Tak­ing your Nikon on your trav­els? You’ll want a light, com­pact tripod – like the ones we’re re­view­ing

Whether you’re trekking into the hills, ex­plor­ing the big city or jet­ting off on your trav­els, Matthew Richards re­veals some ideal three­legged travel com­pan­ions

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Travel tripods have a dif­fi­cult role to play.

We want them to be small enough to fit into our bag­gage or to fas­ten eas­ily onto a gad­get bag or back­pack, while also ex­tend­ing to a de­cent max­i­mum height for shoot­ing from a nat­u­ral per­spec­tive. Sim­i­larly, we ex­pect them to be light­weight enough to be car­ried with ease, and to en­croach as lit­tle as pos­si­ble on air­line weight lim­its, while also be­ing sturdy enough to sta­bly sup­port a full-blown SLR, even with a fairly big lens at­tached.

It sounds like the ideal so­lu­tion is to go for a tripod made from ex­otic ma­te­ri­als like car­bon fibre. How­ever, many of us won’t use a travel op­tion as our pri­mary tripod. If you’re only go­ing to be us­ing a travel tripod when ac­tu­ally on the road, value for money be­comes es­pe­cially im­por­tant. Car­bon fibre ver­sions of most travel tripods save only a fairly small amount of car­ry­ing weight yet are much more ex­pen­sive to buy. The smart money tends to be spent on alu­minium ver­sions. All tripods on test here are made from alu­minium.

Let’s start with the size is­sue. The ob­vi­ous way of mak­ing tripods that are com­pact when folded yet stretch to a gen­er­ous op­er­at­ing height is to in­crease the num­ber of sec­tions in each leg. Whereas most stan­dard tripods have three-sec­tion legs, most travel tripods have four, and some have five- or even six-sec­tion legs. The more sec­tions, the greater the dif­fer­ence between max­i­mum and folded height, but there’s a catch. Each sec­tion re­quires a clamp for mak­ing tele­scopic ad­just­ments. This adds to the time and ef­fort in­volved when us­ing the tripod at its taller avail­able op­er­at­ing heights, as there are more fas­ten­ers to re­lease and retighten. Each joint is also a po­ten­tial weak point.

With greater num­bers of sec­tions in each leg, the bot­tom sec­tions are likely to be­come more thin and spindly. In­deed, mea­sure­ments shrink to as lit­tle as 10mm and even 9mm in the Giot­tos and Vel­bon tripods on test. This adds to the risk of un­wanted flex­ing dur­ing op­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially in breezy con­di­tions. One so­lu­tion is to make the top sec­tion from a wider di­am­e­ter tube, so that the mul­ti­ple tele­scopic in­ter­nal sec­tions can be wider and more ro­bust. How­ever, this will add to the tripod’s bulk and weight, com­pro­mis­ing its travel cre­den­tials.

Take the strain The lighter in weight a tripod is, the more top-heavy it’s likely to be when you mount a cam­era on it. The max­i­mum load rat­ing of all the tripods on test is at least 3kg but, to avoid top­pling over, none has a piv­ot­ing cen­tre col­umn that can be used as a hor­i­zon­tal boom, as fea­tured on an in­creas­ing num­ber of full-sized tripods.

For low-level shoot­ing and use on tricky ter­rain, all the tripods in the group fea­ture multi-an­gle legs. They also all come as com­plete kits in­clud­ing a tripod head. The Slik Pro 340DX is the only one to fea­ture a three-way head; all the oth­ers have ball heads.

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