In our latest group test we seek to find the best carbon fibre tripod by taking 5 current models into the field at a river gorge in Exmoor.
Tripods generally come in two forms: full-size models, which can be extended to towering heights and are very stable but tend to be heavy and bulky to lug around; and travel tripods, which are lightweight and more transportable but don’t have the reach and rigidity of their bigger brothers.
For landscape photographers, rock-solid support is vital, but getting to the scenic spot often requires a lengthy hike. If only you could have the best of both worlds…
Well you can – thanks to the wonder-material that is carbon fibre. In a nutshell, strings of carbon atoms are formed into fine filaments that are woven together then combined with a plastic resin to give an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio.
The result is stronger, lighter tripods compared to aluminium, and as an added bonus carbon fibre doesn’t conduct heat (or cold) in the same way, so your fingers won’t freeze to the touch on a chilly morning.
But there are disadvantages too: carbon fibre is more brittle and can crack under sudden shock (though this is more of an issue with bicycle frames than with tripods), and it is much more expensive than aluminium (although costs are coming down as the technology becomes more widely available).
We recently took a trip to the picturesque Watersmeet river gorge in Exmoor, England, to test five carbon fibre tripods to find out which is best.
Best carbon fibre tripod: 01 Manfrotto 290 MT294C3 + 804RC2 head
Price: £250 (tripod £200, head £50)
Buy it: www.manfrotto.co.uk
Manfrotto’s offering is quite basic in terms of features compared to the other tripods on test – there’s no fancy space-saving design, the legs can splay to just two positions (so there’s no low-angle shooting setting), the centre column cannot be angled (although it can be inverted), and there isn’t even a hook to hang your camera bag off to help weigh it down.
It has three-section legs that are secured by clip locks, and extends to a decent 140cm without raising the centre column (and an impressive 169cm extended).
While the three-section legs ought to make this one of the more stable tripods on test, its maximum recommended load is only 5kg.
But what it lacks in features it makes up for in price, and at just £200 offers good value for a basic carbon fibre tripod.
We matched this with a Manfrotto the 804RC2 three-way head, which again is good value at £50; a three-way head is slower to use and bulkier than a ball head, but allows you to precisely position your camera as you can lock vertical, horizontal and panning planes independently.
We were amazed at how tall this tripod extended compared to my travel tripod, which barely extends to waist level.
We found it light to carry, but not particularly compact as the three-section legs don’t collapse down that much, at 61cm when folded.
The head was simple to use, and the three independent arms made composing shots very precise; however, this was quite big and bulky too, and we preferred the ball heads that came with some of the other tripods.”
Pros: Inexpensive for a carbon fibre tripod; lightweight at 1.6kg; tall at 169cm
Cons: Not many features; doesn’t fold down very compactly; max load only 5kg
PAGE 1 – Best carbon fibre tripod: 01 Manfrotto 290 MT294C3
PAGE 2 – Best carbon fibre tripod: 02 Giottos Silk Road YTL8354
PAGE 3 – Best carbon fibre tripod: 03 3 Legged Thing 3LT X2 Eddie
PAGE 4 – Best carbon fibre tripod: 04 Vanguard ABEO Pro 283CGH
PAGE 5 – Best carbon fibre tripod: 05 FLM CP30-M4S Centerpod
PAGE 6 – Which carbon fibre tripod was best?
PAGE 7 – Things to consider when buying a carbon fibre tripod
Best budget tripod: 6 top models tested and rated
9 secrets to using a tripod like a pro
10 things photographers can do to stop wasting pictures
Hands-free photography: 4 ways to take pictures without touching your camera
Camera Shake: the ultimate cheat sheet for using tripods, monopods and shooting handheld