So one of the few things you would ever see at an Indianapolis 500 is a guy with a Tripod.  yet there I was this last year, carrying around a tripod so that I could shoot video of the Winner’s interview inside the media Center.  If i had a dollar for every time someone called me Sticks that day, I’d have collected enough money to have bought a $12 beer from the concession stand after waiting in a line of people in the sweltering 103 degree day at the Track.  Thing is that I don’t carry around a small tripod, and most full timers don’t either.  The problem is that they can get heavy.  Heavy is good and bad, as heavy means it’s stable and well built; but heavy also means HEAVY.  You have to carry these things after all.

(Photos Courtesy of Sirui and Benro websites, photochopped into one image by your truly)

Enter the Travel Tripod.  Companies such as Benro MeFoto and Sirui have started to market these agreeably smaller tripods to Amateurs and Professionals alike to help try and alleviate the difficulty of taking a tripod with you places.  In some ways these things are incredible honestly.  You just have to remember what you’re using here, and that it’s not a manfrotto unmovable tripod for all weather.  Here’s a quick cut low quality video of me giving a quick rundown of the two tripods before we continue…

SO let me start off by saying that right out of the gate on a personal front I feel as though the Benro MeFoto is the clear winner between the two.  This is totally based off of immediate impressions.  It’s made of Aluminum, and it’s very reasonably priced at $139.  The two are equally sturdy (or lack of sturdy depending on what you’re doing but more on that in a bit), and at 2.6lbs it’s less than 1 pound heavier than the Sirui Carbon Fiber one that’s $100 more. Yikes.  They end up being roughly the same height, they have very similar leg extension operation, and they both have ball heads included; the MeFoto’s comes with a worthless bubble level.  The Sirui Carbon Fiber Tripod can hold up to almost 13lbs as compared to the MeFoto’s roughly 9lbs though.  Honestly that doesn’t sound like a  lot, but lets put that into perspective.  A Nikon D4 with a Nikon 70-200VR2 seems like a reasonably large lens and camera combo for a tripod like this, but if you lower the legs about half way it’s more than sturdy enough to accommodate the pair.  The D4 weighs 41.6oz and the 70-200VR2 weighs 54.3 ounces.  With a little math wizardry (addition) that equals 95.9 ounces total, which comes out to be roughly 6lbs.   Now, do I think that putting a D4 with a 70-200 on one of these tripods is wise?  Again, lower the legs about half way, and you’re easily good to go.

(Nikon D4, 50ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2@165mm, 2.5 Seconds@F22.  HiTech Modular holder with 77mm Front end screw adapter with .3, .6, and .9 100mm ND Filters stacked on the end.  MeFoto Tripod set to about half height on top of a park bench)

At first I really wasn’t sure about the 70-200 on the travel tripod, but I decided to go for it and I was happy with the result.  I ended up putting the legs at about half length and rested the tripod on a park bench in order to get across the pond here to the waterfall in northern Indiana located outside of a Senior community (Seriously).  I had to shoot tight and add a little saturation since it really hasn’t’ rained here in about 60 days and we’re in the midst of a watering ban.  The grass surrounding this area was a little really brown.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 50ISO, Canon EF 16-35F2.8@16mm.  15Seconds at F14.  Camera was set to timer mode with a 2 second timer, the elements in the room are illuminated by a Speedlight with a Rogue Grid and Snoot attached to the end popped repeatedly inside of that 15 second window to highlight different areas in the photo.  Camera supported by a Benro MeFoto Aluminum Travel Tripod fully extended to its maximum height.)

The shot above was made in a Chiropractors office, and I knew that I needed a low ISO shot for Direct mail (glossy printing).  The MeFoto was a perfect choice because it was small enough for me to get in and out with, while also leaving enough room for me to get into the small room an light with my Speedlight.  Indoors, this tripod was flawless, but at this point I began to realize that in a small breeze, there might be problems if the tripod was fully extended.  That being said, both tripods are actually surprisingly sturdy for what they are, which is where I go back to what I said earlier about how I prefer the MeFoto because it weighs more.  Yea it’s only 1lb more, but when you’re looking at two items less than 3lbs each, that’s almost a 44% advantage in weight going from the Sirui to the MeFoto.  That’s Huge when it comes to wanting your camera to be steady.  Does that mean I have no faith in either of these?  Absolutely not.  In fact, I shot fireworks over the 4th of July as an assignment using the Suiri and the D4, and the images are very sharp with longer 4-10 second exposures.  I wouldn’t have shot them without a remote release, but the point is that the images are as sharp as they would be on my $700 Manfrotto heavy duty tripod.

(Nikon D4, 250ISO, Nikon 28-70F2.8D@56mm.  10 seconds@F6.3.  Camera fired via SC-36 Remote release cable.  Camera mounted on top of a Siuri Carbon Fiber Travel tripod fully extended to its maximum height.)

Honestly most of the images that I shot with both tripods ended up being sharp, which as much as I’ve talked about sturdyness surprised me.  There were a few that weren’t, but you’ll have that with any tripod; especially if you’re doing something haphazardly, or in a hurry.  These tripods are just more prone to wobbly images.  Shannon was photographing the fireworks with me using the MeFoto while I played with the Sirui, and she was immediately put off slightly by how wobbly it was; requiring that her D7000 be set to the 2 second timer in order to snap photos of the fireworks. Using the self timer isn’t the end of the world, but it’s one more element of math you need to do while making pictures to the point where you could miss something waiting for the camera to fire.  She got some nice shots, that were indeed as sharp as they should have been for a camera on a tripod; but that was her first immediate impression.

(My setup for the fireworks about 45 minutes before they were scheduled to start.  The area was a lot less empty while they were going on, so getting there early was a MUST.  Shannon started out about 10′ to my left, but as the show got closer moved closer to me as the the fireworks crowd was growing larger than we expected.)

Honestly though, these are really solid deals for someone that travels a lot.  I probably wouldn’t take one of these specifically to shoot a gig on, but I can tell you that taking one on an airplane, or tossing it into the back of my buddy Brad’s Mercedes would be pretty easy.  If it was the only tripod I had in the car while I was out shooting something I can tell you that either of these would preform admirably as long as you had a way to steady them; either with weights, or bungie cords to tie them down to something sturdy.  Knowing it can hold my D4, and almost any lens that I own also makes either one of  them a good choice. I wish they were both a little sturdier, but I’m aware of the shortfall and can add weight using the clip at the bottom like either of their larger brethren.

(The ball heads on these tripods make it possible to shoot vertical too!  Careful how much weight you put on it doing that though…)

So really what do I think?  Honestly if I did a lot of traveling, where I needed to cut pounds off of what I carried with me then these tripods are killer.  Would I set one in a stream someplace and shoot pictures?  Probably not because they would probably both float away.  When it comes to the ability to take sharp photos in a package that won’t wear you out by the end of the day; these are both winners.  Like I said a few times, I personally prefer the MeFoto because most of what I want to do I could do with it for almost $100 less than the Sirui.  Not to say that the Sirui isn’t great, but the slightly less weight coupled with a higher load capacity isn’t worth the extra money to me.  Especially since the largest camera combination I would even dare put on one of these can easily be held by the MeFoto with a few pounds to spare.  Either way, I feel like t hey are both worth the money.  If you’re in the Market for a travel tripod you honestly can’t beat either of these.  Make sure if you’re looking to buy one you get it at Roberts too.  Good people over there, willing to answer any other questions I might have created for you with this blog post too.  You can find the MeFoto HERE, and the Sirui HERE.  More Soon.