A personal favourite
Before I begin it is only fair that I declare my personal interest here. I love Manfrotto products. I’ve just rummaged about in the cupboard and feel compelled to point out that I have one very old and tatty Benbo tripod, but no less than five sets of Manfrotto legs, a monopod and a plastic tub neatly filled with spare heads, base plates and a selection of gizmos used for attaching cameras in otherwise impossible places all made by one of my favourite Italian companies. Aside then from being completely anal, the obvious question is why? And the equally simply answer is quality. Each and every little component is manufactured perfectly, from the best materials and is engineered to a superb standard. Thus each tool becomes an object of beauty, perhaps not as sexy as a TAG watch or a Mont Blanc fountain pen, but every bit as technically wonderful and even more pertinently… just as reliable. If in the sixties they had decided to take a tripod to the moon, to send it on a ‘no-fail’ mission, then it would have been a Manfrotto. Mine have never failed me; rain, shine, ice, dust and disaster have come and gone, and the trusty tripods have always stood firm. God Bless them and all who rest on them!
"If they had decided to take a tripod to the moon on a ‘no-fail’ mission, it would have been a Manfrotto."
We all need a little support, in fact some of us need a LOT of support most of the time, and because all is lost without it, getting it right is essential. You can spend, spend, spend and perhaps ensure that you are equipped with the world’s finest cameras and lenses, but if you can’t get them steady then your pictures will be no better than disposable happy-snappy rubbish. And I know we’ve got image stabilisation this, vibration reduction that and anti wobble the other, but if you need to use long lenses or slow shutter speeds then tripods or some other means holding your camera steady are totally necessary. I see loads of people out and about shooting without tripods etc and I think ‘lazy’, ‘compromised’ and ‘restricted’. No tripod means ultimately that they don’t have as much choice in their picture making toolkit because sometimes no slow speeds equals no exposure or no depth of field, which in turn equals no picture. I know someone who bought a 500mm F4 lens for thousands of pounds and doesn’t even own a tripod of any kind. He says he “can’t be bothered to carry one around”. I say “if you don’t carry it, you don’t get the picture”.
Does size matter?
This brings us to another fundamental bone of tripod contention; does size, and therefore weight, matter? Well, I’m with the old school here, with those who accept that improved technology and innovation have helped address the stability versus size issue, but that such developments can only go so far. For all the carbon fibre, plastic, titanium or whatever, and for all the computer aided design, the size and weight of what you need to keep steady will determine the size and weight of the tripod you need to do so. And sadly for aching backs, bigger demands bigger. A good, heavy, well-engineered, solid lump of a head, locked on top of a strong, sturdy spread of legs is what it takes to do the job. So sorry, get fit or get some help.
But the Manfrotto 785B Modo Maxi is not a ‘lump’, nor is it heavy or its legs particularly sturdy. In fact it weighs virtually nothing, about a kilogram. But this is fine as it has been designed to cater for point and shoot compacts, ‘handycams’ and SLR / lens combinations. Not digital SLRs with big fat telephotos on them. It is meant to support up to 1kg in weight. I think that this is a great idea because it will hopefully encourage ‘amateur’ but aspiring videographers to carry and use a tripod and stop us all feeling nauseous as we watch their otherwise rollercoaster, rambling shots. And given that 10 mega pixel plus, great quality compacts are commonplace these days, it will greatly increase the ability of those wishing to better exercise the scope of these type of cameras. So the idea and concept is sound. What about the actual article?
"it will hopefully encourage aspiring videographers to use a tripod and stop us all feeling nauseous as we watch their rollercoaster shots"
Well, the Manfrotto 785B Modo Maxi is not on the robust end of the Manfrotto scale of products, no doubt partly because keeping the weight down was a prime concern for the designers of this tripod. But it is a little odd juggling a product from this company that you wouldn’t really want to drop hard. That said, its not ‘tinny’ as we used to say in the playground, its not in anyway cheaply finished, tatty or nasty. It has still got that mark of Manfrotto quality that I’m used to. And it has their innovative edge too.
Firstly the hybrid ball and socket head has a push/pull button to lock/release on its joystick handle, it’s a one handed job, no locking knobs, very handy for videoing when your other hand is likely to be on the zoom. It locks pretty well, you can force it to move, but only by using much more effort than would equate to the weight of your camera so that’s fine. Impressively, the Manfrotto 785B Modo Maxi displays no ‘drop’ - after you’ve locked it the head doesn’t sag and lower the point of view. The head also has two settings that can be selected using a button on its side. The ‘Camera’ setting allows full spherical 360 degrees movement and will lock wherever you want. Switch to the ‘Video’ mode and it will pan horizontally (presuming you’ve used the bubble on the head to level it) and tilt vertically, thus preventing wavering weird angled pans and skewy tilts. The base plate is small and has a locking lug for video cameras which can easily be pushed out for attaching to compacts and the locking/unlocking button is nicely sprung and placed for your thumb on the side of the joystick. So all in all the head is a clever little gadget. Note though that it is not removable, this kit is a head and legs unit.
"all in all the head is a clever little gadget"
The legs themselves are in five short sections which allows it to fold up to a height of just 43cms, meaning that it will fit into most bags; a clever consideration as you are far more likely to want to use it if you can slip it in with the rest of your kit, than if you have to carry it as an extra. To fully extend all legs, you are therefore fiddling with no less than twelve catches, but the leg locking is typical of the brand; neat and firm. Another nice Manfrotto-ism is the bevel on top of the pillar which enables you to select each of three ‘degrees of spread’. You can go for standard, wide or flat, the latter allowing you to get the head down to ground level plus its height. To facilitate this you need to unscrew and remove the centre column, which takes just a few seconds.
There is one thing I didn’t like though however… the feet. They are rubber, but not very rubbery and cut flat to sit on a floor. They are not sticky enough and so small that they will slice into any soft substrate, your lawn, mud… God help them on a sandy beach! It needs bigger, grippier, ball-shaped feet, it needs trainers and it’s got stilettos!
Manfrotto 785B Modo Maxi – My conclusions
So to conclude; it’s eminently useable within its range, its inventive, cleverly designed, super-lightweight, easy to handle, it looks good, is very well made and doesn’t let the brand down at all. But I wouldn’t smash it about and I would buy it some new shoes. For me it’s a 9.8-9.9/10, only slipping from a perfect ten on account of the footwear.
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