As a beginner photographer, one of the best tools that opens up several new avenues of photography is the tripod. Aside from the camera body and lens, it is arguably an essential tool in a photographer’s bag. No matter what avenue of photography you decide to pursue, a tripod will become necessary in almost all of them.
Whether you’re choosing to focus on portrait photography, landscape photography, or astrophotography, you’re severely limiting yourself without a tripod. Not only does the use of a tripod eliminate camera shake, but it also allows photographers to take long exposures and accurately capture different angles. It also lets the photographer remotely control the camera for a time-lapse shot; there are numerous situations where a tripod comes in use.
There are several different types of tripods on the market and sifting through all the choices can be difficult. Aside from the several different types of tripods, another difference is the construction material.
Typically, tripods are made out of aluminum. However, over time, Carbon Fiber has become incredibly popular as well. These two materials are predominantly used for tripod construction, and each material has its advantages and disadvantages.
There’s no significant difference between an aluminum tripod’s performance and a carbon fiber tripod when it comes to indoor photography. However, when you take the equipment outwards, the different properties of the material begin to show. Here are all the essential differences between an aluminum tripod and a carbon fiber tripod.
Both aluminum and carbon fiber tripods are available in different weights and sizes when it comes to weight. However, in material terms, carbon fiber is significantly lighter than aluminum. As a result, carbon fiber tripods of the same weight as aluminum tripods are considerably larger.
While it’s true that the heavier a tripod, the more stable it’s going to be, it’s important to consider portability as well. If your photography session requires you to walk around, carrying a heavy tripod will start weighing you down fast.
A small difference in weight might not seem significant at first but, when you’re out hiking for the whole day, it makes a world of difference. For the photographers that want maximum portability out of their tripod, carbon fiber is the way to go. Their lightweight nature and substantial size will ensure that the tripod is portable and capable of performing various situations.
Ultimately, the best material depends on what weight suits the photographers’ needs the most. Before making a choice, it’s essential to consider how long the photographer will carry the tripod. If it’s for short periods, an aluminum tripod will work just as well!
Stability is an important feature when it comes to taking pictures outdoors. In a studio, photographers are entirely in control of the environment. They don’t need to worry about external factors disrupting the shot. It’s when you take photography outdoors that the stability of the tripod comes into focus.
The rule of thumb with stability is that the heavier the tripod, the more stable it will be. While lightweight tripods are more portable in nature, they won’t provide the amount of stability necessary in external environments. Lightweight tripods also tend to struggle more when the camera body and lens are more massive than expected.
Carbon fiber tripods are significantly lighter than aluminum tripods. That’s why when it comes to stability, aluminum tripods are the winner. Their heavier nature means that they’ll be more stable in external environments. It won’t suffer from any camera shake in the wind. In contrast, a carbon fiber tripod will suffer from shake significantly more in the wind.
Another primary reason why stability is important is that you rarely find completely level ground when taking photographs outdoors. When the ground is uneven, the tripod is more prone to shaking and potentially falling over and damaging equipment.
When photographers are using an aluminum tripod, they also can provide more stability by using a counterweight. Most tripods on the market come with a hook underneath the main body that allows you to hang the counterweight.
When we talk about construction, carbon fiber and aluminum are different and react differently to the environment—three fundamental properties impact construction. Carbon fiber is both weather-resistant and is capable of resisting corrosion a lot more. Aluminum tripods need the presence of an additional layer for protection. Once the coating starts to wear out, the tripod is at greater risk of aluminum oxide formation and corrosion.
Another advantage of carbon fiber tripods over aluminum tripods is that they offer more excellent vibration absorption. While it’s an advantage of the material composition, a few other factors contribute to the absorption—the more massive a tripod and the more legs, the higher the stability.
There a few other material properties of both that mainly have to deal with temperature. Carbon fiber doesn’t conduct temperature as well as aluminum and in colder weather becomes more prone to shattering. If you’re using a carbon fiber tripod in the cold, be careful not to strike it anywhere.
Alternatively, an aluminum tripod is a much better conductor and will get extremely cold in harsh conditions. As a result, photographers need to be careful when touching the tripod in these conditions.
When it comes to damage due to its rigid and stiff nature, carbon fiber can withstand a lot more damage. However, when it does reach its deflection point, the tripod will shatter. An aluminum tripod, in comparison, is more likely to bend before it breaks. The aluminum tripod is at risk of suffering from irreparable damage before it reaches its breaking point.
How long a piece of equipment lasts is one of the most essential questions in the mind of photographers. Due to the nature of photography, photographers prefer equipment that lasts an extended amount of time. When taken care of properly, both Aluminum and carbon fiber tripods will last decades rather than a matter of years. Both materials are durable and can withstand a significant amount of punishment.
However, when it comes to the rougher handling and challenging conditions, carbon fiber tripods are likelier to come out on top. They’re significantly more durable and are capable of withstanding a lot more punishment.
One common feature in both carbon fiber and aluminum tripods is that they often feature rubber supports. These supports are typically the first thing that starts to deteriorate when the tripods start to grow old. After a little bit of wear and tear, scratches and scuffs will start to appear on the supports. These might need replacement and may even come loose over time.
When it comes to pure longevity, carbon fiber tripods can last significantly longer than aluminum tripods. If the photographer is trying to take pictures in outdoor environments with harsher weather, the carbon fiber tripods are the ideal choice.
The tripod’s stiffness is a property that deals with how much the camera shakes and how it transmits vibrations. The stiffer the tripod, the sharper, and cleaner the images are as a result. When it comes to sharpness, even the tiniest movement can effectively ruin the result and destroy the image’s whole look.
In terms of pure figures, the stiffness to weight ratio of carbon fiber is five times greater than aluminum. As a result, carbon fiber tripods exceed aluminum in terms of both strength and rigidity. Even tripods that weigh significantly less than their aluminum counterparts offer better vibration absorption.
Unlike most of the material differences, the tripod’s stiffness comes into the spotlight when taking indoor pictures. When there are no external forces to disturb the positioning of the tripod, that’s when photographers will be able to see the image difference when using stiffer tripods. It’s the high-density nature of carbon fiber as a material that provides rigidity and strength.
While there are many minor differences between aluminum and carbon fiber tripods, the most significant difference is pricing. When you look at the market five years ago, the price of carbon fiber tripods was nearly five times more than that of aluminum tripods. However, with the advent of time and improvements in technology, carbon fiber tripods started to become affordable.
Now they’re available for a fraction of the price that they would sell for initially. With more and more entry-level tripods making it into the market, photographers have more options than ever before.
Even though aluminum still manages to retain the edge in terms of affordability, photographers will be surprised to see the price of carbon fiber tripods.
There are several differences between aluminum tripods and carbon fibers tripods. Each of these differences contributes to making each type of tripod ideal for one situation or another. Depending on the photographer’s needs, there are different advantages and disadvantages of both an aluminum tripod and a carbon fiber tripod.