View Full Version : Travel Tripods: Comparisons and Reviews

07-02-2010, 02:48 PM
So I'm off to Venice in the summer and so wanted a tripod that I could easily carry around without it being a burden. That meant:
:: low weight
:: short when folded
:: tall enough to use standing, or minimum stooping (I'm 5'9)

I've trawled the many forums (fora?) and seen some great reviews by other people in the same situation. Argument between established and "knock off" brands seems rife and it's difficult to find decent comparisons; at the end of the day, everyone is reviewing their new tripod and bestowing it's virtues (partly because they're justifying their decision and partly because they feel justified in their decision). The only real comparison you then get are between the statistics of each brand, and again stats only say so much, and when it comes to load weights, some firms are overly confident.

So.... being the analyst that I am, I had to make a spreadsheet! I reviewed all the forums and official reviews and whittled the list down to Gtizo, Feisol, Benro. I appreciate there are other brands out there, but Gitzo and Benro seemed to be the most frequently mentioned and the Feisol was a bit of a wild card based on the low weight.

These are ordered by weight (according to manufacturers website)...


So from this I narrowed the list down to three models:
- Benro C-168 M8 (239)
- Feisol CT-3442 Rapid (299)
- Gitzo GT1541T (369)

So I studied the reviews and decided on a Feisol CT-3442 Rapid. I initially decided that centre columns were an unnecessary weight and the Feisol's height without centre column was a selling point. This review also helped:


So it arrived, and it was a very light tripod but did seem far chunkier than I was expecting. The mount of the head is large and the triangular shape when folded seemed unnecessary (images further down). The 48cm length when closed was also longer in the flesh than I expected. If I was looking for a one tripod fits all (e.g. travel and studio - aka home!) this would be good but my travel needs were specific.

So I then revisited the fora and reviews and was taken by the Benro TRCB068 reviewed here:


The height figures didn't seem quite right so I ordered the next size up (weight was more of an issue than tiny tiny compact). I got the Benro C168 M8, which at 37cm was noticeably shorter than the feisol. Now this was a compact tripod and equally delightfully light. But there were a few niggling issues I had. It didn't seem quite "perfect". The quality of the parts and build seemed sub-perfect. Some of the legs loosened easily whilst others were different. Some legs would rotate very slightly (say 30 degrees). If the tripod had been 150 I probably would've stuck, but at 239 that's a huge investment in my eyes for something that isn't "perfect". I don't have money burning holes in my pockets but the comments on this blog post kept coming back to me:


Summary: buy quality now or upgrade every year and cost yourself more in the long run.

So after some more forum reading I decided to go crazy and splash out the 359 for a Gitzo GT1541T. Now every forum you read sings the praises of this tripod; that you get what you pay for, but that's a HELL of a lot of money. The thing that swayed me to try it was this review:


It arrived today and all i can say is OH. MY. GOD. Honestly, this tripod is stunning. it's everything the benro is but without those niggles. Yes I paid about 120 to get rid of niggles, yes I need to spend another 40 for a bag that's free with each of the other two and yes it's still a HELL of a lot of money. But it's an investment. It has the standard warranty of the country you buy in (1 year in UK), and if you register on Gitzo that extends to an additional five years. I like the peace of mind and I'm so impressed with the tripod.

So comparison time...

Firstly, lets look at all three, folded and alongside the bags they come packaged with.


Both Feisol and Benro have quality bags with arm strap, zipped compartment and pockets for tools etc. All three tripods can fold their legs back on their selves with the idea that a small head will fit between the folded legs. NOTE: there aren't many heads that small! The Feisol bag is exactly the same length as the folded tripod so limited space for a larger tripod head that won't fit between the legs. The benro has a good couple of inches spare so plenty of room to leave head on inverted or not. The Gitzo bag meanwhile is only any good for storage and preventing dust. You wouldn't carry the tripod in this! I'm still awaiting the neoprene bag that cost 40 extra - will update when it arrives.

So next up, the folded lengths...


The benro is marginally shorter than the gitzo but not noticeably so. The Feisol though is noticable and doesn't feel like a travel tripod.

The diameter of Benro and Gitzo is again almost identical and I couldn't say which is smaller although Gitzo feels more compact somehow. Feisol though is considerably larger (Gitzo on left, Feisol on right)...


In terms of proportion, here's the Benro, and slightly longer Gitzo alongside a DVD case...


So finally, the tripod lengths side by side....


Please review the spreadsheet image for the different sizes and heights, but what I would say is that you mustn't forget the addition of tripod head and camera (plus vertical grip if you have one) atop the height of tripod. I'm getting this for sturdy photo taking during the "golden hours" so a slight stoop is no disaster. The Feisol would mean no stooping while benro and Gitzo would mean a slight stoop for composing with centre column down (recommended).

Final thoughts...

Feisol: ideal for tall people. It's light and as compact as you'll get for something sturdy at that height. The leg locks are very well made and the "rapid" system is comparable to Gitzo's ARL; one quarter turn of all locks on a leg releases all at once. one quarter lock secures again. The legs are thick and sturdy. (299)

Benro: A "cheap" alternative to the gitzo, but at 239 it's not cheap. The leg locks are not consistent, and there are "niggles". it's as light as the Feisol, but the one or two inches shorter in folded length do equate to shorter height when extended. You do get a good bag, but I in my opinion you'll buy this and keep pinning for the Gitzo. Eventually you'll buy the gitzo and wonder why you wasted 239 getting there.

Gitzo: Perfection. all the forums I read went on about Gitzo quality or conversely falling for the reputation and ludicrous price. When I got the Benro I was initially impressed but there really is no comparison. If you need a travel tripod, get a very cheap 100 one for a couple of trips OR get the gitzo. Don't go inbetween; you're either spending too much on a hobby your not commited to or your spending too little on a hobby you'll keep up for years.

Final FINAL thought:

I'm indecisive, but having bought all three and compared I know I've made the right decision for me. In the UK you can return anything bought online for a full refund within 7 days. You do need to pay for return postage but I'm pleased i did. If I'd flown in and bought the gitzo I'd be worrying I'd spent over the top, so order the Gitzo and one alternative and decide for yourself.

07-02-2010, 03:18 PM
Very interesting and good review tricky1.

07-02-2010, 06:29 PM
Did you consider the Vanguard Alta+ 225CT? I believe it is available in the UK. Here in the states it is ~$250. A bit shorter than the others, but not much. Still only 1.16kg and quite compact. I bought one as a backpacking tripod.

07-05-2010, 05:02 PM
Thanks Bonzo, since I used so many to make my decision thought I should add my 10c! Hi kgosden, the local independent camera shop guy showed me a vanguard alta at around 100. Guess it was one of their more entry level pods but it did seem quite plastic and flimsy. How do you find it? The key things for me were the ease of opening it, the weight, the height when open and the general "feel" of it. That sounds so naff and similar to other people who try to justify spending a ludicrous sum on three bits of carbon fibre, but it was quite important to get a try them out in the flesh.

07-05-2010, 05:36 PM

The Vanguard seems like a close cousin of the Gitzo. I had considered the GT-0541 which has similar weight capacity, but is a little larger folded. The Vangaurd seems well made. It is my light travel tripod so I have not used it a lot yet. It is a bit on the short side, but very compact at ~36cm folded without a head. I expected to use it at most for 3-4 trips a year and couldn't justify $500-600 for the Gitzo. My main tripod is a Velbon CF640. It is a little bulkier in volume, but packs into a small suitcase for travel and still fairly light.

07-07-2010, 04:41 PM
Are you actually allowed to set up and use a tripod in the places you will be travelling to? You can't in many tourist areas.

Dread Pirate Roberts
07-10-2010, 03:58 AM
Great review.

When I was in Venice I was told there was a real danger of being robbed and a tripod is going to stand out. They had a lot of illegal immigrants which combined with a poor social security system lead to numerous beggars and (I'm told) petty criminals in the streets.

07-11-2010, 02:20 PM
I don't think the tripod will be a problem in terms of using it in the places I'm visiting. My main aim is to use it at dawn and dusk to capture hopefully some impressive skies alongside the stunning scenery. I'm not trying to set it up in St Marks Square at midday. The dusk and dawn thing does add a lot of risk with regards to robbery though so hoping to find either a friend to come with me or a local tour guide; dawn will be around 4:30am I think so not a good time to be wandering alone!

Re crime in venice, it sounds like it's more pick pockets than robbery in side streets:
According to that it's one of italy's safest cities, but dawn/dusk will obviously be a different kettle of fish - especially with camera equipment.

Thanks for the questions though guys, really hadn't considered the use of tripods issue and hadn't properly looked into crime stats.

07-11-2010, 02:28 PM
Oh, one more thing; the Gitzo bag arrived and at 40 it's a lot of money. It is well made but it is covered with Gitzo and Camera equipment branding that makes it stand out as an expensive item. The bag is precisely the length of the tripod which in my case means I'd need to remove the ball head I've bought. Any ball head that extends beyond the folded length will be too long.

So I sent the bag back and visited the nearby camera shops. The independent store I love had a good Manfrotto bag at 40 but again was a bit too obvious. London Camera Exchange (UK chain of shops) had a very VERY basic tripod bag that was about 5 inches longer than the tripod and only 5. however there was no padding what so ever. In the end I went with a 12 case from Jessops (ownbrand case ). Was a few inches longer than the tripod (so means I can leave the head on), has a small pocket on outside for tools and a small but acceptable thickness of padding. Importantly it doesn't shout out "TRIPOD" or "EXPENSIVE"!

Dread Pirate Roberts
07-12-2010, 08:19 AM
You won't need a tour guide. You can walk around and discover it for yourself just fine.

The place is full of tourists, I believe only a small fraction of the "population" are true locals.

From memory there's some sort of headland that looks back towards Piaza San Marco across the Grand Canal that might be nice at dawn or dusk.

There's a lot of lush building interiors, I got the feeling interior church photography was pissing off the local priests (though they never actually asked me to stop).

09-07-2010, 02:48 PM
So I took the tripod out to Venice and had a ball! We arrived at 8am on a Friday and left at 5pm on the Saturday, so only just over 30 hours. We got up at 6am to watch the sail in from the crows nest bar at the front of the ship and then jumped ship as soon as we docked. We nailed the traditional sights of Doges Palace, Basilica, Rialto bridge on the Friday morning and wandered the shops in the afternoon. This was the quality time with the missus before I was allowed out to play with the camera!

I was out from 7pm til 11pm, then sleep from midnight til 4am and back out again for more shooting. For the evening session I spent all my time around St Mark's square doing the standard gondola shots as the sun came down and trying to capture the gondolier's too. There was a stage setup in St Mark's for a fashion show which meant everything was well lit with a variety of colours to play with. Was a good evening shoot and good weather.

So it was then back to the cruise ship by midnight for 4 hours kip before out again walking round to the Piaza Roma to do the early shift. As I mentioned before, I was concerned about safety when wandering around in the dark early hours so I did book out a private tour guide. It was expensive but worth EVERY penny. While there wouldn't have been any problem with safety, that element of fear would have got in my way of getting off the beaten path or covering much ground - may just be me, but think i would've missed out. anyway, the tour was booked here:


So what did I get? The main benefit beyon the security of a companion was not having to worry about being in the right place at the right time. The guide, Mike, knew the best route to catch the undisturbed canals well off the beaten track to get that perfect reflection as well as knowing where we should be when the sun started coming up etc. He's a fellow amateur photographer who paces everything around you and your ability. For me it was a case of tour guide but he explained how for others it can be a photography class with simple lessons like rule of thirds and using aperture priority. For those who don't know, it's invaluable.

So we were out for a good three hours and then sat down for a coffee and a croissant and chatted for a bit. Mike then headed home - probably, sensibly, to get a few hours shut eye - while I went back to Piaza Roma to do some more shooting. A podcast I watch had done a session on timelapse and some of the bridges on the grand canal offer a great opportunity to do this. Setting the tripod up and on a two second time lapse I let the camera rip through 1000 frames, occasionally panning and zooming.

So I then got back to the ship around 9:30am to grab a 30 minute lay down before heading out again with the missus to do some art galleries. Yes I was groggy and tetchy!

So some of the pics from the evening shoot are here:

I will aim to get the morning shoot up on flickr in the next week or so and hopefully the timelapse onto youtube. Will let you know!

09-07-2010, 03:05 PM
Nice review. I've been considering the Feisol myself. I need something for travel and hiking. I have the Manfrotto 055 now which is nice for it's size (I'm 6'4), but it's not too fun to carry around. In addition to the height, I also like the thicker legs of the Feisol. I'd be worried about having trouble with that Gitzo moving in the sand when the waves hit it. I was considering one of the 4 section Gitzos a while back, but the price is too over the top for me.

Thanks for the review. It's nice to see everything side by side.

09-07-2010, 05:58 PM
I've just brought an 055 4 section carbon fibre (055CXPRO4) and love it. I was just thinking as I was carrying it the other day how light it was compared to my camera with grip and 70-200 fitted. It's not a travel tripod but it's convinced me that you get what you pay for so when I'm looking for a travel tripod soon it will be amongst the brands suggested at the start of this thread that's for sure.

09-09-2010, 05:36 PM
Nice review. I've been considering the Feisol myself. I need something for travel and hiking. I have the Manfrotto 055 now which is nice for it's size (I'm 6'4), but it's not too fun to carry around. In addition to the height, I also like the thicker legs of the Feisol. I'd be worried about having trouble with that Gitzo moving in the sand when the waves hit it. I was considering one of the 4 section Gitzos a while back, but the price is too over the top for me.

Thanks for the review. It's nice to see everything side by side.

At 6'4 I'd really recommend the Feisol. Was very light and extends to a good height. Having said that, you wouldn't have any worries with the gitzo or benro moving in the sand - it's very sturdy and any subsidence is going to hit any tripod. Once the camera is atop your tripod they're all pretty heavy - it's cheap bendy legs you'd need to watch out for.

If you are using a tripod in the sand/waves, just make sure you give it a good wipe down before folding away - the grit and salt water will bugger things up good and proper apparently!