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Gear Review: Travel Tripods

Mindy’s Favorite Travel Tripod – Gear Review

 

When I am on a trip with Big Chill Adventures, it is typically with a full camera bag – I carry two camera bodies, several lenses, my laptop, an external flash, batteries and chargers and always a tripod. I have missed so many extraordinary landscape or low light shots in my life because I didn’t have a tripod with me that I will never again travel without one! That said, it has been challenging to find just the right tripod to take with me on trips: Will it fit in a smaller checked bag? How much does it weigh? Does it easily set up? Can you get down low and/or do shots on an angle? How much does it cost? Is it sturdy enough to hold my camera and a telephoto lens?

I have carried a large and heavy Manfrotto tripod for several years now, and I love that tripod. It has been one of my best friends. But it IS large and heavy and it has proven to be too cumbersome to take on frequent “pond-jumping” trips where I am trying to pack light. After trying several brands and styles, I believe I have found the right one to recommend to fellow travelers!

MeFOTO’s Globetrotter Classic is the largest in MeFOTO’s family of tripods and is designed to hold larger camera bodies. It’s a compact travel tripod with the legs extending in five sections. It folds down to an extremely packable minimum length of 16.1 inches and weighs 3.7 lbs. with a maximum load capacity of 26.5 lbs. MeFOTO states that it will hold up to a 70-200 f/4 lens steady, and it will, but of course that depends a lot on the weather and terrain conditions.

I was very happy with this tripod right from the get-go. It feels solid and well-made. I had not used MeFOTO products before, and the price point could indicate “cheap”. But this is a fabulous example of where cheap is not the same as inexpensive. It feels solid. I also discovered that MeFOTO products are made by Benro, that they are a MAC Group represented company, and that their products have a 5 year warranty. All great things to know!

Here are a few more specifics about the Globetrotter Classic:

Carbon Fiber vs Aluminum

The MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Classic is available in either carbon fiber or aluminum. I love the carbon fiber version because it weighs almost a pound less. The difference really comes down to weight and price. The carbon version weights 3.7 lbs., while the aluminum version weighs 4.6 lbs. You do pay more for the lighter carbon fiber version. Right now on the MeFOTO website (www.MeFOTO.com) there is an offer of $25 off an aluminum version, making it $199, or $50 off the carbon fiber version, making it $299.

Legs

The locking mechanism features twist locks with rubberized grips. While they aren’t as “fancy” as some of the more expensive competitors like Manfrotto or Gitzo, they do what they’re supposed to do pretty well. One leg has foam padding, which is really helpful when it’s cold. It seems that this type of locking mechanism does well at keeping dirt and dust out that might interfere with the lock, and, although I personally prefer the flip lock style better myself, the price and weight of the MeFOTO made that a moot point.

When folding the legs out, the legs move freely with an appropriate amount of resistance. The locking mechanism at the top of the legs is different than I have seen before on a tripod. Rather than a spring-loaded lock when the leg angle gets to the locking point, you have to manually push the lock in. To unlock, you pull it out again. It seems to work well, although it is probably a good precaution to check if it is actually locked.

The legs have two options for an angle to lock the legs at. One is a pretty standard angle of about 30 degrees. The other is a much larger angle that creates a much wider stance. If you’re shooting low to the ground, it’s a great option for adding extra stability due to the broader base. If it’s important that you get even lower to the ground you can buy a separate short column as an accessory that allows you replace the standard center column that brings the minimum operating height down to 13 inches off the ground – great for those wildflower shots!

The feet screw out to extend up to an extra half-inch or come out completely if you want to replace the standard rubber feet with something else like ice spikes. There is also a center-column hook that you can use to hang weights or bags to add some stability in windy conditions. (Think Iceland!) Like many of the latest generation of travel tripods, this one folds back on itself.

Head

The tripod package comes with the MeFOTO Q2 ballhead, which uses an Arca-Swiss style quick release plate, which is included. If you desire, you can purchase Air Quick Release Plates that are color coded to match your tripod. The head also has a built-in bubble level, although if you are using the bubble level, you’ll need to align it before you slide the camera in because the camera will block the level when it’s on the head. The locking mechanisms have standard rotary dials with rubberized grips. There are three dials–one for lateral rotation and two for locking the ball. The lateral rotation is smooth and locks tight. The ballhead itself may not be the smoothest ever, but it works well enough and locks tight. (Again, price point and weight!)

Monopod Feature

A really handy feature is that this tripod can transform into a monopod without needing tools. One of the legs has foam cushioning. That leg unscrews from the main hinges. You then unscrew the weight hook from the center column, and the center column will slide out. You then screw the leg directly into the center column to create a monopod!

Carrying Case

It comes with a nice carrying case with a sling style strap. The tripod fits snug as a bug and it is easy to carry. There are no pockets, and you can’t really fit anything else substantial in there with it, but that is what my camera bag is for…

What Else?

One of my favorite things about these tripods is that they come in colors! The colors apply to the hinges, the head, and aluminum rings of the locking mechanisms. Is it over the top? Maybe, but in addition to making me smile, there is also the very practical fact that your tripod is probably going to stand out – which is good if you are traveling with a group of photographers or if you have multiple tripods set up differently. (Photo from MeFOTO website)

I also discovered that this company is great when the unexpected happens: I borrowed this tripod from one of my friends when I was “testing” it. At the end of the trip I was folding up the legs in the dark and the bottom piece of the leg came unattached. Turns out that the bushings fell out. I came home and called MeFOTO, fully expecting to have to pay out a lot of money. They didn’t even ask me about where (or if!) I had purchase the tripod – they just wanted the model number and an address and there were new bushings (and very clear directions) at my door in a matter of 2 days. How wonderful is that!

And, if you are a traveler who doesn’t have a camera and lenses as big as can be MeFOTO has two smaller versions – the Road Trip Classic and the Backpacker Classic!