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?200 Tripod group test Review

Selecting the right tripod can be a minefield. So we've got three here for around 200 to see which offers the best value for money in construction, features and ease-of-use.

|  Giottos MTL 8261B in Tripods, Monopods and Other Supports
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Build and handling

£200 tripod group test main image
Resident ePHOTOzine reviewer, Matt Grayson tries out three tripods for around £200.

Will the most expensive be the best tripod or will the least expensive offer the best value?

In this test, we want to know whether less means more...

Tripods are an important part of a photographer's life from the tiny macro world to the sweeping vistas of landscapes. They eradicate camera shake and allow for long exposures  if you're using filters such as a Linear/Circular Polariser or a Neutral Density.

They can quite easily be overlooked as a quick purchase in a shop or online often with just a cursory glance at the specification list and, because they're an accessory, more emphasis being placed on the price than the materials used other maximum load. For that reason, we've tested three awesome tripods that cost around the £200 mark.

£200 Tripod group test: Features
The great thing about spending more money on a tripod is that the quality is incredible. All three tripods in this test are carbon-fibre construction, the Manfrotto being a 100% carbon-fibre. I think the Manfrotto is the best tripod for travelling around due to its compact size but then it does have the advantage of being a four section model whereas the other two are three section. In fact for those of you who prefer a three section tripod, there is a 190 CX Pro3 available for £10 less at Park Cameras. It's 8cm taller and 50g heavier. The 8cm height difference would bring it around the same height as the Giottos and Benro in our test.

Manfrotto 190CX Pro4  
£200 tripod group test Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 carbon fibre
The carbon fibre consruction includes the centre-column.
£200 tripod group test Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 leg release
The leg releases are easy to use on the Manfrotto.
£200 tripod group test Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 Q90 system
The vertical to horizontal Q90 system is quick and easy to use but is at the sacrifice of a ballast hook.
£200 tripod group test Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 spirit level
A built-in spirit level means you can still get a straight horizon even if the head doesn't have one.

Both the Manfrotto and the Benro have the ability to change the centre-column to a horizontal position while the Giottos can be reversed for ultra-low shooting. The Q90 system has been incorporated by Manfrotto onto the pro series tripods and is a very quick and light way to get the centre-column into a horizontal position. The Benro has a similar function and while it's just as effective, the centre-column isn't comfortable while it's being moved over. The Manfrotto has a stopper to prevent the column from falling out which the Benro doesn't have. There are two twisting knobs to loosen the hinge and they're not the easiest to use.

Despite what the Manfrotto 190 CX Pro4 says about being a 100% carbon-fibre construction, this isn't entirely accurate. The head and top plate are made of magnesium which is a light, yet strong metal and the same can be said of the Giottos and Benro. Manfrotto's reasoning behind the 100% tag is because the centre-column is also made from carbon-fibre. It sounds like a no-brainer that the centre-column should be included but the Giottos has an aluminium centre-column. Benro have shared Manfrotto's vision and also made the centre-column out of carbon-fibre.

Giottos MTL 8261B  
£200 tripod group test Giottos MTL 8261B carbon fibre
The Giottos features a 6x layer construction of carbon fibre layers.
£200 tripod group test Giottos MTL 8261B collar release
The centre-column release collar is large and easy to grip.
£200 tripod group test Giottos MTL 8261B leg release
Releasing the legs is a pull-out clip that then allows the legs to splay further.
£200 tripod group test Giottos MTL 8261B spirit level
A built-in spirit level means the tripod can be straight even with a cheap head.

£200 Tripod group test: Build and handling
All three tripods are extremely light and well balanced. The Manfrotto is the lightest of the three at 1.34Kg and before you think it's down to the tripod being smaller, it is. But then the three-section version is even lighter at 1.29Kg. The Giottos and Benro lumber in at a roly-poly 1.6Kg and 1.64Kg respectively.

Saying that, those weights are still very light and will help no end if you're the type that enjoys trudging for miles through an unforgiving wilderness. If it's landscapes you're into, then the Benro is an interesting tripod because it has a hook on the bottom of the centre-column that can be used for attaching a ballast in heavy winds. It means your camera is more secure in extreme weather and less likely to be disturbed from vibrations.

All three tripods are very well made and all share similar materials in the same places. The locking levers on the legs are made of plastic on all three models and they all have magnesium heads. It's rare these days that a tripod without a head won't have a spirit level bubble and all three incorporate one at the top of one leg.

Benro C-297 EX  
£200 tripod group test Benro C-297 EX carbon fibre
Benro have gone all out and used 8 layers of carbon fibre for the construction of the legs.
£200 tripod group test Benro C-297 EX horizontal centre-column
The C-297 also has an adjustable centre-column for low shooting.
£200 tripod group test Benro C-297 EX leg release
The leg releases are a similar clip system to the Giottos MTL 8261B.
£200 tripod group test Benro C-297 EX quick release
Typical Benro heads have a double release catch to prevent accidents.

At the launch of the CX range, Manfrotto boasted about the three layers of carbon-fibre that go into the construction of the legs and centre-column. Giottos have beaten that with six layers of material while the Benro tripod has eight. Quite simply, as you apply layers, you increase rigidity.

£200 Tripod group test: Performance
For this test, we used ball heads. The Benro had the BH0-M at £38. The Giottos used the MH 1301-652 at around £68 and the Manfrotto had the 496 RC2 at £60.

Ball heads are versatile, working well in all situations. However, they're not without fault and there are other types of heads such as pan & tilt, fast action grips and L-brackets that you may find easier to use or more suited to the type of photography you're wanting to do.

Pan & tilt heads such as the Giottos GTMH 5001 at £38.99 from Park Cameras generally have three handles which will unscrew to allow you to move the head up & down, left & right or switch the orientation. The advantage is that if you're photographing cars and need to pan, for example, the tilt and orientation locks can be kept in place while the pan lock is undone so the camera doesn't bob up and down as it's panned. A fast action grip or action grip such as the Manfrotto MN322RC2 Heavy Duty Action grip at £82.95 from Park Cameras has only one handle attached to a ball & socket head and it's used solely to release the lock for faster operation. It's great for bird and sports photography. All this means that if you're looking for a specialist head, expect to pay a premium for the legs and head.

Manfrotto use a standard quick release plate for the most popular heads such as the 496 RC2 ball & socket and the 804 RC2 pan & tilt head. Extra plates cost £24.99 from park Cameras, so make sure you keep hold of the one you have! Giottos spare plates cost £19.99 and come with the entire platform meaning you can switch an existing head into a quick release or  replace the whole thing. The best value comes from Benro because the PH-07 plate for the ball & socket used in the test is £13.00 and even the larger ones  for different heads are only £14.99. Of course they're plastic compared to the aluminium plate from Manfrotto and Giottos and it may end up that you wear them down quicker.

I took the tripods out for a test with the Olympus E-3, Zuiko 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED lens and Zuiko 50-200mm and they all coped admirably with the camera. Of course they will do with a camera and lens combination that goes no heavier than 1.8Kg because even the 190CX has a load bearing weight of 5Kg while the Giottos has a capacity of 8Kg and the Benro a massive 12Kg. These kind of weights are suitable for medium and large format cameras.

All three tripods buckled under the weight of me leaning on them and there was no coincidental area that suffered the most through all three: One was the top leg, the others were the bottom legs that retracted first.

At full extension with the centre-column down, the Giottos seemed the most stable of the three tripods on test with the Benro coming in second. The Manfrotto was the least stable which I put down to the ultra thin legs at the bottom. However, with the column extended, there's a lot of play in the collar unlike the Giottos and Benro which are a lot more stable at full extension.

As the relative newcomer, the Benro impressed me with how it managed with what was thrown at it. The legs are the smoothest to extend out and are air cushioned. The carbon fibre ensures that a certain amount of friction prevents the legs from slamming out. This is the case with all three but I'm amazed at how smooth the Benro legs are while still maintaining the friction.

Because of the four sections to the legs, the Manfrotto can compact down to a smaller size than the Benro and Giottos and I find this makes it easier to carry. They're all roughly the same weight so that's not the problem, it all boils down to size. Saying that, I usually have the tripod strapped to my kit bag so it doesn't get in the way as it is and the Benro comes with a bag, but if I had to carry one by hand with no carry case, it would be the 190 CX Pro4 from Manfrotto.

Setting up the tripods is a quick and easy affair. It's easier to extend the lower legs first so that the levers you need to unlock are nearer to you and you won't have the tripod flailing around over your head while you undo the lower legs. It took around 20 seconds to extend each tripod although the Manfrotto was a bit longer at 25 seconds because of the extra section of legs. The Q90 release system on the Manfrotto made getting the centre-column into a horizontal position easy and it was fast too. It took all of 10 seconds including  loosening and tightening the locking nut. The Benro took longer at 25 seconds because the centre-column has to be all but removed and this makes it more awkward.

£200 Tripod group test: Verdict
All three tripods on test are lovely to work with, they're all really well made and offer a decent amount of stability for the money.

£200 tripod group test winner Giottos MTL 8261B
The only thing I don't like about the Giottos is the lack of an adjustable centre-column like the Manfrotto Q90 system and Benro vertical to horizontal system.

The most expensive tripod is the Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 and while it offers a carbon fibre centre-column, so does the Benro. The Giottos offers the best value for money with the legs at £170, it's the most stable at height and coupled with the head that I used in the test, comes in at £230.

That's only £8 more than the Benro legs on their own and although they offer the cheapest head, it still comes in at £260 for the combo used in this test.

Because the Giottos does still have a low level option with the reversible centre-column and because of its comparable build quality and best value for money, it's the winner of this group test.

£200 Tripod group test: Pros
Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 Giottos MTL 8261B Benro C-297 EX
Q90 horizontal system Good value for money Horizontal column system
Compact size Easy tightening centre-column Smooth leg extension
Carbon fibre column Stable at full extension Carbon fibre column

£200 Tripod group test: Cons
Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 Giottos MTL 8261B Benro C-297 EX
Least stable at full extension No horizontal centre-column Most expensive

  Manfrotto 190CX
Giottos MTL 8261B Benro C-297 EX

£200 Tripod group test: Specification
  Manfrotto 190CX Giottos MTL 8261B Benro C-297 EX
Price £209.99 £164.99 £222
Quick release No, separate head No, separate head No, separate head
Min height 8cm 47cm 39cm
Max height 146cm 167cm 179cm
Load capacity 5Kg 8Kg 12Kg
Leg sections 4 3 3
Leg locks Lever type Lever type Lever type
Head fitting 3/8in 3/8in 3/8in
Weight 1.34Kg 1.6Kg 1.64Kg

The Manfrotto 190CX Pro4 costs £209.95 and is available from Park Cameras here:

Manfrotto 190CX Pro4

The Giottos MTL 8261B costs £164.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Giottos MTL 8261B

The Benro C-297 EX starts online at £222 but will have shipping on top of the price. Kenro are the UK distributor, see their site for more information:

Benro C-297 EX

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JJGEE 15 7.8k 18 England
9 Apr 2010 2:53PM

Quote:It's easier to extend the lower legs first

Yes, that may be true but the lower legs have a smaller diameter so I always extend from the upper sections first.

It is for a similar reason I go for three section legged tripods and not four.

Also, if you have a tripod where the centre column can rotate at angles towards the horizontal I have found it difficult to get the camera in a the correct position with pan & tilt / geared heads.
Ball heads therefore are probably better, especially for low angle macro type shots of flowers etc.

I am currently looking at the Arca P0 ball head I first spotted here as.,I think, a news item towards the end of last year.
AndyMurdo 14 36 7 United Kingdom
15 Mar 2011 10:02PM

Quote: Both the Manfrotto and the Benro have the ability to change the centre-column to a horizontal position while the Giottos can be reversed for ultra-low shooting.
I don't know why this review uses the vertical centre column model from Giottos? As they produce several versions with a rotatable (3D) centre column, with differing load capacities and quantity of leg sections comparable with the Manfrotto range.
The differing features that are relevent to the Giottos swinging column versions are as follows: Each movement has it's own locking / adjusting lever, allowing independent movement of the centre column in any single axis without disurbing the other settings, from a personal point of view this is an advantage over Manfrotto's single lock for all column adjustments, while the latter may be quicker to set up, there is a real risk that the overall fine adjustments of camera to subject position could be lost when further single axis adjustment is made. This would be at it's most apparent when undertaking Macro Photography where working distance / position is so critical! Note that one of the prime uses of this multi angle column positioning is in Macro Photography!!
The other feature supplied with the Giottos product, is a Stub Column, this relies on removing the conventional colomn and seperating it from the head mounting plate, which is then fitted to the stub. This is useful when you wish to keep your camera central on the legs when they are deployed at the tripod's lowest working height. I don't know if the other manufacturers offer this latter feature? there is a small weight penalty for these extra features, but if you need them, then that will be a small price to pay. Price wise the Giottos products are in the same ball park as the others listed in the review.

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