Tripods are used with a wide variety of optical equipment. These devices are essential accessories not only for supporting spotting scopes, but also for other optical equipment such as telescopes, binoculars and cameras. Tripods play two main important roles namely:
- They improve the steadiness of the equipment when using sensitive and high-magnification instruments
- They support the weight of large and heavy instruments that the user would otherwise struggle to support adequately
Tripods have two basic parts: a tripod head that holds the optical product and a tripod leg set. On less expensive tripods (cheaper tripods usually cost less than $100) the tripod head and the leg set are sold together by the manufacturer. Most of these tripods do not allow the user to remove the head and switch it with a different one. For more expensive tripods, however, the heads and leg sets are interchangeable and can be bought separately. For instance, a Bogen tripod only sells the leg set if the customer orders for a ‘‘Tripod.’’ If the customer needs the complete device, they must order for a ‘‘Bogen Kit.’’ Manufacturers of high-end tripods usually mention this in the product specifications.
Heavy instruments require tripods with heavy heads, and these tend to be expensive. It’s important that you buy a tripod that matches your specific needs otherwise you will end up wasting your money. Most cheap tripods feature plastic heads which are prone to cracking and can easily drop your spotting scope on the ground. These types of tripods are often not the best for use with spotting scopes. Some manufacturers specify the correct payloads for their tripods. But, it’s always best to take these figures with a pinch of salt since they are often inflated.
Compact tripods are bigger than table-top tripods, but can still be used conveniently when the user is sitting on a chair. These tripods are loved by backpackers and mountain hunters due to their portability. Compact tripods are best for spotting scopes of not more than 70mm but not so good for spotting scopes larger than 80mm.
The Leupold Compact Tripod 56446 is one of the best compact tripods. The device sells for $142 on Amazon. It weighs 2.3 pounds and measures 17 x 9 x 5.2 inches. It is reputed to hold spotting scopes as large as 19 inches and supporting weights of up to 4.5 pounds quite well.
But, for people who prefer larger scopes, it would be better to go for the Bushnell Trophy XLT 20, a heavy-duty and waterproof spotting scope that comes fitted with a good compact tripod. The spotting scope sells for $374.95 on Amazon, though you can get it at an off-price of $185.30. This spotting scope and tripod weigh 7.2 pounds.
Full-size tripods allow a user of average height to use a spotting scope while in a standing position. Being full size, however, does not automatically mean that the tripod is ideal for heavy loads. The user should make sure to match tripod strength with the weight of the spotting scope. It’s also important to remember that as a general rule of thumb, cheap plastic tripods are only suitable for light weights and cannot be expected to support heavy spotting scopes reliably. The average full size tripod with its head attached extends from 26 inches to 57 inches but can go up to 72 inches with the center column at its highest point.
The Bushnell advanced tripod is one of the best full size tripods. The tripod sells for $166.95 on Amazon and weighs 5.5 pounds. This full-featured tripod can support 11 pounds of instrument and has a minimum height of 18.3 inches and a maximum height of 61 inches (50.3 inches without the column extended). It’s a great device to use where portability is not a primary concern. The universal head fits a wide variety of scopes, range finders and binoculars. The tripod is sturdily built with rugged corrosion-resistant finishes that guarantee years of trouble-free service.
Table Top/Shooter’s Tripods
Table top tripods, or shooter’s tripods as they are commonly referred to, are tripods that are designed for use on a table or a shooting bench. Most of these tripods are between 8 inches and 18 inches in height depending on the model and the manufacturer. Table top tripods mostly do not have telescopic legs. This limits their range of adjustability since many can only be adjusted using an extendable center column, though some models lack this feature. A shooter tripod consists of a table top tripod that has a knob that can be used to make fine adjustments on the evaluation and windage. Their light weight and narrow led span make them ideal for use in limited spaces but they are generally not recommended for use with heavy equipment.
If you feel that a table tripod is good enough for you, the try the Alpen Micro Adjustable tripod. It sells for just $72 on Amazon and weighs a mere 1.2 pounds. The tripod is a real midget and has a maximum standing height of just 13 inches, though it can go to 16 inches when the legs are bunched. The good thing about it is that it is sturdily built and made entirely of metal (with the exception of the adjustment knobs) which makes it a good choice even for heavier loads.
The most important thing to consider when buying a tripod for your spotting scope is how well it can support your scope. The height is also important, though the weight tends to be a secondary concern for many users.