Gear Review: Manfrotto 'BeFree Advanced' Twist Tripod Kit

We're all looking for that 'perfect' tripod, you know the one that is so light we can carry it all day without noticing, so small it fits in/on our camera bag, yet so strong that it can resist a gale force wind and so versatile that it can shoot at ground level or 10 feet high - good, so I'm not alone! However, we all realise that it's just not possible, something will need to be compromised. For some people they choose to cope with the heavier weight which often adds stability, and for others they're willing to sacrifice a little rigidity in search of something much lighter.

This Manfrotto BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod is squarely aimed at the second group of people, perhaps even for those of you who are using new lightweight mirrorless cameras from Sony, Fuji or even Canon (M Series). 

Tech Specs:

  • Maximum height: 150cm
  • Maximum height (column down): 127cm
  • Minimum height: 40cm
  • Closed length: 40cm
  • Weight:1.49kg
  • Maximum payload: 8kg
  • Material: Aluminium
  • Top attachment: RC2
  • Legs: Twist (Although the snap-lock option is available)
  • Price: £144 (*As of July 2018 - WexPhotoVideo.com)

On Location:

I've had chance to take this kit (includes head and bag) out on two separate occasions; in Snowdonia at the back end of last year, and to the Dolomites this June. Why not check out the video below for a quick look from the Snowdonia trip.

TRIP 1 - SNOWDONIA

During the Snowdonia trip I was using a Canon 6D with 24-105mm f/4L and 70-200mm f/2.8L. The tripod was up to the job although I'm not sure how often I'd want to use it with the 70-200, and arguably I was stretching the capabilities of something that is really designed for lighter gear. What I can say is that when faced with a 5am hike up part of Snowdonia I was extremely glad of the lightweight design (1.5kg with head) which over the course of a long day is far more comfortable than something weighing 2kg or more. It might not sound like much but 2.25kg would be a 50% increase in weight from 1.5kg.

As someone of 6ft+ in height my initial concern was that to get a conventional DSLR up to my eye level I would have to extend the centre column up to full height. Conventional wisdom tells you never to raise the centre column, it does make the tripod a little less stable overall but unless you're in high winds or have moving water underneath your feet I don't find it to be much of an issue. Simply use your self timer or remote release cable/button and your mirror lock-up (if using a DSLR) and I'm pretty certain you won't have an issue.

Canon 6D + 24-105mm f/4L on BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod (with centre column extended)

Canon 6D + 24-105mm f/4L on BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod (with centre column extended)

I took the image above in the video (just when the rain is hammering me!), this was shot with the centre column extended so it could be closer to my eye level. I've mentioned my minor concerns above on this point yet it got the shot and again I was super grateful for the lightweight nature of the tripod whilst lugging all my gear upto the shooting location!

On this Snowdonia trip we also visited some waterfalls where it was a great opportunity to test the tripod on a long exposure. Using a slower shutter speed demands a tripod and it's these sorts of occassions that would otherwise be a missed opportunity if you were travelling without a tripod due to weight concerns.

Canon 6D + 70-200mm f/2.8L on BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod

Canon 6D + 70-200mm f/2.8L on BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod

Here I used the big heavy 70-200mm and it was fine to stay secured for a 15 second exposure on the tripod. There was no wobble and as such the image was nice and sharp. On a separate note this image was one that we discussed in our Kase Filter trial which you may want to read if you haven't already.

TRIP 2 - DOLOMITES

So you're probably picking up the theme here, when there are mountains and lots of walking I go to the BeFree! On this occasion I was also using a lighter weight Camera set-up; the Canon M5 + 18-150mm lens primarily. I've used this on/off for a few months now, often for when I'm really heading out to walk/hike and think about image making as a secondary affair, and/or if I know I've got a limitation on weight for travel purposes.

Although the weather can be pretty variable in the Dolomites I didn't find much wind on this trip and as such using the BeFree Advanced with the lightweight Canon M5 mirrorless camera was a real treat. Both set-ups are super light and when you're covering 15+ miles a day walking over a few thousand feet of elevation it becomes a major plus point. There were occasions where I had to extend the centre column again - this often happens on terrain with a gradient if you are looking back down for example. The tilting screen of the M5 does allow me to keep it lower but the stability never felt like an issue.

Canon EOS M5 + 18-150mm on BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod (with centre column extended)

Canon EOS M5 + 18-150mm on BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod (with centre column extended)

Here I was shooting at a fairly narrow aperture (f14) to get some front to back focus (don't worry I don't always stick to the rules I promise!) so although it was the middle of the day I wanted the tripod just to be sure I could get it nice and sharp throughout. 

The temperature was just under 30C degrees and after a fairly long walk UP to this location I was again very glad of the lightweight nature of the tripod - I know I'm banging on about that but it really is THE biggest plus point for me and if you're using a lightweight camera set-up it really is a great little tripod.

Tripod_Wide.jpg

This little chap fitted neatly into my suitcase without taking up much room at all. Also it's small enough to slip into a medium sized camera bag, I even had it hooked onto my lightweight side shoulder bag as I walked meaning I could have both hands free if necessary. 

Canon EOS M5 + 18-150mm lens on BeFree Advanced Tripod

Canon EOS M5 + 18-150mm lens on BeFree Advanced Tripod

SUMMARY

Let's get straight to the point...If you've got a big DSLR (Nikon D810, Canon 5D MKIV etc) with a wide variety of lenses, some over 200mm then this tripod is not for you. More to the point, it's not designed for you!! However, if you shoot with a lightweight mirrorless set-up, or indeed a DSLR with perhaps lenses up to 100mm and you want something super-lightweight that is actually very well put together (Italian made, not Chinese!) then this BeFree Advanced Aluminium Tripod might just be what you need. It's a bargain at under £150 and it comes with a little shoulder bag and a decent ball head that is more than capable of performing to a good standard. I can't emphasise how much better this will make your life if you're currently tired from heaving around a big heavy tripod. After all you're not going to be very productive or aesthetically creative if you're huffing and puffing from lugging the tripod around all day - I genuinely believe this!

Also, and this is something that's often overlooked - using a tripod is a great way to slow down your process and concentrate on fine tuning your compositions. Just taking the time to carefully check your composition and make those minor last moment adjustments of angle, border patrol, whatever it may be. It's true that these days our cameras have much better low-light capabilities so shooting at higher ISO's is not a major problem and it can be tempting, BUT you will find that if you can stick to low ISO's you will generally get a cleaner image (if that's the aesthetic you're aiming at) and having the tripod will allow you to get the ISO down and not worry about shutter speeds.

In addition to taking the time to compose carefully, I've heard some people saying recently not to worry about ND Grads now because the dynamic range is so wide that you can pull it all back later in post. I personally prefer to take the time to use filtration and balance the light and composition at the time of capture. I find that if you can set-up your gear on a tripod it makes adding filters and fine tuning so much easier rather than wrestling with putting them on hand-held.

All in all, this is an excellent little travel tripod that can cope with most things, if you're using it with the right gear. If you're looking for something a little bit stronger but still lightweight then I'd suggest checking out the Gitzo Traveler Series 1 Tripod Kit we reviewed previously.

Sam

>>> Thanks to WEX Photo Video and Manfrotto for lending me this tripod to try out. There is no commercial reward for us here at The Togcast on any of our gear reviews, we simply do it to help all of you get to know some gear a little better and provide some extra content. And yes, we have to send all the gear back! <<<

Gitzo Traveler Series 1 Tripod Kit Review

I am grateful to Manfrotto(Gitzo) & WEX for lending me a couple of Tripods back in November on our workshop visit to Snowdonia (check out the podcast here). In the next couple of blogs we'll be sharing the review of the Gitzo Traveler Series 1 Kit and the Manfrotto Befree Advanced Kit as well. Here's the video with an overview, and the full review of the Gitzo kit is below...

GITZO - Understanding the range

First up is the Gitzo Traveler Series 1 Carbon eXact Kit (currently for sale at £749 through WEX) rather snappily referred to as the GK1545T-82TQD...who'd ever forget that ;) Joking aside the range of Gitzo on offer can at first seem a little bewildering, and with prices at £600+ it's easy to just tune out and lump them all into one big 'expensive' bracket. So, here's a mini breakdown that is hopefully easy to digest:

  • They offer 3 main 'ranges' of Tripods across 'series' 0-5
  • The 3 ranges are: Traveler, Mountaineer, Systematic
  • The models increase in size and weight as you go up the series from 0 to 5 respectively
  • The Traveler is the lightest and packs down the smallest (if comparing like with like across ranges in same series). It is available in Series 0, 1 and 2
  • The Mountaineer range is a little heavier than the Traveler series, thus providing even more support whilst still being portable. They are available in Series 0, 1, 2 and 3
  • The Systematic is the largest and heaviest of the range and are available in Series 3, 4 and 5

This is just an overview, there are of course many spec differences so to get the full run down on the tripods check out www.manfrotto.co.uk/gitzo

THE SPEC - Traveler Series 1 Kit

This review is looking at a Traveler Series 1 kit, which includes the ball head. The spec and features include:

  • Traveler GT1545T Tripod
  • 82TQD Centre Ball Head
  • Max load: 10kg
  • Maximum height: 163.5cm
  • Minimum height: 140.5cm
  • 1.45kg weight
  • Carbon fibre eXact tubes
  • 180° leg folding system
  • Traveler G-locks
  • Independent pan and ball lock (no friction control)

What Gitzo say...

"The Gitzo GT1545T Series 1 Traveler carbon fiber tripod is an ultra-compact, 4-section support with an 180° leg folding system pioneered by Gitzo, which enables its legs to reverse-fold around the center column and the head, allowing it to fold down to 42.5 cm. It is recommended for use with 135mm lenses (200mm max.). With its leg angles spread and the included short center column inserted, the tripod goes lower for low-angle or macro shots.

The tripod’s legs are made of Carbon eXact tubing for superior strength and stiffness in a slimmer size and feature the “Traveler G-lock” - a travel-size version of Gitzo’s G-lock, specifically designed to ensure security in reduced size. Its specially-designed compact rubber feet can easily be replaced if necessary. It comes with its own shoulder strap for comfortable carrying."

IN ACTION - How we got on

Ok, now that's all the numbers and specs out of the way let's get to how it actually was in action.

First off I should set the scene, I was using this tripod during a long weekend trip to Snowdonia, we were doing a fair amount of walking across undulating terrain and in pretty inclement weather with rather a strong wind most of the time. The lightweight design (1.45kg) helped by the carbon fiber legs, was very much appreciated during the ascents. It's light enough to fit nicely on the back of your camera bag - many tripods suggest this but really I find once you get over 1.5kg or so it just feels like something constantly pulling you backwards and isn't overly practical.

There were no issues with the rain or sleet affecting the performance of the legs and ball-head, both of which are an absolute doddle to operate under any circumstances without clumsy fumbling, even with gloves on. This tripod really does feel like a class act, which it should for the money involved! It was a real pleasure to use, it's easy to say this but you know when you don't get on with a tripod because you just think "oh, sod it, I'll shoot handheld" whereas when you like the tripod you're much more inclined to use it which can help with compositions etc.

Looks quality...feels quality! The 82TQD ball head comes with the kit.

Looks quality...feels quality! The 82TQD ball head comes with the kit.

Only in one place did I feel like perhaps I could have wanted something a little more robust and that was atop the 'horns of Snowdon' which in part is quite exposed to the wind. That said, I was certainly glad of the lightweight nature of it on the walk up there!! So, you can't have your cake and eat it, you have to get your priorities in order and decide if it's really weight or stability that is most important to you. Or, if you want both (it's pretty much impossible by the way) then you have to be prepared to compromise every now and then in the wind, or perhaps by carrying a bit more weight.

I think it's important to think about when you use a tripod. For example, if you do a lot of long exposure, you may want something a little sturdier, that means you'll have to cope with something a bit heavier (maybe a Series 2). However, if you do walk a lot and love to explore and be out all day (or are trying to take this as hand luggage!) then this Traveler Series 1 could be ideal. On some days, when out exploring, sometimes I debate whether to carry a tripod at all - but there are some common uses which it's invaluable for: when using it to fine tune compositions, or bracketing for a wide dynamic range, doing a long exposure, or shooting with a long lens in low light. This is the kind of scenario that the Traveler Series 1 is ideal for. It's light enough to carry all day without it tiring you out but is sturdy enough when you need it.

I personally prefer quite a lightweight set-up, my usual day-to-day tripod is the Manfrotto 190 XPRO3 which I find is a nice balance of not being too heavy if out walking (1.6kg), but also feeling comfortable with a Canon 6D + 70-200 f2.8 L series or a Hasselblad 500 with various lenses. I also use a Manfrotto 055 for with a geared head for studio or product photography as it's heavier (2.5kg) and as such just stays assembled and ready to go for static shoots. That said, this Gitzo felt appreciably less weighty than my usual set-up which after 4-6 hours on the move really is a great help, the higher quality materials and ball head also made for a nice upgrade.

SUMMARY - Is it worth it??

There are plenty of lightweight options out there, so the Gitzo just being light is not enough to encourage you to part with £700+ for the kit. I also had a Manfrotto Befree for the weekend which was also very light for example and about 1/4 of the price so I've agonised over how to express this point and to really think about the value for money here. I think what it comes down to is quality; reliability, durability and usability. The Gitzo just simply feels high quality. Every smooth movement of the legs and the head just reassures you that it has been expertly engineered and could last for many years. Even with the 70-200 on it felt secure and the ball head can take really fine adjustments easily and when you lock it in, it stays locked in. The 82TQD ball head felt a significant increase in quality compared to my own Manfrotto 496RC2 which is of course cheaper but similarly light if you're on a budget.

One caveat, I would suggest that the Series 1 version of this tripod is excellent if you are really are needing to keep weight of your kit right down and are taking it on some substantial walks/hikes/treks/camps or flying etc. If you are never more than a few hundred feet from your car or even just walking over less demanding (and steep terrain) then the Series 2 version of this might give just a little more stability in higher winds due to the extra weight. Personally I'd give serious thought to looking at a Series 2 before investing for myself, but as I said earlier it's always a pay-off between weight vs stability...and don't believe someone who tells you otherwise!

To answer the question though, YES I think spending this sort of money on a Gitzo is worth it. That is if you shoot a lot, use a tripod a lot, and really want something to last a long time. This is a good example of getting what you pay for and I for one am 'sold' on the Gitzo brand - now it's just to pick the right one for me...

If anyone reading this wants to share their experiences of the Gitzo range do feel free to leave a comment below.