Everyone knows what a phone tripod is, but how crucial are they? In short? Extremely important for a wide range of mobile photography styles. Read on to learn why
What’s a Phone Tripod? Why Do I Need One for Mobile Photography
I probably shouldn’t have to explain what a tripod is. It’s an accessory to cameras that has three legs to provide stability, and it allows the camera to be freestanding (hands free). The tripod’s ball head allows you to adjusts your angles as well. A tripod is an extremely versatile tool and a standard part of any photographer’s arsenal.
Monopods are, as the name would suggest, a similar accessory but have only one leg. Therefore, they aren’t freestanding and are also subject to movement from the person holding it. They’re pretty much inferior to tripods in every way except that they tend to be lighter and easier to pack.
Bipods don’t exist. Let’s keep it that way.
There isn’t really any difference between a traditional camera tripod and a mobile tripod; they both function the same way. Traditional camera tripods tend to be much bigger, obviously, and have accessories themselves (such as a pistol grip for finer control). Mobile phone tripods are usually pretty small and, let’s be honest, cheaply made (although we can avoid this).
To do so, you can get a universal smartphone mount for your professional camera tripod. If you choose to go in this direction, you’ll have the benefit of being able to shoot with any type of camera, smartphone or not.
In the end, the only real difference is whether the tripod has a mount for phones or cameras – and some have both!
Why do I need a Mobile Tripod
Honestly, having a tripod can make or break your photography. It’s not an absolutely critical piece of gear, but it opens up a lot of different types of shots (which often turn out to be the coolest anyway).
For example, the standard shutter speed is about 1/60th of a second. If you get much lower than that, motion blur may be visible because very few people’s hands are truly steady.
With a tripod, that’s no problem! Of course, these multi-legged tools are a prerequisite for any type of long exposure photography. Once you’re below 1/30th of a second or so, there’s no way you’ll get a crisp image without having a tripod to hold the camera for you.
Another thing to consider is the use of tripods in travel photography.
Pros of Smartphone Tripods
- Tripods allow you to take long-exposure photographs. We’ve touched on this a couple of times, but it bears repeating. Without a mobile tripod, there is no way to take a long exposure on a phone. That locks you out of all kinds of killer photo opportunities such as astrophotography and light painting. In many low-light situations, exposing the photo for longer will brighten the picture enough to make it easily visible without ruining the shot with too much light.
- Tripods allow for smooth movement of the camera/phone. Sometimes you need to move the camera between shots or even during them. Panoramas, for example, require a steady hand to track perfectly horizontal. Taking rapid pictures of a fast-moving subject could benefit from the same skill. Many tripods (though not all) come with a bezel to facilitate smooth and easy movement that can be restricted to a single plane.
- Selfies. Yes, selfies. It’s trite. It’s almost not worth mentioning. We’d be remiss, however, to not acknowledge that selfies make up a significant percentage of photos taken on phones. You may be going for the classic selfie look, the one where it’s evident that you’re holding the phone. If you’d like pictures that could deceive viewers into thinking you have a personal photographer (or even just friends), you’ll need to prop that phone up on a tripod and use the timed picture function or a wireless shutter remote.
Cons of Smartphone Tripods
- Tripods can be a pain to carry around. They’re inherently bulky. Some offerings avoid this by using telescoping tripod legs that stash inside of themselves, as well as tripods made of light but sturdy materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum.No matter how ingeniously constructed a tripod is, it’ll still take up an excessive amount of space or weight. That’s why many photographers elect to attach them to the outside of their lens pack. Phone tripods, in particular, tend to be proportionally smaller, but quality ones are still inconveniently large.
That’s the only downside, to be honest.
How to Use a Cell Phone Tripod
This section may or may not be useful to you because:
- Using a tripod is pretty self-explanatory.
- Some tripods work differently than others.
We’ll give it a shot anyway, though.
Start with your compact, folded-up, and stowed away tripod. Depending on its size and whether or not the legs telescope (that is, collapse inside of one another), it may have latches or thumbscrews that you’ll need to loosen to expand the tripod.
Get all those legs straightened out – if you’ve got a flexible tripod with flexible legs then this step is even more important. Depending on the shot you’re aiming for, you may not need to extend the legs all the way – that’s fine, no harm done. Many tripods have a mechanism (those latches or thumbscrews) to lock the tripod legs into their extended position. Do that, and make it tight! You don’t want your precious phone to drop unexpectedly.
Now you attach your phone to the tripod. The majority of smartphone tripods use clamps to secure the phone to the mount at the top. Very few use a screw-in mount like traditional cameras since that would require a corresponding screw on your phone (or more likely your phone case). Once it’s in there, give it a jiggle to ensure that it’s totally secure.
Note that you may have to remove the case from your phone to get it to fit in the clamp. You probably have the case off already since most clip-on lenses don’t work with a case (except for Moment Lenses, which come with their own killer case).
That’s it; you’re set up with a tripod. Many cell phone tripods come with a Bluetooth remote control (here’s some more info about them). Most of those work with a simple Bluetooth connection, so now’s a good time to set that up.
Where to Get a Quality Phone Tripod
A tripod is one of those things you don’t want to skimp on. The $10 ones are pretty useless for anything more than elevating your phone 3 inches above the ground. You can get a really nice one (that comes with a bunch of extra goodies) for $20-$30.
Here’s our list of the best phone tripods for each type of photographer and category.