Head-to-head

What price sturdy yet light­weight legs and a smart, easy-to-use head? We put a money-saving favourite up against a real wal­let-buster…

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The cost of a tri­pod and head varies mas­sively, so we pit a pop­u­lar wal­let-friendly op­tion against a top-of-the-range model to see if you really do get what you pay for

Metal pins

Kit­ted out

Typ­i­cal of sub-£200/$300 kits, the Man­frotto is based on alu­minium leg sec­tions. Size for size, alu­minium tends to be no­tice­ably heav­ier than di­rectly com­pet­ing car­bon fi­bre, but should be sim­i­larly sturdy. Com­fort pad­ding is good to have, es­pe­cially in cold weather. Bud­get-friendly tripods of­ten come as a com­plete kit that com­prises legs and head. Some­times there are op­tions to in­clude ei­ther a three-way or ball head, as with the Man­frotto MK190XPRO3. The ‘BH’ kit in­cludes the ex­cel­lent 498RC2 ball head.

Get­ting up high

Ex­tend all of the leg sec­tions and cen­tre col­umn for op­er­a­tion at max­i­mum height, and any tri­pod will be at its most wob­bly. The Man­frotto stretches to a lofty 1.71 me­tres but re­mains fairly rigid, even when sup­port­ing a large D-SLR body and hefty tele­photo lens.

Go­ing to ground

As well as four lock­able leg an­gles, the Man­frotto fea­tures a 90-de­gree pivot sys­tem for its cen­tre col­umn. This en­ables the min­i­mum shoot­ing height to be low­ered to just 15cm. The re­cently re­designed pivot and leg sec­tion locks make for quick, easy op­er­a­tion.

Tak­ing the strain

The Man­frotto’s max­i­mum load rat­ing is 7kg for the legs and 6kg for the head. This is suf­fi­cient for, say, a D810 body and mon­ster 600mm f/4 tele­photo lens, with more than a kilo­gram to spare. Even when fully loaded, the Man­frotto feels pretty sturdy.

High fi­bre

Typ­i­cally, car­bon fi­bre legs are about 25 per cent

lighter than sim­i­larly sized alu­minium legs. Not all car­bon fi­bre is cre­ated equal, though, and cheap legs may shat­ter if they take a sharp knock. That shouldn’t be a prob­lem with Gitzo’s su­per-strong ‘6x’ weave.

Cus­tom build

With top-range tripods, you gen­er­ally choose your

own legs and head separately to get the kit you want. That’s the case here and, as if the top-flight Sys­tem­atic GT3542XLS legs weren’t costly enough on their own at £650/$875, the GH3780QD ball head adds £420/$480.

Over­head shoot­ing

With four leg sec­tions rather than the Man­frotto’s three, the Gitzo stretches to 2.12 me­tres for ‘over the head shoot­ing’, which is quite some­thing con­sid­er­ing it doesn’t have a cen­tre col­umn. At any equal height set­ting, it’s no­tice­ably more rigid than the Man­frotto.

Free­dom of move­ment

An­other bonus of not hav­ing a cen­tre col­umn is that the Gitzo’s multi-an­gle legs en­able low shoot­ing lev­els. It drops to 20cm rather than the Man­frotto’s 15cm but, with­out a hor­i­zon­tally ex­tend­ing cen­tre col­umn, the ball head has a greater range of move­ment.

Heavy load

The su­per-strong Gitzo legs and fab­u­lously en­gi­neered head have frankly mon­strous max­i­mum load rat­ings of 25kg and 21kg re­spec­tively. This is com­plete overkill if you’re shoot­ing with a Nikon D-SLR rather than maybe a TV cam­era, but for rigid­ity it reigns supreme.

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