If you want the best tripod, it makes sense to look at the best carbon fiber tripods. Not only are they stronger and more stable than their aluminium counterparts, but they're also more lightweight, making them easier to carry around. All this is great no matter what genre you're working in, whether you're trekking over landscapes or shooting sports in a stadium. The only real downside of carbon fiber is that all this comes at a cost, so they do come at a higher price tag than aluminium tripods.
There are loads of great carbon fiber tripods out there, at different sizes and suited to different budgets. Manfrotto, Vanguard, Gitzo, Benro and more – all the major photographic accessory manufacturers have come up with some seriously impressive carbon fiber options.
It's worth thinking about what you need before buying – how high do you need the tripod to go? How much weight are you prepared to carry? Do you need a central column that can be reversed, allowing the tripod to shoot down at ground level. This is great for macro and close-up shooting, so if that's not your area then something simpler may do the job just as well, and for a lower price tag.
Ultimately, you’re best off looking for a tripod that has the features you need and suits your budget. So, with that in mind, we’ve picked out some of the most attractive carbon fiber tripod buys on the market.
The carbon fiber version of Manfrotto's 055 tripod, the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 is designed to marry superior stability with smooth operation. Its redesigned centre column can pivot 90 degrees easily, with redesigned "one-finger" operation that makes the whole enterprise easier than ever to set up.
With a hefty load capacity and impressive working height, the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 is designed to satisfy a broad majority of users. Essentially, if you can justify the price, this is almost certainly a solid choice of tripod for whatever type of shooting you have in mind. Its legs are secured by new Quick Power Locks that provide 50% more rigidity compared to its predecessor, and each leg can be positioned independently.
A bubble level has been set into the top of the centre column, rotating freely around it so you can always position it somewhere you can see it. This allows you to get your horizons straighter than straight. What's more, the Easy Link connector at the top supports the attachment of additional accessories like video monitors or extra lights, further expanding the tripod's utility for a broad swathe of users.
With swing-up legs and pivoting center columns being featured increasingly in mainstream tripods, the Mach3 looks a very traditional affair. It has a very conventional layout of three-section legs that don’t fold upwards for stowage, and a basic height adjustment clamp for the center column that precludes any pivot facility. It’s therefore easy to write off this tripod as being somewhat basic, but the upside is that it’s superbly quick and easy to set up. Look a little closer, and you’ll see that it’s not short of smart features either.
A simple but effective locking mechanism enables use of the legs at three different angles to the center column, and there is a bubble level on both the tripod spider . For low-level shooting, a stub is supplied which can be swapped with the center column, and the kit comes complete with interchangeable rubber pads and metal spikes for the feet. For another bit of trickery, the leg that sports comfort padding can be unscrewed and used as a monopod, in conjunction with the removable center column and ball head.
The Mach3 is one of the most rigid tripods in the group, along with the Manfrotto 055 and the Novo, maintaining excellent stability even at its maximum operating height, with the center column fully extended. Adjustments of the leg sections and center column are silky smooth, and the B1 ball head works a treat. It features independent clamp and friction damper knobs, plus a pan-only release with a calibrated rotation scale and an Arca-Swiss type quick-release plate. All in all, the Mach3 is a simple yet highly effective tripod.
One of Vanguard's newer travel tripods, the VEO 3 GO 265HCB is a carbon fiber model clearly pitched at a lot of different users. So, as well as the standard screw mount for cameras, the tripod also comes bundled with a smartphone mount and a Bluetooth shutter trigger. It's extremely lightweight, and while it's not the tallest tripod you can get, it folds down exceptionally well, and is a perfect choice for travel.
The tripod extends to a maximum height of 166.4cm, and if you're going to be using it at this height, it's recommended that you hang a weight bag on the hook on the central column, as things can get a little wobbly. The central column is also reversible, which is useful for macro shooting. What's more, the VEO 3 GO 265HCB also has a removable leg that can be quickly converted to a monopod, further cementing it as one of the most versatile carbon fiber tripods around right now.
Benro Rhino tripods are designed to be as sturdy and hefty as their name implies. This model, the catchily named FRHN34CVX30, is able to support a whopping 20kg of camera kit, making it more than equipped for even the most extravagant of photo or video setups.
It's all down to the new carbon fibre build, which uses new braided carbon fibre tubing to keep the weight down without compromising on strength. The tripod packs away pleasingly small, with reverse folding legs that flip up to surround the head when they're not being used. It's also easy to attach an extra accessory arm for a smartphone or video monitor, further expanding your shooting options.
This tripod also comes bundled with one of Benro's new VX ball heads, which have been specifically designed to complement the Rhino range. In real terms, this means that they are also strong and lightweight, but there are a few extra features as well, such as the redesigned quick-release plate with a safety catch to prevent calamity resulting from accidentally releasing the camera. All in all, it adds up to an impressive, high-quality setup for pretty much any camera user!
The Vanguard VEO 3T+ 264CB is pitched at those who want a travel-friendly tripod but don't want to compromise on features and functionality. Might seem like a pipedream, but this relatively small tripod does a good job, with loads of useful features like its multi-angle centre column, and the bundled VEO MA-1 multi-mount, which allows you to attach other accessories or even another body.
All this is wrapped up in a tripod with seriously high-quality construction, as you'd expect from Vanguard, and it comes at a pretty competitive price (in the UK anyway; US photographers may have to wait a little longer. The only real downside is that despite its "travel" billing, the VEO 3T+ 264CB is still pretty hefty. It's 48cm long when folded and the whole ensemble 2.275kg, so it's not exactly something you could carry around freely.
It's the first tripod Peak Design has made, and considering the carbon fiber version is one of the most expensive travel tripods around, it had better be good. There is an aluminum version that's a massive 40% cheaper, however, which has all the same design features but just a little less vibration resistance. All the other tripods here will go higher, but the Peak Design will still go to eye level for an average-height person, and it packs down to just 39cm in length.
It's designed to cut out the 'dead volume' between the legs and the column when packed, which means it's not just short when folded but very slim too – you could put this IN your camera bag or cabin bag as well as strap it to the outside. The low-profile ball head is simple but brilliant, there's a phone holder hidden inside the center column and, best of all, this tripod feels seriously rigid.
Read more: Peak Design Travel Tripod review
This Vanguard tripod kit stands out from the crowd, with a smart gunmetal grey finish for both the legs and head, rather than the usual black. It plays the numbers game with great success as well, with calibrated markings for rotation on the four-angle legs, and a 7-angle pivoting center column.
The tripod looks relatively slim and, indeed, the diameters of the three leg sections are quite modest at 26/23/19mm. However, the maximum load rating of 7kg for the legs should prove more than sufficient for the heaviest combinations of DSLR bodies and lenses.
With legs that don’t swing upwards for stowage, and have three rather than four sections, the tripod is quick and easy to set up. The same applies to the pivoting center column which, can be locked at various angles through a complete 180-degree arc. Another nice feature is that, as in the Manfrotto tripods, there’s a 3/8 inch threaded socket on the spider for attaching accessories like an LED light or microphone. Bubble levels are fitted to both the tripod spider.
Operation of the twist-locks for extending the leg sections is particularly good, with a quarter of a turn being all that’s needed for smooth movement or rock-solid clamping. The sliders for adjusting the leg angles are similarly well implemented, and the ball head is solid yet fairly compact.
Weighing in at 2.29kg, the Novo isn’t quite as heavy as some rivals but has a significantly greater maximum load rating of 20kg than most. The bottom section of its four-section legs is a fairly typical 21mm, but the top section is is a chunky 32mm. With swing-up legs, it folds down nice and small to 53cm, yet has a particularly lofty maximum operating height of 188cm.
Smartly turned out in black and silver, with a matching colour scheme for the head, the Novo certainly looks and feels like a quality item. Everything works with smooth efficiency and there are some smart design flourishes. The leg that features comfort padding can be unscrewed and used in conjunction with the center column and ball head as a monopod.
Resistance to flexing and vibrations is excellent. The twist-locks for the leg sections require minimal rotation for unlocking and relocking, and the same applies to the twist-lock for the extending center column. However, unlike most competing tripods, there’s no pivot facility for the center column. Instead, the tripod is supplied with a short stub that you can use for low-level shooting.
If you need height above all else, need a tripod that grazes the sky... okay, we're getting carried away, but the point is that the Gitzo GT5563GS is extremely tall. But it's versatile too; not only can it reach 278cm, but can also be set to a minimum working height as low as 10cm.
As you might imagine, this gives you loads of shooting flexibility, and while setting up the tripod at its maximum height is quite a physical challenge, it can be really useful in fields like architectural photography. Of course, all that carbon fibre doesn't come cheap.
This is only a tripod you'll really buy if you absolutely need what it's offering. However, if that's the case, you'll find the Gitzo GT5563GS to be a highly dependable workhorse tripod.
The best tripod for your camera