How To Choose The Best Tripod For Astrophotography

In astrophotography, a tripod is a must-have piece of gear. Forget trying to take a picture of the Orion Nebula or the Milky Way with your free hand.

The long exposures required for astrophotography and the low light conditions mean that your camera has to be absolutely still to maintain focus and take good quality shots.

A sturdy tripod holds your camera still and makes it easy to adjust the angle of your shots.

I went online and compared dozens of tripods to find the best ones for different needs.

Among our top five picks, you’ll find a tripod that’s perfect for beginners on a budget, for experienced enthusiasts who want more versatility and travelling photographers looking for a portable tripod.

I love Manfrotto tripods for their build quality and ease of use. I have also featured other less-known brands that offer more affordable tripods.

Note: All these tripods are also ideal for ordinary photography. In fact, that’s what they are marketed for. If you dabble in both astrophotography and normal photography, any of these tripods works great for both.

What to Consider When Choosing a Tripod for Astrophotography

Because not every photographer has the same needs, it’s important to pick a tripod that fits your budget and situation. Here are the most important factors to consider.

a) Max Payload Weight

Before you check any other feature, confirm how much weight the tripod can take and compare it to the weight of your camera plus accessories. This will determine if you should even be considering that particular tripod.

Payload capacity can be as little as 2kg and as high as 13kg depending on the type of tripod, size and build quality.

Compact tripods designed for easy portability generally have a lower weight capacity. If you want a tripod that can hold heavier gear, you have to contend with a larger size and extra weight.

b) Materials

A tripod for astrophotography has to be reasonably light yet strong and sturdy. With that in mind, only two materials are worth considering when shopping for a tripod: aluminium and carbon fibre.

Both these materials are lightweight but can handle a substantial amount of weight. They are also resistant to corrosion.

An aluminium tripod is a good choice if you are on a budget. Carbon fibre tripods are pricier but they are stronger and lighter.

c) Versatility

Get a tripod that gives you plenty of versatility in angle and positioning. You should be able to shoot from just about any angle to capture objects directly above in the sky and those near the horizon.

One feature to look for is a 360-degree ball head that allows you to pan the camera around.

Another feature that adds to a tripod’s versatility is a vertical column, though you’ll find it mostly in mid-range and high-end tripods such as those from Manfrotto.

This column converts from a conventional horizontal centre column to a vertical column, giving you more angles and positions to shoot from.

d) Ease of Use

You should spend most of your time tracking objects in the sky and taking great shots, not setting up and adjusting the tripod.

A good astrophotography tripod should be easy to set up and operate. Here are some features that make all the difference when it comes to ease of use.

  • Smooth joints and levers: You should be able to adjust various joints and levers smoothly with just one hand.
  • Bubble level: Makes it easier and faster to position the tripod and your camera perfectly. A bubble level is especially handy when you are shooting from an uneven ground.
  • Quick release plate: A quick release plate on a tripod makes it easy and quick to switch cameras.
  • Spiked feet: Another handy feature when you don’t have the luxury of shooting from a hard even ground. Spikes under the tripod feet keep the tripod stable. Make sure the spikes are retractable to avoid damaging flooring when you are indoors.

e) Portability

If you like to shoot from different locations or you travel often to catch major celestial events, you’ll need a highly portable tripod.

Look for a tripod that folds down to a compact size that you can easily fit in your luggage. It should also be light (ideally, 2kg or less).

Note that you may have to sacrifice some payload capacity and a few features to get a highly portable tripod.

f) Other Considerations

  • Warranty: A long warranty is a good sign the tripod will last longer. 1 year is standard for cheap and mid-range tripods. High-end models tend to have a longer warranty of 2-5 years.
  • Counterweight hook: Useful when you need to increase stability. You can also use the hook to hang some things that you need quick access to such as a torch or a bag.
  • Tripod to monopod conversion: Some tripods can be converted into a monopod. A monopod is usually not useful for astrophotography but may be handy if you do other kinds of photography as well.
  • 3-section vs. 4-section tripod: Also not that important for astrophotography. A tripod with 3-section legs is adequate for astrophotography. 4-section tripods are taller (useful for other forms of photography) and compress into smaller sizes for easier portability. But they tend to be heavier and some cheaper models can have reduced stability when fully extended.
  • Carry bag: Most tripods come with a carry/storage bag. Makes it easier to safely store and travel with the tripod.

Best Tripods for Astrophotography in the UK

1. Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4, 055 Carbon Fibre 4 Section Tripod

Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4, 055 Carbon Fibre 4 Section Tripod with Horizontal Column, for DSLR, Compact System Camera, Mirrorless, Quick Power Lock, Black

 

The Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 tripod is the best choice for most astrophotography enthusiasts.

It is also the more expensive of our picks. But there are many great features you are paying for, starting with build quality.

The tripod is made from carbon fibre (with a few plastic parts), which makes it lighter than a similar-sized aluminium tripod but still sturdy and durable.

It weighs just 2.1kg but can support a payload weight of up to 9kg. Admittedly, that’s not much for professional photographer who often use heavily kitted out cameras. But for most astrophotography camera setups, 9kg is more than enough.

The Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 tripod comes with a 90-degree centre column that you can swivel from a vertical position to a horizontal position, depending on the shooting angle you prefer.

Note however, that you’ll need a counterweight when it is in a vertical position to keep the tripod from toppling.

The legs are also flexible. By pressing the power lock, you can adjust the angle of each leg individually though four angles. This is handy if you want the camera lower to the ground and you’ve already retracted the legs fully.

For easy setup, the tripod has a bubble level that rotates around the centre column. This ensures your camera does not block it.

Another feature I love is the easy link connector for attaching additional accessories.

What I don’t like is that you have to buy the head separately. The tripod doesn’t come with one.

Quick specs: 2.1kg weight, 9kg payload capacity, 54cm closed height, 170cm max height, 10 year warranty (after registration).

What I like about it:

  • Rigid and durable carbon fibre construction.
  • Lightweight
  • Adjustable leg angles.
  • Easy to set up and use.

2. Manfrotto Befree Live Tripod

Manfrotto Befree Live Lever Lock Lightweight Aluminium Travel Tripod with MVH400AH Fluid Head for DSLR, Mirrorless, Compact and Video Cameras up to 4 kg MVKBFRL-LIVE

If you don’t have the budget for the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 tripod, the Manfrotto Befree Live is a cheaper alternative.

It’s made from aluminium, hence the lower price tag. Manfrotto has a lighter carbon fibre version of Befree Live but it is more expensive.

Befree Live is also a great choice for those looking for a highly portable astrophotography tripod they’ll have an easy time carrying around on their travels. It weighs 1.75kg and measures just 40cm when closed, meaning you can carry it in you carry-on luggage on flights.

The biggest sacrifice you have to make to enjoy the lighter and smaller design of the Befree Live tripod is payload capacity.

Befree Live supports up to 4kg, restricting the kind of cameras you can use.

Unlike the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4, the Befree Live Tripod comes with a fluid head. So you are ready to get started as soon as it arrives. The head includes a quick release plate for your camera.

As for shooting and positioning versatility the legs are individually adjustable (3 angles), you can tilt and pan the camera using the fluid head and you can also do a 360-degree panoramic rotation.

The leg sections use levers to lock in place but you can also opt for twist-style variant.

Overall, the Manfrotto Befree Live tripod is a solid choice for many astrophotography enthusiasts, especially those who shoot from different locations.

The weight limit is somewhat restricted but most users will find it adequate.

Quick specs: 1.75kg weight, 4kg payload capacity, 40cm closed height, 151cm max height, 2 years warranty (5 years upon registration).

What I like about it:

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight and compact – highly portable.
  • Comes with fluid head.
  • Easy to see bubble level.

3. GEEKOTO Carbon Fibre Tripod

GEEKOTO Carbon Fibre Tripod 79 inches, Portable Camera Tripod Monopod Stand with 360 Degree Panorama Ball Head, 1/4 inch Quick Release Plate for DSLR Camera Video Camcorder, Load up to 26.5 Pounds

The GEEKOTO Carbon Fibre tripod is another good choice for anyone looking for a good bargain on a high quality tripod.

The GEEKOTO tripod is made from carbon fibre but costs about as much as the Manfrotto Befree Live aluminium tripod – and it can support a heavier camera.

The payload capacity for the GEEKOTO tripod is 12kg, making it a good choice for those using a heavier camera setup.

The tripod itself weighs just 1.5kg. The lightweight design combined with a folded length of 48cm, makes it easy to travel with the tripod. It easily fits in a compact suitcase. When you are outdoors, you can hang it from the back of your backpack.

The 4-section legs use a twist system for easy and quick height adjustment. You can position each leg at three different angles: 20, 50 and 80 degrees, giving you more flexibility in camera positioning.

The ball head allows 360-degree rotations, letting you shoot in any direction without having to remove the camera and re-position it. And with the bubble level, you are assured of accurate shots even when shooting from an uneven surface.

The GEEKOTO tripod offers a couple unique features you don’t get with Manfrotto tripods. The first is the tripod to monopod conversion, though you probably won’t find much use for this in astrophotography.

When fully extended, the monopod tube is 82” high.

The second unique feature is the inverted installation. You can attach the camera at the bottom of the centre column, rather than at the top. This allows you to take low landscape shots. It can be handy when you want to include part of the ground and sky in the same image.

Quick specs: 1.5kg weight, 12kg payload capacity, 48cm closed height, 200cm max height.

What I like about it:

  • Good value for money.
  • Lightweight and compact.
  • Versatile – offers a wide range of positions and angles.
  • High payload capacity.

4. Neewer Carbon Fiber Tripod

Neewer Carbon Fiber 66 inches/168 centimeters Camera Tripod Monopod with 360 Degree Ball Head,1/4 inch Quick Shoe Plate,Bag for DSLR Camera,Video Camcorder,Load up to 26.5 pounds/12 kilograms

The Neewer Carbon Fiber tripod is our best value pick. It is one of the cheapest carbon fibre tripods you are going to find.

Despite the low pricing, it has all the important features you need from a tripod.

Payload capacity is an impressive 12kg and the tripod can extend to an impressive 168cm.

Using the ball head, you can pan your camera 360 degrees, giving you the flexibility to shoot in any direction. You can also adjust the legs to different angles.

Like the GEEKOTO tripod, you can convert the Neewer tripod into a monopod. This is handy for photographers who dabble in other types of photography in addition to astrophotography.

Non-slip feet ensure stability when shooting and there are even retractable spikes for improved stability when outdoors.

Overall, I really like the Neewer tripod, especially for the price. Most users like it too. The tripod is highly rated on Amazon.

You may be wondering where the catch is. There’s no way you can get a carbon fibre tripod for less than £100.

Yes, there’s a catch but it has not affected most users that much. The overall build quality of the Neewer tripod is a bit lacking compared to GEEKOTO and Manfrotto.

When you setup the tripod and attach the camera, it still feels a bit wobbly when you shake it. The joints are not as sturdy as we’d like.

Even though the manufacturer says the payload capacity is 12kg, I recommend staying lower than that to ensure the tripod is stable especially during long exposure shots.

Also, be careful when travelling with the tripod and moving it around. Be gentle when you open and close it.

Quick specs: 1.5kg weight, 12kg payload capacity, 45cm closed height, 168cm max height.

What I like about it:

  • Great value for money.
  • Lightweight and compact.
  • 360-degree ball head.

5. Hama Star 75 Camera Tripod

Hama | Star 63 Camera Tripod | Up to 166cm | Incl. Carrying Bag | Black

If you are on a tight budget, I recommend the Hama Star 75 tripod. It’s cheap, costing about the same as basic smartphone tripods.

The Star 75 tripod is ideal for beginners who just want a feel of astrophotography before they start buying expensive gear.

It’s a very basic tripod with only the essential features.

A 3-way tilt head provides decent flexibility but does not have 360-degree rotation. The head includes a quick release plate for attaching your camera and a bubble level for improved precision.

As expected, payload capacity is lower than that of the other tripods – it’s 2.5kg. Keep this in mind when choosing the camera you’ll use.

The 4-section legs are extensible but you cannot adjust their angles. You can also extend the centre column for an overall height of 125cm.

The Star 75 tripod weighs only 620g and measures 42cm when folded. Portability is not a problem.

Quick specs: 620g weight, 2.5kg payload capacity, 42cm closed height, 125cm max height.

What I like about it:

  • Inexpensive
  • Great choice for beginners.
  • Decent versatility.
  • Lightweight but sturdy aluminium construction.

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