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Choosing Tripods


Tripods are critical to the operation of your scope. If the tripod is not sturdy enough to keep the scope steady, all the money spent on the scope will go to waste. A detailed discussion of tripod designs and terminology is in our All About Optics Tripods section.

Especially when using a straight scope, it is essential to know how to choose a tripod of the proper height. The most important measurement for stability is the height of the tripod with the center column retracted. As you raise the center column, the scope becomes more susceptable to vibration.

To calculate the tripod height you need, work downward from the top of your head. Your eyes are about 4 to 5 inches from the top of your head. The scope eyepiece is about 4 inches above the bottom of the scope's mount plate, and the tripod head is about 4 to 4.5 inches high. Adding these up, we get 12 to 14 inches, which is the amount less than your height that the tripod need to be without a head. If you're very tall, you may not find a tripod that gives you that much height without raising the center column, so get one that requires as little column rise as possible.

Each tripod also has two critical weight specifications. The obvious one is the weight of the tripod. Remember here that you'll have to include the weights of the head and the scope to get the total package. The other critical weight is the maximum load capacity. This is an indication of the strength of the tripod, and should always be larger than the weight of the head plus the weight of the scope.

For 50mm and lightweight 60mm scopes, you should be okay with any of the better single unit tripods. Be sure to get one with a video style head, not one designed for still photography. If possible, get one with fluid damping in the head.

For the better (heavier) scopes from 60mm on up, you will want a tripod that has separate legs and head - not for flexibility, but because these tripods are sturdier.

Carbon fiber tripods are much lighter at the same strength and sturdiness compared to aluminum. Carbon fiber can save up to 30% in the weight of the legs over the same size of aluminum tripod. It can also put a huge dent in your checkbook. Costs can be more than doubled.

Again, heads should be video style and fluid damped. They should also be rated for the weight of the scope. Some heads designed for small video cameras will not be able to support an 80mm scope.

By the way, it is usually okay to get your legs and head from different manufacturers. All tripods have standardized mounting screws for the head. This is usually a ¼-20 bolt affixed to the center column, but may occasionally be a 3/8" bolt. In either case, your head should be able to accept the screw by installing or removing a ¼-20 to 3/8 adapter.

No matter what size tripod you get, you will want one that accepts a quick release plate. This is a plate that screws onto the mounting plate of the scope and pops in and out of a socket on the top of the center column, allowing for quick attachment and removal of the scope to and from the tripod. You certainly don't want to spend lots of time attaching your scope to your tripod every time you go birding.

Previous Article - Choosing Scopes



Learn About Optics


Day Optics

Designs - Quality, compacts, porro and roof prism designs for binoculars and scopes...
Designations and Considerations - Designation values, eye relief, weight & cups, exit pupil, and twilight factor...
Additional Consideration - Focusing, field of view, depth of field, weather proofing and nitrogen fill...
Optic Components & Image Quality - Lenses, mirrors, coatings, aberrations, distortions, and alignments...
Spotting Scopes - Construction, Objective lens, eyepieces, angled or straight, and focusing...
Tripods - Heads, legs, monopods, shoulder stocks, and window mounts...
Digiscoping - About, power, editing, considerations, cameras, techniques, and effects...
Care & Tricks - Holding techniques, cleaning, carrying, and protecting your optics...

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Starlight Technology Night Vision Generations and Devices - Generation 1 to 4 - levels of NV technology, types of devices and their uses...
Use & Care - How to use, controls, and care for NV devices, extending capabilities...
Digital Night Vision and Thermal-Imaging - Digital NV and Thermal Imaging, how they work and compare to standard NV...

Buying Guide

Binoculars - All the factors to consider when buying binoculars.
Bins for kids - Special Considerations for children's binoculars.
Challenged - Special considerations with binoculars for the physically challenged.
Spotting Scopes - All the factors to consider when buying a spotting scope.
Tripods - Selecting the best tripod for your scope.
 
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