The Ulanzi F38 Quick Release Travel Tripod is easily one of the best travel tripods available, though whether it suits your style and set up will depend upon which camera you use. Very clearly built and designed to challenge the popular Peak Design Travel Tripod (opens in new tab), the Ulanzi F38 weighs just 1.1 kg thanks to a clever combination of carbon fiber and aluminum. It also has some innovative features that in some ways make it better than its competitor. However, there are some things you need to know about the Ulanzi F38 before you buy.
Material: Carbon fiber and aluminum
Folded length: 42.5 cm
Maximum height: 159 cm
No. leg sections: 5
Maximum load: 6kg (ballhead)/18kg (alternative center column)
Although at 6kg its maximum payload is 50% less than the Peak Design Travel Tripod, that’s not the whole story. In fact, that figure applies only to its ballhead, which isn’t as integrated as it looks. It’s an impressive ballhead, with a lock lever, 360º panorama detailing, a built-in bubble, and an Arca-Swiss-compatible plate that makes it really easy to attach a camera.
The entire ballhead can also be set in a vertical position to allow for portrait orientation of a camera. However, the ballhead can be removed despite being permanently attached to the center column.
Shipping with the Ulanzi F38 is an alternative center column with a 3/8-16 thread, which means any ball head can be attached to it. That makes the Ulanzi F38 more versatile than the Peak Design Travel Tripod it’s designed to challenge. Moreover, using that alternative center column increases the Ulanzi F38’s maximum load capacity to 18kg. Despite that, we're pretty sure that most users will invest in the Ulanzi F38 as an all-in-one tripod for travel where space is at a premium, so the integrated ballhead remains at the core of its appeal.
Build and handling
Built from carbon fibre and aluminium, the build quality of the Ulanzi F38 is excellent. Its flip-lock levers open softly, which makes it easy to unfurl and pack away the five sections of the tripod legs. They’re terminated in either spikes or rubber pads while the collar of the tripod also features a utility 1/4-20 thread for attaching accessories. The entire rig is kept taught by Hex locks, which can be tightened using a Hex key hidden in the bottom of the Ulanzi F38’s centre column. When screwed in place it doubles as a hook for hanging a bag, something that helps increase its stability.
In use the Ulanzi F38 is ever so slightly taller than the Peak Design Travel Tripod, measuring 159cm to its rival’s 152cm. Handy though that is, this is still a limited-height tripod made mostly for the convenience of carrying.
The Ulanzi F38 is versatile, but in its all-in-one travel tripod guise it’s best used for mirrorless camera set-ups. Using it on an outdoor shoot, we found it virtually unnoticeable in terms of weight when strapped to the outside of a camera backpack and super-quick to set-up.
When compared to the best tripods it of course lacks height, but that’s missing the point. With the plate fixed to the bottom of a mirrorless camera, we could slide it into the ballhead easily – and in a couple of different positions – using one small knob to loosen, tighten and lock it in place. It’s a one-handed operation. It's a nice option to have an alternative center column to make the Ulanzi F38 usable with a different ballhead, but we think it’s the all-in-one nature of the standard all-in-one package that makes it an attractive travel tripod.
Although we were really impressed with the Ulanzi F38, there's no denying that it won't suit everyone. Despite its clever features, versatility and ease of use the all-in-one Ulanzi F38 in its all-in-one guise is limited by its maximum payload of 6kg. That's just not going to cut it with photographers with full-frame DSLR cameras (opens in new tab) wearing heavy wide-angle or telephoto lenses. However, landscape photographers looking for the ideal tripod for short trips away, hikes and outdoor shoots – or wanting to use their own ballhead to boost the maximum payload – will find the Ulanzi F38 a capable, exceptionally lightweight, and incredibly versatile tripod.