My Outdoor Photography Kit: Tripods

Whenever I am outdoors, I always have a camera with me. Some days, I travel light with a Canon mirrorless camera, their EOS M2, and other times, it might be a DSLR such as the Canon 6D and 7D models. When I use the big camera bodies, especially with longer lenses, I almost always use a tripod.

For travel, I have a small professional tripod fitted with a ballhead and a lever-operated quick release plate. When I have the luxury of being able to bring a full size tripod, it’s usually my Manfrotto O55CXPRO3. This sexy bit of photo gear has a carbon center column and legs, along with magnesium cast bits, to help keep weight down. Just as important, that carbon fiber also helps dampen some of the vibrations that can ruin a long exposure.

Carbon fiber legs, magnesium clamps

My main reason for choosing this model, besides the backpack-friendly weight, is the versatility Manfrotto provides with their 90 degree center column. Rather than just going up and down, it can be rotated 90 degrees. This is handy in the studio when shooting down on a product, but makes it great for macro work outdoors as well. And with the 055CXPRO3, it’s easy to switch the column to its horizontal position. But there’s more to my choice. The locks for the legs are big levers that work well even with gloves. Twist locks are okay, but I prefer the speed of levers, and the fact that they provide a visual indicator of their status. Loose or tight, twist locks look exactly the same. But levers are either in or out, so there can be no mistake. That’s important when you have a couple thousand dollars (or more) in body and glass sitting on your tripod.

Center column can switch to horizontal with ease

There are a few other nice features about the 055CXPRO3 that I have to mention. A bubble level on the center column makes it easy to check that your tripod is level. This is a big help for landscape photos, but also when are you taking more than one shot, and stitching them together. The legs also can also be spread out and locked at four different angles, for low angle and macro work. The newer version of this tripod, the MT055CXPRO3, has more elegant looking levers for the locks, but the function is the same.

Legs spread out for low shots

For those readers that are into numbers, here’s the spec on the 055CXPRO3: It closes down to 25.59 inches (65 cm), has a max height of 55.12 inches (140 cm), and if you extend the center column, tops out at 68.90 inches (175 cm). It weighs 3.64 pounds (1.65 kg), and will support up to 17.64 pounds (8 kg). You can still find it online for about $399, and the newer version will set you back an extra $80 or so.

Find it on Amazon!

While Manfrotto offers a wide selection of fine tripod heads (you generally buy just the legs, and choose the tripod head separately), I don’t currently own one from them. But this has nothing to do with Manfrotto. I’ve invested in the Peak Design Capture Pro system, with Arca-Swiss compatible plates. With seven camera bodies, and at least four lenses that have tripod collars, I had to maintain consistency across my whole system. So I usually use a Markins Q-Ball head on the 055CXPRO3, and an Acratech Ultimate ballhead on an older Manfrotto 3021BPRO that resides in my studio most of the time. I’ll cover these in detail in another article, because tripod heads deserve their own space.

Even without extending the center column, this puts my camera at eye level, and I’m 5’10”

No matter which brand or model tripod you choose, keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for. Light weight tripods are cheap, but light ones that are sturdy are not. And consider not just your current needs, but future needs as well. It makes sense to pay a little extra now for a tripod that will support your current camera, and that big lens you’re saving for. I funded part of this purchase by selling two of my Manfrotto tripods that were both 15-20 years old. There is a very good chance that I will be using both of my current Manfrotto tripods for another 10 years or more, which makes their prices seem like a bargain. If I’ve piqued your interest, check out Manfrotto.us for more info.

– Brian

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