Photography and gadgets are inseparable. They must have co-evolved. I mean, there are lots of kitchen gadgets, gardening gadgets, any number of musical gadgets, MP3 gadgets, i-gadgets, blah, blah, blah, but photography is the gadget magnet par excellence. And I know why… because we are geeks and geeks love gadgets. But when the kind folks at Wex Photographic sent me the Optera tripod, I opened the box, said “Oh no!” and dropped it on the floor. “Oh God,” I thought, “not another bloody mini-wobbly-shaky-fallover-and damage your camera-okay for a compact tripod”. You see, I’d bought one like this when I first started taking photos back in the eighties. It was meant to be a shoulder/rifle grip as well as adapting into a mini-tripod that could make tea and speak Japanese. But it did nothing it said on the tin, it was totally useless. I put my precious Canon A-1 on it and it fell over. I was scarred and have always avoided similar products since. I’ve always used bean bags or rested on my camera bag instead. I’ve sneered at Gorillapods – I’ve never tried one, they may be brilliant but I’d been turned by my experience and now I’m thinking “help” because I’m remembering what my mum always said when I piped up to comment on the musical integrity of Andy Williams and Perry Como… “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Uh-oh.
"Lovely to look at, but would it work? It could be a bit like having Carmen Electra as a girlfriend."
I opened the box and took out the squidgy three legged bendy thing, instantly noting that it is exceptionally well-made, well engineered and very well finished. The Optera 460 Tripod from Trek-Tech is neat with no loose ends or dodgy design, and has been made from top quality materials. It looks as if whoever put it together worked very hard and as if it has been manufactured by perfectionists, with absolutely no signs of ‘cheapery’ or cost cutting. It has the same feel as a piece of Alessi kitchen equipment. I was impressed by this, but when I put it on my office desk I still had a sceptical frown on my face. Lovely to look at, but would it work? It could be a bit like having Carmen Electra as a girlfriend.
So grudgingly I started fiddling and figured out how the Optera 460 functioned. I got one of the two the mounting plates out, looked at the handbook, thought “Ooh, I must save this and read it later,” and threw it straight into my recycling bin, as readers of my other reviews will know I do with all manuals. That’s what we all do isn’t it? Impatient camera geeks want gadgets that need no explanation; we want easy to teach yourself toys to do our tricks.
So then I got out my camera, put a zoom on it, clicked it to the Optera 460, spread its legs and dumped it back on the table, cringing as I waited for the crash. But it didn’t fall over! In fact it seemed to hold the camera pretty well, and after an easy squeeze and a sharp shove, it was even level. Surprise number two and things were looking up for the reputation of mini-pods.
Next I took it out to the hall window sill and adjusted its rubber shod ‘neoprene-y’ legs to point the 70-200mm lens into the garden. Being flexible it accomplished this in seconds and was sat on a platform that no rigid tripod could have coped with without a massive amount of swearing.
So, so far the Trek-Tech Optera 460 Tripod is extremely well made, easy to interpret with a minimal amount of intuition, has a clever and very powerful magnetic method of connecting the camera to the tripod, is capable of supporting a body and telephoto zoom and seems instantly adaptable. It can go boldly where other tripods couldn’t. Great, just one thing though... Is it steady?
Well, with a heavy professional camera on top and without the supporting cord which braces the legs it isn’t. In fact it simply collapses, so it is essential to use it properly. Then it takes a bit of adjustment to set the lens on the subject and there is quite a bit of what I call ‘down-drop’, the lowering due to the weight of the camera after you’ve locked off any tripod. This always makes me curse a lot, usually to myself or at the tripod. But in this instance it isn’t too bad, especially if the legs are not on a smooth substrate like my windowsill. On top of the brick wall outside the Optera 460 was much better and with a compact it was fine. I think that for this gadget to work best when it comes to settling it, we’re looking at the lighter DSLR’s to be put on top.
"the Trek-Tech Optera 460 is beautifully made, ingeniously designed, novel, light and perfect for lighter DSLRs"
Now, even when the Trek-Tech Optera 460 is fixed it is still jiggly. It wobbles slightly, which it is bound to as it’s basically bendy, so if you are hand holding slow exposures it will probably only slightly increase your chances of getting a ‘sharpie’. However, I’m not put off by this because I have to ask why you would be hand holding slow-exposures anyway? Why not do it properly and use a cable release? Although the Optera 460 Tripod will probably never be as solid as a metal or rigid tripod, it may actually be that it’s a better bet because it will go where the former cannot. For instance, it took literally seconds to set it on the dashboard of my car with a compact to take a self-portrait of me driving. Incidentally, I didn’t take the picture because I don’t actually want a picture of me driving, or doing anything for that matter, but this tripod is pretty ‘go-anywhere’ and without fuss too.
For me, the ultimate million dollar question is: “Is this a serious alternative to a bean bag?” Well, it won’t go soggy in the rain and it’s very light, which is good for my ever-straining back and when it comes to the arguments at airport check-ins (N.B. I don’t fly with a bag full of beans, I have to find beans where ever I end up, which occasionally is a nuisance). And it will wrap around things too, and I reckon, that with a bit of time and use to fully exercise its potential, the Optera 460 Tripod will find its niche to provide a capable and unique service. I think that it would be very good for use in public bird hides, on those very photo-unfriendly shelves beneath the windows where its always a mess trying to get a conventional tripod to sit between the bench and the window, and where swearing is forbidden on account of other more polite visitors.
To conclude, the Trek-Tech Optera 460 Tripod is beautifully made, ingeniously designed, novel, light and perfect for compacts and lighter DSLRs, where it will be even better with remote/cable releases. It really scores on its rapid ability to provide a perch in places where normal tripods wouldn’t go. If I was a dragon in its den... I’d be... in.
10/10 build quality
6/10 Does what it says on the can