heads you can purchase along with the monopod if you are looking for a combo, though many filmmakers use a monopod without a head at all. This, combined with Manfrotto's reputation and price point, makes this the top choice for most.
Best Alternative Monopod: Steadicam Air
The Steadicam Air series allows you complete freedom in operating. Go from kneeling to standing in seconds and never miss a moment. Setting a new standard; the Steadicam Air brings versatility back to the monopod.
- Carbon Fiber
- High Payloads
- 3 Section
- 1/4"-20 & 3/8"-16 Threading
- No Kickstand
- No Fluid Head
Another option to consider for a monopod is the Steadicam Air lineup. This uses an innovative gas chamber system to help lift the camera and a foot pedal to release the gas to make it easier to adjust from a standing position.
The gas system means the monopod is more expensive than the competition. In addition, to refill the gas chamber you need to push down while collapsing than section, which is easier with a heavier camera package. With a lighter camera package pushing down the monopod to a lower height is an effort. It comes in two strengths, with the heavier model having a hefty 25lb payload capacity.
It's rare that there is so unequivocally a leader in a space. Generally, there is so much competition in a market that as new features roll out, competitors are offering similar or identical functionality almost as soon as it appears.
For usability alone, we find the Aktiv tripod the easiest to use. You'll be faster on set, and over the course of a day that can really add up.
A tripod (or monopod) is an investment you can comfortably make with confidence that it will continue to hold your camera for years to come. If you end up with a lot of tripods, we have a fun hack to help you store them!