To be clear, the most accurate understanding of a tripod’s stability comes from knowing how it performs compared to other tripods when all other factors and conditions are the same.
This allows you to make general assessments of a tripod’s capabilities and make the most educated choice.
So how does our Travel Tripod stack up? Across a wide breadth of travel tripods, the PD Travel Tripod scores in the upper-middle of the pack for stiffness. See below.
The Score, highlighted yellow, is determined by the Berryrieser Equation (we'll explain in a bit). The PD Travel Tripod models are outlined in blue. The 3 models outlined in red are the 3 tripods that we compare the PD Travel Tripod to on the Kickstarter page, models selected because of their popularity among photographers.
From what we can see:
THE PD TRAVEL TRIPOD HAS EQUAL OR BETTER STABILITY VS. MOST TRAVEL TRIPODS
Hands down, we can confidently say that both our Carbon and Aluminum Travel Tripods have comparable stability to other travel tripods on the market. Furthermore, we can say that our travel tripod is more stable than some of the most popular travel tripods from the most recognizable brands on the market.
The PD Travel Tripod is not the most stable travel tripod. Brands like Gitzo and Really Right Stuff win when it comes to pure stability. They also top out the price charts, $600-$900 just for legs, with another $200-$400 (or more) for a head.
Granted, it's not quite fair to say that the stability of these tripods comes exclusively from a higher build quality. These tripods have wider leg tubing and/or fewer leg sections than the PD Travel Tripod, and they have a larger packed volume. They simply exist on a different part of the stability/compactness spectrum.
THE PD TRAVEL TRIPOD HAS THE BEST COMBINATION OF STABILITY AND COMPACTNESS
The purpose of a tripod is to hold a camera still. The purpose of a travel tripod is to hold a camera still and be easily portable. The VA Score above attempts to combine stability and compactness into a single comparative metric. It leans heavily on stability being the more important factor but gives an advantage to the most volumetrically compact models.
The PD Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod tops the chart on VA Score, leaving the Gitzo and RRS models in 2nd, with the PD Aluminum Travel Tripod right on their heels.
For us, this is the most exciting stat. It represents a whole bunch of 3rd party empirical data points that confirm that we made a pro-level travel tripod in a truly portable form.
OUR ALUMINUM TRIPOD BEATS ALL OTHER ALUMINUM TRAVEL TRIPODS
The Aluminum PD Travel Tripod beats out all other aluminum travel tripods in stability testing. It beats out a number of carbon models too.
BUT REMEMBER, IT'S ALL RELATIVE!
We can't stress this enough...the scores above are not absolute. Every tripod on that list will hold your D5 + 70-200 and give you perfectly sharp images in many conditions. While no tripod on that list will give you perfectly sharp images with all gear in all conditions, a higher scoring tripod will give you sharp images in a great range of conditions and/or in a more portable package.
Bottom line: the PD tripod scores are excellent and rank among the top 5 best tripods in stability and weight capacity.
For full details, check out the KS update or read for an overview of how we came up with these numbers...
The question of weight capacity has no simple answer. While the Peak Design Travel Tripod has an advertised weight capacity of 20 lbs, you can actually put over 80 lbs of gear on top of it without the center column slipping. But your image will be less sharp, especially when you're shooting at a 400mm focal length, and the wind is gusting at 40mph.
This means that the “weight capacity” stat that many tripod manufacturers (us included) publish is pretty much meaningless. There's zero standard for how to measure it, and most manufacturers don't even explain how they arrived at the number they advertise.
The narrative around tripod performance needs to evolve, an effort we’re furthering via our performance measurement methodology:
STABILITY = STIFFNESS AND DAMPING
A tripod's ability to hold your camera perfectly still can be measured in 2 ways: stiffness and damping.
Stiffness: A Tripod's ability to resist movement caused by external force.
It's what holds the camera still in spite of forces like gravity and wind working against it.
Damping: A Tripod's ability to return to stillness once moved.
No tripod can hold all cameras still in all conditions. When you touch your camera or bump the tripod or a big gust of wind comes along, your camera will move. That momentary movement creates vibration, and damping measures how quickly a tripod stops that vibration.
TESTING STIFFNESS AND DAMPING
So, how do you consistently measure tripod stability across many different makes and models? If you guessed harnessing the simple physics of harmonic oscillators, you're absolutely right!
Let's break that down:
- A large weight (both heavy and physically large, with high angular inertia) is placed atop the tripod.
- The weight is bumped, causing it to rapidly move back and forth (oscillate).
- The speed (frequency) of oscillation is measured, which lets you calculate stiffness.
- The time it takes for oscillations to stop (rate of decay) is measured, which lets you calculate damping.
We discovered that the PD Travel Tripod (top) vibrates significantly faster than the MeFoto (bottom), meaning it has more stiffness.
The PD Travel Tripod also stops moving significantly faster than the MeFoto, meaning it has better damping. Thus, the Peak Design tripod (still in pre-production form, mind you) outperforms the MeFoto in stability.
THE BERRYRIESER EQUATION
The next step involves sabermetrics, the use of a bunch of different data points to generate a simple, easy-to-compare stability score.
Here's the formula to calculate that score:
Stiffness is actually measured in 2 ways: pitch stiffness (PitchStiff) and yaw stiffness (YawStiff).
Pitch stiffness measures vertical stiffness (resisting an up-and-down motion) and yaw stiffness measures horizontal stiffness (resisting a side-to-side motion. Taking the harmonic mean of pitch and yaw stiffness is an average biased toward the weakest of the two measurements. A tripod is only as good as its weakest link.
Stiffness is calculated in newton meters per radian, which is the amount of angular force (torque) required to twist the tripod by one radian (which is about 57 degrees). The actual measurements are done at a much smaller scale (like milliradians, or 1/1000th of a radian) but multiplied up to make them easier to compare.
Each tripod is tested 6 times, thrice for pitch stiffness/damping, and thrice for yaw stiffness/damping. A tester records data using a Raspberry Pi computer with an accelerometer, which automatically collects and plots the data as soon as the tripod stops moving. The numbers from the 3 tests are averaged, and then input into the calculation above, yielding a stiffness harmonic mean.
The stiffness mean is then normalized by tripod height and weight. As mentioned earlier, deployed height and weight are inextricably tied to stability. They're also tied to the usefulness of a tripod. Hence, height and weight are added to the equation. Height is a multiplier, which slightly penalizes shorter tripods. Weight is a denominator, which slightly penalizes heavier tripods.