A Review by Jeff Simpson
Beast of Burden
Lugging around a sturdy aluminum tripod (Manfrotto 055C) and a large backpack of 35mm gear has always made me wish that pack mules were easier animals to fit in the trunk of a car. Surely a modern, lightweight carbon fiber model would be a more practical solution!
According to Manfrotto, its lightweight carbon fiber/magnesium tripods are designed to make outdoor and location photography easier than ever. They are 30% lighter, yet stronger and more rigid than their aluminum equivalents. Sounds like a dream come true. But does theCarbon Onelive up to these claims and, more importantly, to the hefty price it commands?
At over $420 USD‚ $140 per leg or $270 per kilo‚ these tripods are expensive. I managed to find one for $219 USD at my favorite shop (www.fotocinecolor.com). At that price, I just couldn’t resist, but I have subsequently discovered that the company does not honor standard mail order practices in Europe and now refuse returns or exchanges! Caveat Emptor.
My first impressions were very favorable. The441 Carbon Oneweighs one kilo (2.25 lbs) less than my aluminum tripod, yet handles the same maximum weight load of 6 kg (13.2 lbs) – a big plus, if you consider that a 80-200 f2.8 zoom lens weighs about the same. The tripod itself is extremely well built and includes a number of excellent standard features such as integrated leg clasps to keep the legs from opening during transport. The uniquely shaped tubes do eliminate rotation and increase the overall stability. Side-by-side, both the aluminum and carbon fiber models feel equally rigid.
The center column can be rapidly converted to a lateral arm for overhead shots.
The leg lock mechanisms are comfortable and very easy to use.
Low-level platform adaptor included.
Integrated spirit level.
Hanging ring for weighing down the tripod (I recommend that you follow Michael’s suggestion and use a bungee cord for added rigidity rather than hanging your camera bag on this ring).
The included strap and integrated leg clasps make this tripod a joy to carry.
Nothing’s perfect. Personally, I find this tripod alittleshort. With the legs completely extended, I have to stoop over to avoid extending the center column. Equivalent aluminum Manfrotto tripods (055 Series) are about 5 cm (2 inches) taller. Currently I am using theManfrotto 222 Grip Action Ball Head; the added height of this head does help increase the overall effective height of the tripod although at the cost of a reduced maximum weight capacity.
Manfrotto’s revised tripod designs include a longer center column. Personally, I believe this is a step backwards. The lowest possible shooting level without replacing the center column with the special adaptor plate is now 50 cm (20 inches). Unfortunately, using the special adaptor plate means removing your existing tripod head from the center column or carrying an additional head with you. Not very practical in the field. This applies to the 055 Series of aluminum tripods as well though. (Although you could use the lateral position for the center column, this makes camera position adjustments difficult because the base of the head may interfere with the actual movement of the tripod head).
I also don’t like the position of the fastening screw for the center column. My fingers almost always get pinched on the adjacent leg angle adjustment pin when tightening the screw.
This is a great piece of equipment that has taken some of the burden out of 35mm travel and landscape photography for me. Light, yet extremely solid, it always travels with me. While almost all of the features offered by the441 Carbon Onecan be found for less than half the price in a similar aluminum model, the savings in weight is worth it.
About Jeff Simpson
Jeff Simpson is a freelance writer and photographer who specializes in travel and landscape photography throughout Southern Europe. He works exclusively in 35 mm format and is currently making the switch to an all digital workflow. Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, he has lived and studied in Germany and Spain for the past thirteen years. Since 1994, his home is in Seville, Spain.