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Best inexpensive Carbon fiber tripod/ball head for D700

Stephen Fassman , Oct 01, 2009; 03:21 a.m.

I'd like to get a light weight tripod and head to support a D700, w/ 2lb -3.5lb lens, & strobe. I presume that Carbon fiber will be the lightest to carry? I presume a ball head is recc'ed over the traditional 3 plane/ 3 locking screw head, for ease and speed of mounting, positioning, following action? What height is optimum, (I'm 5'8"), and whose models are most widely used? Is there such a thing as an under $200, quality ensemble, like the Adorama ad for "their knockoff brand" that's advertised in all the photo mags? How much should I expect to spend? I would want low camera mounting/macro ability, and while on that subject, whose Macro heads (and their cost)are most widely used? ARE THERE Any special features (tripod & head) to look for that that would justify spending a bit more? Thanks.


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Wouter Willemse , Oct 01, 2009; 05:42 a.m.

Carbon fiber and $200 = No. Sorry.
My tripod is around €200 (so should be around $200), so it should be representative for what you can get on that budget. It's Manfrotto (Bogen in US) 055DB aluminium tripod, with a 488RC2 ballhead. It is not exceptionally good, not very light (~2kg) and in winter it is very unpleasant to touch (aluminium gets very cold) - but I feel it's about as good as it can get for the money. It can carry around 6 kilos, and without raising the centre column its height is good for me (around 6'0"). Especially the height of the tripod without raised centre column is a big plus for me.

The main issue for me is the ballhead; it is indeed way faster to use than a 3-way head (I used to have that), but this one is kind of hard to set precisely when there is a serious load on it (= D300 w/ 300 f/4 and TC14). For panning, the ballhead is fine. I think better ballheads will pay off - but the pricetags of those are already way beyond $200.
The second, more obvious, issue is the weight. Carbon fibre would be much nicer, but expect to pay double over aluminium.
For macro, look for a centre column that can be reversed, so you can hang your camera upside down.

So special features that will justify spending more: quality geared ballheads and light-weight tripod. If you expect to use yours very often, it is very much worth investing more. If you'll be an occassional user (like me), the set I have is good quality for the money as long as you can accept the compromises.

Robert Budding , Oct 01, 2009; 07:10 a.m.

Forget about CF and a ball head for $200. Try this:


Mark L , Oct 01, 2009; 07:28 a.m.

I would suggest looking at used options and even then forget CF (try the 'the auction site'). I second the Manfrotto 055 legs, they are good enough for the D700 but I would avoid their ballheads which are very poor. A decent head should use the QR plates from kirk, RRS etc. which don't twist. Also note that just because the manuf spec says you camera + lens fits under the max weight figure it makes no guarantee at all about how stable it will be - tests have shown a cheap tripod is worse than handholding for many shutter speeds.

Why have you bought a $1700 camera (and probably lenses too) and left just $200 for a tripod? You will never see the performance of the camera and lenses without a solid tripod especially if you are using lenses 200mm and longer. The D700 is a heavy camera even without big lenses.

I use the gitzo 1327 with acratech head which works very well with the D700. This cost £850 new. Buy cheap and buy twice.

Joe A , Oct 01, 2009; 08:39 a.m.

Stephen.... There's no way you'll do it for $200, but take a look at the Benro legs. I was not impressed by their heads, but the legs are superb and half the price of Gitzo.

Mark.... It's a $2700 camera. Which makes a $200 tripod/head budget even more absurd. (sorry Stephen, but I gotta call a spade a spade)

Carl Becker , Oct 01, 2009; 08:44 a.m.

I have three carbon Gitzo's, large, small and tiny. Two I purchased used and the third is a new one pound GT-921 which cost $200 for hiking as light as possible. The GT-921 is very short but I will only be using it for long hikes (up to 15 miles). It is stong enough with my D700 and a short prime to get sharp images at slow shutter speeds. I suggest you save up more and get a good tripod and head as if it works well and is light enough you will take it with you and use it. I also have had good success with a Gitzo 1077, Induro head and Arca Swiss B-1. You should be able to get a 3 pound setup for less than $450 that will be short and work with small light lenses. I would not try to put a tele on any of these light weight tripods unless you use high shutter speeds.

ross b , Oct 01, 2009; 08:47 a.m.

A bogen aluminum tripod legs that are 58in tall cost about $130.00. I think the model that replaced mine is called the 190xb. The 488 bogen ballhead is a nice solid head. It comes with a couple of quick release plates. It's about $120.00..Later you could add a 438 bogen base leveler so you would be able to shoot panoramics easily. That will run about $90.00. but it can wait or you can never buy one. The bogen legs and ballhead will hold your gear. I use mine with a 70-200 f2.8 lens and it's pretty solid. But it will cost more then $200.00 unless you shop used. If used is ok look for the Bogen 3001 pro tripod legs.

Kent Staubus , Oct 01, 2009; 10:03 a.m.

I agree with Mark & Joe above. A tripod is a very crucial piece of gear. I'd have gone "cheap" on the camera rather than the tripod/head. Find a used set up aluminum legs that go to at least 5' 6". If you take a look at the weight savings of medium to smaller sized tripods, you'll see there isn't all that much between carbon fiber & aluminum. The place you DO need to spend money is the tripod head. Do not go cheap there, or you'll simply be buying another again soon. The lowest priced decent ballhead I'm aware of is the AcraTech Ultimate. It weighs about a pound, and supports about 28 pounds. It takes standard Arca Swiss style QR plates. FWIW, my tripod/head cost about $900. At the time I bought it my main camera cost me $600. Never regretted spending the money on the tripod; I still use it every day. The camera (F100) is now nearly worthless on eBay.

Kent in SD

Les Berkley , Oct 01, 2009; 10:31 a.m.

I have a Bogen 3010 with a Manfrotto ballhead. I have had the legs for 20 yrs, during which time I have replaced one leg clamp. That said, if you want CF, I might try the Flashpoint brand from Adorama. This will cost you about USD 400 for legs and head, but I have heard (FWIW) that these are decently made and capable of doing a good job.

Bob Ervin , Oct 01, 2009; 02:33 p.m.

The tripod you seek is here:
Get a Manfotto 486 ballhead and your quick mount system of choice. I've used this tripod with an 35 DSLR, RZ67, and 4x5 Field without any problems.

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