home / tripod info / tripod glossary
Tripodology Glossary
Tripod Glossary

The language of tripods can seem confusing and complicated to the uninitiated. We've compiled this easy to understand guide of the most commonly used terms you'll encounter when you navigate the three-legged jungle.

Anatomy of a Tripod:

1. Pan-handle
2. Elevator (Center column)
3. Crank handle
4. Body
5. Leg Rib
6. Leg assembly
7. Guide pipe
8. Brace arm
9. Arm guide
10. Leg locking lever
11. Leg tip (rubber foot)
Anatomy of a Panhead:

1. Pan-handle
2. Elevator (Center column)
12. Video boss (Retractable)
13. Camera screw
14. Platform locking lever
15. Quick-release platform
16. Panning lock nut
17. Side tilt locking nut (vertical position)
9. Arm guide
10. Leg locking lever
11. Leg tip (rubber foot)

Braced and unbraced legs:
Some tripods have a collar around the main column of the tripod which links to a brace on each leg. If the tripod is otherwise very light, this can make the tripod more stable and is often used on video tripods. But it means that the legs all have to splay out the same amount. This can take longer to set up if the ground is uneven. And a solidly built heavier tripod, without braced legs, can be as or more stable than a lightweight one with braced legs. Generally a braced leg tripod is better for shooting video whereas a unbraced tripod will better suit landscape photography where you are likely to be shooting on uneven ground.

Most tripods have feet that are covered in a rubber or neoprene material. Some of these have a screw thread that rotate to reveal a a spike. Depending on the surface you are shooting on one or the other will provide the most stable footing. If you regularly take sunsets on sandy beaches by the ocean’s edge, a steel metal spike may rust over time so be prepared to rinse the spikes under a tap after the shoot, even if they are stainless steel or chrome plated. Or choose a tripod equipped with solid rubber feet only.

Fixed Head Tripods:
If the tripod is not equipped with a quick-release plate, it is therefore Fixed Head. Which means that the attachment screw for the camera in the tripod head is not removable and no separate QR plate is provided. This is usually only found on larger professional tripods.

Ground Effect or low-angle shooting facility:
This enables the tripod legs to be splayed out so that the tripod head can be placed very low to the ground. This is useful for macro photography e.g. close-ups of flowers, insects, etc. – or dramatic ground-level perspective shooting. You might also use this with the tripod on a table for indoor/studio macro photography.
These tripods often feature a reversible centre column, which enables the camera to be mounted “inside” the three legs. Ground effect tripods are much more flexible, do not feature braced legs and are well suited to landscape photography because of their immense flexibility.

There are many different types of tripod head, each designed to produce ease of use in different situations. The three most common types are: 3-Way Pan & Tilt, Ball & Socket and Fluid
Some tripods can be fitted with different heads, for added flexibility. If you have a large telephoto lens and want to shoot vertical shots, look for tripods that have right-turning platforms, i.e. they hinge to the right for vertical images. As the weight of the camera and lens tend to twist down with gravity, on a right hinged head-platform, the screw attaching the camera to the tripod head will tend to tighten. Left-turning heads, in most cases, do the opposite and the camera loosens on the head.
• 3-way Pan & Tilt: A head that enables movement up or down and side to side, enabling either portrait or horizontal images.
• Ball & Socket: A solid ball and metal socket with a quick clamp, for infinite movement up and down and side to side. Not easy to make fine adjustments, but usually more compact for travel.
• Fluid: Used on video tripods, the oil fluid in the head dampens the side-to-side and/or tilting movement for very smooth “panning” (movement side to side) or tilting in your video shooting.

Quick Release Plates:
As the name suggests, a quick-release plate equipped tripod head allows you to take the camera on and off without delay for changing lenses, batteries, or simply for handheld shooting. It can even allow for quick changeovers to another camera if you have a spare quick release plate.

Unlike still cameras, video cameras need to be registered on the tripod head or plate for sureness of panning. So a video head has a locating pin in front of the screw thread. On multi-purpose heads this will be spring-loaded so the head or plate can be used for either still or video work.

Bubble Level:
Some tripods include a spirit level permanently mounted to the head to ensure the tripod is level front-to-back and side-to-side for perfectly horizontal landscape shots, virtual tours or copy work.

Tripods used to be made of solid wood or pressed steel. Aluminium is more common today, but for even lighter weight, magnesium or carbon fibre are also employed. They may be tubular or folded extrusions. They may have snap fasteners, twist locks or screw locks. They are largely a matter of personal choice.

This is simply a one legged camera support - you provide the other two legs. It won’t help you stabilise a long exposure, but it will greatly improve long telephoto shots of sport, or images where you want to follow-focus a moving object, like a racing car or the like. Many variations in size and weight, especially suited to large 200 or 300mm dedicated telephoto lenses for sports photographers.

Open Height:
Can be as small as a table tripod (20cm high or less), chest height or even higher than head height, more than 2m. Anything above chest height is desirable for most pictures. Some tripods have three sections (most common), some four. Some 3 section tripods can be taller than compact four section tripods.

A light tripod is usually less steady. But a lightweight one can be made more solid through the addition of a weight bag or a stone bag (supplied with all GEO tripods), filled up on location. How far you intend to take your tripod and equipment and your ability to carry this weight, whether attached to a backpack or over your shoulder will determine the target weight.

Weight bag or stone bag:
A cloth or plastic bag, sometimes attached to your tripod with a hook on the end of the of the centre column, or clamped around each of the three legs. The bag is filled up with stones, rocks or anything handy that’s heavy and adds to the stability of your tripod. Often provides a solution to steady shots when using a lighter tripod when travelling (supplied with all GEO tripods).