Big test

Car­bon fi­bre tripods are great for the pho­tog­ra­pher on the go. Eight of the best rated…

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For most pho­tog­ra­phers, the per­fect tri­pod should of­fer solid sup­port with a lofty max­i­mum op­er­at­ing height, yet fold down rea­son­ably small for stow­ing away, and it shouldn’t be overly heavy. Af­ter all, no­body wants to lug around more weight than they need to. Big, heavy tripods are of­ten left at home when we go out on a shoot, mak­ing them com­pletely use­less. The flip side is that small, light­weight tripods that are easy to carry can have a dis­ap­point­ingly short op­er­at­ing height, as well as be­ing com­par­a­tively flimsy and prone to vi­bra­tion.

When it comes to the choice of ma­te­rial for tri­pod legs and, in many case the cen­tre col­umn as well, car­bon fi­bre has dis­tinct ad­van­tages over alu­minium. It’s im­pres­sively rigid yet

lighter in weight to the ex­tent that most ‘full-sized’ car­bon tri­pod kits (in­clud­ing head) are about 20 per cent lighter than their alu­minium coun­ter­parts. In some cases, how­ever, the weight sav­ing can be as lit­tle as 10 per cent, and it can be neg­li­gi­ble for very small tripods.

An­other bonus of car­bon fi­bre is that it tends to be bet­ter than alu­minium at soak­ing up or ‘damp­ing’ vi­bra­tions, which can be a prob­lem when shoot­ing out­doors in breezy con­di­tions, or next to a road that’s busy with traf­fic. Car­bon fi­bre also feels less cold to the touch than alu­minium when shoot­ing in win­try weather.

Some of the lat­est ‘travel tripods’ ex­tend to a greater max­i­mum op­er­at­ing height than com­pet­ing full-sized mod­els. To en­able a rel­a­tively small stowage size, they gen­er­ally have four sec­tions in each leg rather than three. Mod­els in this test group in­clude the Benro Go Plus Travel, Kenro Ul­ti­mate Travel, Man­frotto 190go! and the Novo Ex­plorer. Of these, the Benro, Kenro and Novo add an­other space-sav­ing trick. In­stead of fold­ing them down in the usual man­ner, you can ex­tend the cen­tre col­umn to its max­i­mum height, and then swing the legs fully up­wards so that the feet en­cir­cle the head. This typ­i­cally saves an ex­tra 20cm or so in the over­all folded height.

To en­able low-level shoot­ing, all of the tripods on test fea­ture multi-an­gle legs, so you can splay them wide and re­duce the height that you’re shoot­ing from. The lim­it­ing fac­tor is the cen­tre col­umn, which will come into con­tact with the ground. To get around that prob­lem, the Benro Mach3 and Novo tripods on test are sup­plied with a short, stubby cen­tre col­umn, which you can use in­stead of the full-length cen­tre col­umn. The Vel­bon has a cen­tre col­umn that’s split near the top, so you can sim­ply un­screw the lower sec­tion.

Other tripods in the group have a piv­ot­ing cen­tre col­umn. Typ­i­cally, this en­ables you to ro­tate it through 90 de­grees and use the cen­tre col­umn as a hor­i­zon­tal boom. It’s ideal for low-level shoot­ing and great for ex­treme close-ups. It’s also use­ful for shoot­ing with ul­tra­w­ide-an­gle or fish­eye lenses, as you can avoid the tri­pod feet creep­ing into the im­age.

Of the tripods on test, the Kenro Ul­ti­mate Travel and both Man­frotto mod­els en­able the cen­tre col­umn to be used in up­right or hor­i­zon­tal mode. The Benro Go Plus Travel and Van­guard tripods of­fer a greater level of ver­sa­til­ity, as their cen­tre columns can ro­tate through a 180-de­gree arc, be­ing locked firmly at a num­ber of an­gles along the way. Let’s take a closer look at what they have to of­fer.

An­other bonus of car­bon fi­bre is that it tends to be bet­ter than alu­minium at soak­ing up or ‘damp­ing’ vi­bra­tions

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