Our Three-legged Friends
In some ways it could be argued that tripods are less vital than they used to be due to two things. One is the technological advances which mean that cameras perform better at higher ISOs, meaning that a low light situation may no longer require a long shutter speed; and the other is that more and more lenses are available with image stabilisation or vibration reduction features, so that hand holding without camera shake is possible at longer shutter speeds than it ever was before.
All this is true – and yet I still prefer to use my tripod whenever possible. The main reason I use it is not because I’m worried about camera shake, but in order to absolutely fine-tune my composition, getting the edges of the frame exactly where I want them, and trying to make sure that the balance of the picture is just right. Also, in cases such as close-up work where precise focusing is really crucial, using a tripod enables you to focus with great precision and without fear of moving a millimetre or two between focusing and pressing the shutter release and so not having the sharpness exactly where you want it.
And if you ever want to use really long exposures to show movement blur in water, for instance, then you will definitely need to use a tripod or some other sort of camera support.
If you decide to buy a tripod, choose the sturdiest one that you can afford – a lightweight tripod may be too flimsy to support a heavy DSLR with a long lens attached. Carbon fibre tripods are lighter than conventional ones while still giving good stability, but they are also more expensive.
Make sure you buy a tripod head that is really designed for photography – some are for video, and don’t give the full range of movement.
Heavy and cumbersome – yes – but on occasion, a tripod can be so well worth the effort of carrying it!