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Camera Tripod Reviews

"A Tale of Two Tripods."

The camera tripod reviews in this article draw on the experiences of photographers who have used them "in the field".
We kick off with a comparison of two models by landscape photographer
 John Perriment, 
the Benbo Mark 1 and the Giottos MTL9351B.

Every photographer has different priorities for a camera tripod and no single model can act as a panacea for all requirements. It's important to invest in a good quality example, one that will do what you expect of it, is reliable and built to last.

Camera Tripod Reviews
Little and Large.
Which one would you rather carry?

Most important, before buying you should carefully consider what conditions and type of environment you will be using it in, how versatile you need it to be, minimum and maximum working heights you are likely to need and, last but not least, how much weight you are prepared to carry and how compact it needs to be if you wish to attach it to a backpack.

You also need to set a budget as this will determine, for instance, whether to include carbon fibre models in your short list. Accept that whatever you buy will probably be something of a compromise and prioritize your list of requirements in order to find the best possible solution.

My own experience of tripods was initially a succession of cheap, lightweight but flimsy and unstable models that, despite high hopes at the time of purchase, always disappointed.

Eventually I settled on the Benbo Mark 1, a now classic design which has been my principle tripod for over 20 years. In all that time it has never let me down. From the beginning its advantages were clear; very rigid and stable, yet flexible and adaptable with legs that splay out at virtually any angle thanks to the ingenious bent bolt principle (from which the name Benbo is derived).Camera Tripod Reviews

This anchors the legs and centre column at the same point, yet enables them to move independently of each other. This is extremely useful for finding a firm placement on rough and uneven ground.

The centre column can tilt at any angle on its axis, even downwards, which enables the camera to be placed in some pretty amazing positions, particularly helpful for macro photography in the field as well as low-angled landscapes.
Camera Tripod Reviews
How low can you go?

The construction is virtually bombproof and it will withstand a lot of abuse. I have stood on the leg locking knobs in strong winds to add extra weight! Just two sections of aluminium tube are used for each leg and these are much larger in diameter than on most other tripods. It also means the bottom section, which unusually is the thickest, is quite long and, combined with the tight fitting, heavy duty rubber feet, enables the Benbo to be stood in quite deep water without fear of damage. All this metal results in a heavy tripod for its size which is a further aid to stability.

There is a price to pay for this standard of construction, of course, and I don't just mean the £190 it currently retails for, including ball and socket head. At 3.76 kg (8.25lb) it's not the kind of beast you want to carry any great distance. This is compounded by the less than compact closed length of 84cm (33 inches), a consequence of using only two section legs instead of the usual three or four.
Camera Tripod Reviews

Camera Tripod Reviews
How tall are you?
Another drawback of the two section leg design is that the maximum height of the tripod is quite short, placing the camera at approximately chest height without extending the centre column, which is needed if eye level viewing whilst standing upright is required. Folding the Benbo requires just one twist of the substantial lever that locks the legs around the bolt.

With all three legs plus the centre column suddenly loose it can be quite a handful manoeuvring them all into the closed position, a bit like wrestling an octopus! However, with practice it becomes almost easy!

The standard ball and socket head is quite substantial and of reasonable quality. Certainly it is stable enough when locked, but I found a tendency for the ball to “creep” when the locking knob was tightened, which was a bit of a pain when a precise composition was required, particularly in macro work. For this reason I eventually replaced it with a Manfrotto 468RC4 B&S head, which is bigger, heavier and, most importantly, silky smooth with virtually no creep when it is tightened. This increased the total weight to over 4kg (9lb) but I was tough, I could take it – or so I thought!
Camera Tripod Reviews

Indeed, for many years I did carry this combination, sometimes with camping gear as well as all my other photographic equipment, often whilst hill walking in areas such as the Lake District. However, in recent years knee injuries, a loss of fitness and the onset of Parkinson's Disease have taken their toll and the Benbo really needs to be retired, except for when working near the car! That's what recently prompted me to look for a lighter alternative.
Camera Tripod Reviews

Needless to say, I came up against the old conundrum of portability and light weight verses stability. These days, of course, there is the option of carbon fibre to reduce the weight but now I am on a pension, having retired through ill health, funds are limited and tripods made from that material are invariably expensive. Also, however rigid it may be I'm not convinced that too light a tripod can have enough stability outdoors, particularly when it is windy. A different compromise would just have to be found.
Camera Tripod Reviews

Enter the Giottos MTL9351B. It's another compromise, certainly, but one that now better suits my shifting priorities. With this model I haven't gone completely lightweight (it weighs 2.15kg, or 4.7lb, with the B&S head I've fitted) but it's almost halved the weight I was carrying with the Benbo.

Also significantly shorter at 63cm, the Giottos can comfortably be transported strapped to my backpack instead of carried underarm like my Benbo, with all the physical strain that entails.

I was apprehensive about how it would perform compared to the Benbo but I was pleasantly surprised. The ingenious tilt mechanism incorporated into the centre column, combined with each leg being adjustable for three different angles, makes it almost as versatile and the increased height offered without resorting to extending the centre column is actually an advantage.
Camera Tripod Reviews

It's not quite as sturdy or sure footed but I expected that and it still does a good job in this respect. The bottom leg sections aren't sealed against immersion in water but at £70 I'm not going to treat it with kid gloves and won't hesitate to use it where I need to.
Camera Tripod Reviews

Is it the perfect tripod? No, but as far as I'm concerned no such thing exists. It is in my opinion a pretty good compromise and will do me until advancing years and infirmity force me to consider an even lighter option.

See John Perriment's masterclass - Better Landscape Photography
and visit his
gallery at

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