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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.