I recently went through a tripod upgrade and I thought I’d share my experience. As those of you who are looking for a new tripod, it can be a tedious task. With material options, height, weight, options, vendor preferences; there is a lot that goes into this decision. Through all of this, not all local stores carry all different brands, nor do local stores have the best deals either. I think get my point. Buying a solid tripod is not an easy task.
First let me run through my previous tripods:
A little over 2 year ago, I was using a $35 special Dolcia Proline tripod. I had used that tripod for 2 years while I was learning the in’s and out’s of photography. Although not the most stable tripod, if you’re running an entry level DSLR, a kit lens and learning the ropes of landscape photography, this might be a good start. I put it through the ringer and it took what I gave to it. Mud, sand, and water all took their shots, and it kept on going. Now, this tripod isn’t without it’s annoying quirks, and this isn’t a top quality tripod, but if you’re starting off and want something cheap, I’d start there.
I then upgraded to the Manfrotto 190CXPro4 tripod because I wanted a lightweight, stable tripod to carry around with me through the backwoods. I paired this tripod with a Giottos MH1000-652 ball head. Overall, I was very happy with the tripod. I would regularly take 3 and 4 min exposures, or even shoot star trails and would have no camera shake. Very stable setup. The setup, however, was top heavy(the ball head weighed half as much as the tripod), and the flip locks kept getting caught in the tripod holder on my bag(LowePro Fastpack Sport 10L). This caused me to carry my tripod in hand on my hikes, and with it being off balanced(Top heavy), it was awkward on my hikes. So it was time for something new.
At that point, because I was incredibly satisfied with the quality of the Giottos ballhead, I opted for one of their Giottos VGR8255-S2N Vitruvian Carbon Fiber Tripod. And this was perfect in size, weight, and balance, but lacked somewhat in stability(compared to the Manfrotto). I put up with it for about a week. There was a lot of play in the legs and I found I had to really crank down on the twist locks to stabilize them. In doing so, one of the non-rotating legs started to rotate and would get jammed. Kudos for their customer service, I had new parts in only a couple of days, but it did not fix my problem, the leg still rotated and would jam up. My fault? Did I over twist them? Maybe, but it was necessary to stabilize the tripod. Ultimately I was not happy with the quality and returned it. I should mention that I was delighted by the lightness of the tripod and how everything felt, but from the second I opened it up, I new I had a less stable tripod than the Manfrotto.
So from there I went to the tripod which all of you are likely here to see. Wait no more here it is. I then went out and purchased a Feisol CT-3441s tripod. I choose this based on a recommendation from a local photography group member who had one of their Tournament series tripods. I opted for the traveler series because it folded up a few inches shorter and expanded a few inches higher, thus giving me more flexibility. As it turns out, I probably would like the Tournament series better because, there is no center column(or a short center column) allowing me to get close to the ground, which I found out on my first day using it how much I actually like to do that. And secondly, it goes up higher than I need it to. None the less, this is still an excellent tripod.
I mentioned how when I opened the Giottos tripod, I knew I had a less stable tripod. Well when I opened up the CT-3441s, I knew I had a more stable tripod. This tripod came packaged with Feisol’s CB40 ballhead. All around, this tripod is very stable, very balanced, very well made and I am happy with it.
Now I’ll start running down a list of things I like about it.
1) Very sturdy(without center column extended or only extended a little). After setting it up and giving it the “twist test” there is very little flex in the legs, even less so than the Manfrotto.
2) The leg locks are pretty large and that makes them easy to grip. I’m not a big guy and I can take on hand, twist them all about a half twist and that’s enough slack to let gravity do the work and they all extend themselves downward.
3) The carbon fiber tubes are actually pretty thick. The lower leg, or fourth section on the Feisol is equal to roughly the third section on the Manfrotto.
4) I like that I have the option to telescope the center column if I need. If it’s not a windy day and I’m shooting a large building or structure and I want to get rid of some of the tilt from looking up at it I can. I wont use it very often, but it will be nice to have.
5) Right height for me. I’m just under 6 feet tall and with the center column extended about 4 inches, including the ball head and the camera, it is just the right height for me. (I also like to lean in to look through the viewfinder)
6) Packs up really small. The feet fold up over the head which reduces the overall height of the tripod and allows it to easily fit into a suitcase or backpack.
7) RAPID leg system(non rotating legs) make collapsing the tripod a breeze and they feel really sturdy.
8) It is well-balanced. The head and tripod are very well-balanced so when you’re carrying it around by its legs, it isn’t overly top-heavy.
9) The head is very sturdy. There is no creep at all. Where you lock it in it stays!
Now that I’ve mentioned what I do like about it, let me state some criticisms about it, but let me just say this. I love this tripod. No tripod is perfect. There will always be quirks. So here is it
1) Not very tight when folded up. When folding the legs up over the head(CB40 that was paired with it from the Feisol) they don’t close in entirely making the circumference larger on one side compared to the other. Not a huge deal, just something that could have been better configured.
2) Although very lightweight, it is kind of bulky. This does add to some of the stability of it, but it doesn’t feel entirely like a small, travel tripod.
3) Telescoping center column isn’t necessary. Not sure how much weight you would have saved but shooting landscapes primarily(95% of the time) I likely wont use it too often. I wish they had a replacement center column that didn’t telescope. They do, but it’s only 3 inches tall.
4) You cannot get very low to the ground. I realized the first time I went out shooting with this that I get very close to the ground when I shoot, and I can’t with this tripod. I have already ordered the replacement short center column which will allow me to get lower to the ground. Not sure if that will stay on it permanently or I’ll throw it in my backpack. Either way, it’s was an issue and that was fixable.
5) Hook on bottom of center column is not spring-loaded/retractable. They could have a better design there. It keeps getting caught on the loops of my tripod holder on my bag.
6) The CB40 ball head. Very sturdy ball head, don’t get me wrong, but the design somewhat puzzling. The knobs are very bulky. The one that attaches to the arca-swiss clamp is so big that it knocks into my chin. Now, I might have a large chin but still, it’s large and bothersome. So I turned it to the size and that got it out of my way, only when I go into landscape mode it bumps into the panning base part of the head and doesn’t allow me to go a full 90 degrees. Yes there are two other positions(Front of camera and the other side of the camera) but my point is, it’s big. The knobs are also very firm. This could be just my winter usage of it, but that’s my feeling now. The bottom of the ball head where the mount thread is located is hollowed out. Maybe to save weight, but if you have to pull off the ball head in sandy/windy/unpleasant conditions to mount it to say a shorter center column, debris could get in there. Not sure what it would do, but it’s in the back of my mind. As well, when in the full 90 degree portrait mode, the ball head shows its hollow center, and thus allowing debris in if in undesirable weather conditions, which I’m normally in. Basically, it’s a sturdy ball head but I think that might be my next upgrade.
So that’s all I can come up with now. If you have any questions I’ll gladly answer them the best I can. I’ll also update this post as I use it more and get a better feel for it but so far, I’m just happy I was able to cut so much weight off my tripod and still have a super stable tripod to go hiking deep into the woods without killing my back.