I set out to find a tripod which I was going to use regularly, by that, I mean one that I would take with me when I went out walking or days out when I would also be carrying a day pack with lunch, water and maybe some warm clothing, waterproofs etc. Also, if like me, you are interested in landscape photography, you may well have to lug your stuff quite a way or even up a mountain to get to your chosen location. I’m sure most tripods are purchased simply as a means to support the camera and without consideration for their portability, resulting in them being left at home most days.
Now, you have to accept that this is always going to be a compromise. I recently went on a days shooting at a red kite feeding station and had the opportunity to use a Gitzo 3000 series tripod with a gimbal head. It was great, steady as a rock and held a 500mm lens perfectly. However, this sort of set up is at least three times the weight and the price.
The first thing you notice about this tripod is how light it is. At bang on one kilo this has to be one of the lightest tripods capable of supporting anything close to what this can. The excellent build quality is probably the second observation. Despite its low weight, the tripod feels very solid and extremely well made.
Here are the manufacturers specifications:
Primary material Carbon Fibre
Weight (g) 1000
In-built head type None
Max load (g) 3000
Min height (cm) 21
Max height (cm) 124
Leg sections 4
Horizontal centre column No
Closed length (cm) 51
Range MT Travel
One thing that caused me to consider other tripods was the relatively high minimum height, this is due to the centre column hitting the ground when you spread the legs out for low shooting. The Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 Tripod was a serious contender; it has a unique quick release centre column that can be rotated for low shots as well as being able to support up to 5kg. Having said that, it is also heavier, bulkier and actually more expensive, compromises again! However, without much practice, you can whip out the Giotto’s centre column and reverse it for those low shots, like this:
In this picture you can also see the ability of the legs to be spread independantly into one of three positions by lifting a catch at the top of each leg. Here, each is on notch two but the legs will spread even further to almost horizontal on notch 3 or you can adjust individually for setting up on uneven ground. NB These catches feel as though they should be spring loaded, they are not, so take care that you push them back into place to lock the legs. In fact if they were spring loaded it would make the leg adjustment a two handed job rather than one, so not a gripe. Apparently, you can also get a shorter centre column if you want to get low without reversing the column but I’ve not seen one available in the UK.
A big consideration when choosing a tripod and head is the weight of your kit. The Nikon D90 weighs in at about 750gms and my heaviest lens is the Sigma 150mm Macro at about 1kg, so maximum combined weight is less than 2kgs, another reason I decided not to go for the Manfrotto.
The legs are easily adjusted with one hand for both angle and length. The legs are in 4 sections and the length can be adjusted quickly using the twist locks. I actually prefer the flip type locks on the Manfrotto because they are slightly quicker, being either locked or unlocked, and you do have a visible reference as reassurance. However, the twist type work fine and also help reduce the overall profile when collapsed. I’ve also found the flip type get caught on things when carrying on the back of a rucsac, including the elastic ice axe fasteners found on some rucsacs useful for strapping it on.
Giottos MH1312-652 Series II Ball Head
This has been my first experience with a ball head and once you get used to the very different operation from the pan and tilt type, it is fantastic in its simplicity. Three adjustment wheels: One main one for locking/releasing and adjusting your camera in all planes, one for adjusting the friction and one that just releases the camera in the horizontal plane for panning shots.
Head type Ball Head
Max load (g) 6000
Quick release plate Yes
Weight (g) 380
Mount thread 1/4 and 3/8 inch
Attachment thread 1/4 inch and 3/8 inch female
Spirit level Yes
Weighing in at just 380gms, this gives you a very light and compact set up to carry around with you. I’ve strapped it to the back of a rucsac and forgotten it was there. It feels like a very high quality bit of kit and simply works very well. The top plate is fitted with spirit levels on two planes, I’ve never really used them as I tend to use the grid in the camera viewfinder but I’m sure some will find them useful. The quick release is very secure and locks into place simply through the action of slotting your camera onto the top plate – I do give it an extra nudge just to be sure.
My heaviest lens, the Sigma 150mm Macro has a tripod collar, as you can see in the picture above. This brings the centre of gravity of the camera gear nearer the centre of the tripod and results in very easy subject framing. My next heaviest lens is the Nikon 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 AF-S which is lighter at around 750gms but doesn’t have a collar. This means there is quite a bit of leverage acting on the head, especially at full zoom. The result of this is a bit of ‘sag’ when you frame up and lock the head due to the ‘give’ in the whole rig, this can be a nuisance as you have to try and allow for it when framing the shot. I guess without a lens collar you are always going to get this.
Only one minor gripe; Not long after I purchased the head, the rubber grip on the locking wheel split and came off. Warehouse Express immediately offered to replace the whole head. However, a quick email to Giottos and they had a new grip in the post FOC by return, great service and a whole lot less hassle than returning the head.
All in all, these two have proved to be a great combination and I have no regrets. Despite my initial indecision the Giotto better suits my purpose than the Manfrotto.
So, if you need a lightweight, easily transportable setup for those hard to get to landscape shots, I would say this combination is hard to beat.