A Travel Tripod that can Also Act as a Light Stand - Digital Photography School

A Travel Tripod that can Also Act as a Light Stand

by Sarah Hipwell.

The above shot at 1/20sec at f22

The above shot at 1/20sec at f22

I brought two cameras on a recent vacation to France. My trusty DSLR and my new fab Sony RX100.

I don’t normally bring a tripod on holidays but this time I wanted to get some decent video footage. I also wanted to experiment with a variety of (still) exposures for HDR work and to get a nice sunset (low light shot).

With such an array of tripods on offer, how do you decide which one to buy?

I narrowed my search to 5 key features:

  1. Low cost
  2. Size – folded & extended
  3. Portability
  4. Lightweight
  5. Sturdy enough to hold a DSLR with a 18-200mm lens

The cost of a tripod varies enormously and with so many brands, it can take a bit of time to find which model suits your requirements. Cost was a main issue for me for two reasons:

  1. I had to pack my tripod in one of the luggage bags that was going into the plane’s hold! See NOTE & TIP 1 below.
  2. As I wasn’t taking the tripod in my carry-on bag, I didn’t need to buy an expensive one and run the risk of it getting lost or damaged in transit.

This ruled out purchasing a carbon fibre model as they are quite costly and it wasn’t justifiable for my means (I don’t travel extensively). So I decided on an aluminium tripod.

The more compact the tripod the better when travelling. But I need the height when it is extended (I’m 5’ 9”).

Portability is a prerequisite for any travel tripod.

Last but not least, the tripod had to be able to hold my D300 plus a 18-200mm lens, which both have a combined weight of 1.463kg or 3.23lbs. See TIP 2 below.

After a considerable research online between brands and so forth, I was beginning to think my criteria was a tall order. Then I hit jackpot. I found a Manfrotto Compact MKC3-H01 on offer for 49 euros! This particular tripod isn’t their current model but it seemed to tick all my boxes. Plus, I have a Manfrotto 055XB so I’m already familiar with the brand.

Tripod when closed measures 18”(46cm) and when it is extended, can reach 64”(163cm) with centre column fully extended

Tripod when closed measures 18”(46cm) and when it is extended, can reach 64”(163cm) with centre column fully extended

This tripod comes with a pistol type grip head which has two settings for photo(still) and video on the side. I found it is easy to use and a pleasant change from my usual ball-head socket type. My only gripe is that when I had it in the video position and tried to pan, it was quite jerky. I just loosened the locking wheel to make it more fluid, this wasn’t perfect but it worked.

Pistol type movie/photo head showing the locking wheel

Pistol type movie/photo head showing the locking wheel

To sum up, the cost of this tripod was only 49 euros. Therefore, it wasn’t a big deal putting it into the plane hold. When folded, it measures a mere 18” and can extend to 60”. It is very lightweight, compact and easy to set up. The actual weight of this tripod is 1.15kg. An added bonus for me is this travel tripod can be used as a light stand! I can pop on my SB700 speedlight and shoot remotely. I had a wonderful two weeks with my family, I swam, read books (oh such a treat) and took over 32gb worth of images with the support of my new neat travel tripod.

NOTE

Check with each airline company in each country that you are flying to and from. Last year, I flew to Bordeaux from Dublin. I had a Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stand in my carry-on bag. However, en route home from Bordeaux the custom officials would not allow me to take on board the light stand as they deemed it a lethal weapon! I was quite fortunate, that a lovely desk clerk retrieved my already checked-in bag, so that I could put in my light stand without incurring any extra charges. She’s was a star!

TIP 1

When I was packing my travel tripod into one of the luggage bags, I thought of wrapping it in bubble wrap to protect it. I used a beach towel instead which I needed to bring with me. The towel provided adequate protection.

Using a large or beach towel to wrap around the tripod for added protection in luggage bag

Using a large or beach towel to wrap around the tripod for added protection in luggage bag

TIP 2

The maximum weight that this tripod holds is 1.5kg (3.3lbs). I was thrilled when I weighed my DSLR camera plus the lens which has a combined weight of 1.463kg (3.23lbs). However, this is pushing it to the max. Fortunately, I didn’t experience any inclement weather while on holidays, i.e. wind/gusts. Otherwise, I would have been nervous using my DSLR body and lens on the tripod for fear of toppling over. For added stability in this case, I recommend adding a sandbag(s). Sandbags are not practical to bring away with you on vacation. Here’s my tip, there is a rubber end at the bottom of the centre column. Ease this off and you will see two holes. Place a cable tie through the holes to create a plastic ring. With another cable tie, secure this to a Ziploc bag filled with dried beans, rice or soup mix (Cable ties & Ziploc bags should be in your camera bag). Dried beans/rice can be purchased at the local supermarket very cheaply. See below.

A Ziploc bag filled with 1kg of rice suspended from tripod using cable ties

A Ziploc bag filled with 1kg of rice suspended from tripod using cable ties

My SB700 speedlight on the Manfrotto Compact MKC3-H01

My SB700 speedlight on the Manfrotto Compact MKC3-H01

Check out more of Sarah’s work at her website – SarahHipwell.com.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category.

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to DPS. Please see their details in the post above.

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  • http://www.cramerimaging.com Pocatello Photography, Cramer Imaging

    Love that tip with the ziplock style bag, the zip ties, and the rice or beans. I’m going to have to try that out for myself. Thanks for sharing.

  • Michael Chastain

    I’ve had that same tripod, or a nearly identical one, for about 4 years. I love it. My only complaint would be the pistol lock tends to sag with a dSLR and a heavy-ish lens, which makes fine adjustments difficult. But it’s great, and I can just clip it on to the strap of my camera backpack I use when hiking and it’s like it isn’t even there.

  • Tom

    Unfortunately this tripod will not support 1.5 kg in weight, and the manufacturer explained to me that it is “designed for compact cameras, and not DSLRs.”

    My setup is similar to Sarah’s – a Canon 60D and 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (combined weight 1.276 kg) – but the tripod wouldn’t hold it without tilting down, despite screwing the locking wheel down very tight. I wrote the manufacturer to get their input and was given the above explanation, plus “You need a heavier duty tripod.”

    It’s a handy little tripod, but beware that it won’t support the weigh that the manufacturer claims, and they recommend it only for compact cameras, not DSLRs.

  • http://sean-smith.net Sean

    Am now seriously considering buying this as a second tripod. Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jadiniz/ Ego Zarolho

    I did pretty much the same thing: vacation with a minimal tripod: the Gorillapod SLR-Zoom. Good enough for my DSLR, compact camera or speedlight.

  • Paul

    I agree with Tom and Michael. Manfrotto Compact is a good travel tripod but it can’t support a DSLR well. The pistol lock would tend to loosen but it’s good compact and light alternative.

  • http://www.sarahhipwell.com Sarah Hipwell

    I totally share the same sentiments with Tom, Michael & Paul re this tripod in supporting a DSLR with lens.

    However, the main premise of this article was to illustrate that it served my purpose well on a two week trip. It didn’t cost an arm and a leg. The bonus for me was that this tripod can also support my speedlight, to act as a lightstand.

    If I had gone on a more extensive trip, primarily to support my DSLR camera. I would have invested without a doubt, a more robust and expensive tripod.

  • Dean

    I also use this exact tripod with a 1.7kg DSLR (including a mid-range zoom lens) and while it does sag a bit on occasion – especially if I use it in portrait mode – it’s usually perfectly stable.

    Obviously it comes nowhere near an 055 or the like, but given the specified limits (and a bit of common sense!) this is an awesome tripod. I do worry about the lock mechanism on the pistol head wearing out prematurely though, as I almost always use the lock to it’s limit to make sure it doesn’t sag because of the excessive weight of my DSLR.

    I also use it for off camera flash work quite a bit but with no soft-box or umbrellas – a sharp gust of wind might see it take off!

  • Ken Maurer

    I purchased this for use with my panasonic LX5 and it is indeed a great tripod for that type of compact. I also found it worked exceedingly well with my D300 and 18-200 during a trip to Sedona, AZ. I do not travel that frequently either so this was perfect for the cost, just as Sarah describes. As others mention using it in portrait mode requires extreme caution and patience. But for landscape use I was very pleased, as demonstrated with this shot at Cathedral Rock. It is so nice to carry that I bring it frequently and I now look forward to its use with my SB800. Thanks for the tip!

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenmaurer/8588318284/' title='Moon at Cathedral Rock' url='http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8392/8588318284_b2b6ae8167.jpg']

  • Brian

    Thank you Sarah. I’m going away shortly and need a travel tripod so your comments were very timely. Thanks for the insights.

  • Sarah Hipwell

    Your most welcome Brian. Enjoy your trip.

Some older comments

  • Ken Maurer

    September 10, 2013 12:19 am

    I purchased this for use with my panasonic LX5 and it is indeed a great tripod for that type of compact. I also found it worked exceedingly well with my D300 and 18-200 during a trip to Sedona, AZ. I do not travel that frequently either so this was perfect for the cost, just as Sarah describes. As others mention using it in portrait mode requires extreme caution and patience. But for landscape use I was very pleased, as demonstrated with this shot at Cathedral Rock. It is so nice to carry that I bring it frequently and I now look forward to its use with my SB800. Thanks for the tip!

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenmaurer/8588318284/' title='Moon at Cathedral Rock' url='http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8392/8588318284_b2b6ae8167.jpg']

  • Dean

    September 9, 2013 09:28 pm

    I also use this exact tripod with a 1.7kg DSLR (including a mid-range zoom lens) and while it does sag a bit on occasion - especially if I use it in portrait mode - it's usually perfectly stable.

    Obviously it comes nowhere near an 055 or the like, but given the specified limits (and a bit of common sense!) this is an awesome tripod. I do worry about the lock mechanism on the pistol head wearing out prematurely though, as I almost always use the lock to it's limit to make sure it doesn't sag because of the excessive weight of my DSLR.

    I also use it for off camera flash work quite a bit but with no soft-box or umbrellas - a sharp gust of wind might see it take off!

  • Sarah Hipwell

    September 7, 2013 10:50 pm

    I totally share the same sentiments with Tom, Michael & Paul re this tripod in supporting a DSLR with lens.

    However, the main premise of this article was to illustrate that it served my purpose well on a two week trip. It didn't cost an arm and a leg. The bonus for me was that this tripod can also support my speedlight, to act as a lightstand.

    If I had gone on a more extensive trip, primarily to support my DSLR camera. I would have invested without a doubt, a more robust and expensive tripod.

  • Paul

    September 6, 2013 09:34 am

    I agree with Tom and Michael. Manfrotto Compact is a good travel tripod but it can't support a DSLR well. The pistol lock would tend to loosen but it's good compact and light alternative.

  • Ego Zarolho

    September 6, 2013 02:50 am

    I did pretty much the same thing: vacation with a minimal tripod: the Gorillapod SLR-Zoom. Good enough for my DSLR, compact camera or speedlight.

  • Sean

    September 6, 2013 12:49 am

    Am now seriously considering buying this as a second tripod. Thanks for the post.

  • Tom

    September 3, 2013 02:37 am

    Unfortunately this tripod will not support 1.5 kg in weight, and the manufacturer explained to me that it is "designed for compact cameras, and not DSLRs."

    My setup is similar to Sarah's - a Canon 60D and 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (combined weight 1.276 kg) - but the tripod wouldn't hold it without tilting down, despite screwing the locking wheel down very tight. I wrote the manufacturer to get their input and was given the above explanation, plus "You need a heavier duty tripod."

    It's a handy little tripod, but beware that it won't support the weigh that the manufacturer claims, and they recommend it only for compact cameras, not DSLRs.

  • Michael Chastain

    September 2, 2013 07:43 am

    I've had that same tripod, or a nearly identical one, for about 4 years. I love it. My only complaint would be the pistol lock tends to sag with a dSLR and a heavy-ish lens, which makes fine adjustments difficult. But it's great, and I can just clip it on to the strap of my camera backpack I use when hiking and it's like it isn't even there.

  • Pocatello Photography, Cramer Imaging

    September 1, 2013 06:24 am

    Love that tip with the ziplock style bag, the zip ties, and the rice or beans. I'm going to have to try that out for myself. Thanks for sharing.

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