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In one of my previous articles, while reviewing the Nitz Strap heavy-duty camera strap, I mentioned that straps fall into the category of accessories most of us photographers hate to spend money on. We know that we need them, and we know that we usually get what we pay for, but our minds don’t connect the piece of hardware that doesn’t technically take the image we’re capturing, and the image itself.
Tripods seem to fall in that category as well. We know that a sturdier tripod can lead to a sharper, clearer image, yet we cringe at the thought of dropping $200, or more, on one. My first tripod was a wobbly Velbon50 that I picked up for $10 at a local garage sale. It helped me along through my first landscape images, but I didn’t actually think about the fact that my images could suffer from using unsturdy equipment.
Of course, the images from less sturdy tripods can be perfectly acceptable, and you can make the argument that there are some excellent tripod setups to be had for $100 or less. But, once you’ve used a beast of a piece of hardware, such as the 3Pod Orbit 3 Carbon Fiber setup I’ll be discussing here (see photo above), it’s really hard to go back, and makes you wonder why you didn’t buy something this solid in the first place.
When I received my tripod (Orbit 3 Section Carbon Fiber, P3COR) and head (Pistol Grip Ballhead, SH-PG) from 3Pod, the first thing I noticed was the heft. Pulling the tripod itself out of the box, I got the feeling I was handling a piece of military equipment – tough and rugged.
The tripod weighs in at 4.25 lbs. (1.9kg), while the head was a considerable 1.85 lbs. (0.84kg) so it’s clear from the beginning, this isn’t a nimble photographer’s setup. The P3COR is meant to be an absolute oak, to mount heavy camera and lens combinations on top of, without so much as a wobble. Carbon fiber is the material choice (lighter and sturdy, but more costly) for this tripod, as opposed to the usual aluminum setup.
The tripod features the Orbit Overhead Shot System, which means the vertically-adjustable center column, and its accompanying standard direct-mount plate, can be pivoted at almost any angle (see photos above, images courtesy Adorama and 3Pod), allowing for some interesting composition possibilities.
The three carbon fiber legs are rated to hold 18 lbs. (8.16kg), and the unit can be extended to a maximum usable height of just over 69 inches (1.75m), while collapsing to a very manageable 28.5 inches (0.72m). The legs use a standard flip lock, for raising and lowering, and they work very well. The locks aren’t too simple to disengage, but don’t take a ton of strength either, making them easy to manage while giving you peace of mind.
The screw mount itself is reversible from 3/8″ to a 1/4″ variety, by flipping the mount block upside down. I found the mount easy to remove and lock, and my Canon 60D felt very sturdy when locked into the mount. Coverable foot spikes allow you to ensure stability in any situation, from dirt, rocks and sand, to smooth indoor floors, without worrying about damaging any sensitive surfaces.
With appearances having absolutely no impact on the functionality of a tripod, it must be said that this particular 3Pod model is beautiful, with metallic red color accents, against dark carbon fiber pieces. An attention-getter at the local beach, let me tell you!
This was my first experience with a pistol-grip type tripod head, and let’s just say I’m sold on the concept. The 3Pod SH-PG is a delight to use. No more hassling with various screws on various planes of movement to get the perfect horizontal and vertical positions; simply squeeze the trigger on this unit, adjust to the desired angle, and release. The position is set in stone, and you’re free to concentrate on your primary focus, taking a great picture.
The advantage of this setup, is the ability to compose your image with one hand, freeing up the other to operate the camera itself. The mount is situated directly on the ball, and can be moved to allow for several configurations, including left-handed, right-handed, and traditional joystick orientation (see example photos below). A thumb-operated dial on the grip allows for modifying tension within the handle; lighter camera setups can use less tension, for more precise adjustments.
The rotation of the ball head is a full 360 degrees, with -20 to 90 degrees of tilt. The head features the expected quick-release plate, and a bubble level, separate from the tripod body. The head itself weighs in at 1.85 lbs. (0.84kg), and supports up to 11 pounds (4.99kg) of camera body and lenses, although it feels as if it would support more weight.
I tested the head and tripod legs at a couple of different locations, as well as indoors. I was pleased at how well the unit gripped all surfaces. The legs predictably sank and settled perfectly into beach sand, as well as a grassier area just inland. I place the tripod in a rather sandy/muddy situation as well, and again, found the support for my camera to be very sturdy. Finally, covering the adjustable leg spikes allowed me to use the tripod indoors in a carpeted area, with no worry of damage to the fibres.
I was met with the usual high winds on the beachfront, and found I was able to capture standard shots, as well as long exposures without any issue. Images were crisp and clear. As solid and hefty as the unit is, I was able to collapse it down to its smallest size, and carry it over my shoulder with my 60D still attached, for the long walk back to the parking lot, fairly easily.
This particular setup will set you back $249.95 USD for the tripod and $39.95 USD for the pistol-grip head. Many photographers won’t scoff at a $300 USD entry price for a very solid piece of hardware, but some beginners/enthusiasts may not feel such a price is doable for their first tripod. As we discussed in the beginning of this article, some accessories have qualities that reflect their price point, and we see that here with 3Pod’s offerings.
At the end of my review period, I boxed up the 3Pod with a bit of a heavy heart, as I had no desire to send it back. For me as a photographer with a focus on landscape and nature, the Orbit 3 and pistol grip head are the perfect combination, and I can see how owning this particular setup will make my photography immensely easier, and therefore more enjoyable and satisfying. Which means one thing – I’ve got a new spot in my budget for a purchase this year.
Have you used 3Pod tripods and heads before? What has your experience been? Sound off below and let us know how these quality pieces of hardware have helped your photography.
Editor’s note: these products were loaned to our author by Adorama at no cost, but in no way influence Tim’s review and opinion of this tripod and head combination.