Alternate title: Do I really need to spend that much?
The short answer is noooooooo.... yes. It's yes. A good tripod is worth it. I believe that a decent tripod with a lifetime warranty, whose size and capabilities match your needs and preferences, is worth it.
Do I Need a Tripod?
Maybe not! Maybe you can spend way less money and get a GorillaPod instead. If you need a tripod, you've got something that will work, and you can play with the slow-and-locked-down workflow before investing in a real tripod.
Plus, the GorillaPod will never be unwanted in the future. They're great for lights or other such things.
I do recommend going "on brand" for this, the cheap imitation ones have flimsy legs and fall over constantly. They're terrible, you want the one from Joby.
Just The Legs?
Tripod Heads and Legs are sold separately. This makes sense, because you want the right head for you, and you want the right legs for you.
Photo and Video tripods are separate things. Video tripods are sturdier, heavier, and can do things like pan/tilt smoothly and have more ways to level the equipment. Photo tripods are lighter, more portable, can be set up and torn down more quickly.
If you want a video tripod, get a video tripod. If you want a photo tripod, then get that. A "hybrid" photo/video tripod is probably just a small video tripod.
Things To Consider About Tripods
- Head Type. I prefer ball-heads because my biggest concern is usually quickly leveling a camera, and I don't do video. Ball-heads are good balance of weight and price, but can be annoying to fine-tine adjustments
- Mount Style. ALl my tripods and plates use an 'arca-swiss style' mount, which means interoperability and easy replacement purchases.
- Material. Don't buy a plastic tripod. Carbon fiber or aluminum. Or wood, actually, if you find a good old one, it will probably perform surprisingly well.
- Ease of Cleaning. A tripod should be able to be completely disassembled, cleaned of its sand and cruft and anything, and then put back together easily. Replacement parts should be available for purchase or covered by warranty.
- Weight and Easy of Carrying. Some heavier tripods just have convenient grips and places to mount straps. Some lighter tripods are annoying to hold. Try and get your hands on some friends tripods or go into a store and try them.
- Ease of locking and unlocking. Cheaper tripods will take just that little extra twist of the knobs to loosen. Gross. One extra hand re-adjustment and twist, times 3-5 per leg, times 3 legs, every time you set up or tear down the tripod. It will add up, and the better ones are worth it.
- Replaceable Feet. Can you unscrew the feet and install spikey cleats for grass? But also, the rubber feet won't slowly come unscrewed over time.
- Reversable Center Column. I find myself flipping my center column upside down and shooting low-angle or close-up photos a lot. It's a feature I wouldn't give up in any tripod I buy, but you may not care.
- Removable/Monopod Leg. Another preference. I like removing legs and having monopods, but some may want one less screw or point of failure for the tripod.
How Big of a Tripod to Get?
I think you would rather buy too small of a tripod than too large of one, because an extra pound you don't need to carry is just that much lighter. ...I don't actually believe that. I believe you should buy the correct sized tripod. Get yourself into a camera store and try different sizes. You don't need to extend a tripod above your head, you just want one that will be comfortable to use.
I'm pretty tall, so my daily-driver tripod is on the taller side. Because that can be annoying, I also have a super compact travel tripod that I bought before a multi-week trip Europe.
What are some good Tripods
The best cheap tripod that I've been recommending for years is meFOTO.
My personal tripod brand of choice is 3 Legged Thing, and I own 3 different 3 Legged Thing tripods, of different sizes. They even reached out to me on twitter to replace a tripod when they lost the molds for the original parts when a factory shut down. In order for them to honor their lifetime warranty, they wanted users upgraded to the newer tripods they have replacement parts for, and upgraded me for free.
Peak Design started making a nice super-compact travel tripod. I think Peak Design is a little overpriced, but I can't argue that the gear they make is excellent.
You want this kind of care from the company that makes your gear.
The best tripods are made by Gitzo. If it isn't paying for itself, then you probably can't afford it. That's okay.