TRAVEL TRIPODS

centre column

You canbeat a tripod for ensuring shake-free shooting, and ultimately, getting a sharper image. Big, chunky heavyweights offer maximum stability, but theyfar from ideal when youon your travels. Usually weighing in at around 3.5kg, full-sized tripods will eat into your baggage allowance when flying. Theyalso put a strain on your back when youon country walks or exploring the city.

Lettake a load off. Travel tripods aim to deliver the perfect compromise between lightweight compactness and rigid support.

But downsizing is a tall order. How do you go about making a tripod thatsmaller to stow away yet still offers a respectable maximum operating height? And how can a spindly tripod that weighs as little as 1kg be substantial enough for outdoor use, remaining steady rather than blowing around in the breeze?

The tripods in our round-up tackle the problems in various ways. The legs of some are built from carbon fibre instead of aluminium, which can offer a weight saving of around 25 per cent. Others, like the Benro and Vanguard, rely on crafty designs that buck tradition.

High five

A favourite trick to make the transition from short carrying length to respectable operating height is to use five telescopic sections in each tripod leg. Considering most full-sized tripods only have three sections per leg, thata lot of extra sections in all.

Conventional wisdom says that each joint in each leg is a weak point that can reduce stability. Also, having a greater number of leg sections means that the lower sections end up being very thin and spindly. This latter point is a real risk, considering that even the upper sections of most travel tripods are quite small in diameter to start with, making the bottom sections very thin indeed, and more prone to flexing. To

increase rigidity, each leg sectionmechanism needs to be solid and secure. The main choice of fasteners is between clip locks or twist locks. Either way, the clamps need to give a firm lock, as well as enabling smooth extension when released, while not introducing any unwanted flexing into the overall leg.

The extra leg sections employed by most travel tripods inevitably result in thinner bottom sections, but these sections will also be relatively short, so rigidity may not be too badly impaired.

Not all travel tripods have five sections per leg. The Hama and Slik models on test are based on four-leg sections, while the Jessops and Velbon tripods have a more conventional three sections per leg.

The trade-off is that the Jessops and Velbon in particular donfold down as small as the other tripods in the group, but theystill reasonably easy to carry around. The Velbondimensions actually look quite diminutive in our comparison table, but this is the only tripod in the group thatsold as just a set of legs, and not as a tripod kit with an attached head.

Heads up?

In most cases, the tripod head adds about 8cm to the overall folded length of the tripod. Ita significant amount, usually about a sixth of the complete length.

 ball head

To combat this, the Giottos and Vanguard take a radical diversion from conventional design for

or more shorter than most travel tripods when stowed.

Flexibility isnperhaps the first thing to leap onto your wish list for whatsupposed to be a rigid piece of kit, but it can be good in one respect. Some travel tripods are certainly more flexible than others when it comes to adapting to wide-ranging shooting needs. All but the Manfrotto tripod in the group have multi-angle legs. Typically, they can be locked at two or three

greater space-saving. The Giottos has fully pivoting legs, while the Vanguard features a pivoting centre column. The result in both cases is that rather than protruding from the top of the tripod when folded, the head ends up nestling between the tripodfeet.

Indeed, with folded lengths of 40cm and 37cm respectively, the Giottos and Vanguard are 10cm different angles from the centre column, and the Jessops goes top with four angles on offer.

Splaying the legs enables you to quickly and easily shoot from nearer the ground. Italso a bonus on very uneven ground or for working around obstacles.

Another handy aid for low-level shooting is that you can sometimes split the tripodcentre column by removing its lower section.

This bypasses the need to remove it and refit it upside down in an inverted position. Bubble levels or spirit levels are handy for levelling the tripod on uneven ground, especially if your camera doesnfeature a virtual horizon display. However, unless there are bubble or spirit levels on the tripod headcamera platform, theyonly useful for levelling the tripod, not the camera itself.

Slik Sprint Pro IIGM Tripod Kit

A compact and extremely lightweight tripod thatalso impressively light on the wallet

The lightest tripod and head combination in the group, the Slik weighs in at a touch under 1kg. Its maximum load rating of 2kg is also lower than average, but is sufficient for a D-SLR with a budget telephoto lens attached.

At 47cm, itfairly small when folded. Itbased on four-section legs and an extending centre column that enable a useful maximum height of 161cm. The nine clip locks are quick and easy to use, as is the centre column which has a locking screw as well as an adjustable friction damper. The column can also be split and inverted for low-level shooting, which is further aided by three alternative leg angles.

Performance

 ball head

Despite its slim build, the Slik offers reasonably sturdy support,

even at its maximum operating height, although itno match for the Benro, Giottos and Velbon tripods in this respect.

The ball head is similarly small but offers good, rigid clamping thatstreets ahead of the Hama and Manfrotto heads. However, it lacks variable friction adjustment or a pan-only lock, as featured on the Benro and Giottos heads. At the price, ita good bargain buy.

Jessops Major Carbon Fibre (5145152)

What price a carbon fibre tripod? Jessops rewrites the price list with this bargain kit

At less than a third of the price of the Giottos carbon fibre tripod, the Jessops tripod is amazingly cheap to buy. With only three leg sections, however, its folded length is on the large size at 62cm. Italso quite heavy for a carbon fibre tripod-at 1.78kg, itactually the second heaviest in the group. On the plus side, height adjustments are quick and easy with only two clip locks per leg, which are chunky and simple to operate.

Unusually, the kit includes a conventional three-way head rather than a ball head. Itgood for making precise adjustments but to enable slimline carrying, you need to remove one locking arm and screw it into the other, which is rather time consuming.

Performance

Stability is good when only the middle leg sections are

extended. However, when youalso extending the lower section of each leg, theresome flexing. Itnot as pronounced as with the Hama and Manfrotto tripods but it impairs performance. On the plus side, multi-angle facilities are better than most, with four lockable positions. In the uppermost position, the leg points almost vertically upwards, which is handy if you need to shoot close to a wall.

Vanguard Nivelo 245BK

Benro Flat Traveller 2

5-Section Aluminium Tripod

 ball head

A radical rethink on travel tripod design, the Vanguard makes for very compact carrying

Smart and solid, this a fine example of Benrosecond generation of flat-folding tripods

Vanguard has often impressed us in the past with its innovative designs and good build quality. The Nivelo 245BK follows the trend, with a pivoting centre column thatunique in the group.

Unlike the pivot system in some full-sized Vanguard tripods, you canuse the centre column at any angle through its 180-degree arc, but instead are limited to vertically upwards or downwards. Upwards is ideal for regular shooting, while downwards is great for ultra-low-level shots and compact carrying, as the head rests between the feet when folded.

Performance

Speedy setup is aided by twist-lock leg sections, which operate by progressive twisting of the tripod feet. The system works well and is a time-saver

compared with using 12 clip locks. Stability is pretty good and better than with the Slik.

The head also has a similarly quick action although itnot a ball-and-socket head. Instead, two clamping screws enable independent movement for pan and tilt. To swivel the camera for portrait shooting, you need to remove the square quick-release plate and refit it at a 90-degree increment.

The Benro is an innovative and beautifully engineered piece of kit. And it really is a kit, with an array of parts and tools in a smart padded carry case.

Each of the tripodthree legs are positioned in a straight line along its rectangular shoulder, folding flat for stowage. The position of the centre leg therefore precludes the use of a conventional centre column. However, a telescopic centre column is supplied, so you can remove the head, fit the centre column and mount the head on it when you need extra height, up to a class-leading 172cm.

Without the centre column fitted, the multi-angle legs enable low-level shooting.

Performance

Thanks to a rugged, high-quality build, rigidity is excellent. The tripodrubber feet can be removed and replaced with metal spikes, also supplied, for added stability. To enhance versatility, one of the tripod legs can be removed and fitted directly to the head, with or without the centre column in between, for use as a monopod.

The high-performance ball head itself is similarly versatile, with separate locking and friction knobs, plus a pan-only lock with calibrated scale.

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