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Under ?150 Tripod group test Review

Under 150 Tripod group test Review - Tripods are an integral part of photography, but good quality doesn't have to cost the earth. Here we test three all under 150.

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Manfrotto 055x ProB in Tripods, Monopods and Other Supports

Build and handling

Under £150 tripod group test main image
Tripods can be a blessing to photographers working in low light or a strong wind.

In this test, ePHOTOzine reviewer, Matt Grayson takes a look at three tripods all under £150 to see how they compare.

A photographer without a tripod is a bit like a chef without an oven: you can still make something, you're just limited with what you can do. Luckily, a chef doesn't have to buy an AGA to get food cooked and similarly you don't have to spend a fortune on a tripod to get sharp photographs. These days, perfectly good tripods can be picked up for less than £150 and here we've selected three that we think provide good build quality, nice features and good value for money.

Under £150 Tripod group test: Features
To give a good mix of tripods available for the price, the three in this test are very different. The Manfrotto 055X ProB was reviewed on ePHOTOzine back on 7th August 2007. As a testament to the relentless reliability of Manfrotto products, the 055X ProB is still a current model although at £109, it's come down by around £80. It sports an aluminium construction, three sections and a magnesium top plate. The Manfrotto is the largest of the three on test. In fact it towers over the Benro, but then so does the Vanguard. This is great for high viewpoint shots or if a pesky bush is in the way of your sweeping vista. It should mean that it can't cope when it comes to low level photography, but it has a minimum height of 10cm thanks to the Q90 vertical/horizontal system.

Benro A-068 & BH00-M  
Under £150 tripod group test Benro A068 folded up
The Benro folds up to make a smart accessory that's easy to carry.
Under £150 tripod group test Benro A068 leg angle release
The leg angle releases are the simple pull-out variety.
Under £150 tripod group test Benro A068 leg twist
The leg extension locks are twisty types and can be hard to undo.
Under £150 tripod group test Benro A068 quick release plate double catch
A double lever system prevents accidental unlocking by catching it.

Arguably the best value tripod in the test, the Benro A-068M8 comes with the BH00-M head featuring a quick release plate, spirit level bubble and patented double lock plate release. The lever can't be released fully unless the smaller catch is depressed into the main lever. This helps prevent accidental release and letting your lovely gear fall pathetically onto the floor. The other two tripods are legs only which means you have to buy heads separately which pushes the price up. In our test, the Manfrotto was fitted with the 804 RC2 head at £49.95 from Park Cameras while the Vanguard had the SBH-30 ball head at around £40. These necessary additions push the collective price higher than the Benro.

I think the Vanguard takes the title of the most attractive looking tripod of the three on test. The futuristic styling of the leg lock levers and silver trim of the leg release buttons looks lovely. What I do like about the tripod is that, like the Manfrotto, it has a centre-column that can be turned horizontal. It's not as easy or convenient as the Manfrotto Q90 system but Vanguard have got a nifty system in place to rival it. When the centre-column has been raised as far as it can go, a small brass button is pressed in to allow an extra inch of raise. Then a quick release lever on the side of the top plate is opened and the plate will hinge over onto its side. While the small brass button isn't the easiest to use, this method allows a ballast hook to still be included on the bottom of the column. The Manfrotto can't do that because the release button is on the bottom of the column.

Manfrotto 055x ProB  
Under £150 tripod group test Manfrotto 055x ProB leg release
A flip out leg release is an easy to use option on the Manfrotto.
Under £150 tripod group test Manfrotto 055x ProB leg angle release
The leg angle releases are easy to operate by pressing with the thumb.
Under £150 tripod group test Manfrotto 055x ProB Q90 horizontal
The Q90 horizontal system gives lower viewpoints and is fast to assemble.
Under £150 tripod group test Manfrotto 055x ProB Q90 spirit bubble
A spirit level is provided on the legs incase the head doesn't have one.

Under £150 Tripod group test: Build and handling
The Benro is so vastly different to the other two that share a similar size and weight tolerance that it's interesting to know what's different about it that makes it a similar price to the other two. More than likely it's down to the fact that a head is included. It's still a solid little tripod with twist lock legs that also turn all the way around so the camera will be upside down to allow low level photography. It's an interesting idea and certainly less awkward than having to take the centre-column out and put it back in the wrong way round. It also allows the tripod to be folded up a bit smaller which is a nice touch.

Vanguard Alta 263AT  
Under £150 tripod group test Vanguard Alta 263AT horizontal
The horizontal centre-column isn't as fast to get going.
Under £150 tripod group test Vanguard Alta 263AT horizontal release catch
A fast release catch on the horizontal system is slowed by the other two locks.
Under £150 tripod group test Vanguard Alta 263AT leg angle release
The attractive leg angle release locks can be hard to press in.
Under £150 tripod group test Vanguard Alta 263AT spirit level
A spirit level is provided for if you're shooting on a wonk.

Despite the previously mentioned lovely looking silver buttons on the Vanguard for releasing the legs to move out to nearly 90°, they're not all that easy to use, they take a certain amount of pressure to release them and when they do release, they feel like they've been stuck as they snap out of place.

Under £150 Tripod group test: Performance
I tested the tripods using the Olympus E-3 & Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED lens. The Manfrotto was mounted with the 804 RC2 three-way head, the Vanguard had the SBH-30 head and the Benro was fitted with the BH00-M ball head that comes in the box.

There are a number of different heads available and they're explained in the previous tripod group test which you can read here.

£200 tripod group test

With the 50-200mm lens fitted, the Olympus E-3 measures in at 1.8Kg which is just under the threshold of the load capacity of the Benro. Still, it managed to hold the camera no problem but the legs did wobble when I shook it to test the rigidity of the legs. When I say they wobbled, I mean they physically bent in the middle with the force of me shifting the collar. With the centre-column extended, the amount of inertia is increased at the base but exacerbates the problem with the legs.

It's a great thing that the tripod can hold such a large camera system and still cope with it, but I don't think it should be done on a regular basis.

If you want to do that, you need a larger model such as the Manfrotto or the Vanguard such as the ones in this test as they showed very little give, more so the Vanguard which seemed to have a higher threshold of rigidity.

Extending the tripods takes a short time of around 10 - 15 seconds for each one depending on how fluent you are with the tripod. I found the twist lock legs of the Benro the most difficult to use because the coarse plastic tore at the delicate skin of my hands. Both the Manfrotto and Vanguard have a horizontal system for the centre-column and the Manfrotto is by far the easiest to use. It takes less than 10 seconds to get the column in a horizontal position thanks to the release button in the bottom of the column. The Vanguard has a small brass button on the side at the bottom and no stopper to prevent the column flying out of the collar. It means you have to be a lot slower but the position of the button means a ballast hook is provided on the bottom of the column. With the Vanguard's three release nuts and levers, it took 15 seconds to get it finished. The release lever is innovative but the other two locking systems slow the whole process down.

Under £150 Tripod group test: Verdict
Under £150 tripod group test Manfrotto 055x ProB group winner
As a long time user of Manfrotto products (055x ProB in this test is from the studio at ePHOTOzine and my own 190CX Pro4 in the £200 tripod group test), I feel confident when using them and know that I'm spending more to get the quality, so it's surprising to find companies offering rival solutions for a lower price. While the Vanguard and the Benro are both higher priced, they're brand new products while the Manfrotto has been around for a couple of years now. The 055x ProB was £190 when it first came out and that was without a head.

For a small, collapsible model, you can't beat the Benro. It's easy to carry, comes with a head included in the box and I only wouldn't recommend it if you have a heavy top of the range DSLR such as a Nikon D3x with big lenses or medium format.

Out of the two bigger tripods, the Manfrotto slightly scoops it due to the value for money, build quality and speediness of the Q90 system. It's an older model and while it still has its flaws such as slightly less rigidity than the newer models and lack of a ballast hook, the latter at least can be worked around. I'd have the Manfrotto any day.

Under £150 Tripod group test: Pros
Manfrotto 055x ProB Vanguard Alta 263AT Benro A-068 & BH00-M
Q90 centre-column system Horizontal centre-column system Compact design
Good build quality Quick release on horizontal system Head included in price
Good price for size Nice design Double catch system on quick release plate

Under £150 Tripod group test: Cons
Manfrotto 055x ProB Vanguard Alta 263AT Benro A-068 & BH00-M
No ballast hook Slow horizontal system Twist locks aren't easiest to use
  Pesky brass button on centre-column  

  Manfrotto 055x ProB Vanguard Alta 263AT Benro A-068 & BH00-M

Under £150 Tripod group test: Specification
  Manfrotto 055x ProB Vanguard Alta 263AT Benro A-068 & BH00-M
Price £109 £130 £140
Contact www.manfrotto.com www.vanguardgb.com www.kenro.co.uk
Quick release No, head is separate No, head is separate Yes
Min height 10cm 53.5cm 38.7cm
Max height 178.5cm 155cm 134.6cm
Load capacity 7Kg 7Kg 2Kg
Leg sections 3 3 4
Leg locks Lever type Lever type Twist type
Head fitting 3/8in 1/4in 3/8in
Weight 2.4Kg 2.1Kg 1.1Kg

The Manfrotto 055x ProB costs £108.95 and is available from Park Cameras here:

Manfrotto 055x ProB

The Vanguard Alta 263AT costs £129.95 from the Vanguard website. Go there for more information:

Vanguard Alta 263AT

The Benro A-068 & BH00-M costs £140. A list of UK stockists is available from Kenro. Go there for more information:

Benro A-068 & BH00-M

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