Not all tripods are created equal. There are small tabletop and travel tripods, there are very versatile medium duty tripods when special features, and then there are large, heavy duty tripods. Each of those types has uses they are best for.
If you regularly shoot with larger cameras or very big lenses, you will need a very stable mount. The best tripods for heavy lenses are themselves heavy and large. They are also usually quite expensive.
The importance of a sturdy tripod when using a heavy lens
Some lenses are very large and heavy. Super telephotos with extremely fast apertures, for instance. We can add super zooms to that list, too. Besides ultra telephoto lenses, other heavier camera rigs could include medium format cameras, professional level video cameras, or a panoramic rig.
Any astronomical set up might be considered, too. A telescope with a powered equatorial mount can really tip the scales. Cameras can be piggy backed on the telescope or a camera could be mounted to the telescope itself as the ultimate in super telephoto.
What all those scenarios have in common is a need for a heavier duty tripod. Mounting a heavy rig on a medium duty tripod could cause a problem. Primarily, it could be the danger of damaging the camera and lens because the tripod couldn’t handle the weight.
Most heavy duty tripods are rather expensive. This should be expected, since they are usually considered to be professional caliber equipment. Pro equipment of any kind is generally either higher quality or much more robust. Often both criteria fit.
Usually, these tripods are supplied without a tripod head. This allows you customize for your specific needs. If shooting professional video, a high quality fluid or geared head would make sense. Large 3-way heads are good for general use.
A special type of head, called a gimbal head, is quite useful for using long telephotos for nature or sports photography.
Heavy duty tripods for wildlife photography
For wildlife photographers, using a long lens is often needed. But, so is being able to quickly adjust the camera rig as needed.
A full-frame camera, a fast super telephoto lens, and a heavy duty gimbal head needs a very secure platform. Otherwise, the photographer probably won’t be able to get the best images.
Wildlife photography is a pretty special genre. It requires a special mix of photographic skills and knowledge of the subject being photographed. The best wildlife photographs come from photographers with the right equipment and with those special skills and knowledge.
Often times, the lighting for wildlife photography poses a unique challenge all by itself. So, you can see why having the best tripod available for the job is an absolute necessity. Let’s look at a few.
How I found the best tripods for heavy lenses
Since we’re looking at a very expensive piece of equipment, making the right choice is important. The criteria for choosing are similar to how we choose any other tripod, but with some differences specific to the specialized nature of these tripods.
- Size. To be a truly heavy duty tripod, it needs to be substantial and very strong. While not the equivalent of a semi rig to a compact sedan, you might compare them to a 1 ton dually pick up truck.
- Weight. There might be some weight saving materials used, such as aluminum or carbon fiber, but any heavy duty tripod is going to have some real heft to it. I prefer the carbon fiber versions of these tripods, since they are already rather big and heavy. Carbon fiber construction makes them more portable, while simultaneously being superior to metal at dampening vibrations.
- Type of mount. If meant for professional video use, a bowl mount is probably best. Otherwise a sturdy center column and a large platform with a 3/8ths inch mounting screw is preferred.
- Functionality. How adjustable is it? How do the legs operate? Are there any special features? This is the category for calculating that criteria.
- Overall quality. If we’re to carry around such a large tripod, and pay so much for it, then it better be good quality. This also leads to smooth operation.
Top 3 Best Tripods For Heavy Lenses
1. Induro Tripod CLT104 Carbon Fiber Tripod Review
Coming in at around the $300 price range, this is the least expensive of the super heavy duty tripods in this review. Made of carbon fiber, it’s also the smallest and lightest of these three.
It comes legs only, you will need to provide a suitable head. For around $200, Induro makes an excellent heavy duty ball head, BHD2, and it makes a very good match for these carbon fiber legs.
You need to make sure you pair these sturdy tripods with a tripod head that is just as sturdy and well made. Otherwise, what’s the point? Weakest link and all that, buh bye! Same holds true for any quick release system.
Since it’s constructed of carbon fiber and aluminum, the tripod itself is actually fairly light. With a ball head mounted, the tripod weighs in around 5 pounds. And yet, it could hold equipment up to a little over 30 or so pounds.
Tripod use is very straightforward. Legs lock and unlock with twist ring knobs. They tighten up nice and snug, securely holding in whatever extension you put them. It doesn’t take too much effort to loosen the twist rings, but it is definitely meant for heavy duty use.
No fingertip loosening here, you will need to grasp the knob with your whole hand. Par for the course with this type of equipment.
Maximum height is 56 inches. That is without any head, so whatever you use will add a few inches. The center column is rather short, but again, that’s not unusual for tripods designed for very large loads.
Stability is kept manageable, since extending the center column tends to make tripods slightly less stable. The carbon fiber legs also dampen any vibration quite well.
One of the best tripods for heavy lenses, especially for anyone on a limited budget.
2. Feisol Elite CT-3472 Rapid 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod Review
Very heavy duty is a good description of this tripod. As legs only, it can handle a load of about 66 pounds. The tripod does not have a center column, but the leg extensions will get you all the way up to 58 inches.
A mounting plate tops the tripod, to which you would attach an optional center column for even more height, a bowl for attaching a professional video head, or any number of other tripod heads.
One high quality option would be the Feisol CB-50DC at around the $200 mark. Another nice head for this might be the Manfrotto MHXPRO-3WG XPRO Geared Head at near the same price. Or any good gimbal head.
Four carbon fiber leg sections is how this tripod gets all that height without any center column. Adding a center column raises height by another foot. The legs are locked with twist ring knobs that require a little more effort than smaller tripods, but nothing uncomfortable about using them.
They lock the four sections so securely, it’s almost like the leg is a solid piece. Very good for vibration reduction, too.
3. Gitzo GT2542 Mountaineer Tripod Series 2 Review
Gitzo is considered by many to be one of the top tripod brands in all of photography. This Mountaineer will continue that reputation, since it is one of the best tripods around. A traditional tripod with a reversible center column and four section legs, it raises up to 66 inches maximum height.
You will need to provide your own head for this tripod, the Gitzo GH1382QD Center Ball Head Series 1 at under $350 would be a great choice. Any fluid head for video use or a gimbal head would also be awesome choices.
Gitzo labels this line as the Mountaineer series of tripods for good reason. They are tough as rocks, very lightweight, and completely capable for any outdoor use. Also at home in any studio, they are very heavy duty as well. This model holds up to 30 pounds of camera rig.
The reversable center column adds a layer of capability that nature photographers will enjoy. This will allow you to get as close as possible to macro photography subjects without giving up the stability of a super heavy duty tripod.
Very expensive, this tripod with a Gitzo ball head will set you back slightly over $1000, it is one of the best tripods for heavy lenses and outdoor use ever made.