Tripod Group test
With the nights longer at this time of year and the snow giving us more water than usual, it's time to bring on the tripods. Matt Grayson tests six carbon fibre models to see which is the best value for money.
The premise is pretty simple for this group test: Test tripods that have a height of around 140cm with the centre column down, take a load capacity of around 8kg and have carbon fibre tubing. I couldn't have these settings precise as it would limit the tripods available to one or two, so some will have a higher load bearing while some are lighter or bigger. Price will play a part in the test as well but will tie closely with value for money meaning that the expensive ones still have a chance if they're worth the money.
Carbon Fibre tripod group test: Specification
ePHOTOzine says: On paper, they all have their own attributes to put them apart from the others. Obvious companies to look at are Manfrotto, Gitzo and Giottos for the names alone but that doesn't mean that the others won't offer something equivalent or better.
Price wise, the Giottos looks the obvious choice at half what the others are listing at but it's also the largest when folded down and has the most advantages. The Vanguard will have to be something special to justify the £342 price tag but does offer a carbon fibre centre column the same as Manfrotto.
Carbon Fibre tripod group test: Features
Manfrotto hailed the new CX series as the first tripods with 100% carbon fibre construction but other manufacturers have been quick to follow in their footsteps. The Vanguard and Giottos also have a carbon fibre centre column and this makes the Vanguard lighter than the Manfrotto.
Casting an eye over the tripods, the Giottos looks the most majestic with its shiny surface while the Slik has a lovely gold badge to try and convince me that its possibly more upmarket.
Some of the models have spiked feet such as the Slik. They can retract into the rubber foot if you don't need to use them.
Starting from the bottom, three of the five on test have spiked feet so if you're the type of photographer that needs this feature such as landscape photographers, then stay away from the Manfrotto and Giottos as they only provide rubber feet. Saying that, in my own photographic capacity, I've never been drawn to using spiked feet and even shooting landscapes on wonky terrain, I've not needed them.
Levered leg releases have pros and cons to them. On the one hand they're easier to unclip and release the legs and they're faster to get the tripod extended which is good if time isn't on your side. The twisting leg releases are slower but you naturally grip onto the leg while loosening it preventing it from slipping and crashing down. This is beneficial if you're a wildlife photographer and the twisting type last longer as the levers have a tendency to come loose eventually. Luckily, the tripods will come with a set of tools for tightening the joints back up if this happens to you which is great.
All tripods will enable the legs to extend out at extreme angles allowing for the camera to get closer to the ground which is good for macro photography or wildlife shooting through grasses to get that reportage effect. Velbon, Slik and Giottos use a similar design of pulling a clip out to allow the leg to rotate round further although it has to be said the Giottos feels the better made of the three with a definite movement as though it's lubricated. Manfrotto use a pad that's pushed in while Vanguard have a similar pad on the side of the leg which tend to be the easier to use out of the two different designs.
The Q90 system from Manfrotto gets the centre column into a horizontal position in seconds. However, this is at a loss of a ballast hook.
Giottos offer a similar system but it's slower to set up.
Manfrotto are famed for their Q90 centre column system where it can be moved from a vertical to a horizontal position. This helps massively with macro photography as well as wheelchair users as they are able to get right behind the camera a lot easier. The Giottos also offers this feature although it's not as easy to use. With the Manfrotto, the centre column needs to be extended to its full height then a small button in the bottom is pressed to retract the preventative clips which otherwise stop the column from falling out. This technique has the disadvantage of not being able to provide a ballast hook. The Giottos does provide a hook and also has to be fully extended to change from vertical to horizontal but the column will come clean out if you're not careful so it's best not to have anything attached to it. It also works slightly different as it has a ratcheted joint at one side which can be loosened and tightened to perform the action.
The other tripods all have at least one feature that's different to the others which is intended to set them apart. Vanguard have installed an anti shock ring which is essentially a rubber band sat at the base of the centre column to prevent it crashing down if you forget to tighten it. Slik have installed a secondary centre column tightening ring on the actual column if you prefer to use that style of tightening. Velbon have provided a ball head with a pan handle which is a pretty neat idea. It works like a fluid ball head but you have the control of a pan and tilt head.
Because of the removable heads from those three, it's unfair to test and compare them but the head on the Velbon is its unique feature so has to be mentioned. The Slik has a pan handle for tilting up and down and a small lever for releasing the pan left and right.
Of the three that don't come with heads, the Manfrotto and Giottos have tightening screws to catch the head and fix it tight. The Vanguard doesn't provide this unfortunately which could mean that excessive panning could loosen it resulting in the head eventually falling off the legs.
Both the Manfrotto and Giottos have spirit levels included on the legs while the Vanguard doesn't but it was present on the head provided. The Slik also has a spirit level on the head which is built into the unit while the Velbon doesn't have one at all but has markers on each leg to ensure you get the legs perfectly aligned. This is actually a very useful design as it's easy to get the legs off centre and simply use the head to get everything straight. This is counter productive and having the legs at an oblique angle will increase the chances of the tripod falling over.
ePHOTOzine says: They all have their own merits and the Manfrotto seems to have the edge on new technology and innovative design. However, the Giottos attempts to match the Manfrotto with their own systems coupled with a slightly bigger and, frankly, nicer looking unit.
I like the leg markers idea on the Velbon and the actual operation of releasing the legs on the Vanguard is nice. I also think the larger, secondary lock for the centre column on the Slik is a good idea.
Carbon Fibre tripod group test: Build quality
All tripods on test have a carbon fibre build on the legs but they're also built to a different standard. For instance, the Manfrotto has three layers of carbon fibre material which makes it really strong. But then consider that the Giottos and Vanguard have six layers this makes it even stronger, but does that cause problems with weight? It appears not as the Vanguard is lighter than the Manfrotto by 30g.
Operating the spiked feet feature on the Velbon, Vanguard and Slik isn't all too difficult but the Vanguard does offer more resistance. It could be due to the rubber feet giving more friction which is easier to grip onto when turning them but the plastic ones on the Slik have sprockets.
I've always preferred levers on the leg releases but that doesn't mean that the twisting types aren't as good, it can simply be down to personal choice. Vanguard are proud of their single twist and release system for quicker use although I discovered the Slik has the same feature.
The Slik is the heaviest of the five weighing in at a hefty 1.86kg. Ok, so that's not a back breaker but consider that weight against the Velbon which is 1.29kg and you have a difference of 600g. It's the long days out carting equipment up hills and down dales that you'll appreciate any lack of weight that the lighter tripod will provide.
ePHOTOzine says: One of the parameters of the test was that they were all carbon fibre units. That makes the build quality roughly the same but some units have six layers of material such as the Vanguard and Giottos whereas the Manfrotto only has three. This makes them potentially even stronger without an excess of extra weight added.
Winner: Giottos, Vanguard