Tripod/Monopod’s for Camera’s - Cost and Pricing Guide

Tripod/Monopod’s for Camera’s - Cost and Pricing Guide

Brian Mathers

You’re asking your self how much does a DSLR Camera tripod actually cost? The answer is…it depends! Now before you through your hands up in despair and click the X in the top corner, please hang in there for a few minutes while we go over the factors that impact costs. The way we are going to do this for you is by bringing some non-bias information to the table, we will step back and let you digest!

First let us go over the different price points that we see as substantial:

  1. Up to $50.00 – fairly basic, low-quality components, mass-produced, best for beginner/amateur photographers
  2. $50.01 - $150.00 – more material options, better quality components, mass-produced, best for budding photographers
  3. $150.01 – $300.00 – light weight options, components are getting there for quality, mass-produced, best for part time/hobbyist photographers.
  4. $300.01 + - mostly carbon fiber or aluminum frame, high quality components, micro adjustment options, some mass-produced others hand crafted (hand crafted are often closer to the 1k range).

As you now have a brief understanding of the different price points that DSLR Camera Tripods often fall into, we would like to take you on a brief journey through the different things that drive costs up and keep costs low.

  1. Quality – design and material
  2. Location of manufacturer
  3. Brand
  4. Method of purchase – in person, or online

Design quality…this is the initial design phase of a tripods journey. When we are looking at suppliers that mass-produce thousands and thousands of tripods every month, we are looking at a manufacturer that is more interested in volume then ensuring the product is of excellent quality. These manufacturers design phase may be just a matter of hours or days as they mostly test their products in house to see if they function as intended. Often stealing their core design from another company that would be considered a leader in the market, this is called reverse engineering which is one of the cheapest ways to figure out a design/functionality. Hence their investment is a fraction of the cost of companies at the other end of the spectrum. If you look at manufacturers in the top end of the budget, their design process is normally much different. Products can take years to be perfected before they hit the open market. Often concepts are designed, produced in a very small batch and field tested by true professional photographers, testing the new design to its core. This process is often repeated many times over to perfect the tripod to meet the manufactures standards.

Is the mud starting to clear for you? We hope it is! ...let’s keep rolling…

Material quality…often determined by what budget point the manufacturer is wanting to go to market at. Normally speaking the tripod is built out of a few different materials, often the legs are plastic/metal/carbon fiber. The head is often plastic/metal/carbon fiber, and the leg adjustments/feet are made of plastic/metal/carbon fiber. So in saying that let’s stick to the generalities of plastic, metal, and carbon fiber…. let’s dive in!

Some of the very low end/low budget tripods are made from plastic as this is one of the cheapest raw materials to manufacturer with. Once the initial plastic molds are set up the labor, raw materials and running costs are much lower than the alternatives for the manufacturer. Plastic tripods would fall into the lowest cost bracket, as well they are often cheap “knock off’s” of another model. They definitely have their place in the market, but we would not recommend using a plastic tripod if you are remotely serious about photography.

Metal tripods, again a vast array of quality of product. The two common metals used are steel and aluminum. There are many different grades of steel and aluminum so don’t be tricked by marketing that claims a metal frame or metal legged tripod to be superior to any other tripod. There are metal framed tripods that fall into the very bottom budget bracket! The biggest difference is the thickness and grade of the metal that is used particularly in the frame/legs of the tripod. The tubes used for the frame start out as flat pieces of metal that are rolled up into tubes and then cut to length. Generally speaking, the thicker the wall of the tube, the stronger it is…keep in mind this is not always the case. Another factor is if the seam of the tube is fully welded, spot welded, or just covered in paint to make the legs appear to not have a seam. You can normally tell this by looking closely at the leg or running your fingers down one of the tubes. If there is no markings or slight waves on the seam it is most likely just rolled and then painted over – not the strongest method but saves on manufacturing costs. If there are small marking evenly spaced on the tube it is most likely spot welded. This is where they do a single burst of weld every so often down the pipe. If there are mark’s or slight wobbles all the way down the tube has been fully welded – strongest version.

Carbon fiber, often the lightest and strongest material used on tripods. This stems from plastic that is woven together and bonded by heat or an adhesive creating a thin, lightweight, and potentially flexible product. Again, there are many variations of quality. The largest differences are if the carbon fiber is woven in a single run or if it has seams. The seams are the weakest point in any carbon fiber application unless they are reinforced with more thin layers of the plastic weave. Normally it is not cost effective for tripods in the lower end of the budget ranges to be made of carbon fiber. Normally speaking we would see this material used in tripods that are over the $50.00 mark, and often seen in anything over the $100.00 mark. Generally speaking, the tripod heads, feet, and adjusting mechanisms are not made from carbon fiber. It is usually only the legs/frame.

Ok, ok that was some deep diving! Let’s lighten up a little bit. We are going to hammer through the next points relatively fast while still providing proficient information for you to make an informed decision by the end of the read!

Location, location, location! We are sure you have heard this many times, but it does have a large impact on manufacturing costs.

Starting with shipping, easiest way to think of it is distance. Normally speaking the farther you have to ship something the more it will cost. Shipping from China is much slower and usually costs a lot more then shipping from somewhere in your home country. So this is an advantage for the tripods that are manufactured on home soil.

The cost of land, and the cost of buildings all adds to the cost of producing products. Places that have lower cost of land, lower cost of buildings (middle east) can normally reduce over head costs dramatically. The cost of labor plays into this one as well. Considering you can hire labor in the middle east for dollars per week, rather then hiring someone in the western world that is dollars per hour. If you do some quick math, you can see the dramatic effect labor has on producing tripods.

Safety is a huge expense for manufacturers in the western world. We don’t like to think of it that way, but it costs manufacturers a handsome sum of cash to implement safety procedures which often times can slow down the production rate. Embedded in safety is space. Generally speaking, most western countries would have spaced out production facilities. Each employee having ample space to move about, many 3rd world countries do not consider working conditions an issue therefor further lowering their overheads.

Is it becoming clear that location has a large impact on costs of tripods?

Let’s take a look at brands and the effect they have on costs to the end user. Firstly, looking at cheap knock of brands that don’t really care about their image and sometimes don’t even have an image. They are in business to sell volume, they are not interested in good customer service, they are not interested in warranties, they are not interested in how long the product lasts. They are after volume, volume, volume.

Flip the coin, companies that are reputable, that take care of their staff and their customers. Companies and people that are wanting to innovate and change the way photography will be going forward have huge expenses you wouldn’t generally consider. Brands at the forefront must think about ensuring each customer is satisfied, resulting in them employing and training staff. Standing behind your product warranty is a risk and an expense that many great brands take on themselves to ensure the positive customer experience.

Advertising, prominent brands often have a large advertising budget to ensure they keep in front of you the consumer. Billboards, TV ads, radio broadcasts, social media marketing and the list continues. This all contributes to the higher ticket for their product.

Are you getting the picture? Quality branding is not cheap therefore driving the cost up for you, keep in mind some brands are more for a very similar product of a lesser-known brand. Keep in mind the “knock-offs” so you do not get sucked into a lesser product that is claiming to be a better quality then it really is.

Ok last but not least, your method of purchase! In person purchasing is expensive for companies selling tripods. Having to pay for the store front, having to pay for advertising, having to pay for staff to help in person customers. The benefits are that you get customized personable service. Often the in-person staff can better understand your needs and point you in a more accurate direction. You can look and feel the actual product. The downsides to in person transactions is that the employee can be sales based so they are going to push you in a direction that will most benefit them – not always but sometimes (just a word of warning! 😊), normally driving your purchase budget up to increase their personal and store sales. The selection will also be limited by store/branch that you visit.

Online purchasing – often cheaper than in person visits. The selection will vary by the website that you visit but you are not wasting fuel and time between visiting different locations. Purchasing through companies like amazon and ebay, the supplier is having to pay that company between 10-30% depending on the services the large online retailers are offering. As an online retailer we can assure you that purchasing through a vendors business website is a win-win for you and the business. Often you will receive better service through a business website, as well the business owner will be able to make more money off of your purchase which betters the chance of you receiving great service in the future as they will still be around to service you and your photography needs! We understand that there is a risk purchasing through a small to medium size business website as there is a lot of scamming going on at the moment. A few things to safe check are,

  1. Do they have reviews on their products?
  2. Do they have an actual address in your country or surrounding country?
  3. Do they have a real phone number that a real person answers at the other end?

The downside of online purchasing is that you are losing that personal touch. A lot of us online retailers try very hard to replicate the in-person experience, but it can’t be done. We try our darndest but if you want that in-person experience you are going to have to go to a store that has a physical location.

The Camera Gear Store is an online store. We do not stock most of our products. We use a method of fulfillment called drop shipping. Once you purchase a product on our website, we send an order through to one of our suppliers that we have commercial agreements with. That supplier in turn packages the order and ships it to you, our customer.

Keeping in mind all the above points and information. We stand behind the products we sell even if the manufacturer does not. If we sell you a tripod or any other product and you are not satisfied, we will work with you until you are. We dare you to test us out!

If you have a tripod or tripod accessory in mind and don’t see it on please let us know as we have access to most brands even if they are not on our website.