The new Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Advanced tripod is one of very few that are designed for both photography and videography. It’s bundled with Manfrotto’s compact Befree 3-way Live Head, a fluid video head that uses a hydraulic damping system to help videographers make the kind of smooth, steady movements that mechanical pan/tilt heads just aren’t built for (it can also be purchased separately for about half the cost of this tripod).
Whether it’s for long-exposure landscapes in low-light or for creating sweeping cinematography, stabilisation is everything. And despite its dual target markets, this dual-purpose product is making a play to be one of the best travel tripods; it’s a flagship member of Manfrotto’s lightweight ‘Befree’ line-up of travel tripods.
The Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Advanced is indeed designed for travel. At 2kg all-in, it’s medium weighted for such a task; we’ve held lighter (but pricier). Its maximum load of 6kg means it’s best thought of as a tripod for mirrorless or DSLR cameras designed as much for video as stills, such as the Nikon Z6 and Nikon D780.
It’s also medium sized. When packed up it's 40 cm long, which makes it small enough to get into most camera bags and carry-on luggage. When set up and with its strong central column raised and locked in place, this tripod can get your gear 151cm above the ground, while with the column down it's 132 cm. That’s not high enough if you’re over 6ft and want eye-level operation, but then that is the sacrifice you have to make if you want a ‘travel’ tripod.
What really makes this tripod attractive to creative all-rounders is its three-way Befree 3-way Live Head, which comes with a fluid drag system for achieving smooth pans through 360° when shooting video. It ships with a 200PL-PRO plate but works with all kinds of plates; it’s compatible with Manfrotto RC2 and Arca-Swiss type head attachments.
In the box, there’s a well-made red and black carry case complete with reflective panels, an adjustable (though sewn-in) shoulder strap, and well as a couple of Allen keys for tightening the legs.
Performance, quality and usability
The Befree 3-Way Live Advanced has an excellent build quality, with aluminium combining with tough plastic for a premium feel to the three legs. They auto-lock yet are a cinch to release while the central column, when raised up, can easily be secured in place. It also feels rigid whatever angles you set it at. Its design features rubber-coated handles, a solidly constructed plate for attaching a camera, and three built-in spirit levels.
However, there are a couple of knobs that are a tad plasticky. One of them interfered with our DSLR’s battery cover, which made it impossible to change the battery without removing the camera from the tripod. That proved to be annoying half-way through a long star-trail time-lapse shot at night.
Its fluid drag system works really well. It allows small, predictable and consistent movements across all angles, tilts and pans, and it always feels super smooth. That’s essential for videography, but the roll axis easily puts it into a valuable portrait mode for stills photography. It also proved really useful as a support for a spotting scope we had handy.
The four-section legs themselves are a breeze to use. It features three leg angle positions that are easy to set up, though its lever-locks are not as smooth and quiet as, say, those on the much pricier Peak Design Travel Tripod. But they make set-up – and clear-up – really quick and efficient. We also appreciated the rubber grip on one of the tripod sections that make it possible to grab it and go in cold conditions. Some tiny angled rubber feet also help get some grip on flat and wet surfaces.
This first-ever travel tripod with a three-way fluid head is ideal for shooting both stills and video using a DSLR or mirrorless camera rigs. The consistency and predictability of the fluid drag system on its ‘Live Head’ impresses for pans and tilts while a flexible portrait mode for stills photography shows that Manfrotto really is trying to push the envelope with the Manfrotto Befree 3-Way Live Advanced.
Its lever leg-locking system makes it easy to unfurl in seconds and to pack-up quickly. It’s probably not tall enough for some users, but there’s no doubting this mid-range product’s travel-friendly design that will see it fit in most camera backpacks and carry-on luggage.