Looking for a new tripod can be a daunting experience. There are more brands than ever before and the choice of models is mind-boggling. Where to start? The first thing to accept is that there’s probably no such thing as the perfect tripod and, a bit like camera bags, it’s a case of finding a ‘best ﬁt’ if you want an all-rounder or realizing you may need two – or possibly even three – for different applications (especially true if you’re also shooting video).
However, at the top of the list of requirements is likely always to be ease and speed of set-up followed by the combination of portability and strength. Of course, there are plenty of tripods that tick these boxes – anything with carbon fiber leg sections for starters – but one that caught our eye recently was Benro’s new Tortoise carbon fiber series.
The interesting aspect of the Benro Tortoise design is the absence of a center column which, of course, saves some weight, but also eliminates what can often be the downfall of any tripod. Of course, the center column gives you some more height, but it comes at the cost of stability and that’s becoming more of an issue with digital cameras that have ultra-high resolution sensors. Even the tiniest of wobble will compromise sharpness, but if there isn’t a center column, you’re not tempted to use it, are you? Let’s be honest, all of us will go for a quick single adjustment – i.e. raising the center column – rather doing it properly and extending the three legs a little further.
There are five photo models in Benro’s Tortoise photo tripod line (and two for video), and we decided to take a closer look at the four-section TTOR 34C which came mated with the GX35 ball-type head. You pay extra for carbon fibre over aluminum, but it really is worth the investment given the weight savings and the exceptional rigidity.
The Tortoise 34C legs weigh in at 1.45 kilograms, but they can support up to 18 kilos of camera and lens. Without the need to accommodate the center column, the folded legs represent just eight centimetres in total diameter and the length is 49 centimetres so this is a tripod that may well fit inside your photo backpack or camera bag, rather than being strapped to the outside.
There are four leg sections – with twist-type clamping locks – which extend to 1.44 metres, always maintaining the stability of having the three contact points. Another advantage of not having a center column is that the legs can be angled virtually to 90 degrees, giving a minimum height of just 19.5 centimetres. If you want something that is slightly smaller for carrying, there is a very similar five-section Tortoise model available - the TTOR 35C.
The 34C has a nifty automatic leg angle adjustment so you simply hit a release button which pops the angle lock and the leg can then be set at any of its three angles. This makes for very quick set-up, especially if the terrain demands one or more of the legs be set at different angles. The spider – that’s the bit at the top of the tripod to which the legs are attached – is a milled aluminum component and has both 3/8-inch and 1/4-inch mounting screws for attaching a head. It also has three ¼-inch accessory mounts for attaching extension arms for items such as a video light.
There’s also a hook for attaching weights (for example, a sandbag) for added stability. Also to give better stability on soft ground or sand, the rubber feet can be replaced by spikes which Benro supplies with the tripod. You also get a custom carry bag and a pair of Allen keys for basic maintenance. And, if you really insist on having a center column, one can be fitted but is obviously an additional purchase.
Benro GX35 ball head
Benro makes a wide selection of tripod heads, but the more compact ball-type – such as the GX35 – compliments the 34C legs. It’s a nicely machined aluminum unit with a low-proﬁle design and Arca-Swiss type mounting plate which includes a twist-and-pull safety lock.
The GX35 offers dual, independent panning movements (both through a full 360 degrees) – one at the base and one at the quick release plate platform – and a built-in bubble-type level. The dual panorama modes mean that should the head be at angle, you can still rotate in the horizontal plane at the mounting plate once it’s been leveled.
The ball locking knob is a pretty substantial affair and allows for quite precise control over the amount of friction applied, so small adjustments can be made without having to loosen off too much (and then the camera suddenly crashes forward). Together, the head and the tripod legs weigh in at 1.86 kilograms which is very light given it can support ten times this weight (the GX35 can actually support up to 35 kilos so it will work with heavier-duty tripods).
In the field, the 34C and GX35 combo certainly delivered on ease of use, especially in terms getting everything leveled up as quickly as possible. We tried it with the Fujiﬁlm GFX 100S and the 40-100mm zoom which is roughly a two kilos load so it really didn’t test the tripod for capacity, but we made some 30-second exposures (using a ten-stop grad on the lens) so any movement, no matter how slight, would have been revealed by the 100 megapixels resolution.
There was a bit of a breeze blowing too, but all these test images were pin-sharp. Folded with the head attached, the tripod’s length is still only 58 centimetres so it’s very easy to carry and, thanks to the minimal weight, this remains the case over long distances too.
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