I consider tripod to be the most important piece of photography equipment after camera body and lens. And if you are interested in travel and landscape photography you absolutely need a quality tripod.
Today’s tripods usually come in two primary materials, carbon fiber and aluminum. So what are the main advantages and disadvantages between a carbon fiber vs aluminum tripods? Choosing the right one can be harder than you think, as price, weight, and construction all will come into play.
A basic answer would be that aluminum tripods are generally cheaper, heavier, and the choice of most beginners, while the more expensive carbon fiber options are chosen most often by professionals. It is not always this simple, as each has its own set of pros and cons to make a photographer’s job easier.
Carbon Fiber vs Aluminum Tripods – Weight Difference
Probably the most noticeable difference between the two, weight can play an important factor when choosing the right tripod for you.
While it is no secret that a heavier tripod will be more stable, the heavier a piece of equipment is the more prone you are to leave it at home. It really comes down to the type and style of photography that you will be doing. Are you going to be shooting things a short distance from the house or a car? Or are you going to be backpacking into remote locations looking for that amazing landscape shot?
Figuring out what kind of weight will best suit your needs will help decide between the two.
Carbon fiber comes in at a lighter weight than aluminum, which can be a great advantage for photographers that are counting ounces. When looking at two tripods that are exactly the same size, the weight savings might not appear all that impressive. But carry one around in a backpack for a short amount of time and it will become apparent on just how important a few ounces in weight savings will be.
Aluminum vs Carbon Fiber Tripods – Construction
When it comes to the way that carbon fiber and aluminum are made and react to the environment, there are a few key differences. Carbon fiber is very weather resistant and resists corrosion very well, while aluminum can be prone to scratching and corrosion in more humid environments. Carbon fiber is much stronger than aluminum, and will usually take much more of a beating. Aluminum can and will bend out of place if abused too much.
Another key difference between the two materials is the way they absorb shock and vibrations. This is easily noticed when knocked against another object. An aluminum tripod will have a very loud metallic ringing sound when brushed up against a rock for example, while a carbon fiber tripod will hardly give any sound at all. This is because the carbon fiber does a much better job at absorbing any and all shock and vibrations, making for much steadier shooting.
Another advantage of carbon, although maybe minor, is its ability to withstand temperature fluctuations. Put an all metal aluminum tripod outside on a cold day and when you pick it up, it is going to be freezing cold to the touch. Do the same with a carbon fiber alternative, and it will not be nearly as cold and be more comfortable to handle.
A word of warning though, carbon fiber is vulnerable to extreme cold and tends to more easily break or shatter in those conditions. For most photographers in most conditions, however, this is not an issue.
Aluminum vs Carbon – Comparing Price
This is where most people will think the biggest difference is between the two, and they may not be wrong. It is no secret that carbon fiber tripods are historically more expensive than aluminum. Given the higher quality materials and difficulty to produce, they will cost you a little bit more.
What most people aren’t aware of, however, is that in recent years the cost of carbon fiber tripods has come down significantly. With better materials, streamlined processes, and advancing technology, you can now enjoy a carbon fiber tripod at a fraction of the price of what it would normally cost you.
As recent as five years ago the price of carbon fiber tripods kept them out of reach of most beginners. Now that even entry level tripods are available in carbon fiber, photographers have a wide range of choices when it comes to not only materials, but sizes, lengths, and prices. While aluminum still has the edge in terms of affordability, you would be surprised at some of the price tags on similar carbon fiber tripods on today’s market.
Every photographer will have a different budget that they are working with, as well as different needs in their photography. Prices not only differ when it comes to material but as well as sizes and weights. Consider what your budget is, and try to find a tripod that fits that description.
Real Life Examples
Manfrotto Befree is one of the most popular travel tripods around.
ZOMEI Compact Travel Tripod
ZOMEI is one of the best choices for compact lightweight tripods.
Neewer Tripod + Monopod Combo
Neewer is one of the best entry-level full-size tripods on the market.
As you can see, there are many differences between carbon fiber and aluminum tripods. For any photographer, I would recommend getting one depending on their situation and style of photography. For example, if traveling or hiking a lot then save the weight and go with a carbon fiber style. If you are just starting out in photography or are primarily shooting in a studio setting, an aluminum tripod might be a better choice.
While most professionals will be using a carbon fiber, now even beginners can save their money and get into a quality carbon fiber for a decent price.
No matter which material you choose, try not to buy the cheapest option you can find. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for. Having used very cheap tripods in the past, I can tell you from experience that the money savings are not worth the headaches. From unsteady shots to parts breaking, buying a good quality tripod will go a long way in your photography.
So whether you think a carbon fiber or an aluminum tripod will be best for you, now you can make a confident decision knowing the differences between the two!