People have always liked birding in their backyard, but it has become even more popular since the pandemic – and not surprisingly. It’s easy and enjoyable to watch the birds in your garden.
While there are many different types of tripods on the market, not all of them are well-suited for backyard birding.
In this article, we’ll recommend some tripod kits that are perfect for getting up close and personal with your favorite backyard birds.
Here we focus on tripod kits – that is, the complete set of tripod legs and head. While it is possible to buy the legs and head separately, buying as a set usually saves money.
For discussion of when you might prefer a table top tripod, and the best features to search for, read on. To start with, let’s have a brief summary of some good examples currently available.
Quick comparison: best table-top tripod (backyard birding)
Vanguard VS-82 Tabletop Tripod
Perfectly portable, this tripod has a smooth-moving pan head for steady, expansive views.
Best overall table top tripod for birding
RetiCAM Tabletop Tripod with 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head
With an impressive weight capacity for its size, this tripod also has a three-way pan/tilt head – great for scanning the backyard for birds!
Best value table top tripod for birding
SLIK Mini Pro DQ 2-Section Table-Top Tripod
Low profile with flexible movement via the compact ball head, SLIK’s Mini won’t take up much room at home and attaches firmly to smooth surfaces with a sucker.
Best table top tripod for indoor backyard birding
PEDCO Ultrapod 3 Lightweight table-top Tripod
The tiniest tripod on our list at only 4 ounces and 7 inches in length, the Ultrapod combines well with lightweight compact travel spotting scopes.
Best ultra small lightweight table top tripod for birding
When do you need a table top tripod?
Getting the best from your spotting scope will require a tripod. You could be watching from the comfort and coziness of your own home in winter, or from a patio or terrace in warmer months.
In either situation, you would probably find it more comfortable and relaxing to remain seated.
It depends on the layout of your home and where you are in relation to the birds, but in many instances, people prefer to use a table top tripod rather than a full size one.
To see tripod kits that are still lightweight and portable but stand on the ground, these selection of reviews may meet your requirements more: The best lightweight compact tripod kits (top for travel)
What exactly is a table-top tripod?
Tabletop tripods are the smallest type of tripod. They can add anywhere from 6” to 24” to the height of your scope. They can sit on any stable surface, like a kitchen worktop, desk or table.
Along with an increased interest in backyard birding, many people are keen to make more of their leisure time through outdoor activities like birding in parks or while hiking. The reduced size of table top tripods also fit this kind of use.
Where can I use a table-top tripod?
A picnic bench in a park or campsite is the perfect base for birdwatchers to sit and view through a table top tripod.
If you have access to a hide or blind, the mini tripod is the perfect solution. Resting on a shelf, the tabletop tripod doesn’t have the legs on the ground that might get in the way of other birders.
In this way you can avoid tripping up anyone in what is often a confined space.
For many backyard birders this kind of mini tripod takes up less room and floor space and therefore doesn’t get in the way as much.
A table top tripod may be easier to use from a seated position. It can also be quicker and simpler to set up and take down.
How to choose a table top tripod for birding
Stability, weight and ease of use should all be top priorities when purchasing a tripod for your spotting scope.
Cheap tripods are usually heavy and unstable. This compromises your image, making it shaky and unsatisfactory.
To help get the most out of your spotting scope, the best tripod for a spotting scope is definitely a high-quality model that can support the appropriate weight. It will also perform well in adverse conditions such as wind, rain or on uneven, sloping surfaces.
Here we focus on buying a complete set of tripod legs and head. But for in-depth guidance on how to evaluate each separate part we also have these guides:
Main criteria when choosing a table-top tripod
So if you’re in the market for a new tripod and are prepared to invest some cash into a decent tripod kit – which includes both legs and head together – there are some things to consider:
- The material used
- Dimensions when packed and extended
- The strength-to-weight ratio
- The quality of the build
- How much play there is in the moving parts
- The ease of operation and versatility of the head
For the very best tripod for use with a spotting scope, all of these requirements are important.
But to weigh up which might be your overall priority, it’s worth taking into account how the tripod will be used most often. This often helps to narrow down the most important features to you.
Will you be using it indoors mostly? Does the tripod need extra grip on its feet to sit without moving on a smooth surface like a table or windowsill?
Will you be balancing it on rocks, walls or tables outdoors? Would the tripod need to fold down as small as possible to take hiking?
We’ll take a look at some of the best table-top tripods on the market, and discuss their advantages and disadvantages in each case.
Reviews: best table top tripod for birding
Let’s get more detailed ideas of these tripod kits.
As a reminder, by ‘tripod kit’ we mean the complete set of tripod legs and head. Buying the two components together will likely save you money.
Though it is of course possible to choose the legs and head separately.
Best overall table-top tripod for birding
Main Features of the Vanguard VS-82 2-Section Table-Top Tripod with 2-Way Pan Head
The Vanguard VS-82 2-Section Table-Top Tripod with 2-Way Pan Head offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- 2-way pan head covers 360°
- Front-to-back tilt
- Angled, non-slip feet
- Solid aluminum build
Load Capacity 5.5 pounds
Weight 13.8 ounces – less than 1 pound
Maximum Working Height 9.8”
Minimum Working Height 7.5”
Folded length 9”
- Panning lever is long enough for good control
- Two-way pan/tilt movement suits some birders more than a ball head
- Extendable center pole
- Legs splay, so can get very low
- Rubber feet grip surfaces well
- Only a screw-on fitting, no quick release
- Limited to just under 10 inches of height
Vanguard VS-82 2-Section Table-Top Tripod with 2-Way Pan Head Overview
The Vanguard VX 82 tabletop tripod is compact enough to fit in a generous sized pocket (possibly not your skinny jeans though!). Weighing less than a pound, it is highly portable.
The sleek and lightweight design makes this tripod perfect for hiking trips. It might not hold much weight to cope with a large spotting scope. At its size though, it is sturdy enough to keep your scope stable. The fact that it is lightweight and compact makes it a great companion for that hiking trip.
Folds down to nine inches
Assuming you don’t need much extra height, this could suit your needs. The total extended height is around ten inches. Folded down, the tripod is not much smaller, at nine inches.
Angled, non-slip feet are helpful. If you were using the tripod indoors on a kitchen countertop or table, for instance, the rubber feet will grip well. This reduces the need to worry about accidentally shifting your precious scope sideways and sending vibrations through the image or worse, knocking the whole device over or off the tabletop.
Added to this, there is little play in the moving parts. The legs splay broadly, flattening as much as you need. Meanwhile, the center pole also extends.
Smooth panning with a long lever
The pan head moves across the horizontal and vertical axis. Despite it being a compact tripod, the panning lever is of a sufficient length to get a good hold and to allow you to pan smoothly.
If you’re happy with a two-way head instead of the full three-way motion, then this could suit. You’re also limited to a screw-on fitting instead of a quick-release shoe.
Impressive load capacity
With the Vanguard VS82 as a stable base, you can be confident of a steady picture, even with a fairly weighty spotting scope. The maximum load weight is five and a half pounds.
One of the best things about this tripod, apart from its solid aluminum build, is that it will not break the bank. Plus it benefits from a two-year warranty.
Best value table-top tripod for birding
Main Features of the RetiCAM Tabletop tripod kit
The RetiCAM Tabletop tripod kit offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- 3-way pan/tilt head
- Extendable geared center column
- Bubble level
- Quick release mounting plate
Materials aluminum, plastic, metal
Load Capacity 6 pounds
Weight 1.5 pound
Maximum Working Height 19”
Minimum Working Height 10.75”
Folded length 12”
- Copes with spotting scopes up to six pounds
- Leg locks deploy quickly
- Rubberized feet add security when it’s positioned
- Bubble level is handy to help set up
- Design is functional rather than visually attractive
- Panning handle less appealing to use
RetiCAM Tabletop tripod kit Overview
Feature-wise you couldn’t really ask for more from this budget-friendly offering from RetiCAM.
It’s suitable for all sorts of cameras but will also do for a smaller sized spotting scope weighing up to six pounds. That is provided that the scope has a standard ¼”-20 screw mount.
With its maximum load capacity of six pounds, this beats the Vanguard in terms of its suitability for larger scopes. This extra sturdiness does make the tripod itself heavier, at 1.5 pounds.
Three-directional tripod head
The included head tilts and pans in three directions and has a locking quick-release mount. The extra dimension of movement is an advantage over the Vanguard. The bubble level is another nifty inclusion.
The panning handle has a slightly cheaper feel than Vanguard’s. Overall the design appears more functional than aesthetically pleasing. This could be down to personal preference.
Leg lock levers are easy and rapid
The leg locks are quick to deploy, snapping open and closed. The locking levers are easy to grip for shaky hands or when wearing gloves.
Overall, its rubberized feet do a sufficient job of holding it still.
For extra height, the geared center column lifts and feels relatively stable. The winding handle to winch it up and down turns smoothly.
You can take it up to a good height. With the centre shaft out, the tripod’s maximum height is 19”.
Full extension might not be the best choice if you are fully zoomed though. Unextended, the tripod is just under 11”.
Best table-top tripod for indoor backyard birding
Main Features of the SLIK Mini Pro DQ 2-Section Table-Top Tripod
The SLIK Mini Pro DQ 2-Section Table-Top Tripod offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Rapid center column
- Twist locks on the legs
- Ball head
- Quick release plate
Load Capacity 2.7 pounds
Weight 0.7 pounds
Maximum Working Height 8.9”
Minimum Working Height 7.1”
Folded length 8.1”
- Suction cup add extra stability to center post
- Ball head gives total directional flexibility
- Quick-release plate for easy set-up and detachment
- May be adapted for use as a chest pod
- Ball head movement might not suit some birders
- Care needed for the butterfly knob on the center column
- Chest pod option less useful for scopes than binoculars
SLIK Mini Pro DQ 2-Section Table-Top Tripod Overview
The mini in the name of Slik’s Mini Pro DQ tabletop aluminum tripod sums it up. With the legs and center post fully extended, its maximum height is just under nine inches.
Folded down, it measures eight inches in length.
While this means it keeps a low profile, it adds to the versatility and lightness. At this size, it’s suitable to carry for those ‘just in case’ situations.
It’s so small that you might even leave it attached to your scope while packed away, which adds to the convenience and speed of setting up.
Two-section legs extend via simple twist locks
The tripod can be made taller by extending the two-section legs using the twist locks. These twist locks are easy to grip and turn, though it’s best to take care not to over-tighten them.
The center column on the tripod can be extended by twisting a butterfly knob. This adds another 1.75 inches of height (included within that nine inch total).
The tripod stays stable while this is adjusted. The butterfly knob itself doesn’t feel all that strong so take care with this.
Suction cup adds stability
A nice addition to the bottom of the center post is a suction cup to add extra stability and help secure the tripod in place. It’s ideal for a smooth table or window sill where the tripod might otherwise be in danger of sliding around.
The tripod head is of the ballhead variety. So once the head is unlocked, using the simple butterfly knob, there’s lots of flexibility in directional movement.
If you’re used to the limited range of a panhead this could take some getting used to.
Simple set-up and attachment
Maximum load is 2.7 pounds. There’s a quick-release plate for easy set-up and detachment of your spotting scope.
The quick shoe can enable you to swap over your scope for a camera or binoculars with a minimum of fuss. The cork-style pad on the plate dampens movement and keeps the optics secure.
On the head there’s a slot to allow the scope to be tilted to 90 degrees. This can be more useful for angled spotting scopes.
It also means this tripod can be adapted for use as a chest pod. With the legs flattened, you can brace the tripod against your chest for extra support.
Chest pod – more suitable for binoculars than a scope
The natural movement of your body means this function has limited use for a spotting scope. However, with one of the really small scopes suitable for hand held use it would add stability if you are on the move somewhere.
Also, if you are using the spotting scope in combination with binoculars, this could reduce image shake.
All in all, it’s a very versatile and portable option – a solid base for your spotting scope, at a solid price point.
Best ultra small and light table-top tripod for birding
Main Features of the Pedco UltraPod 3 lightweight tripod
The Pedco UltraPod 3 lightweight tripod offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Compact ball head
- Fold-out legs, non-slip rubber feet
- Lightweight but strong plastic construction
- Removable hook and loop cinch strap
Load Capacity 10 pounds
Weight 4.7 ounces
Maximum Working Height 5” (fixed height)
Minimum Working Height 5” (fixed height)
Folded length 7.25”
- Versatile due to its small size
- Rubber-tipped legs grip surfaces
- Super-light weight
- Velcro strap is a useful addition for extra security
- Best used with smaller scopes
- Only one choice of height
Pedco UltraPod 3 lightweight tripod Overview
Even smaller than the Slik table top tripod is this very mini tripod from PedCo. Despite its tiny size it is relatively strong.
The spec says it will work with an optical instrument up to 10 pounds, though we wouldn’t expect it to be able to sustain image quality with larger models of scope.
Though it would hold the scope relatively still, there may be a degree of unwelcome movement when viewing. To add extra stability to a hand held style of spotting scope, though, it’s worth it.
Fixed height only
At its size and with a weight of only 4 ounces, the UltraPod is an easy addition to your bird watching kit. With legs folded, the length is 7 inches. It has a fixed height, with non-extendable legs.
There is a velcro strap to attach the tripod to a viewing point. Perhaps this would make the UltraPod suitable for use in an elevated position.
This would require extra care as it could be a risk to use it to support the weight of your valuable spotting scope.
Ball head gives maximum angle options
There is smooth and easy movement in the ballhead, so you can aim the scope at any angle then lock it into place.
The UltraPod lacks a quick-release plate. This saves weight and bulk, but makes the tripod less convenient to attach and detach the optics.
Final thoughts on table top tripods
A tripod is the key to getting the most out of your spotting scope, especially if you’re watching from home in winter or from a patio in summer.
Whether you are taking your spotting scope and tripod on your next hike or simply using the scope in a park around town, the compact size of a tabletop tripod will come in handy.
Its light weight is a real bonus when carrying around additional heavy instruments like scopes.
For handy advice on transporting tripod kits along with your scope, it might be useful to consult our Top tips on how to carry a spotting scope and tripod
Different tripods offer different features, so it’s important to choose the right one for your needs. We’ve provided some tips on what to look for when purchasing a tripod, and we hope you find the perfect one for you.
If however you prefer to choose the tripod head separately rather than buy the whole set of legs and head, you might be interested in browsing these reviews >>> The best tripod heads for birding spotting scopes
No matter which tabletop tripod appeals to you, make sure that it can handle the weight of your spotting scope and is adjustable to ensure a clear view. It will provide stability and help you get the clearest view possible.
With the right tools, you can enjoy birding and nature viewing all year long. Have you decided which tabletop tripod kit is best for you?
- 1 Quick comparison: best table-top tripod (backyard birding)
- 2 When do you need a table top tripod?
- 3 How to choose a table top tripod for birding
- 4 Reviews: best table top tripod for birding
- 5 Best overall table-top tripod for birding
- 6 Best value table-top tripod for birding
- 7 Best table-top tripod for indoor backyard birding
- 8 Best ultra small and light table-top tripod for birding
- 9 Final thoughts on table top tripods