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
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.