Last year, I made a momentous decision, after 30 plus years of “Nikon loyalty,” trading all of my Nikon gear for Sony’s new “full frame” mirrorless offering: the a7 and lenses, mostly from the Carl Zeiss/Sony partnership. Truth be told, it was primarily the Zeiss connection that pushed me over the line. But given that, the smaller, lighter, more compact form factor of mirrorless is a huge plus.
It was the Zeiss connection that pushed me over the line
Especially for travel, I have come to learn that “size matters” – small size, in particular. As technology inexorably advances, I expect that cameras will continue to get smaller and smaller. And that will continue to serve those of us who lug a fair amount of gear around.
Some years ago, I acquired an Induro C314 carbon fiber leg set along with the Induro BHD3 Ballhead. At that time, I did some unscientific comparison between the carbon fiber legs and my aluminum legs and concluded (as the advertising hype says) that carbon fiber is both lighter and more rigid – significantly so.
Carbon fiber is both lighter and more rigid
The Induro legs are very lightweight and very high quality manufacture. The BHD3 is a huge ball (and as such, heavier than the more popular, smaller diameter ball heads), and the combination created a rock-solid support for my Nikon D800 and 70-200 f2.8 lens combination. The C314 legs are great, particularly for a tall person. While this combination seemed “featherlight” compared to my old, reliable aluminum Bogen legs and head, it is still not totally convenient for airline travel. Barely packable, it requires removing the center column and head (not a huge inconvenience – but nonetheless, inconvenient). And it isn’t carry-on friendly. For serious photo trips and for car travel, this is a non-issue (for reasons expressed below, this very nice leg/ballhead combo is seeking a new home, for a reasonable price. If you are interested you can e-mail me).
I often travel under circumstances where I travel light, but would like to have a tripod (e.g., for night, or twilight photography). So, a year or so back, I began a search for a very small, ultralight tripod for travel. I knew it would be a compromise, but any support would be better than hand-holding for certain applications. My search turned up the Sirui T-025X. This little Carbon Fiber model is diminutive. Its folded length, intact with ballhead, is 11.5 inches! And it is ultralight. It is also pricey, for a unit of its size (smaller and lighter than the popular and very impressive MeFoto Traveler Tripods; it is also more expensive). So it is a rather costly convenience, especially for occasional use. I have found it best to use it only partially extended, as the lower leg sections are very small. It is surprisingly rigid for its size. However, the upper leg diameter is a mere .87 inches and the lower leg sections are reminiscent of “chopsticks.” Also, the fairly long center post is in a fixed raised position. It works for its intended purpose – ultralight travel, but for the most part is not particularly useful when fully extended. I found it challenging when perched on a windy ledge trying to capture the Point Bonita Light during my recent trip to Northern California. I have found it useful to use it without the leg sections extended, propped up on a wall, ledge, etc. I will definitely keep and use it for those circumstances when it is the only tripod available. It is carry- on friendly, carry-around friendly, and unobtrusive.
The other surprise, to me, was that this unknown newcomer was a quality-made unit. I am impressed with the fit and finish and attention to detail paid by Sirui. Sometime later, I decided to buy a relatively inexpensive ballhead for a backup tripod. Impressed with Sirui, I took a chance and purchased a Sirui G-20 ball head, to mount on my Bogen aluminum legs, now kept as a spare at my second home. Again, I have been impressed with the quality of construction and it will now become my “main” ballhead.
After my changeover to the Sony gear, the Induro equipment began to look a bit like overkill. I began to feel a bit silly mounting my small Sony gear on a tripod and head designed for a much larger equipment setup. But the small Sirui just wasn’t quite up to “everyday” tripod usage. So, once again, I began to look for a compromise; as large as possible without it being gigantic. And, after some searching and research, I once again arrived at Sirui! I was looking for a slightly larger unit than the MeFoto, but smaller than the Induro. I decided on the Sirui 3204 Carbon Fiber 4-section tripod legs. When they arrived, I was surprised to see that the upper leg sections appeared to be the same diameter as the induro legs (larger diameter = stiffer). And, when extended, the tripod mounted camera reaches my eye-level, without an extended center column (again, insuring a more rigid, immovable base). But amazingly, when folded (with the center column and head intact) it fits my carry-on bag! The upper leg sections of this tripod are 1.26 inches in diameter (Induro does not publish this information). The folded length – with head attached — is still only 20.8 inches. Still easily the shortest folded tripod of its class, which makes it imminently travel friendly!
There are, of course, a lot of things that go into the design of a lightweight, rigid tripod set. One thing I notice about the Sirui is that the “spider” that connects the three legs, seems less massive than the one on the Induro legs. While that makes the legs lighter, it also is a point of rigidity. To quote my friend, Kerry, all photographic gear is a tradeoff.
All photographic gear involves a tradeoff
I used the legs recently in the field. Even with my largest, heaviest combination (the a7 with 70-200 Sony f4) attached, the legs seemed plenty rigid. I believe the tradeoff, for this gear, is worthwhile. While I did not try a DSLR and large lens rig on this setup, I believe it would hold up in most normal conditions.
This leg set is reasonably priced and at substantially lower than the competition, is a true bargain.