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Tripodology Glossary
Tripod Glossary

The language of tripods can seem confusing and complicated so we have compiled this easy to understand guide of the most commonly used terms you'll encounter as you navigate the three-legged jungle.
There are many photographic situations that you simply cannot capture without using a tripod. This is why a tripod has always been an important item in any photographer’s outfit. The arrival of image stabilisation technology in modern cameras has many benefits for grabbing quick shots in poor light, but it has certainly not replaced the need for a sturdy tripod when using long exposure times. In fact, when time allows, most pictures are improved by the use of a tripod. Take your time, enjoy the art of tripod photography and you will find it extremely rewarding.

Let us try to explain some of the variations that make up modern tripods and help you to
make the best choice for your requirements:

Tripods legs used to be made of solid wood or pressed steel. For over 50 years Velbon has been at the forefront of innovation and design to produce today’s advanced lightweight aluminium or carbon fibre models. The use of magnesium alloy for the shoulders and joint components produces even lighter tripod legs.

  Number of leg sections

The more legs sections, the more compact the tripod can be when folded closed. Generally 3-sections is ideal if carrying size is not a concern, while 4 or possibly 5 sections are preferable if the tripod is going to be attached to and carried on a camera bag. The less the number of leg sections, the more stable the tripod, so a practical compromise needs to be reached.

  Leg diameter

Again a compromise between size and weight. The larger the diameter, the sturdier the tripod, but who wants to carry around three tree trunks? Ideally you will always try to carry the largest diameter legs that you can. Obviously, if you have more sections the outer 'tube' will need to be larger to accommodate the other sections.
Velbon's advanced tubular technology allows for great strength to size ratio and patented designs, such as Trunioned legs on Ultra range, allows for more compact portability.

Leg locks:
Naturally the legs need to extend from their compact carrying position. Once the legs have been extended to the required height they need to be locked into place.
There are 2 types of locks available and these are a matter of preference.

Twist locks:
They are the original type and are still favoured by many. You simply have to twist a ring round the leg tubes to securely lock them. As the years roll by the natural wear is taken up in the twist so you can always be sure of a firm grip. They are, however, slower to operate.

Clip locks:
This type has now become the most popular locking system as they are very quick and easy to operate. Just flick the clip and the leg section is free to be moved to your required height. An Allen key is provided to re-tighten the locks as required over time so that they always lock securely. This high-speed variety is now becoming the most popular choice and most Velbon tripods now use this system.

  Leg Braces

Some tripods have a collar around the main central column of the tripod which links to a brace on each leg. This is used to further stabilise the legs and is generally used for two purposes.

Video tripods:
When extra stability is required for slow, precise panning shots the braces will reduce the chance of twisting.

Budget tripods:
Because of the cheaper materials and less precision used in manufacture, there is more flexibility in the joints and legs, so leg braces are added to increase stability.
Most Velbon tripods do not require bracing because of their superior precision engineering.
The main advantages of not having leg braces are reduced weight and more variety in the angles that the legs can be placed.

  Centre column

Once you have set the height of the legs you can make further adjustments to the overall height with the centre column. The most stable position is when the column is at its lowest point, but there are a number of other benefits to consider:

Fine height control:
When the legs are extended it naturally takes a little while to make any fine adjustments. You may want to adjust the height to show someone the image in frame, or you may want adjust the angle of shooting. This is achieved with centre column adjustment. Some models have a geared handle for very fine, controlled adjustment.

By using the centre column in an extended position you add height, so the tripod leg section can be smaller and lighter. This can compromises stability but when compactness is the priority, it can be a compromise worth making when the tripod would otherwise be left at home!
Velbon have unique patented quick release system on their GEO range. Just squeeze and flick the lever and you can instantly adjust the height.


Tripod legs are attached to ‘shoulders’. These can either be made of plastic, metal or magnesium alloy. Plastic is light but far less durable and precise than metal. Magnesium alloy offers the best solution. It is both extremely light and precise and this is used on both our GEO and Sherpa+ models.

  Low-angle facility

Some tripods feature legs that can be splayed out so that the tripod head can be placed very low to the ground. This is achieved with switches at the top of the legs and is very useful for macro photography e.g. close-ups of flowers, insects, or dramatic ground-level perspective shooting. You might also use this feature with the tripod on a table for indoor/studio macro photography. These tripods often feature a reversible centre column, which enables the camera to be mounted ‘inside’ the three splayed legs, or a splitable central column that can be separated in one or two places.

  Neoprene sleeves

Neoprene tubing covers the top of the legs of some models. It is used to improve handling and comfortable, especially in cold weather.


Most Velbon tripods feature a built-in choice of either rubber or spiked feet. Just screw the rubber one's up to expose the spikes. Rubber for use on flat hard surfaces, e.g. tarmac or indoor situations; spikes for when you're on soft earth or sand e.g. when shooting outdoors, and especially useful on a slope, This seems simple, convenient and obvious solution but most other tripod brands require a separate purchase of spikes.

The Head
There are several different types of tripod heads available, each designed for use in different shooting situations. Many tripods can be fitted with different heads for added flexibility and some higher end models are sold separately so you can tailor your leg and head choice to your specific requirements. But which type will suit you?
There is a degree of personal choice in this and interestingly it can be dictated to a degree by where you live! 3-way pan & tilt head are most popular in the UK and Japan as the best models tend to come from Japanese companies. While ball heads are more popular in Europe and the USA but growing in popularity here in the UK. There is no rule that says you cannot own different heads for different situations.

  3-way Pan & Tilt

This head has 3 planes of movement which are controlled by 2 or 3 handles. One is for tilting (up & down) and one is for panning (left & right). The third plane is for selecting landscape or portrait. This can be operated with an additional lever or a smaller thumb screw. The benefit of this head is that you can control each plane separately, giving you fine control when you, for example, wish to pan along a horizon without affecting the level or angle.

  Ball & Socket

The original and simplest head. A ball is held in a vice that can quickly be tightened or loosened for positioning – ideal for so many situations. The ball allows total freedom of movement and can be controlled by either a wheel or lever. The normal handling of your camera becomes your control. It’s simple – just loosen, position and lock – then, ideally, use a remote control or self-timer to capture your latest masterpiece. Ball and socket heads also have the benefit of compactness.

  Single Handle or Traditional

These have a single lever to adjust both panning and tilting with a separate thumb screw for landscape or portrait photography. These are ideal for use with spotting scopes as you can quickly find and follow your subject, but they can also work well for general photography and offer excellent value for money.


For use on video tripods, the oil fluid in the head dampens the side-to-side and/or tilting movement for very smooth panning or tilting (moving horizontally or vertically) in your video shooting.

  Quick Release Plates

As the name suggests, a quick-release plate equipped tripod head allows you to take the camera on and off without delay for changing lenses, batteries, or simply for handheld shooting. It can even allow for quick changeovers to another camera if you have a spare quick release plate.

  Spirit or Bubble Levels

Some tripods include 1, 2, or even 3 spirit levels permanently mounted to the head or shoulder to ensure the tripod is level front-to-back and side-to-side for perfectly horizontal landscape shots, virtual tours or copy work.

Weight bag or stone bag
A cloth or plastic bag which can be attached to your tripod via a hook on the end of the of the centre column, or clamped around each of the three legs. Fill up with stones, rocks or anything handy that’s heavy to add to the stability of your tripod. You could alternatively hang your camera bag to this hook to add extra weight. Whichever option you choose the extra weight will help produce steady shots when using a lighter travel tripod. A stone bag is supplied with all Velbon GEO tripods.

This is simply a one legged camera support - you provide the other two legs. It won’t help you stabilise a long exposure, but it will greatly improve long telephoto shots of sport, or images where you want to follow-focus a moving object, e.g. a racing car. There are many variations in size and weight, especially suited to large 200 or 300mm dedicated telephoto lenses for sports photographers.

Anatomy of a Tripod:

1. Pan-handle
2. Elevator (Center column)
3. Crank handle
4. Body
5. Leg Rib
6. Leg assembly
7. Guide pipe
8. Brace arm
9. Arm guide
10. Leg locking lever
11. Leg tip (rubber foot)
Anatomy of a Panhead:

1. Pan-handle
2. Elevator (Center column)
12. Video boss (Retractable)
13. Camera screw
14. Platform locking lever
15. Quick-release platform
16. Panning lock nut
17. Side tilt locking nut (vertical position)
9. Arm guide
10. Leg locking lever
11. Leg tip (rubber foot)