GROUP TEST: CAR­BON- FI­BRE TRIPODS UN­DER £ 350

Digital SLR Photography - - Contents - Test: RICHARD HOP­KINS

In the mar­ket for a new tri­pod? You’re in the right place. Nine mod­els that won’t break the bank are put to the test

THEY'RE ALL CAR­BON- FI­BRE, ALL UN­DER £ 350, AND ALL COM­PLETELY DIF­FER­ENT! NINE TOP TRIPODS FROM THE BEST KNOWN BRANDS, ALL SUB­JECTED TO THE RE­VEAL­ING SCRU­TINY OF OUR UNIQUE NEW TEST PRO­CE­DURE

These tripods have two things in com­mon – they're all car­bon- fi­bre and cost around the £ 300 mark, give or take. But those things aside, they're a very var­ied bunch, from light­weight travel tripods, to heav­ier pro­fes­sional stan­dard sup­ports, with some mod­els sport­ing un­usual de­signs and at­trac­tive ex­tras.

Most tripods at this level come with­out a head, but have a uni­ver­sal 3/ 8in screw on the top plat­form to fit any head of your choos­ing. it's im­por­tant not to skimp on that as a chain is only as strong as its weak­est link and the head is the main user- in­ter­face; the bit you ac­tu­ally work with. at the lighter end of the scale, we have the slik Lite, which weighs only around 1kg and can be closed down un­be­liev­ably small with that cun­ning mech­a­nism where the legs fold up and back on them­selves to wrap around the ball- head, but then ex­tends into the tallest on test! Can tripods like these re­ally sup­port a full- size dslr and tele­zoom lens?

the mid­dle ground is well pop­u­lated with tripods from Benro, Man­frotto, sirui, van­guard and vel­bon. they in­clude in­no­va­tive fea­tures like ar­tic­u­lat­ing cen­trecolumns and mono­pod con­ver­sion op­tions. one model even of­fers both, but can still step up to the mark for reg­u­lar tri­pod du­ties.

and, at the more en­thu­si­ast end, there are three mod­els that are clearly fo­cused on the vi­tal task of pro­vid­ing su­per- sta­ble sup­port with fat­ter leg sec­tions and more ro­bust fix­tures, but still with a keen eye on the weight. how much dif­fer­ence do these things make?

to find out, we've de­vel­oped our usual field anal­y­sis and added a new and re­veal­ingly ac­cu­rate test pro­ce­dure for mea­sur­ing a tri­pod's re­sis­tance to wind- buf­fet and mir­ror- shock. there's no hid­ing from this one. it's de­scribed in the sec­tion be­low, with sim­ple per­cent­age per­for­mance data given in each of the re­spec­tive re­views.

How we did THE Tests

the two en­e­mies of tri­pod sta­bil­ity are buf­fet­ing from the wind, and vi­bra­tion from the cam­era's mir­ror and shut­ter mech­a­nisms. We set up tests to ac­cu­rately mea­sure the ef­fects of both, us­ing imat­est soft­ware to an­a­lyse the blur­ring of real world im­ages. imat­est is nor­mally used to mea­sure lens MTF sharp­ness very pre­cisely, and it does ex­actly the same thing with move­ment blur.

the wind ef­fect was gen­er­ated with an in­dus­trial fan, care­fully po­si­tioned and turned down low to sim­u­late a Gen­tle Breeze 3 as de­fined by the Beau­fort scale that runs from 0 ( dead calm) to 12 ( hur­ri­cane). Gen­tle Breeze 3 blows at 8- 12mph, set with a cal­i­brated wind me­ter, and is de­scribed as ' leaves and twigs in con­stant mo­tion, light flags ex­tended.' this proved to be quite a tough and re­veal­ing test, but not an un­re­al­is­tic or un­usual one in prac­tice.

a shut­ter speed of five sec­onds was found to be the ex­po­sure time nec­es­sary for con­sis­tent re­sults that in­clude all the strong­est vi­bra­tions as they run down and back up the length of the tri­pod legs, with os­cil­la­tions and res­o­nances then clash­ing to­gether to pro­duce an ex­tra bump. Mir­ror- shock was mea­sured in the same way with the fan off, at a shut­ter speed of 1/ 15sec that is usu­ally the worst af­fected speed with dslrs.

the out­fit used in our test weighed 1.9kg and con­sisted of an en­thu­si­ast- level dslr ( Canon eos 7d) fit­ted with a tele­photo zoom ( ef70- 200mm f/ 4L), mounted and bal­anced via the tri­pod col­lar on a high grade ar­caswiss p0 head. all the tripods were set at ex­actly 122cm ( 4ft) high to the top plat­form, and the fig­ures in each re­view are the per­cent­age of sharp­ness com­pared to con­trol im­ages ranked at 100% taken with the fan off and fast- du­ra­tion flash. For ex­am­ple, if the con­trol im­age with flash showed a 100% res­o­lu­tion of 40 lines- per- mm on the test tar­get ( at MTF50), then a tri­pod scor­ing 75% would de­liver a 30- lpmm res­o­lu­tion im­age un­der test con­di­tions.

it's well known that big­ger and heav­ier tripods are more sta­ble, but it's in­ter­est­ing to see how closely this fact was played out in the tests. and in much the same way, if you are able to com­pare a few tripods side by side, you'll prob­a­bly be able to rate them in or­der of per­for­mance with a fair de­gree of ac­cu­racy if you set them up to the same work­ing height, then hold two legs and gen­tly push and pull them one against the other. You'll feel move­ment even with the best tripods, then look down the legs to check flex­ing around the joints. ex­tend the cen­tre- col­umn and do the same with one hand on top and the other hold­ing the top plat­form.

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