In late January Benro teased us - and frankly blew us away - with a simply awesome-looking tripod, the Theta. At that stage it was little more than a concept still awaiting funding, but that's since changed. The project is now live on Kickstarter and looks well worth backing.
That's because the Theta could genuinely be one of the most innovative, exciting tripods ever devised. Benro has clearly gone all-out to re-write the rulebook on what's possible from this otherwise humble photographic accessory, with not one but a whole selection of clever features, starting with the biggie:
No more squinting at bubble levels, holding your breath and making painstaking ball head adjustments to try and nail a perfectly level shot. The Theta boasts a unique one-button auto levelling function which can extend or retract each motorized leg until the tripod's top plate is perfectly level!
Trigonous Central Shaft
Trigonous: sounds like it belongs in Jurassic Park, but it apparently means the central shaft of the tripod has a Y-shaped cross section, rather than being a regular cylindrical tube. We've seen this before back in 2013 when Giottos launched its YTL series of tripods, and it allows the three main legs to fold tighter, resulting in a more slender packed profile without compromising structural rigidity.
Dual multi-functional ball head
Another stand-out feature of the Theta tripod is its versatile, innovative head. Designed to cater for both photographers and videographers, it can operate as a conventional ball head for stills, but convert to a separate-axis pan/tilt head for video capture. The quick release lock uses a large knurled ring as opposed to a more typical lever operation.
Leg locks. What leg locks?
Where the vast majority of tripods incorporate either twist locks or levers on each leg section to adjust tripod leg length, the Theta boasts a unique self-locking system that automatically locks each leg. The user only need rotate the leg's foot and pull it to the desired length.
The Smart Console
Four small electronic modules can be attached just below the head, between each leg section:
The first is a Battery module ($50) that can function as a power bank to keep your camera battery - or smart device - topped up with juice via the module's USB port. Up to three battery modules can be mounted on the tripod. You'll also need this module to activate the tripod's auto-levelling feature, with the button on the side providing the one-click levelling control. You can fine-tune the exact level by long-pressing the button, or alternatively use the Theta mobile app.
In addition to the battery module, there's also a Camera control module ($99). This allows you to control your camera from your phone or tablet via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, in addition to remotely viewing the camera's live view, or remotely downloading files from memory card to phone.
The GoLive module ($99) facilitates fast, easy content sharing to social media or YouTube via RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol). Connect your camera to the module's HDMI port, then the feed is transmitted to the smart device app over Wi-Fi. Streaming quality and other live settings are customizable within the app.
Lastly, there's the funkily-titled Optical matrix sensor module ($50). This has been designed exclusively for time-lapse shoots, where it's vital to maintain a consistent exposure to match ambient light levels. This can prove tricky over long time-lapse periods, so the module packs an optical matrix sensor and a gyroscope that detects ambient light level, then automatically and precisely adjusts camera exposure settings to ensure smooth and consistent exposures. Unlike the other modules, this module attaches to your camera's hot shoe so its level reading more closely matches that of your camera. Clever stuff.
Two versions of the Theta are available, Theta, and Theta MAX:
There's just one slight catch with the Theta - you can't actually buy it. Yet. Benro is about to list it as a fundraising project on Kickstarter, so please do check it out and back it if you can.
For more information, check out the dedicated Theta webpage and YouTube video: