Tripods are unsexy, expensive and unwieldy. Nobody like to pay 500 buck’s or more for a good tripod ($ or €, not Yen!). Nearly everybody will try to get away with a 100 to 150 buck’s pod and every photographer who eventually went for a Gitzo or other quality tripod has some lesser tripod’s in their basement to proof my point.
I think I’ve got four ‘bargain’ tripod’s down there lurking in the corner. The Manfrotto 190 was kind of a gift but the 055 was my fault. 😉
One day I decided I need a ‘real’ tripod. Strong enough to support my gear but light and compact enough to carry it around without getting a sore back.
I set some reasonable specs: It should be high enough to raise the camera to my eye level, rigid enough to support my 80-200mm/2.8 lens between 1/4 and 1/30sec, no vibration prone center column, max. 1.5kg (3 lbs) total weight with head, folded as compact as possible, carbon fiber legs, under €500,-.
I know I can be a bit anal about gear at times but I didn’t expected a year-long quest to find ‘my’ tripod. Manfrotto, Velbon, Slik and the like went off my list pretty fast.
I set my sights on Gitzo carbon legs but their 1kg class of tripods was too flimsy while the sturdy ones where too heavy and not really well enough finished for their slightly steep price. Sachtler came to mind but that was stretching the ‘under €500’ budget a bit too much. Manfrotto, Gitzo, Sachtler and some other well-known photography brands are owned by the same company btw.
For about a year I tried every tripod I could lay my hands on.
Somewhere in a forum I read about Feisol carbon fiber tripods shortly after they opened their German webshop. Their Tournament CT-3442 tripod sounded too good to be true: 138cm high, 48cm folded, 1.05kg weight without center column, rated for 10kg load. On top of that it can fold the legs ‘backward’ over the ball-head. The price was €235 at that time and everything shouted ‘cheap Chinese knockoff’ in my ears (it’s price was €319 at the end of 2011 when I wrote this post and is €399 now).
After a week considering back and forth I ordered one. I got surprised and in a very good way.
From day one (and still two years after that) I was sure this is the tripod I was looking for. Sure it can hold 10kg (heck, fully extended it takes my 65kg weight without even flexing!) but not 10kg ‘camera and big lens’ without vibrating at 1/15 of a sec. It is very adequate for my 2,5kg 80-200mm/2.8 and D700 combo or any smaller lens. It’s still true that only a heavy tripod is a good tripod.
Very light tripods fully extended are a bad base for a heavy camera but a very light AND very rigid tripod is a great base if you weigh them down with some kilograms of stones, sand or your photo bag at the center hook. This is where most lightweight tripods fail, they can’t take the extra weight without getting wobbly.
Weighted down with a heavy cameras bag the little Feisol might even cope with a 300mm/2.8 if you use a good ball-head and don’t extend the last leg extension, but I would strongly suggest to get a bigger Feisol CT-3471 for that kind of lens, as I did.
I use a FLM CB-48FT ball-head with a very well made but cheap 40mm ProMediaGear quick release clamp on my Feisol Tournament. For panorama shots I use a simple 170mm lens plate with mounted quick release adapter between ball-head and camera.
The L-plates on my cameras are from Really Right Stuff.
Update Mai 2, 2015:
As mentioned before, Feisol raised the prices for their tripods considerably over the years. While €235 for the CT-3442 back in 2009/2010 was a real bargain, it costs €399 now.
I’d most likely buy the CT-3442 at the current price again, but not without a good look at tripods of similar quality from other makers.
I still think no Manfrotto or Gitzo in the same weight class (around 1kg) can touch it.
Update September 2018:
By chance I’ve found a lightly used Acratech GP ball-head. Its an even better head than the FLM 48-FT and 150g lighter.