After lugging a regular bulky sized tripod on my recent roadtrip to Perth, I got home and immediately started researching a travel tripod that’s less bulky and lightweight while still acting as a good support for my camera when taking long exposures.
- 1 What is a travel tripod?
- 2 What makes a good travel tripod?
- 3 Top Travel Tripods of 2017
- Light and compact design. The special design of this tripod with head ensures your camera stays firmly locked in position.
- Supports up to 8.8lbs
- Designed to fit into carry-on luggage and backpacks
I’ve put together this post for anyone wondering how I landed on my decision for the Manfrotto Befree and what else is out there on this competitive market. The Manfrotto Befree Compact Tripod is available from Amazon for $154.76
What is a travel tripod?
With airline baggage limits becoming more and more expensive (Australia’s airlines start at $35 for each additional bag), it’s easy to look at the tripod and think to yourself, do I really need to take this awkward and heavy thing away for my trip? By not taking your tripod, it means you miss out on taking really long exposures or shooting in low light conditions like at sunrise or sunset. This is where the travel tripod comes in with something that is more lightweight and easier to travel with.
Travel tripods don’t differ too much to regular tripods where they come with the standard three legs and a mounting head which the camera is mounted. Where they are different to a regular tripod can be the materials and mounting heads used to save on space and weight which we will look to explore in this article.
What makes a good travel tripod?
So what makes a good travel tripod? I took my time to dig deep into travel tripods, tried them out and came up with this selection of my top five tripods based on different criteria. Simply put, a good travel tripod should be portable, affordable and adjustable. It should fit into your camera bag with ease while at the same time be stable and flexible to support your camera in all conditions.
A good tripod unit should have about 24 inches length when folded (preferably less than 20 inches) and a total weight of about 1.3kg-2.5kg (2.8 lbs – 5.5 lbs).
The second thing you should consider is the size of the tripod when you fully unfold it. A tripod with many leg segments will squeeze down to a smaller compact unit when fully folded. This directly determines what bag you’ll have to use. If the tripod can’t fold into a small unit you may have to use a large travel bag instead of a camera bag.
Extend to a reasonable height
When stretched out, it should extend to atleast 50 inches before the center column is stretched out (preferably 60 inches when the head is mounted). This will let you extend the tripod to an average eye level height of around 60 inches without necessarily needing to extend center column.
The importance of not needing to extend the centre column comes down to stability in windy conditions. It’s worth noting that the tripod will be least stable when the center column is fully extended and more stable when all the components have not been stretched out.
When it comes to tripod legs, there are two camps – the aluminium and the carbon fibre camps. Personally, I’m too rough with my tripods and don’t put in the time to properly maintain them like removing the salt after a coastal shoot which can limit the lifespan of the tripod. With the price of aluminium legs being significantly cheaper than carbon fibre legs, I’ll continue to shoot with aluminium until I can get a good maintenance process in place.
But for those of you that do properly look after your gear, carbon fibre does have its benefits. It goes without saying that carbon fibre legs are lighter than aluminium but more importantly, have a better strength to weight ratio over aluminium which is ideal when travelling.
If money is not an issue, carbon fibre provides you with a lighter and more durable set of legs but if you are constrained by budget, there is nothing wrong with a set of aluminium legs. Just don’t be like me and not maintain your tripod 😉
Mounting head that you can trust
For most people photographing with a micro 4/3, mirorless or light DSLR setup, the head which comes with a travel tripod will be more than sufficient. For those looking to shoot with a DSLR and telephoto or other heavier setups, you may want to consider a different head which is more sturdier and able to confidently hold the extra weight. With that said, if you’re looking at photographing with a heavy setup then maybe a travel tripod isn’t for you.
Top Travel Tripods of 2017
|Name||Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100||MeFOTO Aluminum Roadtrip Travel||Joby GorillaPod SLR Zoom Tripod||Davis & Sanford Traverse TR553-P228||Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber Tripod||Manfrotto BeFree Aluminium Carbon Fiber Tripod|
|Material||Aluminium Alloy||Aluminium Alloy||ABS Plastic||Aluminium Alloy||Carbon Fiber||Aluminium Alloy|
|Weight||2.44 kg (5.38 lbs)||1.6kg (3.6 lbs)||551 g (1.21 lbs)||1.2 kg (2.6 lbs)||1.1 kg (2.4 lbs)||2.4 kg (5.3 lbs)|
|Folded Length||71.5 cm (28.125")||39.1 cm (15.4")||31.8 cm (12.5")||30.5 cm (12")||40 cm (15.75 lbs)||40 cm (15.8 lbs)|
|Max Height||1.73 m (5.67')||156.5 cm (61.6")||29.7 cm (11.7")||134.6 cm (53")||144 cm (48.4")||144 cm (56.7")|
|Max Load||7 kg (15.4 Lbs)||8 kg (17.6 lbs)||3 kg (6.6 lbs)||4.5 kg (10 lbs)||4 kg (8.8 lbs)||4 kg (8.8 lbs)|
|Comes w/ Head?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
If you are on a budget and want a multipurpose tripod, then the Joby Gorillapod at $41.20 is for you. It works well with a lightweight DSLR camera setup (think standard body and an ultra wide angle lens). Anything more and you might struggle.
For those looking for something a bit more capable and the feel of a regular tripod then I would recommend the Manfrotto Befree Aluminium compact tripod which folds down to just 15.8 inches and weighs 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs)
Manfrotto Befree Compact Tripod (Aluminium)
The Manfrotto Befree ended up being my pick for this review. As I’ve written a separate review on the Manfrotto Befree tripod in another post I’ll keep the detail short here but the reasons why I chose the Manfrotto Befree aluminium over the other tripods came down to:
- Coming in at $154.76 makes this an affordable tripod for everyone.
- The travel bag which comes with the tripod is great if you’re heading out for the day to take photos and want to sling the tripod over your shoulder when you’re walking
- The weight of this tripod (2.4 kg or 5.3 lbs) makes this a good sturdy tripod that you feel confident with in windy conditions. Sure you could go lighter with the carbon version of the Manfrotto Befree which I review later in this post but for me, I just can’t justify that reduction in weight vs the price
- The load capacity of the tripod of 4 kg makes this capable of holding anything (within reason of course!)
I’m very happy with the purchase of my Manfrotto Befree tripod but like anything, it’s not perfect and I cover off some of the minor issues with the tripod in my indepth review.
You can order online at Amazon for $154.76
Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100
Due to its size and weight, the Vanguard VEO 235AB sits between a travel and regular tripod and is comparable with other tripods on the market. However the Vanguard has some key features which makes it better than some of its competitors. One of the things that appeal to me the most about the Vanguard Alta Pro 235AB is the way in which the legs fold around the centre column.
With most tripods, the legs fold around the center column, however with the Vanguard, the center column is designed to fit between the legs reducing its size when fully folded.
When folded, the Vanguard measures an impressive 21.1 inches. The center column is very flexible and works well for getting those tight angles allowing you to shoot from 0 and 180 degrees which works great with low and high angles of photography.
Other features that makes it a favourite choice are; a 7 kg (15.4 Lbs) carrying capacity, a maximum height of up to 58 inches, five-section legs made of strong aluminium and an easy to operate ball head.
A couple of things worth noting about this tripod is the weight and size which to my point at the start of the article puts it in a grey area between travel and regular tripod. The tripod weighs 2.44 kg (5.38 lbs) which is relatively heavy compared to other options in the market. It also measures 21.1 inches when folded, this length may not readily fit into your bag.
You can order for one on Amazon at $149.99
MeFOTO Aluminium Roadtrip Travel Tripod
MeFoto is a relative newcomer to the market launched by Benro; a Chinese manufacturer who have quietly been chipping away in the photography industry for years now. Benro are making a bold entrance into the photography market with the MeFOTO range which are both affordable and provide a different offering to competitors.
The MeFoto Aluminium roadtrip travel tripod can collapse down to a mere 15-inch piece that weighs just 1.6kg (3.6 lbs) yet it is capable of supporting up to 8 kg (17.6 lbs) when fully extended to its maximum height of 64.2 inches. More than enough to hold the weight of a Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 70-200 2.8 IS which comes in at around 2.4 kg (5.2 lbs).
One thing I love about the MeFOTO is the ability to transform the tripod into a full-sized monopod. This is handy for impromptu shoots where you don’t need a tripod fully extended and just need something to stabilise. Additionally the MeFOTO comes with rubber coated spiked feet and an Arca-type quick-release ball head with a panning lock, a bubble level and a wide tilt range. Great value for the price.
It’s worth noting that when researching the MeFOTO, there was some feedback from reviews where when the legs are fully extended that the tripod can lose some of its stability. To be honest, I rarely shoot fully extended as I don’t like shooting at the human eye level but if this is an issue for you, you’re best to attach your camera bag to the center column which will add some stability to the tripod.
Available on Amazon at $197.00
Joby GorillaPod SLR Zoom Tripod
An article about travel tripods wouldn’t be the same without mention of Joby’s GorillaPod range. While admittedly they aren’t for everyone, they do serve a purpose for people looking to save weight and space.
The Joby GorrillaPod Zoom is a small travel tripod with a load capacity of 3 kg (6.6 lbs) which is well suited for smaller camera setups like the Micro 4/3, mirrorless or lightweight DSLR setups. The tripod has twistable legs which can be molded to work in different environments as long as the camera is light in weight. The entire package including the head weighs just 551 g (1.21 lbs) which is easy to carry around.
It’s stability on rugged surface is achieved by many leg joints with foot grips and rubber-coated rings which allows the tripod to easily grip onto things. The Joby GorillaPod Zoom is definitely the best travel tripod when it comes to its flexibility size however does come with some flaws. When trying to use it on unique angles (i.e. wrapping it around a pole), the weight of your camera can make things tricky. This is where a lightweight camera excels with this setup but you’ll be challenged with more bulkier setups.
Davis & Sanford Traverse TR553-P228
A relative unknown compared to some of the other brands mentioned in this post, the Davis and Sanford’s Travers travel tripod is a quiet achiever. The tripod is nice and compact folding into a just twelve inches and weighs just 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs) which makes it great for anyone looking to cut down on space and conveniently fit into your baggage.
The Davis & Sanford Traverse comes with an Arca-type ball head with double control knobs and a fast release plate. When fully extended, it stretches to 53 inches and can support up to 4.5 kg (10 lbs) which is ideal for nearly all camera setups.
When researching this tripod to purchase, some of the feedback I read was along the lines of the legs sometimes being difficult to fold or extend because of the collars used on every leg. For me this wasn’t a deal breaker especially with its compactness and ability to support generally most camera setups on the market.
What put me off the Davis & Sanford Traverse was more the lure of the other brands on the market. We are so spoiled for choice with with the Manfrotto and MeFOTO providing great quality tripods for competitive prices. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the 3 brands and at the end of the day, it comes down to how much you can afford and your personal preference.
Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber Tripod
Manfrotto have been an industry leader in the tripod game for a long time. One of their newer offerings is the Manfrotto BeFree compact carbon fibre tripod which looks great and performs even better.
The Manfrotto is a beast of a tripod and comes with legs that extend to a maximum height of 48.4 inches. When the center column is fully extended, the tripod can reach 56.7 inches. The tripod can also provide a minimum working height of 13.4 inches. A great feat for a portable travel tripod.
When fully folded, the tripod measures just 15.75 inches and weighs 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs) making it one of the most portable travel tripods ever made. This is made possible by the tripod using carbon fibre compared to the other tripods in this review using aluminium.
The Manfrotto BeFree can support up to 4 kg (8.8 lbs) when fully stretched which makes it more than capable of holding most camera setups. Like other tripods reviewed here, the Manfrotto BeFree comes with a ball head with an aluminium alloy quick release plate. The legs have a diameter of 22mm and can spread at either 51 degrees or 25 degrees to ensure stability of the tripod.
The only downside to the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber Tripod compared to other tripods in this post is the cost. The Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fibre Tripod comes in at a price of $296.00 But really, this is pretty standard for a good quality carbon fibre tripod. You are getting some serious value for money with this one.
I hope that this article has been helpful in providing some guidance on how to evaluate travel tripods and the best travel tripods out there. The way the travel market has evolved in the last years means we are blessed with so much choice and almost comes down to personal preference if you’re willing to spend around $100-200.
Thanks for reading,