Get the low-down on 8 multi-angle tripods
Photographers often stay well away from a tripod’s centre column, only extending it as a last resort when they want to maximise shooting height. It’s a missed opportunity. Increasingly, manufacturers are developing designs in which the centre column can be rotated through 90 degrees to act as a horizontal boom. But why would you need that?
An extending boom is great for macro photography, enabling you to get the camera close enough to what you’re shooting without the tripod legs holding you back. It’s also a big help if you want to photograph objects shooting directly down from above.
Another advantage is that you can shoot with a really wide-angle lens without the tripod feet creeping into the picture. And, combined with the multi-angle legs that are featured on the vast majority of modern
tripods, a horizontal centre column can enable ultra-low level shooting without the pain of having to remove the centre column from the tripod, invert it, refit it, and then shoot with the camera upside-down.
Considering the added versatility, it’s surprising that more mainstream manufacturers don’t include pivot tripods in their product lines. Those not at the party currently include 3 Legged Thing, Gitzo, Induro, MeFoto, Sirui, Slik, and Velbon, to name but a few. We’ve therefore doubled up on products from some of the leading manufacturers for this Big Test.
We’ve stuck to aluminium tripods, to keep the playing field as level as possible. Directly equivalent carbon fibre options are also available for all but the Benbo and Vanguard tripods. Benbo only makes aluminium tripods, and for the Vanguard, the closest match is the ALTA PRO 284CB 100 kit. When using the same head supplied with each aluminium edition, the carbon fibre versions typically give a weight saving of around 15 per cent, or 400 grams. The price increase is usually around 50 per cent, although it’s somewhat less for the Manfrotto 055, and rather more for the Benro Classic and Vanguard carbon-fibre alternatives.
Some of the tripods on test are classed as ‘travel tripods’, typically having four rather than three sections in each leg, to enable a more compact size for storage, while still enabling fairly lofty shooting at full stretch. The Benro and Kenro travel tripods in the group take compactness to a new level. For stowage, you extend the centre column to its full height, then swing the legs fully upwards so that the feet surround the head. It’s a trend that’s becoming increasingly popular in travel tripods, but very few also have pivoting centre columns.
Apart from the two Benro tripods in the group, all are supplied as complete kits rather than being sold as separate legs and heads. Buying a kit can be a money saver, but you might prefer to choose your legs and head separately to best suit your needs. You can mix and match between manufacturers but, for the best fit, it’s good to choose a head that has approximately the same diameter of mounting surface as the platform on the tripod legs. You can fit a head with a 3/8-inch attachment thread onto a tripod with a 1/4-inch stud via an adaptor, but you can’t fit a head with a smaller 1/4-inch thread to a tripod with a 3/8-inch stud. Let’s take a closer look at what all the kits and separates have to offer.
A horizontal centre column can enable ultra-low level shooting without the pain of having to remove the centre column from the tripod