Researching any addition to your setup often opens up a rabbit hole of opinions and recommendations. And generally all input points in a sole direction – towards the high end choices.
I held off for years on getting a proper tripod. I made due with an awful no-name one with a video-head that I got included in some other purchase. Needless to say, it didn’t see much use.
But whenever I did some research to find a replacement every recommendation was saying the same – don’t skimp, get a big and solid tripod or you’ll end up with something you need to replace anyway.
Big and solid tripods are also heavy and unwieldy though, not to mention expensive. I really wasn’t keen on any of those aspects, so instead I procrastinated and continued to hold off.
20 second exposure
One day I was checking out something or other in one of the local camera stores when I passed by the tripod section. I wasn’t really looking to purchase one at the time, but browsed a bit anyway. There were certainly some very nice and solid options, tripods that could extend and become as tall as me, with smooth moving ball heads and clever locking systems. But I realized that I couldn’t ever see myself lugging these behemoths into the field, or pay the price asked for them for that matter.
So on a whim I decided to disregard every piece of advice that I had dug up online and just go with my gut feel. Something that proved a good strategy.
I figured that I was willing to compromise on stability and features to get a small and light tripod on a reasonable budget. I had been looking into something that I could use my Hasselblad on with capacity to spare*, but now I felt like I could forgo that to get something more compact to use with my smaller cameras. I was also keen on a ball head rather than a pan-head. Beyond that though I honestly didn’t care too much about the additional features as long as there wasn’t anything that stood out as too poorly designed or manufactured. I also wasn’t prepared to pay through the nose for it.
* Advice online often suggests getting something specced to support 2–3 times the weight of the camera you actually intend to use, to account for outside circumstances such as wind.
Still with just these few criteria most of the high end was eliminated, but also most of the low end. What I ended up choosing was a very middle-of-the-road tripod from Chinese manufacturer Benro.
There really isn’t much to say about the tripod that chose to buy. It’s not the lightest or most compact, it’s not the tallest or most fully featured, nor is it cheapest or the most exquisitely made.
I’ve honestly not bothered to dig up the model number for it because I’m pretty sure this specific model is discontinued. There are still super similar but updated models available however. It’s a compact mid range model. I paid a little over €100 for it at the time, but now the similar specced ones seem to go for slightly less.
Overall it’s unexciting, unspectacular and uninteresting. But also dependable, straight forward and practical. It’s best described as adequate, which was pretty much exactly what I had hoped for.
Compared to what I used to have it was a revelation. But it also didn’t feel like I was giving up much compared to the heavy duty ones I’d been eying (and trying; at work).
The tripod is well designed overall. Adjustment points have chunky locks that are quick to manipulate. There are even niceties such as a spirit level, compass and strap attachment point.
Made mostly of an aluminum alloy the tripod is rigid but still light. Maybe it’s not up to par with a good carbon fiber tripod, but way cheaper (at least it was at the time). It’s fairly compact and light but still becomes tall enough when extended. The ball head is nice to use and has fairly confident locking without being too big.
In use it’s easy to carry and quick to set up. The adjustment points are simple to use, without significant drift. The overall impression is pretty much total transparency with only one or two tiny nitpicks. It’s even proved stable enough to use with my Hasselblad without issue, in calm weather and windy conditions too (though I tend to avoid using full extensions when shooting it). I’ve had it for years by now and over that time it’s consistently over-delivered on what I’d expected from it.
The tripod is compact enought to be easy to bring, but still extends to a good height, even without using the full extentions shown here. One small niggle is that the center column isn’t removable making it hard to get very close to the ground.
It simply strikes an excellent balance between different factors. It ends up way more compelling to me than any of the options that came more highly recommended.
But aside from the simple advice of going for a mid range alternative when it comes to tripods (and maybe don’t overthinking the choice if you don’t have a proper one), it also illustrates a wider point I’d like to take the opportunity to make.
2 second exposure
Thinking back on all the different gear I’ve gone through, it’s often the midrange items that stand out.
Ages ago I felt that the midrange Nikon D70 D-SLR struck a better balance than either the higher end D200 I upgraded to or the lower end D50 I also had a chance to shoot.
Likewise I gelled much more with both the Panasonic GF1 and Sony NEX–7 than the Canon 5D Mk II that I owned at the same time.
More recently I’ve found plenty of midrange lenses I enjoy better than their high end counterparts as well as opting for midrange film scanners and being really happy about the choice.
I think it’s pretty simple actually.
With the low end you’re often giving up too much. Too many features cut, too many compromises made.
High end items on the other hand are often exceedingly specialized, overkill if you don’t have the special needs they’re made to tackle. And as they’re usually endowed with increases in both price, weight and size, compared to something more modestly specced it’s not a choice without trade offs.
In-between though, is a sweet spot. You generally get almost everything fundamental that the high end options offer, but without many significant compromises.
So the next time you’re looking for the best, maybe settle for adequate instead. Maybe it’ll end up a very positive surprise. Just like my boring tripod.
The square photos in this post were made using the Hasselblad 500C and scanned using the Epson V550 and the only other one using the Leica M4-P scanned using the Plustek 8200i. Photos of the tripod were shot using the Sony A7.