Background and History
Although my 'speciality' is studio lighting, I get asked all sorts of question about photography and photographic equipment. A question that keeps coming up is what type of tripod and head do I use, or would recommend. Tripods are another one of those important accessories that seem to confuse photographers by virtue of the bewildering choice available.
It seems that because there are so many different makes and models on the market, some of you are having real problems deciding which one to buy. When I mentioned this to my colleagues at Wex Photographic they asked me to cast an eye over the Manfrotto range and make some recommendations. I hope to do the same with other makes later on.
The Italian company Manfrotto was founded in the early 70's by Lino Manfrotto, who started life as an industrial and advertising photographer. He realised that the design of tripods had stood still compared with other photographic products and begun designing and developing his own tripod range. During the late 70's adding various studio products including the Superboom the Autopole system for backgrounds and the Superclamp, each one an 'industry' standard and still widely used today.
Manfrotto tripods and heads are renowned for their quality and reliability and the range has expanded hugely over the years to incorporate products for stills, digital, video, and studio plus loads of other small accessories. In fact the range is enormous and it does take a little time to work out where to start. However Manfrotto do produce a simple 3 step guide which really does help to find your way around the vast product range.
As most of my questions relate to choosing tripods and heads for digital cameras, long lenses or scopes that's where I'll start.
In terms of reviewing some different models, I thought I would start with a range I know well and looked at the MN055's. In fact all the models in the '055' range are a good starting point for people with DSLR's, long lens and scope users. I've chosen two versions to look and I'll start with one of my favourites the MN055PROB.
The Manfrotto MN055PROB
This model has been around for years and still remains a firm favourite. Well made and very rigid, it's available in chrome or black. It features a spirit level, a movable centre column from the vertical to the horizontal and 3 section clip release legs with a maximum height of 176cm. The legs also have individual adjustments from the horizontal to a floor standing position, great for rough ground. The upper part of the legs have a rubberised surface, ideal for easy leg adjustment. It's a very solid tripod that will be ideal for long lens or scope users, in fact you can put a medium format camera on this without any problem. When you consider the chrome version only costs around £100.00 and the black version I looked at around £110, both these models are really good value for money and will last for years.Picture of the MN055PROB black here.
The Manfrotto MN055MF4
The next model I looked at, still in the 055 range was the MN055MF4 a 'Magfibre' version of the PROB. Made from a mix of carbon fibre and magnesium instead of chrome, it's lighter than the PROB and built to work in extreme outdoor conditions. This model has many of the same features as the PROB, the built in spirit level, each leg has a 3 position adjustment from horizontal to floor standing. The centre column can be vertical or horizontal, ideal for copy work. It has a built in solid rubber grip carrying handle and this model has 4 section legs with a maximum height of 130cm, each have the same positive lock mechanism. This is a serious tripod, the whole thing is well made and feels very solid despite being lighter than the PROB, just the sort of quality that you would expect from Manfrotto. This model is around £220.00. A three section version is available the MN055MF3 at around £200.00 Either model will be a good investment so put one of them on your Christmas list now!!
The Manfrotto MN048B (Neotec)
Moving away from the 055 range the next model that interested me was the MN458B, featuring 'Neotec' technology. This tripod has no levers or knobs that adjust the legs and so I was curious to see how it worked. The 3 section legs have a maximum height of 156cm and work by literally pulling them into position and they just lock. To close the legs, all you need to do is depress a lever at the top of each leg and they slide back into each other, 'Neotec' is a very neat system. Like the 055's this model features a spirit level, the same centre column either positioned vertical or horizontal, 4 individual leg settings from the horizontal to a floor standing position and the same grip handle as the 055MF4. I liked this tripod a lot, it had a good feel to it and you can easily make adjustments with each leg while keeping an eye on the sprit level. Again it would be ideal for long lens or scope users. Priced at around £220.00 it represents good value in terms of speed and ease of use.
So they are my choices for 'legs' but what about heads? I think choosing the right tripod head is more difficult than choosing legs! It really is such a personal choice as to what feels the most comfortable to use. Again Manfrotto have an excellent range to choose from and I've picked three to look at.
MN808RC4 Standard 3 Way Head
This first head is a classic 3 way pan, tilt and levelling head. The 808 model is very well designed and built and features 3 handles, each one, with chunky rubberised grips that feel just right. The other nice thing about this head, is the size of the camera plate, I must admit, I don't like using heads with small fiddly plates! Anyway this plate is a generous 6x8cm and with Manfrotto's quick release system is easy to use and makes a very positive 'click' when located. Just under the plate are three spirit levels, especially useful for studio work. This head also has a 'counter balance' effect mechanism on both axis tilt and level and can be turned on or off via two small knobs. I found this quite useful and left it on all the time I was using it, a real benefit for long lens and scope users. If you are looking for a no nonsense, well built 3 way below a £100.00 then look no further. At around £90.00 this is very good value for money and well worth a try.
MN410 Junior Geared Head
The next head I've chosen is another '3 way' model, the MN410. This is a compact neat head that doesn't have traditional long handles, but features three short control knobs, each with quick release locking. Adjustments can be made instantly with the turn of a sprung 'inner' screw, or slowly via each knob, the mechanism feels smooth and positive, I really liked it. The head also has a single spirit level. The 410 also feature's that nice big camera plate like the 808, at 6x8cm it really is good size and simple to use. All in all, this head is 'chunky' has a really good feel to it. The way its geared means that any adjustment you make feels as smooth as silk, a joy to use. At around £140.00 it may not be the cheapest 3 way, but because of its speed and ease of use, it will certainly be a good investment, you really will enjoy using it.
MN322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Action Ball (Joystick)
Unlike the last two conventional heads, the 'Joystick' is very different. It's basically a ball and socket that you can adjust by squeezing a long lever built into the handle. Its quick to use as it only has one simple adjustment for all movements. It comes with a slightly smaller quick release camera plate measuring 5x3.5cm and has a spirit level built in. Because of the way it operates, a squeezing mechanism, the friction of the lever can be adjusted to suit you, a good idea as everyone will have a different strength 'squeeze'! This is a head for someone who may not need the very fine pinpoint adjustment that you can get with the '3 ways'.At around £90.00 its not a bad price, again its beautifully made, chunky and will last.
My last choice is a different combination altogether, a Manfrotto monopod and head. Over the years I've used monopods more and more, especially as the weight of cameras and lenses have reduced. I find them easy and quick to use and they're great for shooting people and kids as you can move around studio freely. Another reason I like them, is that they take up much less studio space as they have such a small 'footprint'.For you scope users, it might be a option worth considering due to the weight advantage over tripods. From the huge range that Manfrotto make I've chosen the MN679B pod and MN234RC head, a pretty good combination.
MN679B Monopod & MN234RC Quick Release Head
There's not a great deal one can say about a monopod, accept they are two legs short of a tripod, but joking apart this combination work really well together. The 679 pod is well built, light and has three leg sections, each with quick release locks. For portability it also has a nice carrying strap attached to a big clip at the top of the pod. The small 234 head is simple featuring a quick release camera plate and swivel movement.
The MN679B is about £32.00 and the MN234RC head is about £25.00. Not bad considering the portability, quality and ease of use for cameras or scopes.
As I said at the beginning Manfrotto's range of tripods, monopods and heads is huge. The few models that I've looked at will be fine for DSLR's, long lenses and scope users. If you are just working with a basic camera and want something a little smaller, lighter and less expensive look at the Manfrotto's 190 range of tripods. They range in price from around £65.00 up to £100.00, and are all made to the same high quality as the 055's. As for heads, well its up to you, the 3 way MN056 Junior head is a bargain at £25.00 and there are plenty of other options to look at across a wide price range. To sum up, when you buy a Manfrotto tripod and head you know that you will be getting quality, reliability and a product that will last for years and no pun intended, it won't let you down!
If you want all the specifications on the models mentioned, just have a look on the web site and you will find all the details there. If you have any questions about any of the models that I've mentioned, why not drop me an email.
Steve AvesBack to top