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In Praise of Cheap Compact Tripods

by Ross Alford, 1996

I have several tripods, from a 12-pound monster, through a Manfrotto (Bogen in USA) 190, to three lightweight Sliks. The monster never moves from the lab, the Manfrotto goes on short hikes, but the Sliks really travel well. I recently carried a Slik 38T4 around for 2 weeks in Papua New Guinea, taking photos in rainforests.

The legs are 4 sections, with those damned annoying (but quite firm when locked) twist collars to lock them open or closed or at any intermediate position. With legs fully extended but no centre column extension, the camera platform is 31 inches above the substrate, and the tripod really is *very* solid, at least with a camera of moderate weight on it-- heavy enough to act as an anchor, but not so heavy that the head has trouble coping. With the centre column extended, the camera platform is 38 and 3/4" above the substrate, but less steady.

Its head isn't nearly equal to a Manfrotto or Linhof, but it was cheap, and it's easy to carry around. It collapses to 13-3/4" long and about 3" across when folded as compactly as possible. It weighs about 19 ounces. It fits nicely into a daypack-type backpack or photo backpack.

It held the camera steady for lots of 1/8 to 1 or more second exposures, including being set up in the middle of streams. The camera was a Nikon FE2, BTW, with a 17mm F/3.5 Vivitar lens dated about 1980.

I have also used the Sliks with a 6 X 9 Crown Graphic, which is pretty lightweight for a medium format camera, and they'll do in a pinch.

The 38T4 cost me $A45, and I have seen it advertised by New York camera places for about $US 25. One thing worth noting--the head rotates and tilts back and forth, but does not tilt from side to side; it is really set up more like a movie panhead. I haven't found that this is a big problem; I just either loosen the tripod screw and rotate the camera a bit for fine adjustments, or mount it 90 degrees from the normal direction and tilt if I want to take a vertical shot. Slik does make similar tripods with heads that allow sideways tilts, using a mechanism that I have always thought looks a bit weak, but I don't know what the model numbers are.

If the 38T4 is too large for you, I have seen even smaller ones by Slik of very similar design and construction, but they are even shorter when fully extended. I find the more-or-less waist height of the 38T4 to be perfectly usable for most things, but I don't think I'd want one that was much shorter.

I also have a model 800G FL, which is larger, has flip-locks on its three-section legs, has centre braces between the legs and the centre column, weighs about 29 ounces, has the camera platform 45 inches above the ground with no centre column extension, and 57" with full centre column, which gets the camera eyepiece to just about my eye level. It is about 22" long by 3" wide when folded, and has the same sort of head as the 38T4. It is certainly a lot lighter to carry around than my Manfrotto (which weighs about 6 pounds), but is only a bit smaller, and I find that if I am going to carry something that large I usually go for the Manfrotto, which is built like a tank.

If some of your photography, like mine, is done in the field when your primary reason for travelling is not taking pictures, you often simply cannot manage to lug along something like a Manfrotto. When that happens, a lightweight Slik in the backpack is infinitely better than a rock-solid Manfrotto left at home.

Update: January 1998

It looks to me as though the current Slik tripod that is closest to the 38T4 is a new (1/98) model called the Compact. From the description on the web ( http://www.tocad.com/nct ) it appears nearly identical to the 38T4. The second closest model is the 450G. It is perhaps a little bit smaller than the 38T4, but not much. It would serve the same purposes nearly as well.

The next best currently available model is the 500G-FL. This is larger (about 18" long when folded) but almost as light weight and extends to a somewhat greater height (about 45 inches). I own one of these, too, and like it pretty well, though it does not fit inside a small backpack as the 38T4 or 450G models will, so I don't use it as often--if I am going to carry a tripod outside my day pack, I usually take my Manfrotto 190 (Bogen 3001), which is about 5-1/2 pounds including ball head, 26" folded including the head, extends to 4'10" tall, and is rock-solid with anything up to a light 4 X 5 field camera on it.

Text and pictures (c) Copyright 1996, Dr. Ross.Alford

Article created 1996

Readers' Comments

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Donald Gentz , May 13, 1997; 05:13 P.M.

I recognize the dilemma between big & heavy vs. small and light support. I used to try all sorts of things to not lug heavy tripods around; I tried the five feet of light chain with a 1/4" 20 threaded eyebolt attached (screw the eyebolt into the tripod socket, drop the chain, step on it and lift), I tried monopods, beanbags (including ziplock bags filled with handfulls of the local dirt--that's travelling light), and I had a Slik with square, not tubular, legs. It flexed, the leg latches slipped, the head would droop (particularly with a long lens) and I finally realized that a tripod is a tripod, and if you must lug one around then lug around one that will do the job. Most of my shooting was outdoors in the western US, where it wasn't crowded or close quarters, so I can only speak for myself when I say that if you're going to make a production out of taking pictures, drag that heavy old three-legged beast along.

Piaw Na , September 18, 1997; 11:04 P.M.

I've used a SLIK U8000, and gotten really good pictures out of it. At 3.75 pounds, it's light and easy to carry around, and comes with a pan-tilt head that works. You do have to wait for things to settle down if you vibrate the tripod, but what else is new?

I paid less than $60 for mine, and have used and abused it in many situations. A good buy for a beginner.

Gerry Siegel (Honolulu) , October 03, 1997; 11:18 P.M.

After reviewing the helpful comments here about tripods, conferring with Bryan Geyer of RRS, and reading Galen Rowell's books on field photography, I just decided to supplement my solid but heavy mid-weight Bogen 3030a ( the faucet lever leg lock model) with a Gitzo/"Le Splurge-o" model# 224, which has three leg sections. Definitely enough leg sections! This is a rather small tripod in Geetzo's formidable lineup, just old aluminum alloy. Without the center post extended,it is shortish for me, but I don't find that to be really limiting( except for binocular astronomy use-which is another story). I think it is safe to elevate the robust, non geared center post--carefully please- another 4". I agree with our site host Phil that the leg locks are not for the clutzy at heart. They have the beauty of backpacking well and not tearing fabric and jabbing body parts as the Bogen Manfrottos can.

I am much impressed and grudgingly credit the French with the fine machining of the Gitzo. When one releases the legs, there is a partial vacuum 'whoosh". Definitely worth the 240.00 I paid at B and H. I dont see many Gitzos at auction. They are heavily used, not traded. Still, I will never part with my Bogen, or even the baby Leica tabletop legs I bought 20 years ago,( which I use with a small Slik ball head.)

All three fill a definite photographic need. Save your coins and you will grow into multitripodomania too. I commend readers for interest in tripods. Get a good one and you will fall in love again. Aloha nui loa, Gerry

Paulo Bizarro , March 27, 1998; 10:24 A.M.

The first tripod I had was bought 8 years ago, together with an EOS 1000 (Rebel in the USA?) and 35-80 zoom. It was a Cullman, light but stable enough for my gear at the time. In December last I had to buy another one, because the Cullman went down a cliff into the heavy seas. In case you are wondering, my camera was not attached at the moment, but it was a revealing experience nonetheless. The tripod was literally caught up by the wind on this rocky spur and flew over the side of the cliff.

So I was forced to go out and look for another one. Fortunately, during those 8 years, I have learned a lot more about photography, even without the benfits of the net :-), so I went and look for a sturdy one. The moment I saw the Gitzo range, I knew it was it. Besides looking good, it does the job better than anything else. I ended up buying the 80 year special limited (only 5000 were made) edition, aka 226 leg set and 1275 ball head. I really much prefer the releasing knobs (no better word for it, pardon my english) of Gitzo than the butterfly wing type from Manfrotto, looks strange and flimsy. Besides, when I now need a table support I just use the ball head!

So, my advice to anyone out there on the lookout for a tripod is: get the best right from the begining, you wont regret it.

Bryan Kochis , April 05, 1998; 01:53 A.M.

In my beginner naiveity, I started with a Slik U6000, and snapped the head 2 days later. I soon bought a Slik U9000, and again had head problems within a week.

For those asking why I even bothered with such light tripods: I didn't know better, and I needed a tripod for backpacking and hiking (where I do most of my shooting).

Lo and behold, I learned my lesson and eventually settled on a Bogen 3205S and Bogen 3262QR ball head. OK, yes, you have to extend the center column to get it near eye level (I'm 5'9"), and for some this is a stability issue. Possibly, but I have never had a problem. If the winds blowing, or I'm on bulb setting, I just lower it. But compared to 27" of length for a 3021, and an additional 2 pounds to boot, the 3205S is a cinch to lash to a pack.

For those who want to know, the leg locks are screw ins (less prone to damage by sand or dirt). I have submerged it in water, mud, dropped it, packed with it, used it in 0-105 degree temps and NEVER had a complaint.

Like lenses, however, one tripod cannot do everything, and what you get is dependent on your lenses. The 3262QR supports (I believe) up to 8 pounds, and the tripod 11. For a portable tripod, it is a wonderful compromise, and if you need more, then get the 3021 or 3221, which can use the same head. Tripods are cheap. Whatever you do, I RECOMMEND staying away from any tripod / head that incorporates plastic in the casing or supports, and stay away from any tripod that doesn't have independent, spreadable legs for macro / ground work.

Wayne -- , June 14, 1998; 11:47 P.M.

I'm currently in Japan on work assignment, having left my EOS in my home country, I decided to purchase a small P&S. At the same time, I also wanted to purchase a small capable tripod. Something that I can take everywhere with me (basically leave it in my knapsack). I finally decided on the Slik compact because it was cheap (2000yen), small (fits in my knapsack), and light. I was looking at the Bogen 3001s, but while it is a very small solid tripod, it doesn't fit into my knapsack and it was fairly expensive here (9000yen). All I have to say is this: look very carefully at the model you intend to buy in the store first. I made several trips to several large camera stores playing around with various tripods, and while the Slik 500G-III or 450G was fairly useable, I found the "compact" to be a big pain. I understood most of the tradeoffs in going to a smaller cheaper tripod, and I was willing to accept it, but there is one very annoying aspect of the "compact": the legs are tubular, not squar-ish like the Slik 500G-III or 450G. Thus, when I am screwing the legs tight, the legs themselves rotate. With the squar-ish legs, I can grab all three screws with one hand when the tripod is fully retracted, and loose all of them, then with one hand on the tripod, the other hand can tighten each screw after each leg is extended. With the compact, because the legs rotate, you have no choice except to grab each leg, and extend each section of each leg seperately. A very time consuming process, not to mention that to prevent the legs from rotating, one must tighten the screw very tightly (very difficult to loosen, not to mention painful on the palm with the plasticky screw). In retrospect, I would have been better of purchasing the Slik 500G-III, or even better, the bogen 3001s. In 3 months time, when I return to Canada, I will probably buy a bogen 3001s with a 3055 ball head.

J.R. Neumiller , October 23, 1998; 05:38 P.M.

My first rule of thumb regarding tripods is: any tripod is better than no tripod at all. Having tried to jam a camera in the nook of a tree branch, or done contortions reading the viewfinder from a tabletop perch, I can safely state the above with all assurance. Even the worst piece of junk is better than nothing at all.

I started with the proverbial SLIK U8000, and still have it, although the pan head broke on me. I still like it, because it is so lightweight and simple to use. No, its not the most adaptable or rugged, but 95% of my pictures don't make great demands of my tripod. Just set it up and shoot. My standard gear, (EOS Elan IIE w/ 28-105), is just not so heavy to need more mass. Surely, if my body and lenses needed it, a more substantial 'pod would be the answer.

A Bogen 3221 entered my life a couple of years ago as the answer to just such question. I've used it sparingly, because I'm just not so into photography as a great pursuit like some. (I'm a grab shooter. So sue me.) If I know I'm going after fragile subject matter, (dusk or night shots, windy telephoto days, wedding portraiture) its with me. Mostly, it enjoys its space in the closet with two other Bogen monopods, which, though really cool, don't get much use either.

Confessedly, the SLIK compact tripod, (don't have the model) which the former poster dissed, is my favorite, most used unit. Why? Simple: its light, small, and doesn't hassle me like a big 'pod can and will. I like the fact that it doesn't intrude on my traveling, as I hook its pan arm to any bag or pocket opening when tightened.

When first purchased, I imagined it primarily as a backpacking 'pod, (which I don't really do that much of.) Instead, its become an established member of my "ready gear" - the shoulder bag packed with the Elan and short zoomer, 75-300 telephoto OR 380EX flash, my circ-pol filter in hard case, film box and microfibre cleaning cloth. I've got 90% of all my essential gear quickly stashed and ready to go. The SLIK compact is so handy, and doesn't even have to use a ball head; the screw mount is fast enough to use on the fly.

Most places will offer a perch or table upon which it stands. I can get almost 4 feet out of it fully extended, but even I admit that's pushing it. (I've got some great night shots of L.A. from the Mullholland drive observation point using this unit. The rock wall was so handy.) Another great feature is when I use it as a defacto chest pod. No, its not the most comfortable, but for steadying a telephoto, or using slow film in low light, it has saved several erstwhile loser situations for me.

Bottom line, you should always have some kind of tripod with you, even if its only a tabletop model. Its too indespensible. I can forgo 75% of my gear most times and resign myself to its loss, but this compact tripod is so light and handy, I'm always bummed if I forget it... even if I don't actually need it.

Actually, this tripod is much better than better than nothing.

Julian Svedosh , November 28, 1998; 09:43 A.M.

Lightweight Sliks are great for lightweight cameras, but if you're planning on having any significant weight on top, the vibrations from even a slight breeze defeat the purpose.

For a recent trek to Nepal, I loaded up with a Nikon 80-200 ED lens (portraits can be of mountains as well as of people), plus a 1.6x magnifier, in order to be able to take some moderate distance shots. When I set this up on my Slik, it rattled like straw in the wind. I wasn't about to consider lugging my Manfretto (which I love) into the Himalayas -- my lenses were going to cause enough pain. So I bit my lip, went shopping, and came home with a Gitzo mountaineer (G1228).

The mountaineer fits only half the criteria for this bulletin board -- is is definitely not cheap (about US$450 for a new one). But it is wonderfully light (about 2 lbs) and offers the sturdiest support of any tripod in its weight class.

Using a tiny, and cheap, used Gitzo #00 ball head, I have a replacement for my old Sliks which is just as light and wonderfully friendly.

With a sturdier head (such as the companion G1275), I have enough muscle to handle any combination of 35mm or 6x9 format lenses and cameras, and I can even get away with a 4x5 in a pinch.

The magnesium alloy technology which Gitzo uses is super strong, feather light, and folds very compactly. If you're going to splurge on a field tripod, you can't do better than this.

Rich Furman , February 15, 1999; 10:52 A.M.

After reading everything on this page, I went tripod shopping. Came home with a slik compact XL and a Manfrotto Junior. The slik is incredibly stable for its weight and is sort of my "any tripod is better than none" tripod. It's already gone hiking with me once. Every one's praise for and condemnation of this tripod is correct. But its a good compromise and my partner sort of insisted I get it, because she suspected (correctly) that the Manfrotto would be to heavy for a casual day hike.

The Manfrotto Junior is a beauty -- rock solid, four segment legs. Twist collars that lock and unlock easily, and it brings the camera up to eye-level while remaining rock steady. It cost 100USD at National Camera and can almost certainly be had for less elsewhere.

I think that as a pair these two tripods will serve me well for a long time coming. Although the head on the slik doesn't flip up for vertical, ingenious use of the mounting screw and tilt does provide a workaround. I think the one piece head design is essential to this tripod's solidness.

Michael Kaye , June 15, 1999; 04:25 P.M.

I found out the difference between the slik compact and the slik compact XL (newer). The XL is designed with a dual extension center column to provide an extra 5" of height. So instead of the previous height of 39", it will now extend to 44". Same price, around $30.

Adam Holzschuh , June 18, 1999; 12:08 P.M.

I have just bought a Velbon CX 470 tripod. It was cheep and light and seemed sturdy (I only use the EOS 630 with a 75-300 commercial zoom). I was just wondering if anybody has had any experience (good or bad) with this product. Please post or e-mail me at HoleSchuh@aol.com. Thanks

Paul Harris , July 04, 1999; 04:02 A.M.

I wanted a tripod that could travel with me all the time when I didn't have room or was too lazy to haul my Gitzo. Since the Slik compact was mentioned, I got one. The pan head on the thing drove me crazy when I had to use the tripod on unlevel surfaces, so I took off the panhead and center column and bolted a small ballhead onto what was left. This leaves a very short tripod, but also one that will fit in a regular briefcase or small backpack. This is pretty much a cheap version of what Galen Rowell did with a Gitzo 01, and after a while, I will probably upgrade. In the meantime, used with care, it seems tolerably stable. It will do things my tiny Bogen/Manfrotto tabletop tripod will not do, but as the tablebletop tripod is really pretty solid, I may end up carrying both.

Paul Harris

Michael Eckstein , October 09, 1999; 06:42 A.M.

I'v owned a few Manfroto's and Slick's over the years and they are good then I got a Benbo Trekker and was hooked on their ability to get down to the subject. I use this with a Benmbo ballhead for hiking photo op's and am constantly asked about the tripod when taking wildflower pictures because of it's abilty to assume the position necessary to get the image. I have since purcahsed a Benbo standard (heavier model) which I use with a Linhof Prof II ball head. The Prof II has a friction adjustment which can be set to the weight of the lens body combination and makes taking photographs a pleasure as the ball stays in the position you swing the camera to...great for taking pictures of wading birds. So the two Benbo's are all I need tripod wise.

Mike Eckstein, Spring Hill, Florida

Moshe Aelion , October 16, 1999; 04:30 A.M.

Commenting on the posting of Julian Svedosh, November 28, 1998, above, Gitzo Mountaineer's technology is carbon fiber, not magnesium. (Carbon fiber is lighter and stronger (and more expensive)).

I have been using a Gitzo Mountaineer 1228, with a Bogen 3262QR (I got plates for several cameras), and I am pretty satisfied.

It takes a while to expand and contract the Gitzo, though.

Moshe Aelion

ton arm , December 12, 1999; 12:57 P.M.

A bit more news on the Benbo, I had a problem with the attachment of one of the legs to its centre cluster (fellow users will understand my "terminology"), after backpacking for a couple of months the constant battering left a considerable "wobble" and as the legs are press fitted and riveted repair was nigh on impossible ... but Benbo were more than happy to replace the unit despite it's beaten appearance ... reasureing in todays sell and forget market !!!

Kurt Maurer , January 17, 2000; 08:39 P.M.

Just thought I'd contribute since this sight has been very helpful to me. I was looking for a tripod but was not looking to spend a fortune. Since there are no upscale camera shops in my area I was forced to do all my research on the net.

OK here it is. I finally decided on the following combo. 3001 legs with 3047 pan head w/quick release. These legs are a bit smaller than the 3021 legs most recommend. I like them and at 5' 11" I only have to bend over a little to use these legs without the center section extended. I'm glad I chose these legs over the 3021's because these legs are small enough to clip onto a backpack or fit in some camera bags. Now to the head. The 3047 is basically a nicer version of the popular 3030. It has two bubble levels which help to fine tune things a bit. BTW this is a $120 combintaion (head and legs). If you can spend more money get the 3275 head. This is a geared version of the 3 way pan head. And it is SWEET!. But you will spend your $120 just for it. The head (3047) is a little meaty for the 3001 legs but I still think it's a great combo. I have found it a little bulky (the head) to fit in my back pack. I guess if I remove the handels I could do it. Solution -- spend $28 bucks for the medium ball head. This head fits just fine in any camera bag or backpack and I use it on longer walks. Hey, a ball head is no pan head but if you're not gonna be able to fit the head when you're out on a photo excursion what's the point. So, there you have it -- 3001 legs with 3047 or 3262 head depending on the situation.

Ken Newman , February 27, 2000; 06:05 P.M.

Just got a Cullman 1001 touring set. It includes a small, reasonably sturdy tripod, a suction cup to hold a camera to glass, a ground spike, a woodscrew, a c-clamp, coupla ball heads. It's really great ... lightweight. Am planning on putting it through its paces on the Napali Coast in Kauai in a coupla weeks. I'll comment on how it did when I return. FYI, got it at B&H for about $125 for the whole kit. Tripod alone is about $50. Anybody used this setup? Comments? Thanks ...

Ignacio Feito , April 18, 2000; 09:36 P.M.

One word of warning about 'tilting' the pan-tilt head to get a vertical composition. I did it often enough with a small Slik (don't remember the model) that I used to own, and finally damaged the tripod screw on a Rebel (plastic mount) when trying to point the camera up and down. As soon as I upgraded my camera body I gave my tripod to a friend that will use it for his handycam and got a couple (3221 & 3001) of manfrottos with 'real' photo heads. BTW, I use the 3001 (190) with a small 115 (3029?) head and it fits inside any bag that I travel with, just remove the head for travel and install it later, that makes it even more convenient for travel than my old slik, and certainly a better platform!

John William , April 20, 2000; 03:43 A.M.

Just got a Vivitar VPT-10. It shrinks down to 14.5 inches (small enough to fit in my knap-sack), 4 sections, and extends up to 47 inches (just under 4 feet) with the centre column fully extended (11 inches). I already have a Manfrotto 190QCB, it's just too big and heavy to take with me when I travel. Comparing Vivitar's VPT-10 with Slik Compact, I found the VPT-10 to be a better tripod. Both are about the same size and weight but the VPT-10 has quick release leg locks and tubular leg sections with small grooves running down opposite sides to prevent the sections from twisting. The things that I don't like is that it doesn't come with a quick release head and the leg locks are plastic (some of the joints looked rather flimsy) but what do you expect for $18 US.

Karl Amo , September 03, 2000; 10:34 P.M.

I purchased a Slik Compact-XL tripod in mid-2000 as a result of this article. On inspection, I found that the pan head can be removed from my tripod. Furthermore, I discovered that the aluminum top piece that the pan head clamps to is hollow; it has a central bore for most of its length; the central bore has a diameter of 0.20 inches, just right for tapping with 0.25"-20 threads. I clamped the aluminum top piece to a vise with soft jaws, center punched the top of the aluminum piece, and used a drill with a #7 bit (about 13/64") to drill a short distance (about 1/16") to expose the central bore. I tapped the bore with 1/4"-20 threads and screwed in a 1" long headless bolt, with top slotted for screwdriver blade, about 3/4" into the aluminum top piece (bolt purchased at a hardware store). A Bogen 3009 ball head (with a 3/8"-16 to 1/4"-20 thread adaptor purchased at a well-equiped photography equipment store) fits on top of the tripod nicely now. What's more, the pan head can still be installed, when needed, in leu of the ball head.

Lex Jenkins , March 12, 2002; 06:30 P.M.

I have one thing to say: Slik U-212 Deluxe.

Okay, maybe a bit more. Next to a Benbo or maybe a Cullman it's the funkiest lightweight tripod design around. But it flat works.

It uses lots of plastic in the head and leg locking levers and in five years of use not a thing has broken. It feels like nylon or similarly tough stuff.

The legs offer almost infinitely variable adjustments - you're not limited to preset clickstops as with the Bogen/Manfrottos. The flip-out levers are easy to operate with gloves or frozen hands. And they're secure.

Leg angle is controlled by anodized aluminum bars with friction clamps. Very slick. Too slick. The friction clamping mechanism can slip a bit - not enough to spill a normal camera/lens load (35mm or most MF gear), but enough to mess up your careful alignment on that Monarch butterfly you're trying to photograph. The trick is to set those metal spikes (outdoors) or grippy rubber feet firmly after you've got the leg angles set the way you want. No worse than fiddling with a Benbo and, IMHO, less hassle than the Benbo. I'm considering roughing up the anodizing on those friction bars to minimize the slipping.

The head can be attached to one of the legs, thoughtfully provided with the appropriate bolt; or to the bottom of the geared elevator post. The other two legs have accessory shoes for mounting doodads like Slik's Long Lens Support, flash accessories, etc. These aren't standard flash shoes so you'll need to buy Slik's adapter.

The tilt/pan head - a combination affair for the still photographer and casual videographer - is very smooth for still work and only relatively smooth for video work. It won't satisfy a videographer who wants a buttery, well damped fluid head, but it only costs half the price of a minimally satisfactory Bogen/Manfrotto video rig. I don't care for the twist-lock pan handle - sometimes it jabs me in the neck. I keep saying I'm gonna take a hacksaw to it and trim about half the over-long handle away. All the other knobs and such are just fine.

The quick release would amuse Kirk and Arca-Swiss afficianados. It consists of a sort of metal button post that attaches to the camera and fits into a round (dime diameter) hole in the tripod head. A flip-out plastic lever cams the post into position. This rig is vice and virtue. You don't want to carry your precious gear around mounted on this tripod - snag that flip-out lever on a branch and find out just how rugged that F5 and 80-200/2.8 zoom really are. OTOH, if you discipline yourself to take the camera off the 'pod before moving it, the QR is the quickest, slickest thing around. When I last shot a wedding I mounted the QR posts on both camera bodies and switched between handheld and tripod shots with ease. These aren't just quick release posts - they're quick mounting posts too, quicker than anything else out there.

Best sub-$100 tripod going, IMHO.

Image Attachment: SlikU212DX.JPG

Stephen Smyth , April 10, 2002; 11:02 A.M.

Here's the tripod that Herbert Keppler calls the perfect travel tripod:

The Perfect Travel Tripod Making sure the surface wound would be well out of cosmetic sight, Popular Photography’s senior lab technician, David Phung, made a short but incisive scalpel cut into the black leg, slicing through its skin, baring it to shiny, base metal. He applied voltmeter probes to each end of the cut and the digital voltmeter reading jumped upward.

"It’s metal, alright," Phung reported, confirming what I hoped was true about the Velbon Maxi 343E tripod. In these days when plastics seem to be substituting for all materials, I found it a relief that one of my specifications for the tripod I had not stressed was indeed as I wanted it—metal construction.

The Perfect Travel Tripod To jog your memory, my association with the Maxi (for short) tripod began many years ago when I cried in the three-legged wilderness for an ideal travel tripod no more than 20 inches when folded, weighing 32 ounces or less, which could swiftly extend in 45 seconds to SLR eye level. Legs should be independently extendable so the tripod could be leveled on uneven ground. The tips should be threaded rubber spikes to steady the tripod on all terrain. And, yes, it had to be sturdy. Such a tripod, I thought, should prove desirable for every amateur photographer who balked at toting his regular tripod on trips. Even tripod haters might have second thoughts about a tuckaway tripod that could guarantee sharp photos. Many tripods came close to my ideal but usually fell short in some vital aspect. Sometimes they were the very devil to set up and take down. Most were too short. The photographer would have to bend his knees to see through the finder. Maneuvering the camera to an upward or downward angle proved very inconvenient. Some years ago, Velbon president Koichiro Nakatani said he was determined to make a tripod to my specifications. At photokina last year, he presented me with the first sample of the Maxi—32 ounces, a little under 18 inches folded and 62 inches fully extended. The 62-inch extension had been the major stumbling block, but Velbon engineers had found a new nesting tube system that provided extra extension of each telescoped leg. The tripod was well made and beautifully finished. April delivery was promised. April and most of May rolled by before a shipment arrived in the U.S. Naturally I was anxious to compare my preproduction sample (which appeared to be Japanese-made) with actual Chinese production. Could Velbon USA send one? "Sorry," said a Velbon spokesman, "they’re all sold out. We expect another shipment in a few weeks."But I did get one that very day, thanks to one of Pop’s editors who handles new product write ups and had the foresight to ask in advance for a sample. Pulling rank (after all I was the one who got the tripod ball rolling), I glommed onto the editor’s sample. I went over it piece by piece and inch by inch. Every knob, lever, flip lock, rubber tip and the entire ball head, down to the attractive cork composition platform insert, were identical to those on the preproduction sample. The tripod operated with the same smoothness. Price? Reliable stores have started advertising the Maxi for $90, street price. There was one difference between pre- and actual production models—the cosmetics. Nakatani had warned me previously that the unique black crackle preproduction model finish of the outer legs couldn’t be duplicated in China. So I wasn’t surprised to find the outer legs, tripod platform and ball head in satin chrome. However, a number of Popular Photography staffers said they liked the chrome better. Mislabeled Tripod?! I had overlooked one other area on the preproduction Maxi. Printed thereon were the words "for digital camera." And I found a large label on the production tripod’s box that read "For Digital." Now I know that the magical word today in imaging is "digital," but when you come down to the nitty-gritty of tripod buying in the U.S., I don’t think owners of digital cameras account for many sales. The vast majority of digital cameras sold in the U.S. are of the point-and-shoot variety. Point-and-shoot users aren’t usually known as tripod enthusiasts. It’s 35mm SLR and medium-format owners who predominently use tripods. Will "For Digital" cause them to pass the Maxi by? Possibly. Perhaps a more universal label reading "For film, video and digital cameras" might be appropriate. Well, it’s my fault. I had my chance to squawk about the digital emphasis at photokina and I didn’t. Although I have my doubts that the digital appellation will aid Maxi sales, how many non-digital products might have increased sales if the makers did stress their digital applications? Let’s say Fuji or Kodak labeled their films "Digital Ready," meaning the images could be scanned into computers. Would it help film sales? Probably some unknowing stock analyst would get all excited, write glowingly about digital-ready film and thus send that company’s stock upward. PHOTOS: Black and Silver: <http://www.gentec-intl.com/search/Details.cfm?Model=MAXI343E> <http://www.velbon.co.jp/catalog/compact_digital/maxi343e/main.html> <http://www.velbon.co.jp/catalog/compact_digital/maxi343es/main.html>

John Douglas Porter , June 12, 2003; 11:21 A.M.

As a rank beginner, I wanted a tripod that was, primarily, inexpensive, and secondarily, light.

I bought a Promaster 6050 from a local store (Penn Camera in Vienna, Virginia). It fit my criteria perfectly. It comes with a pan/tilt head with quick release and also a lateral tilt. None of the adjustments are fine, but the tripod does have a bubble level built in. The legs are in three sections. The clamps are quick and easy to work, but they make a loud SNAP unless you try real hard to keep do it quietly. The center column is geared, with a crank. At maximum extension, the platform is at eye level for me (about 5'7"). The whole thing seems pretty light to me, about 3 pounds. It does have a slightly rickety feel, but overall I'm happy, especially considering the price tag.

If you want to check it out at the Promaster website, you can.

Ross Alford , August 17, 2004; 02:20 A.M.

It has been a long time since I wrote the original article above. Tripod technology has progressed a great deal. I now am using a Velbon Ultra Maxi as my compact tripod. It's a marvel as compared to the old Slik--about the same size, a bit heavier, but has a very quick "trunnion-shaft" (whatever that is--means you twist the bottom of the leg and all sections either loosen or tighten) system for leg length control, and has a great pan head with quick release that is solid and does not change angle as you tighten it in position. It feels solid as a rock, and is, as long as you don't extend the center column. The only other thing that comes close in the present market is the Manfrotto/Bogen digital series, the one with flip-lock legs and a built-in ballhead. I still think that any tripod in the hand is a lot solider than the one you left at home because it was too big nd heavy to bring with you.

paul moorhouse , August 22, 2005; 04:56 P.M.

On the subject of tripods, i use the stitz closed channel c550. This model is fairly light ,but strong,ive had it 15 years,the head has the multi positition pan tilt ,it is sturdy in the highest winds, and has held cameras from a zenith 80,to a nikromat...anyone still use one? from paul moorhouse

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