First of all, I’d like to point out it’s a great opportunity to buy Manfrotto products because of this crazy rebate special they have going with Amazon. $45 off $150, $65 off $250, and $125 off $450. Just make sure you buy from Amazon, not one of their third party sellers.
When I started photography, I did a tiny bit of research and bought the Dolica GX600B200 mostly based on Amazon reviews. I’ve been a happy user until recently, evident by the large number of night-time long exposure shots you can find on my blog. So, why did I get a new tripod?
I was at LA’s Griffith Observatory a month or two back, trying to get some shots of the LA skyline. Zoomed out, my shots were pretty sharp. At least sharp enough. Then I got my telephoto lens and tried to zoom into downtown LA so I could get multiple shots and create a panorama. I could only manage one shot with minimal blur. The strong winds up at the observatory were just too much for the tiny tripod. That’s when I realized it was time to invest in a new tripod before my trip to Chicago (THE WINDY CITY!).
Funny thing is that as soon as I started researching real tripods, I had the chance to photograph the Full Moon. I put my 400mm EFL lens on my camera, tightened it onto my Dolica tripod, set it to point straight at the moon, and tightened the ballhead. The image kept shifting. What I mean is that I had it set to single point auto-exposure and auto-focus. And that point was set to the center of the camera. Since the moon, even at 400mm EFL isn’t that big on a tiny screen, I had to keep readjusting the ballhead. This was very very annoying. This is when I realized I needed a decent ballhead too.
So I started doing some research. Some great readers of my blog were kind enough to provide links and insight as well. I… did not realize that professionals’ tripod systems could cost $1000+. My $50 Dolica seemed like a cheap toy after that, rather than a bargain tripod. Apparently Gitzo is the Gucci and Louis Vuitton of the tripod world, with Really Right Stuff providing bank ballheads. Could I afford them? Of course not. I’m still trying to decide if I should get the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 for $650ish, I wouldn’t be buying a $1k tripod yet. Another argument against the super expensive tripods was that my camera is much smaller and lighter than most other DSLRs. I don’t need my tripod to hold a 10lb camera+lens system stable. My system is not that heavy, so a lighter duty tripod would be sufficient.
Manfrotto was considered the brand with the best ‘bang for buck’. It seemed their two most popular product families were the 055 and 190 series. The 055 was taller and sturdier whereas the 190 was shorter and lighter. Both the 055 and 190 come in aluminum and carbon fiber models. Aluminum is sturdier and heavier and the carbon fiber has better vibration dampening and is lighter. Being used to the small Dolica, I didn’t want to get something too bulky or heavy. It was also critical that the tripod would fit in carry-on luggage. I also considered Manfrotto’s new BeFree series, but there were no reviews available anywhere. I got the 190 in carbon fiber because it seemed to be the lightest tripod available without being too light.
Next, head. It was a debate between the 498RC2 vs MH054. The MH054 is a magnesium ball, smoother movement, nice red accents, and rated for heavier loads. The 498RC2 was good enough and $80 cheaper. I… decided to save money. (I’m still debating this one – will be testing out the 498RC2 this week and trying out the MH054 at a local shop).
Comparing it to my Dolica GX600B200, first of all it’s a couple inches longer. If I remove the ballhead, it should fit in carry-on luggage.
Spreading the legs (no pun intended) and getting the tripod standing, it seems the height difference gets slightly greater. You can definitely tell that the Manfrotto has thicker legs and is sturdier.
Here’s a shot of the leg segments. The Dolica is a 4-section tripod whereas the Manfrotto is 3-section. We’re seeing the bottom 3 of the Dolica and 2 of the Manfrotto. You can see that the Dolica is much thinner. The second thickest Dolica leg may be comaprable to the Manfrotto’s smallest leg.
All legs fully extended, height differences seem to even out a bit since the Dolica has one more leg section to extend.
However, with the center column fully extended, the Manfrotto is again a couple inches higher. For reference, I am 6’1″ and the Manfrotto fully extended brings my Olympus OM-D to exactly eye-level.
I did a couple short tests where I tapped the head of the tripod and watched it shake/vibrate. I can tell you that the Manfrotto is definitely sturdier. The Dolica tends to vibrate much longer after each tap (although less than a second).
My first impression after the brief comparison, and based on personal experience with the Dolica so far, is that the Dolica is sufficient for most casual shooters in conditions that are not too challenging. It’s a light tripod that’s easy to carry around and is sufficiently stable if you let it stabilize for a couple seconds. For $50, this is good enough. However, if you run into windy situations, need the tighter grip and tight lock on your ballhead, you will need to upgrade to something better.
I’m visiting Portland, Oregon then Spokane and Seattle, Washington this week. The Manfrotto set will be with me, so I’ll make sure I update with my experiences when I get back.
- Photography Tripod and Monopod Guide (camerahugger.wordpress.com)