Best Value Tripods August 2019 Update

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon8 Comments

New Tripod Legs and Ball Head From Colorado Tripod

Mark and Jeff did an episode back in February called Best Value Tripods 2019.  We aren’t going to rehash everything in that episode but we had to do a follow up on it because we have both had some time now with the tripod legs and ball head from the new manufacturer called Colorado Tripod.

Their kickstarter campaign is completed for all but the highest end tripod legs and the tripod legs and ball heads are now available to the public for order.  That means it is time to talk about their products and see how they compare with some of the best value options we have talked about six months ago.

What Are “Value” Tripods?

Just like everything else in photography, you can spend as little or as much as you want on a tripod.  We went through the different attributes of tripods and what makes a good “value” choice with those attributes in the article and podcast six months ago, so check that out for more detail.  To briefly summarize here, when we say “value” we are talking about:

  1. Making as small an investment as possible
  2. Getting a tripod that will be serviceable for all forms of still photography (video photography is different) and last several years.

It is also worth reiterating here, just like we said 6 months ago, that the tripods that are under $50 are not worth spending money on.  If you don’t have more than $50 to spend on a tripod, save for a bit longer so that you can get into something like the K&F Concept 62” DSLR Tripod (TM2324) for about $80.  At that price there are some compromises, durability being one of the largest, but it is a very useful all-in-one (legs and ball head combination) option.

If you are ready to invest a little more into a tripod that has almost no compromises but won’t cost you thousands, you are most likely going to be the legs and ball head separately and are looking at about $400 to $600.  Yes, that is a big jump from $80 to $400, but we are covering tripods here that compare well to products that are far more expensive in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. That is what we mean by “best value” tripods.

Centennial Tripod 2 Series Legs From Colorado Tripod

Let’s start off this best value tripod update discussion with tripod legs.  The new option that wasn’t available or finalized as far as specifications go six months ago was the Centennial Tripod 2 series legs:

  • Material: 10x Carbon fiber
  • Max height: 50” without center column, 62” max height with center column
  • Minimum height: 3.3”
  • Collapsed length: 20.5”
  • Weight: 2.9lb without center column, 3.3lb with
  • Segment lock type: Twist lock
  • Retail price: $299

If those specifications don’t mean anything to you, hang in there because we are going to help with that.  Part of what will help is seeing the same specifications on a couple of other “best value” tripod leg options.  One of those is the CP30-L4 II legs from FLM which compete very closely on specifications:

  • Material: 10x Carbon fiber
  • Max height: 68”
  • Minimum height: 3.74”
  • Collapsed length: 23.22”
  • Weight: 3.3lbs
  • Segment lock type: Twist lock
  • Retail price: $445 though the introductory price of $379 is still available as of this recording/article

Another competitor is the Benro TAD27C Adventure legs which compete very closely on price:

  • Material: 8x Carbon fiber
  • Max height: 63.8”
  • Minimum height: 15.16”
  • Collapsed length: 24.2”
  • Weight: 3.04lb
  • Segment lock type: Flip lock
  • Retail price: $256

Now to make a little sense out of the specifications and what we think you should take away from the information.

Material

Carbon fiber is a material that manufacturers started using several years ago in order to make very strong, sturdy, and stable tripod legs without adding a lot of weight.  Aluminum was used before that, and still is today in less expensive tripods, but can’t bear as much weight and is more prone to having vibration impact your camera.

10x vs. 8x refers to how many layers of carbon fiber were used to create the tripod legs.  8x is 8 layers, 10x is 10 layers. The more layers the more weight the tripod legs can hold.  The difference between 8x and 10x is probably not something to make a decision on, not a distinguishing factor unless you have an extremely heavy camera and lens kit you are going to be mounting to the tripod.

All three of the tripod legs we have here are made of carbon fiber and as we just said, the difference between 10x and 8x isn’t enough to really make your decision for you.  If all things are equal (including cost) then 10x is better than 8x. No winner between the three legs for this specification.

Maximum Height

Pretty obvious that these height numbers are how tall and how small the tripod legs can go.  When you first think about maximum height most photographers jump to the conclusion that they don’t need tripod legs that go any higher than their own height.  While this is something worth considering, you likely want tripod legs to go higher than your own height.  

Tripod legs don’t just expand slightly out from the center.  Good tripod legs can be extended out at least three different distances from the center so that you have more options to use your surroundings to stabilize your camera.  The more height the legs have, the more options you have to find rocks or other natural things to use for stabilizing your camera. It is helpful to get legs with as high a maximum height as possible – especially if that can be done without a center column.

The Benro and Colorado Tripod legs here both utilize a center column to get their maximum heights.  Even with the center column the FLM legs go a full six inches taller than the Benro legs and 18 inches taller (for the purposes of finding stability in an uneven natural environment) than the Colorado Tripod legs.  Yes, we think that is meaningful. Is it worth the $70-$120 more than what you would pay for the other two options? Your budget and how often you are in a situation where you need the legs to really spread out will have to tell you that.  This is a win for the FLM legs.

Minimum Height

This one is a little more intuitive to most photographers.  Landscape photographers in particular are always encouraged to find unique and interesting compositions as a way to make their images different in a very crowded market.  One of the things you can use to get a different perspective is shooting a landscape from a very low angle, putting your camera as close to the ground as possible.

There is an advantage to having tripod legs that go both tall and small.  This is one of the features you usually don’t get with really inexpensive tripod legs because they have a center column that is required to raise the ball head higher than the legs will go.  With many tripod legs the center columns can’t be removed, making the minimum height about a foot off the ground.  

A non-removeable center column is why the Benro legs have such a poor minimum height of 15.16 inches.  The FLM legs are second best with a very good 3.74 inches for a miminum height. The legs from Colorado Tripod win on this specification.

Collapsed Length

This is how long the tripod is when all of the leg segments are fully collapsed.  An important metric for good tripod legs for transporting them – especially when you are hiking or taking them on an airplane.  The Benro legs are the longest and worst in this category. The FLM legs are very respectable second place. The legs from Colorado Tripod win on this specification.

Weight

Another big factor to consider as you are having to carry the legs with you as you travel and a pretty obvious specification.  There is virtually no difference between our three tripods here. It is a tie for this specification.

Segment Lock

There are two different types of locks used with these tripod logs to prevent the leg segments from collapsing and holding your camera.  The Benro legs used a flip lock and the other two use a twist lock.

Some photographers prefer the flip lock seeing it an easier and faster motion to open and close them over the twist locks.  That is more a matter of personal preference but my experience is that there really isn’t a speed advantage of flip lock over twist lock.

There is an advantage twist lock has over flip lock.  It has to do with cleaning the tripod. For many tripod legs (especially very inexpensive legs) flip locks mean the leg segments can’t be separated and cleaned well.  There are some flip locks that can be loosened through the use of a tool, making it possible to clean the leg segments well but slowing down the process significantly.  With twist locks you can twist them enough to completely loosen the segments from each other and easily clean them without any tools.

The Benro legs lose here.  The FLM and Colorado Tripod legs tie for winning here.

Retail Price

No explanation necessary for this specification.  Harder to declare a winner here though as you have to evaluate all of the other specifications and how important they are to you.  To us there is a big benefit to the Colorado Tripod legs over the Benro to justify the extra $50 with the minimum height. From there, it is a little harder to justify the $70 dollars more to get to the FLM legs but the maximum height may just be the justification you need.

If you are interested in a video comparison of the FLM legs to some really inexpensive aluminum flip logs legs from Induro (that are no longer made) check out this YouTube video on Jeff’s Photo Taco Podcast channel.

Aluminum Highline Ball Head From Colorado Tripod

Now let’s talk about the Highline Ball Head from Colorado Tripod.  Once again we will go over the specs and compare them to two others:

  • Load capacity: 31kg (70lb)
  • Weight: 125g (0.28lb)
  • Ball diameter: 48mm
  • Quick Release: Arca-Swiss
  • Bubble levels: None
  • Adjustments: Tension knob, pan knob, drag knob
  • Special features: Patent-pending drop window that allows some motion using camera in portrait orientation
  • Retail price: $129

FLM CB-48:

  • Load capacity: 45kg (99lbs)
  • Weight: 523g (1.1lb)
  • Ball diameter: 48mm
  • Quick Release: Arca-Swiss
  • Adjustments: Pan lock, tension knob, tilt lock
  • Special features: Tilt lock, friction ring
  • Retail price: $416

Benro B2:

  • Load capacity: 35lbs
  • Weight: 0.9lbs
  • Quick Release: Arca-Swiss
  • Adjustments: Pan lock, drag knob, tension knob
  • Special features: None
  • Retail price: $135
Load Capacity

Pretty simple thing to understand here, this is how much weight the ball head can support while still keeping the ball completely stable when locked.  All three of these ball heads can hold more weight that you are likely to put on them, but the Benro loses with the Colorado Tripod in a close second place.  The FLM ball head wins this category.

Weight

Ball heads can be really heavy and it adds up really fast when you are hiking or traveling with the leg and ball head combination.  The Benro ball head loses by a large margin here. The FLM ball head is far more respectable in the weight category to get second place.  The Colorado Tripod ball head wins here by a mile.

Quick Release

Less expensive tripods often have a proprietary mount that requires you to attach a quick release plate that fits that mount to the bottom of your camera.  The far better option, because it is a standard and means you can easily use something like an L bracket to give you more options while using your tripod, is an Arca-Swiss quick release plate.  All three ball heads have Arca-Swiss quick release plate here, so it is a tie for this specification.

Adjustments

The way you make adjustments to the position your ball head holds your camera is the reason to spend a little money here instead of what comes with really inexpensive tripods.  Pretty well all ball heads have two locking adjustments. One loosens or tightens the ball head from moving called a tension knob or lock control. The other loosens or tightens the entire ball head moving left to right or a motion that is called panning, which is why it is called a panning lock, panning control, or panning knob.

It is also common on higher quality ball heads, though not universal, for there to be some kind of drag adjustment that can be made with a third knob.  This is useful for setting a default or base level of tension so that as you loosen the ball head using the tension knob your camera doesn’t flop down and make it less likely you will have the camera become disconnected from the ball head or knock the tripod over.  Having a base level of tension even when the tension knob is loose also takes some of the weight of the camera and lens off as you make minor adjustments to the position of the camera for the composition you are going for.

All three ball heads have all three of these controls or knobs.  Though the FLM ball head has a unique feature with the drag control being part of the knob that controls the overall tension called a friction memory ring.  Still, it is a tie for all three ball heads for his specification.

Special Features

We love that manufacturers are trying to find unique ways to separate their ball head from their competition.  The Benro doesn’t have anything very special about it but the ball heads from Colorado Tripod and FLM both have features that are very unique to their products.  

The Colorado Tripod has a feature they call a drop window.  Nearly all ball heads have support surrounding the ball almost 360 degrees around them so that they can be locked in place very tightly.  Nearly all of them leave just a little space where the ball head and stem up to the quick release mount can be rotated down vertically so that you can have the camera take on a portrait orientation instead of the landscape orientation that you get with the quick release plate screwed into the camera (this is where an L bracket is extremely helpful).  

When the ball head is positioned this way there is usually very little movement that is possible but this ball head from Colorado Tripod has a window cut into the side that allows for some movement while the camera is in portrait orientation that no other ball head provides.  However, we don’t think this ends up being a feature that is game changing. We use L brackets with our cameras which allow for far more freedom of motion than this drop window.

The FLM ball head has a tile lock feature.  There is an additional knob on the ball head that when locked down is supposed to make moving the camera up and down in a tilting motion much easier than left or right.  This would be a helpful feature for doing vertiramas (a vertical panorama).

Retail Price

Again, this is mostly a personal choice here, though it seems more clear to us that there is a winner for most photographers looking to get a “best value” tripod in the ball head from Colorado Tripod.  You aren’t making a mistake in buying any of the three ball heads here, but the low cost of the ball head from Colorado Tripod is an incredible value and has now taken over as the top recommendation from Jeff for beginning and hobbyist photographers.

If you are interested in a video comparison of the FLM ball head and the ball head option Jeff used to recommend in the Sirui K-40X, check out this YouTube video on the Photo Taco Podcast channel.

Real-World Testing of Centennial Tripod 2 Legs with Highline Ball Head From Colorado Tripod

We both had hands-on with the legs and ball head from Colorado Tripod as well as the legs and ball head from FLM.  Jeff didn’t have much time with the FLM legs, but he was able to take the legs and ball head from Colorado Tripod out for a real-world test.

He took the legs and ball head from Colorado Tripod on a 7 mile hike in the Albion basin high in the Rocky Mountains in Utah.  He loved the legs and ball head overall. He loved having the ability to get his camera so close to the ground and capture some perspectives

Jeff did come across one design issue with the Centennial Tripod 2 Series legs from Colorado Tripod.  There is a collar on the legs just below the stem and quick release plate. This collar has a couple of wings on it and is used for mounting the center column.  The idea is that you can take the center column in and out of the legs easily without any tools. A great idea to make the center column removable and to do it without a tool!  What he had an issue with as he used the legs was that collar coming loose as he hiked with the legs. Every time he stopped to use them he had to re-tighten that collar to eliminate a little play in the panning.  The backpack he had the tripod mounted to would loosen that collar as he hiked.

Not a disaster, quick twist of the collar and everything is solid.  He was just worried he was using the legs incorrectly because he was having to tighten that collar literally every time he took it off his hiking backpack.  Something to note from a real-world review.

Doodads:

Jeff: Black Rapid RS-Sport Strap

Mark: 3 legged thing multi tool ($8.00)

Godox X2T controller (has a hot shoe right on the controller so you can instantly move from an on camera speedlight to your OCF lights while shooting an event/wedding) $59 on Amazon for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus/Panasonic.

Reminders:

Comments

  1. Have you ever heard of Vanguard tripods? I purchased an Alta Pro 263AB 100 Aluminum Tripod with Ball Head from Fry’s Electronics on sale for $99. Normal price is $159.99. Alta Pro 263AB 100 Tripod and SBH-100 Ballhead provides the stability, durability, and reliability you want in your gear. The aluminum alloy legs have settings for 25°, 50°, and 80° with easy-release buttons for quick set-up. This lightweight (5.38 lbs/2.44 kg) tripod collapses to 28.125″ (71.5 cm) and can be extended up to 5.67′ (1.73 m). It can support up to 15.4 Lbs (7 kg).
    The Multi-Angle Central Column (MACC) system allows you to move the central column from zero to 180° angles in various vertical and horizontal positions, making macro-photography and special wide-angle shots a breeze, and the Instant Swivel Stop-n-Lock (ISSL) system securely repositions the central column in one simple movement.
    A magnesium die-cast canopy, quick-flip leg locks, non-slip, spiked rubber feet and a removable hook for hanging camera accessories make this tripod a great addition to your kit bag. Great podcast.

  2. One spec to consider that almost no one talks about is the leg angle. If you pull the legs in a bit the max height is higher, right? But the tripod is less stable. Depending on the leg angle two tripods can have the same folded length but one will show a better max height because the legs don’t spread out as far.
    There are lots of tripod manufacturers out there and it’s probably impossible to review and compare all of them but I would recommend taking a look at Leofoto. I have an RRS tripod and two Leofoto’s and it’s hard to tell the difference, except for the price ($1000 vs $300). Thanks for the episode! Keep up the good work!

  3. Trying to pre order the fLM legs, Can’t find the Company?? Can you give me that information, Thank You Dawm

  4. On your question about podcast length… Without any doubt, I’d prefer you take the time you need to cover the things that need to be said. For in depth reviews of gear, sharing the experiences you’ve had with related gear as well as the details of the gear are just as important if not more so than the final decision. Products choices and features change constantly. Understanding why you made the choices you made helps keep the content evergreen and potentially helps others weigh the benefits of new gear released since your review.

  5. After seeing the Colorado Tripod in August at the Sedona Symposium, I purchased the Centennial 2 tripod and the Highline Ball head before coming back home. This was the best investment ever – no regrets! Rock solid stable, light, and so easy to manipulate. As this is only my second tripod, your podcast gave me a few good suggestions. I am constantly near the ocean so the stability and ability to clean will be great value. The ability to get the tripod very low is important to my compositions. I have not tried the center column yet. Thanks again for great information.

  6. Thank you for this follow up podcast. I listened to the first one in February when the Colorado Tripod products were still in Kickstarter, and the Highline ball head caught my attention. I’m also a hobbyist and am always interested in gear that goes beyond entry level performance but doesn’t break the bank. I was using the Vanguard Alta Pro tripod with the SBH-100 ball head that came with it. That is certainly a sturdy tripod, but there were some limitations with the ball head. There are three ridges where the plate slides in (so you can’t slide a universal L bracket through), too much camera movement when tightening the tension knob its final turn, and no drag knob. I ordered the Highline ball head after I heard the podcast and it arrived this weekend. So far so good with just using it at home. I’ll continue to use the Vanguard legs and my Platypod with the Highline head for now. Thanks again for looking out for the hobbyist.

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