If there are two types of tripods that are the most popular and usually found in the hands of many photographers, those are the aluminum and carbon fiber tripods.
Both of them are very versatile, which means they are available at various price points and are aimed at both beginner and professional photographers. They can be lightweight and portable but also rugged and heavy-duty at the same time.
So, what makes them different from each other? Will picking one over the other have a noticeable impact on your work? Do they have different features? Are aluminum tripods more durable than carbon fiber ones, or is it the other way around?
We will answer all these questions and more in this article and finally see what makes them so popular amongst photographers, and hopefully, you’ll be able to see which of the two is the best for you.
Aluminum Tripods: Quick Overview
If you could look at the tripod market as a pie, then the aluminum tripods will give you the most slices out of all. They have been on the market the longest and are more affordable to manufacture; thus, they can be priced reasonably for many beginner photographers and hobbyists.
Still, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be pro-grade as well, as you will find out soon enough.
Carbon Fiber Tripods: Quick Overview
These are the second most popular tripods on the market for many photographers. The carbon fiber material allowed the manufacturers to create tripods that are lighter than aluminum tripods without sacrificing build quality or durability.
Since carbon fiber itself is harder and more costly to manufacture than aluminum, it also means that prices are higher also, but that’s the natural order of things when a new technology enters the market and promises to improve things for almost every photographer.
Difference Between Aluminum and Carbon Fiber Tripods
While a heavy-duty professional tripod will not be cheap, no matter if it’s made from aluminum or carbon fiber, the story is different if we look at the low-end side of the market. This is where you’ll find a lot more aluminum than carbon fiber tripods and usually find them at lower prices.
This makes an aluminum tripod a much better choice for someone who just started learning about photography or astronomy and has decided that it’s finally time to go out in the world with their new camera or a pair or their first night sky observing device like binoculars or a telescope.
Portability and weight
Thanks to their lower weight, the carbon fiber tripods are more portable than aluminum ones. Depending on the manufacturer and the type of tripod, carbon fiber ones can be 1 to 2 pounds lighter than their aluminum counterparts, a difference you’ll certainly notice with the tripod on your back no matter if you’re climbing, hiking, or just walking around.
This also holds true for heavy-duty tripods since aluminum ones have to be much heavier to have the same rigidity as carbon fiber tripods. On the flip side, due to their increased weight, aluminum tripods can be more stable and more resistant to strong vibrations like the wind or the nearby traffic.
If you take care of your tripod, you don’t accidentally tip it over often, and you always keep it in a tripod carrying case when you travel with it; you won’t have to worry about the strength or the longevity of either the carbon fiber or the aluminum tripods.
However, there are differences between aluminum and carbon fiber and how they react when subjected to drops or different environmental conditions. When exposed to shock damage, aluminum may be left with dents and change its shape, while the carbon fiber may crack in some places.
That makes the carbon fiber tripods slightly durable since they will keep their shape even if cracked and stay functional for a longer time.
Carbon fiber is more resistant to heat and won’t deform if exposed to direct sunlight. At the same time, aluminum resists cold better, since carbon fiber can shatter more when exposed to very low temperatures and hit or dropped afterwards.
Carbon fiber tripods have stiffer legs because carbon fiber material is five times more stiff than aluminum when you compare them at the same weight. This means that carbon fiber tripods have less flex in the legs and are more resistant to small vibrations, reducing external vibrations from traveling up through the tripod legs when looking through the eyepiece on your telescope or taking a long exposure photo.
This category is an easy win for carbon fiber tripods since they don’t corrode, unlike aluminum tripods, where corrosion can occur on the aluminum alloy when scratched or damaged in any way and exposed to damp environments. While aluminum is still more resistant to corrosion than some other metals like steel or iron, carbon fiber wins this one easily.
Aluminum vs Carbon Fiber Tripod For Astrophotography
- Their heavier nature makes them more stable and resistant to strong winds, which will reduce the chance of getting blurry images when it comes to long exposure photography.
- Beginner and amateur astrophotographers will appreciate the overall lower cost, which will leave them with more budget room to invest in a better camera, lens, or star tracker.
- While carbon fiber tripods are easier to use in winter nights because they don’t get as cold to the touch, the advantage of aluminum tripods in those conditions is that they aren’t in danger of cracking if dropped after being exposed to lingering cold.
- The sturdiest aluminum tripods on the markets tend to be very heavy, making them less ideal for outdoor use, especially if the location you’re traveling to can only be reached on foot.
Carbon Fiber Tripods
- Lightweight and thus easier to carry on more demanding trips, especially if you’re traveling to a spot that takes a lot of walking to reach
- They can take a lot more abuse than the aluminum tripods, which means that you won’t have to worry too much if the tripod accidentally falls from your shoulder while you’re carrying it.
- Carbon fiber tripods don’t get very cold to the touch when exposed to low temperatures, making them a great choice for astrophotography in wintertime and more pleasant to use without gloves.
- Their overall higher price point makes them more suited to enthusiast astrophotographers rather than beginners or amateurs just starting out with astrophotography.
Aluminum vs Carbon Fiber Tripod Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better: carbon fiber or aluminum tripods?
When we look at all the pros and cons, carbon tripods do offer more in terms of stiffness, portability and corrosion resistance, giving you a few more reasons to pick them over aluminum tripods.
However, that doesn’t mean that they’re the best choice for everyone. If you’re one of those photographers that doesn’t own a very heavy setup, doesn’t often shoot in bad weather, has a limited budget, or needs a tripod strictly for indoor use, then obtaining an aluminum tripod makes more sense and will save you some money in the process.
What is the strongest yet lightest tripod material?
The win for being the strongest yet the lightest tripod material goes to carbon fiber. The entire point of using it as the primary material to build tripods is to reduce their size to weight ratio and make them easier to carry around, but without sacrificing durability in any way.
Carbon fiber is around 40% lighter than aluminum and ten times stronger when you compare a piece of each material at the same weight, so it’s certainly an evolution over aluminum in almost every possible way. That’s not to say that aluminum can’t be made to be as rigid as carbon fiber because it can, but not without the penalty of added weight and reduced portability.
Is carbon fiber cheaper than aluminum?
No, because of its complex structure, carbon fiber is more expensive to manufacture and for that reason, it can’t be found in as many tripods on the market as aluminum can. The process of creating one sheet of carbon fiber requires more steps and more manpower than it does in the case of aluminum.
Carbon fiber needs to be cut, wrapped, placed inside a mold, heated and polished twice while producing aluminum doesn’t require a mold and thus, takes less time to manufacture. So, simply put, carbon fiber tripods are more expensive when compared to aluminum tripods because they’re harder to make, but in return, more durable and less cumbersome to travel with.
Aluminum Tripods For Astrophotography
1. Manfrotto MK055XPRO3-BHQ2 Aluminum 3-Section Tripod with XPRO Ball Head
2. Benro Mach3 2 Series Aluminum Tripod
3. SLIK Pro 700 BHX AMT Tripod With SBH-808DQ Ball Head – Black
Carbon Fiber Tripods For Astrophotography
1. Manfrotto 055 Carbon Fiber 3-Section Tripod With Horizontal Column (MT055CXPRO3)
2. Manfrotto MKBFRTC4GT-BHUS Befree Advanced Travel Tripod
3. Neewer Carbon Fiber 66-Inches Camera Tripod (With 360 Degree Ball Head)
So, is there a real winner in the aluminum vs carbon fiber tripod battle, and can any of them be considered the best for most photographers? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for in a tripod, how you plan to use it, and how big your budget is.
Carbon fiber tripods are certainly a better option for anyone who wants a more lightweight tripod and isn’t prepared to sacrifice build quality to get it. They are also more resistant to heat, moisture, and small vibrations, making them a great choice for astronomy since they will give you a more stable view when looking through your binoculars, spotting scope, or telescope.
Aluminum tripods benefit from being more affordable, easier to obtain, and more resistant to low temperatures and potential cracking. Their added weight will also help some astrophotographers, especially on windy nights, when any vibrations could leave you with softer and blurry photos if your tripod isn’t heavy and stable enough.