You should (maybe) swap your tripod for a light stand
This is going to be a controversial idea for some of you. It certainly made me raise an eyebrow when I ran across this video from Caleb Pike at DSLR Video Shooter. He’s switched from using tripods to light stands for his cameras in the studio. And he thinks you should, too.
In this video, he talks us through why he believes light stands are a better choice, along with some suggestions for light stands that can stand up to the task. In the interests of fairness, he also covers some potential problems you may face.
[Related reading: How to build a full YouTube studio on a single light stand]
What are the advantages of using a light stand?
Light stands offer two main advantages over tripods if you just want to plonk your camera at the top of it. There are other advantages for unconventional rigs, such as overhead cameras, but as a straight-up tripod replacement, there are generally two.
The first is that it’s much quicker and easier to adjust the height of them. All you need to do is open up one lever or unscrew one bolt, raise it up or lower it down and then lock it back off. You can do this easily with two hands without it being awkward. Tripods usually require at least three adjustments, but it could be 6, 9 or 12, depending on how many leg segments your tripod has.
The other advantage is that light stands usually have a smaller footprint, allowing you to fit cameras in tight spaces where a more traditional tripod might not fit.
Caleb recommends several stands in his video that he believes will do the job, along with a compact SmallRig video head that offers some unique advantages.
- CAME-TV Air-Cushioned Light Stand – $46.96
- Impact Air-Cushioned Heavy-Duty Light Stand – $69.96
- Impact Folding Wheeled Base Stand – $212
- Impact Backlight Stand Base – $18.99
You’ll need a couple of other accessories, too. Accessories like the Impact Rapid Baby to 1/4″-20 Male Threaded Adapter (buy here). This gives you a more stable base to screw into your camera that mounts on the light stand spigot. You’ll also need some kind of head. For video, Caleb recommends the SmallRig CH20 Video Head (buy here), which has a built-in levelling base, so you don’t need a bowl head tripod.
What are the disadvantages?
Stability is the biggest issue when it comes to using light stands. Because light stands have just a single column sticking up, there’s no lateral support. It also gets thinner the taller you make your stand. This can lead to a potentially wobbly camera. Even an open window letting a breeze run through your studio can potentially introduce wobble. The three-legged triangular design of tripod legs is much more stable.
That small footprint mentioned above as an advantage is also a disadvantage. They generally take up much less floor space than the spread-out legs of a tripod, especially a dedicated video tripod. So, if you’ve got a heavier setup at the top of your stand with your camera, a cage and microphone, maybe a wireless transmitter, a big battery pack, etc. then it can very easily topple if you’re not careful.
This is why, when light stands are used on set or on location for actual lights, they’re often weighed down by very heavy sandbags to lower the centre of gravity. Having to lug sandbags around negates the portability advantage.
There are stands with larger, heavier bases, such as C-Stands. You can even get them with large wheeled bases. But again, this sort of negates the size and weight advantages of using a light stand over a tripod.
Should you use a light stand for your camera?
I have actually used light stands for cameras in the past, although typically it’s been very small and lightweight cameras. I use one often with cameras like the Insta360 X3 (buy here), the ONE RS 1-Inch Leica 360 Edition (buy here) and the ONE X2 (buy here), but I wouldn’t trust them with larger, heavier camera rigs. In fairness, though, I typically use them on location and not in the studio. There, dangers such as wind are a little more extreme.
Whether or not you should get one depends on your own needs and circumstances. It might work for you if you film somewhere that doesn’t get much of a breeze and has a solid floor. Or if you regularly find yourself shooting in indoor locations that don’t offer the room to comfortably setup a tripod.
Personally, though, I think I’ll stick with tripods for the most part. I might pick up one of those little SmallRig video heads, though. It looks ideal for camera sliders and other supports that don’t have the bowl-levelling features of a tripod.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.