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Sirui Ultra Light Travel Tripod

How often do you find yourself in a situation where you either cannot (or in many cases, just won’t) carry your full tripod? My Induro Carbon Fiber Tripod and large ball head, even with the lightness of carbon fiber, is still a beast to lug around. I do it, because—as my prior blogs attest—I so strongly believe a tripod is essential to sharp imagery. I only will not use a tripod when circumstances warrant.

San Francisco Night Skyline copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Well…. There have been a number of times when I have elected not to carry a tripod and regretted it. This image of the San Francisco night sky line may well have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were on Alcatraz, at night, on a crystal clear night (a rarity in San Francisco). We were on a family excursion to tour the prison, and I was hesitant to lug the tripod, both as a courtesy to my fellow travelers and because I didn’t know whether it would be a nuisance to others once on the island. As it turned out, there were a couple of photographers who carried full tripods, and sure enough, one of them made a nuisance of himself by setting it up a couple times in places and spaces where it was in the way, really not appropriate, and clearly bothersome to the mostly non-photographer participants. We photographers know that non-serious shooters often do not understand the mechanics of photography and why shooting images (especially at night) from equipment that seems “overkill” to them is important. But at the same time, we are all citizens, and even we “artists” need to be aware and courteous of the rights and desires of others. In short, there is a time and a place.

I had carried a small, Slik, table-top tripod with me and was able to set up on a wall and get this image. But it was a windy night and I had all I could do to balance the heavy D700 and 28-300 lens, brace it against the wind, compose the image and make it. Indeed, with several tries, only this one image was “good enough” to use. And, I am sure that under a loupe, at larger magnifications, it is going to fail the critical sharpness test. As a nighttime image, I may get away with it. But a tripod would have made all the difference.

Likewise, when I traveled to the Caribbean for a cruise last February, I elected not to “lug” the tripod or the DSLR around. I was pleasantly surprised with the images I brought back with my Canon G12 P&S. But any nighttime image was essentially a bust. Either they were not sharp or they were unusably noisy when taken at high ISO with the very small sensor. In January, we will return to the Caribbean, and again in October 2013, we will cruise; this time in the Mediterranean for 12 days. I simply cannot let myself go without a tripod for these opportunities again. So, I began looking for a “travel” alternative. For the cruises, because I will have enough room in checked luggage, I will take the full tripod, at least for use on the ship. But when out on excursions, something small, light, but sturdy was on the list.

I looked at several, including, Gitzo’s ultra small (ruled out of my budget), a similar Induro model (I liked the looks, but the leg set alone was more than the Sirui with its included ball head), a Vanguard (too heavy and large), Slik (looked pretty good, but legs were same cost as the Sirui, and without a ball head), Manfrotto (too flimsy and aluminum). I ran across the Sirui from an inquiry on Nature Photographer’s Network, and took a look at it on B&H. There were hundreds of positive customer comments and I decided to give it a try.

Here are my observations:

Out of the box, this is a very nicely packaged item. It comes with a nice carry bag. When completely folded, its length is just 12 inches long. It fits in my carry-on bag! One of my recurring nightmares is that the checked bag doesn’t get to my photo-destination with me and I have all my gear except the tripod. This is now “insurance.”

The other remarkable thing about the tripod is that it is almost weightless. It is truly feather light. The leg sections are made of the same multi-layer carbon fiber construction as my primary tripod. The connecting joints are cast aluminum alloy, and appear to be of quality manufacture. The legs have multiple stop adjustments, similar to all modern full tripods. There are 5 leg sections, with nice-feeling, rubber, knurled twist locks. The smallest leg sections (like any tripod) are clearly its weakest link. They look like chopsticks.

When extended, the unit is surprisingly rigid—particularly when the smallest sections are not extended. It sets up easily and quickly (and likewise, refolds quickly). While it is not going to substitute for a beefier set of legs, with the right technique, I am going to be able to use it with my gear (including the 70-200) in situations where I cannot use the big tripod, or it is simply inconvenient. I am a reasonably tall guy (over 6 feet) and shooting with a “short” tripod is tough on the back. This one will be a challenge in that, fully extended, I will still have to stoop to see through the viewfinder. But in a sitting position (which I should be able to find in most cities a lot of the time) or on my knees, this little unit will be just fine. It will certain beat no tripod.

The included ball head also appears to be reasonably good quality construction. It is fitted with an Arca-Swiss style clamp and thus, integrates with my current setup very well. It is very small—but the ball is reasonably large in relation to the housing. It appears to move relatively smoothly. But it is not going to be a panning setup. The purpose here will be to get the camera locked down on an immovable support so that I can take images at slower shutter speeds (particularly in low light conditions).

In its bag, this tripod will be a small, unobtrusive accessory that I will be able to carry around with some ease. I am pleasantly surprised and satisfied with the quality, and utility of this nicely made little tripod. I would recommend it as a backup and travel tripod.

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3 Responses

  1. Andy, your timing is perfect. We’ll be spending 10 days along the Oregon coast in September and I was thinking that I should take a second tripod. (I have an old Manfrotto aluminum tripod) I want to do some night photography including some star trails. While I’m making a one or two hour exposure, I’d like to use another camera to make shorter ones. Hauling one tripod is an effort. Adding a second one to my bag, means that I won’t be able to take a change of clothes. I’m willing to make that sacrifice but I don’t think my wife will tolerate it.

    I will definitely look into the Sirui

    Al

  2. […] Again, this list hasn’t changed much. In addition to your camera, I re-emphasize a tripod, polarizer (especially useful for foliage) and cable release. I have recently added to my own gear, a backup camera and a backup tripod. […]

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