TripodThere’s a ton of accessories available for your digital camera, and you can easily fall into the “gotta have this, gotta have that” trap. Having said that, I’m going to recommend one more item that is a must for any amateur photographer–a tripod. Happily, this is one of those camera accessories that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on. There are tripods with high customer ratings for as little as $30 and there are great tripods available for $400 to $500. It’s your choice, but this is one of those times where less can be more.

There are some good reasons to purchase a tripod. If you’re taking pictures in very low natural light (nighttime cityscapes come to mind), it’s important to minimize “the shakes” which occur naturally when holding a camera and shooting. This is true even with cameras that posses vibration reduction or image stabilization features. A tripod is a must in this situation. A tripod can also minimize camera movement on long zoom shots, where the effects of camera movement are exaggerated.

Tripods can be used to steadily hold a camera in what otherwise would be an awkward position–for instance, close to the ground. And how many more times are you going to take, but not be in, a group photo? Again, a tripod solves this problem.

What are some features that you should look for in a tripod (besides three legs, that is)? Well, for starters, you should make sure that the tripod that you’re considering is strong enough to hold the weight of your camera and lenses. Look for a tripod whose legs can be adjusted to stand at different heights. A “level bubble” is a nice feature. This is one of those bubble-in-a-tube devices which, when the bubble is in the middle, your camera is level. The tripod that I use, made by Manfrotto, has a cool quick release feature which allows me to pull a lever and quickly separate the camera from the tripod. The weight of the tripod is an important factor to consider. Watch consumer reviews for a combination of light weight and sturdiness.

I recommend two models of tripods. The economy conscious model that I like is the Vista Explorer tripod. It has a combination of light weight and sturdiness that’s hard to beat for the price (around $30). This model of tripod can also be set up on surfaces that are not level. The tripod that I currently use is a Manfrotto camera tripod (the055XPROB Pro Tripod Legs). This tripod is sold separate from the ball head (which attaches the camera to the tripod) and is somewhat pricier than the Vista Explorer (checking in at @ $180 for the tripod and ball head). It’s solid, stable and easy to use. It’s definitely one of those “don’t leave home without it” items.

Any way you cut it, a tripod is a handy item which i have found invaluable in my photographic hobby. Prices vary, and if you shop around, you can find good quality tripods for under $40. There is no “best camera tripod.“ Shop around, do some research and go for it. You won’t be disappointed.