Camera tripods can be a nuisance and a godsend to the urban photographer. I know from personal experience that carrying a tripod around with you all day can be a real pain. However there would be many shots I just couldn't take if I didn't have it with me, even though I use a lens with built in stabilization.
If you use a lightweight compact camera the problem of camera shake may not be so pronounced but for the SLR user with a heavy or long lens, a tripod can be the only answer in some situations.
Low light conditions, long exposures and slow shutter speeds will always require a tripod to be used, even if you do use a lightweight camera. It is just impossible to hand hold a camera steady enough for the duration of the exposure.
Camera tripods come in many different guises and each are designed to be used with different cameras, situations or sometimes just the photographer's personal preference. The main types are:
Heavy Duty Tripods - These are strong, sometimes heavy and designed to be used in situations where a heavy camera is being used in conditions that require a very steady and durable support.
Monopods - These as the name suggests only have one leg instead of three and are easier to carry around and easier to operate. They are often used where space is limited but support is required. They cannot replace a tripod for real low light conditions and long exposures.
Tabletop Camera Tripods - These are small lightweight tripods designed to be used with light compact cameras. They are very small and not very strong, with limited use.
Light weight Camera Tripods - A full size tripod but lighter to carry but without the strength of the heavy-duty tripods and not recommended in windy or busy conditions.
Choosing between camera tripods is like choosing the best locks for your door. You want all the security and strength but with ease of use and appropriate for your door. A camera is an expensive piece of equipment and something that you do not want put at risk by a flimsy or unsuitable tripod.
So when considering buying a tripod these things should be considered first before the price, otherwise you may just find yourself looking to buy a new camera as well.
Stability - Always take your camera with you so that you can see how stable the tripod is fully extended with the weight of your camera on it. Check to see if it wobbles easily, does it feel strong and are all the parts going to last or are they flimsy and will wear quickly.
Construction - Apart from it's strength and durability you need to consider the weight. If you are going to be carrying it around for hours on end or climbing hills etc, will it become too much of a burden. If so perhaps a lighter construction will be better or will you definitely need a real heavy duty one, in which case consider some sort of bag to carry it in to make the job easier.
Ease of use - There area many different companies producing many different types of quick release systems for the construction of the tripod. My First tripod had a real tricky system, of pulling and twisting simultaneously, it was very difficult to put together quickly. So make sure that your tripod will be easy for you to handle if you need to put it together in difficult situations or at the drop of a hat.
Height - I know this sounds silly, but make sure that the height of the tripod is suitable for your needs. Again I fell foul of this, thinking that all tripods were the same height. Wrong, I ended up having to kneel or bend a lot and soon got fed up of it.
The Head - This is the attachment on the tripod that actually fixes to your camera. They come in two different fittings and knowing which one is right for your camera and shooting style will make life much easier.
Some tripods come with fixed heads, some come with removable ones, which will allow you to swap heads if needed.
The two heads available are: