If you are traveling by plane and plan to bring a tripod with you, weight—and especially size—count. Which models fit in your carry-on bag? Here are our favorites.
There are several key questions to keep in mind when choosing the best travel tripod for your needs:
- Size: Will it fit in your carry-on luggage (in other words, does it measure less than 24 inches when collapsed)?
- Weight: Is it light enough for you to be able to bring it with you without fatigue?
- Payload: Can both the tripod and the head handle the weight of your camera plus your heaviest lens?
- Durability: Is it constructed well and made of durable material (and are you willing to compromise on this if cost is a factor)?
- Height: Can a tripod that collapses into a small package also extend tall enough?
- Cost: Can you find the right answers to all of the above and stay within your budget?
- Let's look at some top travel-friendly tripods that are available now from the Adorama Tripod department (prices and availability current as of June 18, 2014):
3Pod is the new kid on the tripod block, and the 3Pod 5CFH Carbon Fiber 5-Section Flat-Fold Tripod (Adorama price: $149.95) was designed with travelers in mind. This tripod's unique feature: A two-stage center column that gives you a few more inches and lets you extend to as high as 56.5 inches and lets you fold it flat down to 13.5 inches. You can stack it with other equipment and it won't hog the space. This tripod can hold up to 20 pounds, and is constructed of sturdy carbon fiber. It is topped by a K2 aluminum ballhead that can hold up to 28.6 pounds and rotates 360 degrees.
Lightweight and collapsible down to 15.7 inches, the aluminum Manfrotto BeFree Tripod Kit (Adorama price: $169.88) is fast to set up, and stable. Its leg locks are reported to be stable and secure, and it has a standard quick release. This tripod comes with a dedicated carrying bag but is small enough to fit in a carry-on. It has an aluminum ballhead that can accommodate a payload up to 8.8 pounds.
Benro Travel Angel Tripods (right; $229-459 at Adorama) are full-sized tripods that feature legs that can be inverted and folded back 180 degrees for easy packing and carrying. They can also be converted into a compact monopod without tools. The tripods are available on their own or part of a kit, and you can buy the less expensive aluminum versions or the sturdier, lighter but more expensive carbon fiber ones. Features include a center column hook, so you can hang your camera bag from it to provide more weight and stability when shooting. Benro also offers Travel Flat tripods ($110-169, not including head), also available at Adorama, which fold so they can be stored completely flat, taking up less space in a carry-on bag. Note: Benro tripods are sold without heads, which you will need to buy separately.
Gitzo is one of the premium tripod brands and offers several travel-friendly, carbon-fiber tripods. The model that tops many peoples' lists is the GT1542T (Adorama price: $574.90), a four-leg-section tripod that folds down to under 17 inches but rises to a full height of 58 inches. It weighs just over two pounds but can hold a payload of 15 pounds. It is known for being rigid and has a gravity lock: The higher the load applied vertically to the leg, the stronger the lock. An accessory hook at the base of the center column (which can be inverted for macro work) lets you hang a weight for additional stability. Gitzo tripods are sold without heads, which you will need to buy separately.
The Velbon Ultra LUXi-L ($188.58 at Adorama) folds down to around 15 inches but extends to a generous 63 inches. It can get down to around 7 inches for flower and macro photography. It can handle a load of up to 5 ½ pounds—sufficient for most consumer-level DSLR configurations—and weighs just under 3 pounds. It features a Trunnion Shaft System, so each leg extends the entire inside length of the outer leg casing; this helps keep the tripod so compact when folded. A twist-lock leg system lets you extend and each leg in one movement and lock it in another.
The Giottos Vitruvian lineup of tripods is available in 4- and 5- section versions and more durable but expensive Carbon Fiber or lower-cost aluminum, the Giottos Vitruvian series folds to between 15 and 18 inches (depending on the model) and extends to maximum heights of between 60 and 69 inches. All models come with heads, most are equipped with Arca-style ballheads and can handle payloads of 8-13 pounds; the rest are Arca-capable. Legs fold 180 degrees to protect the center column (see photo illustration above) and to stow away more easily. Prices at Adorama range from $174.95-$305.99, depending on size and material used.
At an Adorama price of only $89.95 (including ballhead and carry case) the Slik Sprint Pro II is one of the least expensive travel pods. It compacts down to around 19 inches and grows to 63 inches with the center column fully extended. Its construction include padded aluminum legs, and it weighs about 2 pounds. With a maximum suggested load capacity of 4.5 pounds it isn't the strongest of the bunch, but it can handle a consumer-level DSLR with modest zoom lens, which may be enough for more casual on-the-go photographers in need of a little support.
As you can see from the photo above, the MeFOTO Travel Tripod, which is sold with an included ballhead for the Adorama price of $139, can fold up for compact travel. The legs flip up to cover the center post and ballhead, compacting down to 12.6 inches n length. However, it extends to a height of 4 1/4 feet and supports a hefty 8.8 pounds. It's topped off by an Q series double action ballhead which has separate head an pan locks, has a built-in bubble level, and rotates a full 360 degrees. A spring-loaded hook at the bottom of the centr column lets you hang weights for extra stability. Want a splash of color? The MeFOTO also comes in Purple or Orange. Want something sturdier? At the Adorama price of $369 it may be a bit to rich for some folks, but if you need a higher-extending tripod (64 inches) that can carry a heavier (26-pound) payload, the MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Carbon Fiber tripod, $369 at Adorama, may be worth it.
What about tripod heads?
While some of the tripods listed here are sold with some kind of head, some are not, and you need to buy a head in addition to the tripod itself to attach your camera. The good news: any tripod head is compatible with just about any tripod, so you can mix and match brands.
A sturdy ball head, available at the Adorama Tripod Heads department, takes up less room in a carry-on bag than a pan head, which requires more space to accommodate the tilt and pan handles, which stick out. Choose a ball head that can handle the weight of your camera with its longest lens, and then some, just to be safe. The Reged Pro-Series RP-3 Ball Head ($49.95 at Adorama) can support up to 44 pounds, which is more than enough for almost any setup unless you're shooting wildlife with a superlong, superfast lens. It also has a quick-release plate so you can detatch your camera in a rush. One of the most clever pan heads I've seen is the $114 Induro PHT2, a 3-way panhead with handles that fold—no tools necessary—making it as compact as a ball head and very well-suited for travel.