When deciding between a tripod with or without a centre column, it’s important to consider what you’ll use it for. It’s a common belief that tripods without centre columns are more rigid and this deliver sharper results even when the centre column isn’t extended, but if you’re going to need extra height it may not be your best option.
The centre post allows you to reposition the camera higher than the average 125-160cm from the ground. Yes, you’re taking a risk in stability with a centre column that is fully extended – the higher the tripod, the less stable it is – which is why the general rule is to avoid extending a tripod’s centre column unless it is necessary to get the shot. You’ll need to weigh the benefits against the risks: Do you need a more stable tripod or one that allows you to get a fixed perspective, for example, capturing time-lapse, panoramas or even photo booth shots? In these situations, the exposure time is not the (main) issue; height is.
Benefits – with a centre column
A centre column is mounted to the tripod frame or allowed to slide through it. This allows the tripod to reach an exceptional maximum height. A friction collar keeps the centre column in place unless called to extend.
- Control: It’s easier to adjust the height using the centre column than with the legs.
- Stability: The tripod will often include a hook at the bottom of the column on which to hang camera bags to stabilise the tripod in windy conditions. That said, a tripod without a centre column may also have such a hook.
- Reversible: Some tripods can be inverted, allowing you to mount your camera below the tripod chassis for macro or other ground-level shots.
- Orientation: Some centre columns switch to a horizontal orientation which allows more positioning options for macro and landscape photography.
- Versatility: Tripods aren’t just used with cameras, but with telescopes where the centre column provides a quick way to adjust between photographers of different heights without moving the field of view too much.
Benefits – without a centre column
- Low-level work: Tripods without centre columns allow you to get lower for ground-level or table-top shots needed for sturdy macro and landscape shots. If you’re looking for something small and convenient to use on the fly, the Benro PocketPod tabletop tripod will do the trick – it weighs 160 g, carries 1.5 kg, folds down to 17.6 cm (with integrated ball head) and reaches a maximum height of 13.5 cm. You can also use it as a handgrip for smartphones.
- Weight: When in the studio, a tripod’s weight is not that significant, but it certainly is when carrying it on your back! Tripods without centre columns tend to weigh less making them ideal for travelling or hiking photographers. But, if you need to add additional height, you may need to invest in professional lightweight tripods like the Gitzo Series 3 Systematic and Benro C3770T which are specifically designed to reach impressive maximum heights while keeping the weight down. The Gitzo Series 3 Systematic tripod is a powerful 4-section carbon fibre tripod that weighs only 2.2 kg while supporting heavy setups of up to 25 kg. It extends to an impressive maximum height of 202 cm and goes down to a minimum height of 10 cm. Folded, it is only 71 cm. The Benro C3770T is a more affordable tripod without a centre column. Made from carbon fibre, it weighs just 2.1 kg while boasting a payload of 18 kg. It reaches a maximum height of 146 cm and a low of 150mm. It folds down to a travel-friendly 67.5 cm.
In essence, if you don’t need to add height to your shots, then there’s no point in getting a tripod with a centre column, but if you do, a centre column is your best bet.