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For the last 20 years, the “industry standard” for Outdoor and Nature photographers has been the expensive, but high end Gitzo and the more affordable but still high quality Manfrotto (sometimes referred to as Bogen).  These tripods have been sought after because of their light weight and versatility.  In the last couple years, a number of affordable and competitive alternatives have emerged.  One of the best, in terms of price point and quality is the line marketed by the Mac Group under the name of Induro in the U.S. and Benro outside the U.S.

There is no doubt that camera movement is an image sharpness “killer.”  There is likewise no doubt that the best antidote for camera movement in most circumstances is a sturdy tripod

If you read any authoritative book or website on serious photography, you will see that a sturdy tripod and mounting system is essential to high quality image making.  In forum after forum and in books by professional photographers and websites by pros like Thom Hogan (see Tripod 101), these experts caution that buying expensive camera and lens to either be used without a tripod, or perhaps as bad as no tripod, an inadequate tripod, results in inferior images.

I have long been an advocate of shooting from a solid tripod whenever possible, and 90 plus percent of my own imagery is shot from a tripod.  Traditionally, there were a limited number of manufacturers of quality tripods.  There were also many cheap tripods which were generally inadequate.  For the last 20 years, it seems that there were only two real competitors.  Historically, Tiltall, Cullman, Davis and Sanford, Majestic and Linhoff all made sturdy metal tripods, but they tended to be heavy and more suited for studio use.  Manfrotto (an Italian manufacturer) and Gitzo (French made) were the two main actors (both marketed by Bogen Corporation here in the U.S.).  It seems that the Manfrotto/Bogen tripods were essentially the equivalent of a Buick and the Gitzos were more like Cadillac or Mercedes, in terms both of build quality and cost.  For years, brands like Velbon and Slik were the orphan siblings and while less costly and popular, were generally not as well built and best avoided for serious photography.

In an increasingly competitive market, all that has changed.   Modern materials such a carbon fiber has become the lighter, stronger material for manufacturing tripod legs.  Third party manufacturers like Really Right Stuff, Kirk Enterprises, and Arca Swiss (to name a few), began to manufacture tripod heads to be mounted on these legsets.  Manufacturing “offshore,” especially in China, has become common.  Velbon and Slik have both “stepped up” and Manfrotto has continued to be an affordable high quality alternative.  From my experience these latter 3 are roughly equivalent on their carbon fiber offerings.

Gitzo appears to continue to be the proverbial “gold standard” in Tripods.  Today, there are a number of manufacturers who manufacture tripod legs which are designed like, and in many cases rival, the Gitzo legs.  Benro, Benbo, Giottos, Induro, and a number of other manufacturers are making a tripod that strongly resembles the Gitzo in design.  Their costs are roughly 1/2 or less the cost of the Gitzo.  For example, I recently acquired an Induro leg set with a fairly large diameter leg. These size models cost in the $500 range for carbon fiber leg sections.  The Gitzo alternatives range between $600 and $1,000 in cost.

My Induro CT314 retails for $550 at B&H.  The Gitzo equivalent costs $900 at B&H.  It is probably possible to find the Induro on sources like eBay for less.  The Gitzo is probably difficult to find for much less than its retail cost.  This review is of the Induro equipment.

I now carry an Induro 8x Carbon fiber Tripod with a matching Induro ballhead.  The Induro and Benro brands are manufactured in the same factories in China and marketed by the Mac Group (which owns and markets a number of other well-known photo brands, like Mamiya, Tenba, Toyo View, Sekonic, and Profoto).  The C-314 has sealed, twist type tripod leg locks which are essentially similar to the Gitzo type locks.  I carried this tripod to Maine last October and used it extensively for a week.  I was impressed by the stiffness of the tripod (my 314 is a 4 leg section unit, which collapses to a smaller length and is more convenient and compact for travel.  I would expect the 3-section unit to be even stiffer).  For 20 plus years, I used a Manfrotto 3221 aluminum tripod.  I thought it was pretty stiff, but it was heavy.  A year back, I found a good used Manfrotto Carbon fiber equivalent to the 3221.  It was light and, to my surprise, noticeably, though marginally, stiffer than the heavier aluminum workhorse.

The Induro was a significantly and noticeably more rigid support.  It appears to be the design equivalent of the Gitzo

When I got an opportunity to acquire the Induro which had a much larger diameter leg section, I jumped at it.  I was mildly surprised when I did side by side testing of the 3 tripods, to find that the Induro was a significantly and noticeably more rigid support.  It appears to me to be the design equivalent of the Gitzo.  I have not used the Gitzo, and it may be a higher quality, but there is nothing lacking in the quality of the Induro.

The Induro unit sports air-locked twist leg locks which are designed to keep water and moisture out.  They are positive and easy to use, with large, rubberized grips.  The legset is lightweight and sturdy.  The angle adjustments, again, are designed like the Gitzo models.  As a long-term Manfrotto user, it took me a while to acclimate myself to them, but they are positive and easy to use.  And with my cost less than half the price of the Gitzo, it is a no-brainer.

An interesting by-product of this “graduation” to a more sturdy tripod leg set, was my discovery that my Ball Head and Quick Release setup was now showing its weakness.  The old saying that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” is well illustrated here.  I had used the Bogen Quick Release (“QR”) system with the hexagon plate for many years.  It is easy to use, but the plates were a bit of a pain.  And there was always the nagging concern that the hexagon mounting plate might not have seated securely in the mounting socket.  I went all those years without a mishap, but always checked and double checked the seating of the plate.  But now, with a very rigid underpinning a minute amount of play in the hex plate – socket system suddenly became apparent.  Likewise, my smaller diameter ball on my Manfrotto Ball Head showed a minute amount of vibration and movement.

As a result, I acquired the Induro BHD-3 ballhead which matches up to the C314 leg set, and also has an Arca Swiss style clamp.  This is a very positive, rigid clamping system.  The ball works smoothly and flawlessly.  The BHD-3 has 3 controls.  The main control is the clamp that tightens and loosens the ball.  There is a second clamp that creates “drag” on the ball to damp and control movement with heavier camera/lens combinations.  Finally there is a panning control knob.  My only criticism is the knob for the main ball friction control is a rather cheap appearing and feeling plastic knob.  The balance of the head appears to be manufactured to close tolerances with quality materials.  Despite the ball diameter (nearly twice that of my former Manfrotto), the head is lighter than the Manfrotto was!  The combination of larger diameter ball and the Arca Swiss type clamp virtually eliminates the minute, but detectable movement of my former rig.

There is no doubt that camera movement is an image sharpness “killer.”  There is likewise no doubt that the best antidote for camera movement in most circumstances is a sturdy tripod.  While I am confident that some of the other alternatives to the traditional Gitzo – Manfrotto duo are equally good, I can recommend the Induro line of tripods and heads without reservation.  In terms of cost and quality, they are difficult to beat.

4 Responses

  1. Andy, your timing is great as I think I’m in the market for a new tripod. I think I have the same Manfrotto tripod as you. I replaced the quick release system with a Kirk ballhead and I really like it. The problem with my tripod is that one of the sections locks up. I’ve tried taking it apart and lubricating it but it still is a problem. I replaced the screws on the clamp that attaches the section and that helped some. I was having a problem with the section coming loose and the leg coming off. A two legged tripod is a problem! I haven’t had that problem since I replaced the screws, until this week. I’m in Utah and I’ve been taking a lot of photos. Meanwhile, the dumb leg came off. I didn’t have a screwdriver so I just jammed it back in. It’s been working, but I am a bit nervous about it.

    The other thing is that it is too short. I don’t like using the center pole because it increases the potential motion. Anyway, I think I’ll get a taller tripod without a center pole. I’ll check out the Indura model.

    The weather has been improving every day and what started out as “iffy” photo weather has become great. I’m at Zion now. Way too many people here though.

    I’ll post some of my photos next week.

    • Hey Al: Nothing worse than a malfunctioning tripod on a major photo trip! A couple years back, my buddy, Rich and I were in the Michigan UP and I planted my tripod leg in some deep snow, and “pop,” the cast metal at the leg base broke. There are no camera shops to speak of in the Eastern UP and we learned that there was one in the Canadian Sault, so we headed over there (another story for another day). Without a tripod, I was SOL!

      If you are used to the Manfrotto quicklock system, the twist type on the Induro (and on the Gitzo) takes some getting used to. But not much.

  2. Well, Andy, I sprung for a new tripod but I got the Gitzo instead of the Induro. My final decision boiled down to the fact that too many times I didn’t buy “the best” and I ended up doing so later.

    It arrived yesterday and I really like it. The height is perfect and I was surprised with how light it was. The carbon fiber really makes a difference. I added my Bogen leveling base and ball head and the whole thing weighs about what the base of my old one does. The Bogen leveler is really heavy but I find myself taking so many panoramics that I just have to keep it on all the time.

    The Gitzo attaches very easily to the ball head, unlike the Bogen with its three set screws. How does your Induro attach?

  3. Hi Al. Glad to hear you got the new pod. In my mind, the Induro is essentially the functional equivalent of the Gitzo. The only real question will be its endurance. I have never owned a Gitzo. My Manfrotto/Bogen products were clearly built to last. Looking at the Gitzo’s in the stores, they appear to be well-built, also. Time will tell. I’ll be interested in the side by side comparison when we get together.

    The head does attach easily, by a single center screw. I didn’t ever mind the Bogen set screws. They gave me an added sense of security.

    Yes, the weight thing is rather amazing. With my new (larger) ball head, the CF legs and the Kirk Bracket, the weight of my entire rig is much lighter — yet also noticeably stiffer. Technology advances are a good thing!

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