Thursday, June 24, 2010

Benro Tripod and Ballhead

I love birthdays! You get to meet friends and family, you get to enjoy doing nothing, the food is great, and, of course, the gifts. I would be lying if I say I didn't enjoy the gifts. That's what birthdays and holidays are for, right?

Anyway, several of my wishes came true this birthday. That is, gadget wishes. Since my friends know I am into photography, my gifts are all photography-related.

What I am going to discuss here is a one-two-punch for gifts. The wife gave me a Benro A158EX aluminum tripod. I wrote about it in a previous blog post when I saw it in Adorama in New York and maybe the wife saw the twinkle in my eyes when I held that particular tripod. Then, two of our Thai friends looked at my Amazon wishlist and saw that I was hankering also for a ballhead. So, very generously, they bought a Benro BH-1-M ballhead. My tripod kit is now complete!

Coming back from New York, there was a box waiting for me in front of the house. It was a very welcome site - a Benro tripod box. As far as I can tell, the box appeared longer than what I remember the tripod to be. I panicked a little thinking that Amazon might have sent the order wrong. I opened the box and saw that the tripod is encased in a tripod bag - the bag was a welcome sight, but still, the bag itself is longer than the tripod itself. I hastily opened the bag and, to my delight, the length of the tripod is what I actually remembered and that there is some 5-inch inside the bag for the tripod. I'll state later why the folded length is important for me.

Two days later, the Thai friends I mentioned previously gave me, to my surprise and delight, the ballhead that matched the tripod the wife gave me. That was really nice. I was already planning to buy a ballhead but they beat me to it. They said the item arrived a day after my birthday and they gave it to me two days later. Really it was fun!

First off, the tripod is of great construction. It's quite intimidating actually. When you look at it from a certain angle, it looks as if it can do a lot of damage. Damage to what I can't tell. It feels really solid and, with this tripod, I know that it will be able to carry my DSLR without much worry. It is rated to carry 13 pounds so it will suit my needs perfectly. It has a folded length of 19 inches and, most importantly, I can put it inside my carry-on luggage with ease. This is why I got worried when I first saw the box and the bag. I wanted the tripod to fit inside my carry-on in case I need to travel.

With the ballhead attached, the system would be 22.5 inches long, which would be longer than the length of my carry-on bag, so I would have to put the tripod inside my bag with the head detached. This is the reason why the bag is longer than the tripod itself - it has enough clearance so you can put a tripod with the head attached inside the bag.

The tripod has a fluid level so you can make sure that the tripod is level at all times. There is also a small compass built in so, if you want to take sunrise or sunset pictures, you will be able to know where to point your camera. Or, you can use it to tell where is uptown or downtown in New York, for example. You can move the center column by loosening the locking knob. The knob is very hefty and, even with gloves, you will be able to turn it easily.

The tripod comes with a strap that you can put either directly to the tripod or to the bag. One leg is wrapped in an insulator which would be very useful during winter - metal could get really cold during winter time.

The head is also of great construction. It has its own fluid level and the quick release plate will not detach accidentally. There is a second lever that you need to press and only then will you be able to detach the plate completely. This is a nice touch which will prevent your DSLR from tumbling down in case you nudge the release lever by accident. This is, so far, the most massive head I have used.

Combined, the head and tripod weighs just 4 pounds, which is a wonder in itself. I know a carbon fiber tripod would weigh much less but it would also be a lot more expensive. For the price, I am willing to carry an additional 4 pounds. (And to think that this system is 1 pound lighter than my Macbook Pro!)

Fully extended, the system has a height of 55 inches. On the opposite end, the tripod can go as low as 5 inches but you can only do this if you remove the center column which would defeat the purpose of having a tripod because you wouldn't have the center column to put your camera on. One solution to this is to buy a shorter column, but I don't think I'd do that for now. I'll explain why below. Another solution to this is to reverse the center column - in this set up, the camera will be upside down and all you have to do is put your pictures right side up from your favorite photo editor.

There is a retractable hook on the lower end of the center column and you can hang here, for example your camera bag, so as to add more stability to the tripod.

Before the Benro, the tripod that I am using is a Velbon Ultra LUXi M. This is a very compact tripod with a high capacity rating. The problem with this is I find it to be too low for me. Its folded length is 15 inches which is way shorter than the width of my carry on - I can even put it inside a messenger bag - but extended it is only 46 inches high. This is too low for me. On the opposite extreme, with the head, the tripod can go as low as 6.5 inches and, most importantly, you can do this with the center column attached, and of course your camera too, because the center column for this model of Velbon is actually made up of two pieces. You can un-screw the lower end and the center column will be greatly shortened. This low-level capability can certainly make up for the much lower maximum height.

But, my main tripod would now be the Benro A158EX. This is what I will bring when I travel and this will be my companion every time I go out on a photoshoot. I plan on selling the Velbon tripod but, as long as it is still with me, I will use this for flower shots and low-level shots. When the time comes it's no longer with me, then I would give in and get the shorter Benro column. Or, I can just reverse the center column and go for upside down shots. Hmmmm... Something different...

I love birthdays! :)

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