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First a little background: I’m a wilderness photographer. I spend time, a lot of time, every year on multi-day river, backpacking, and winter trips in Alaska. This past summer, between June and mid-September, I spent more than 60 days in the backcountry. On every one of these trips, to one degree or another, weight was an issue, and I’m always on the lookout for good, light equipment that might suit my travels. With that in mind, on to the review of two new support products from Polaroid, the Polaroid Pro Series Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod, and the Varipod.
I was excited to open up the box containing Polaroid’s new carbon travel tripod. Upon first inspection, I was impressed. There are five leg segments, each about eight inches in length making the tripod very compact. Additionally, it is designed so the legs fold back over the center post and included ball head, making the fully collapsed tripod very small indeed.
The leg segments are of the twist-lock variety, ergonomic, and very effectively hold the sections in or out with a simple, quick twist. The numerous legs section means that the lowest sections are thin, giving the impression of flimsiness. However, after several days of use, they did not strike me as fragile.
The legs of the tripod, even when fully extended are not very long. Polaroid has made up for this shortcoming by having a fixed center post that extends up another foot or so from the top of the tripod, adding substantially to the height. The post itself is expandable, allowing the very compact tripod to stretch almost to my eye level (I’m six foot). Though using this extendable system reduces stability.
The included ball head is the highlight of this tripod. Made of machined aluminum, it’s designed much like the large Kirk Industries head on my full-size tripod. Polaroid’s version uses three knobs, one to lock the quick release (similar to Arca-style plates), one to control the rotation, and one to lock and unlock the ball itself. One side cut allows for vertical compositions. Simply, it’s a great little ball head that held my big Canon SLR easily. In fact, it was so good, I wish I could purchase it separately to replace the flimsy head atop my current compact tripod. As the head is the point where many light and entry-level tripods fall short, I was impressed and surprised by this one.
I put this tripod to use a number of times over a couple of weeks, including a couple of sunset photo shoots on a beach, and two evenings photographing the aurora borealis. In bright conditions and relatively fast shutter speeds, the tripod worked well. The height adjusts easily and quickly, though the center post system does limit how low the camera can go. (At its lowest, the camera is still 12-15 inches off the ground, see photo below.)
During my sunset photo shoots, the system worked fine at a variety of heights, and I was able to use shutter speeds down to about 1/5th of a second, and still maintain sharp images (see top image in this article).
It was when I tried to shoot the northern lights that the tripod showed its one flaw – instability with a heavy camera. The non-retractable, non-removable center post, make the tripod a bit jiggly when used with a full-size DSLR. A point and shoot, or mirrorless system would not likely have the same trouble. However, even with the heavy camera, I was able to attain sharp images when I used a remote shutter release and the mirror lock-up function of the camera.
If it weren’t for that wobbly center post, I would give this small, light tripod, with an awesome ball-head, a glowing review. I’d like to see Polaroid include a system to retract the center post to add stability when I drag the shutter. If the next version of this tripod includes such a feature, I’ll strongly consider adding it to my quiver. In the mean time, I can easily recommend this tripod to anyone shooting with a light-weight camera system. If you are working with a point and shoot, or mirrorless, the simplicity, flexibility, and the particularly impressive ball head make the Polaroid Pro Series Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod a contender.
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Out of the box, Polaroid’s rendition of this classic long-lens tool, the monopod, looked more or less like a standard version of the product, with one exception. The foot of the monopod incorporates a removable, articulated, three-legged base. At first, I didn’t understand the purpose of this feature, but later, as I used the Varipod outdoors, I figured it out (more on that in a moment). The expandable leg, like the tripod reviewed above, uses a twist-lock system that holds the aluminum tubes firmly extended. I had no issues with segments collapsing, even with a heavy lens and SLR.
In the field, the monopod worked well. The removable foot is articulated so it doesn’t interfere when you tip the monopod forward or back. Though at first confused by this seemingly unnecessary add-on, as I shot with a 500mm f/4 on a sandy beach, the usefulness of the stand was obvious; the monopod foot didn’t sink into the muck. This could be useful to anyone shooting in soft terrain, whether the sidelines of a sports field or a muddy wetland.
The foot system did seem overly complex. It is made of aluminum with various hinges and springs. Though effective at providing support in soft terrain, it also got dirty and was very difficult to clean. The foot had to be blown out, rinsed, and shaken before I eventually managed to remove all the grains of sand.
The support provided by the monopod allowed me to achieve sharp images with my 500mm f/4 at shutter speeds as low as 1/30th, opening up creative composition possibilities with moving subjects. The monopod is also far lighter and maneuverable, though of course less stable, than a full-size tripod.
The Polaroid Varipod works. The articulated foot provides support in soft terrain, and the legs are sturdy and easy to adjust. My main complaint is the complexity of the foot and difficulty in cleaning. I’d like to see this made simpler, with fewer parts that can jam with sand and dirt. Otherwise, it’s a solid contribution to the market.
Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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