Explorer Tripod Buying Guide
The tripod has been a companion to the camera right from the start. When taking a photograph took seconds sometimes up to minutes to capture, the tripod was needed to keep the camera supported so images would be sharp. Today’s cameras are very light sensitive and can capture a tack sharp image in a fraction of a second, however, tripods are still needed for this task when photographers who specialize in landscape and long-exposure photography utilize slower shutter speeds and having a rock-solid tripod is vital for a sharp image.
There are so many designs for tripods of all sizes and prices. I’m going to give you a breakdown of the essentials and help you narrow down your search so you can choose the best one for your needs. I will show you what Explorer tripods have to offer and what their features are but, first we need to answer this question:
Why Do I Need a Tripod?
A tripod is a stationary support for your camera so you can be freed from holding it in place. A tripod allows you to contemplate and compose your framing and keep that composition in place while you make decisions on how you will create your image. This is important in so many shooting situations such as shooting landscapes, portraits, and products.
A tripod holds the heavy, long telephoto lens you use while tracking wildlife. A tripod keeps you from becoming fatigued while waiting, sometimes for hours until the right shot appears before you. You need a tripod for time-lapse photography and for shooting video that’s steady enough for broadcast-quality results. A tripod allows you to position the camera at a difficult height and angle and hold it there while shooting with a remote shutter release.
The next question we need to answer is:
What Makes a Tripod Good?
A tripod’s job is to support a camera well enough so a sharp, well-exposed photograph or an easy-to-view video can be achieved. You want the tripod to be optimal for your camera gear and portable enough so you are willing to have it with you when you’re shooting. It’s a combination of size, weight, ease of use, and stability. Cost is another factor.
Size – Finding the right size tripod is finding the one that will do the job and be with you when you need it. You want to look at these factors: How small is it when it’s folded? How tall is it when fully extended? And, How much weight can it support? You need to figure out all of these things and make sure the tripod you choose meets your height, size, weight and load capacity requirements.
Here’s an example—Explorer has a tiny little tripod that can support 11 lbs and when folded, fits in your pockets and weighs only 11 ounces—the TX-MK.
Sounds great—and it is, as long as you can deal with a maximum height of 7.7 inches. The tripod’s size has to match your shooting needs yet be the solution you’re willing to keep with you when shooting. It must be comfortable for you to carry. A mirrorless camera can use a smaller tripod compared to a DSLR or medium format camera and be just as effective as a larger tripod. The camera system’s weight is a determining factor.
Weight – A big heavy tripod made of metal is going to be the most solid and stable or so you would think. Heavy commercial camera stands are found in photo studios and in that environment, their weight is not an issue, however, when you’re out exploring and traveling, the weight-to-strength ratio has to be considered. Luckily, carbon fiber has become a solution to giving tripods a great amount of strength while keeping them lightweight.
It’s our material of choice at Explorer. Tripods designed for large camera systems benefit from using a 10-layer carbon fiber material to give them strength equal to those made of steel.
Ease of Use – Tripod designers have offered so many features to make tripods easier to use. Flip locks, quick releases, center columns, lateral columns, etc. The biggest contributing factor to ease of use is a quality build where all the controls work smoothly and precisely, the layout makes sense and perhaps most importantly using the tripod doesn’t become a burden on your creative process. The added features I mentioned should be understood and considered in your buying process. Explorer tripods all have one common feature, they are made for the photographer on the go. Photographers who specialize in landscape and long-exposures where photos are taken using slower shutter speeds and having a rock-solid tripod is vital for a sharp, well-exposed image. We emphasize maximum stability in the lightest package possible.
Stability – Stability is the reason you buy a tripod in the first place! A well-constructed tripod is one that securely holds your camera and is free from movement and shakes. For photographers that use slow shutter speeds when taking photos, the tripod must be rock solid, even in windy conditions. The legs must have a wide stance and there needs to be enough weight to plant the tripod firmly to the ground. One helpful feature to have is a hook under the center of the tripod that you can hang a weight, often your camera bag, to provide additional stability.
What is the Best Tripod for You?
Because of the variety of conditions, accessories, and personal needs, there is no one tripod to rule them all. There will always be trade-offs between models either in height, stability, load capacity, weight, etc. You’ll find talking to photographers that they eventually wind up with several tripods to use in different situations. A professional may own a travel tripod for hiking/backpacking and also a full-size tripod for studio work for enhanced stability and load capacity. The bottom line is, buy a tripod you’ll use and make sure it’s up to the task at hand.
Compact and Table Top Tripods
There are hundreds of tripods on the market that are very small and easy to carry. They may have flexible legs, fold down to the size of a credit card, or be as small as a pen. If they hold your camera or your phone steady enough to get the photo you’re after, they’re doing their job. I’m assuming you are needing something a little more robust than this so let me explain how you can find a small tripod you can rely on. The same rules apply to compact tripods. The combination of size, weight, ease of use, and stability are all important factors to consider. You can have a small tripod that can only be 10 inches tall but placing it on a table, it’s that much taller, right? If you’re on a river bank trying to get the lights of New York City and your little tripod lets you get an exposure long enough to capture a great image, you had the right tripod at the right time.
Compact tripods are also a great extension to your arm when vlogging allowing you to get some extra reach for a wider shot when speaking to the camera.
In compact tripods, I want to stress the importance of a quality build. Everything on that tripod should allow you to lock it in place and it should be strong enough to carry the load of your gear. Too many little tripods can fall over with a flick of the finger or the legs or the head fail and your camera falls over. Buy a quality compact tripod and look at its specifications and make sure it can handle the weight of your gear.
What is the right Explorer tripod for you?
Let’s go through the range of Explorer tripods and I’ll come back to answer that question.
Explorer tripods are designed to give you the most efficient tripod in size and weight that is minimal while maintaining maximum performance. All Explorer tripods are built out of 10 layer carbon-fiber giving them a high strength-to-weight ratio. The leg sections smoothly extend and retract and are secured by twist-lock mechanisms that lock the legs into place and release them easily with a firm turning of the knob. The Explorer ball heads that are paired with the legs are designed to eliminate any extraneous metal without any compromise in strength and stability. Every head is topped with an Arca-Swiss fastening system so whether you use the included camera plate, an Explorer L bracket, or any Arca-Swiss compatible accessory like a pano system, it will fit securely in place. There’s an entire world of Arca-Swiss accessories that are compatible with our ball heads.
I will start with the Explorer Voyager TX-VK. It is a compact travel tripod that is full of features that make it a great tripod for any user. It has a 5 section leg design with a maximum leg diameter of 24.5mm and weighs in at only 2.6 pounds (1.2 kg). When folded folded it measures 13.8″ (35 cm). You can shoot with the Voyager as low as 6 ½ inches off the ground up to just 5 feet high. Its weight capacity is just about 31 lbs, which easily handles a DSLR. What gives it such a wide range of height? You can angle the legs out to get low to the ground and reverse the center column to get your camera even lower to the ground. Bring the legs back together and extend the 2-section column and you’re at 60+ inches to comfortably shoot standing up. The Voyager can also easily convert into a monopod for easy shooting of fast moving subjects. The monopod conversion is a feature we have in several of our tripods.
Next up are the Explorer Expedition tripods, the Expedition and Expedition Pro. I want to point out something important about these tripods, they have a very narrow profile because they have no center column. Why? Maximum stability with minimum weight in a compact form. That’s the goal. Having no center column makes them thin when folded, easy to pack and carry. Having no center column makes them extremely stable as well. These are trekker tripods that easily attach to a backpack. With the camera sitting at the fulcrum of the legs, the tripod stands firmly in place. The Expedition and Expedition-PRO have the same design, the only differences are size and capacity.
The Expedition is only 2lbs and 11oz and its diameter when closed equals a water bottle. Folded it is 18 inches in length. Its four leg sections extend to a little over 50 inches with a maximum leg diameter of 24.5mm and supports 35 pounds.
The Expedition PRO increases the load capacity to 44 pounds and has maximum leg diameter of 32mm. Folded it is 19.88 inches and it reaches a height of 55.6 inches using a four leg sections design and weighs just over 4 pounds. Both expedition models are paired with ball heads to match the target load of the legs. The BX-33 on the Expedition and the BX-40 on the Expedition PRO. Both models include spikes to swap out the rubber feet when working on loose soil and can convert to monopods as well.
The Explorer Ascent is our top-of-the-line tripod. It is still compact at 3.7 pounds and only 20 ½ inches when folded, it is robust and capable of supporting over 57 pounds. The height at the top of the legs when fully extended is just shy of 57 inches. For low-angle shooting, the minimum height of the legs can be 3 ½ inches off the ground. On top is a ¾” mounting screw that can take most professional tripod heads available. The rubber feet can also be swapped out for spikes when working on loose soil, and webbed plastic feet are also included that are wide to prevent it front sinking into mud or wet sand such as when shooting at the beach.
The Ascent tripod will not convert into a monopod but it does have accessories. The Ascent has a flat removeable top plate that once removed can accommodate the optional EX-ACPROCC center column as well as other accessories that we will be releasing soon.
We offer a kit that pairs the Ascent with our Explorer EX-XL ball head and is designed to compete with the best heads on the market featuring a 52mm ball and a large main adjustment knob with friction control. The head’s load capacity is over 88 pounds. In designing the ball head all extraneous metal has been removed from the head to make it as light as possible. The head is, of course, Arca compatible and comes with an EX-60 Quick release plate.
Additional features across all the full-size tripods is that they have 3/8″ and ¼” mounting ports to hold accessories like our Magic Side Arm that can accommodate lights, mics, a smartphone, and so much more giving you the opportunity for many other add-ons.
The Explorer Range of Compact and Table-Top Tripods
A full-size tripod should be able to be used while you’re standing. If a tripod is under 4 feet tall when fully extended, we would call that a compact tripod. These can be very handy when traveling and with so many cameras having flip LCD screens, they’re convenient to use even at their small size. Our range of smaller tripods are all made with the same high-quality materials of their full-size counterparts.
Let’s consider the Explorer Gravity and Gravity PRO table top tripods. Both are made out of carbon fiber for the same high strength to weight ratio and both feature arca-Swiss compatible ball heads. The Gravity table top tripod extends to a maximum height of 13” and weighs 14 ounces with a max load capacity of 6.6lbs. When folded it is 10.35”.
The Gravity Pro borders on the realm of a travel tripod standing tall at a maximum height of 28” with a maximum load capacity of 5.5 lbs and when folded is 12”. Both the Gravity and Gravity Pro table top tripods have a 3 position adjustable legs allowing you to get low to the ground as well as help stabilize your camera on uneven ground.
A great application of these two tripods is macro photography. Whether on a tabletop or low to the ground, these two tripods are sturdy and reliable. They work great in conjunction with a macro rail and close-up lenses.
The last question remaining is, which Explorer tripod is right for you? Most pros would go for the Ascent or the Expedition PRO as their livelihood demands the need for a tripod with maximum load capacity and stability. That said, the Expedition is being widely used by pro shooters using compact full-frame mirrorless cameras with no compromise on stability and quality and even DSLR users find the Expedition up to the task. The Voyager is versatile and small and makes a great travel companion. If you want to travel light yet have a reliable support to take your images, the Gravity models will give you a tripod you can rely on as long as you can deal with the lack of height.
The Explorer line of tripods are quality tripods that you can count on in the field and are backed by a 5-year warranty and are supported worldwide by our teams in Australia and the USA.