30 Nov '13
Post Title

Manfrotto BeFree tripod review

If you shoot any type of photography where you need slow shutter speed without going up with the ISO, from simple landscape photography to long exposures, you already know that a good tripod is an essential tool. There are no stabilisation technologies that can replace a tripod, they help sometimes, but in most of the cases they are useless if you go slower than a 1/20 of a second. And while you can go really cheap with some other accessories like flashes or filters and still retain some decent quality, buy a 20 euro tripod in Lidl is not really an option, they are too clumsy and too instable to use, and if you take exposures for more than a second, any subtle movement could ruin your photo.
So if you need a tripod, and if you get into photography at some stage you will need one, buy a good one, which has to be as sturdy as possible , and unlike cameras, you don't need to replace them after a couple of years, they will last for a long time.
Until a few months ago my main tripod was a good Manfrotto 190CL, with a basic but really good 3-axis head bought back in 2006, and last Christmas I replaced the head with a joystick one, which is much easier to use, with a quick place.
It's a great tripod, and after years, despite several bumps, a few scratches, it's still in perfect conditions.
It has only one problem: it's heavy!


If you travel often, 2.5 Kg are a lot and it means you have to leave something at home if you really want to bring it with you, or even if you just go out and you have to walk for a while, it will start to be painfully heavy very soon.
While in the second case I could live with that, I think a bit of pain is worth it if at the end you bring home a great shot, in the case I had to travel, I always ended up leaving the tripod at home, and I bought a cheap one from amazon for when I was in Italy.
Needless to say I used that cheap tripod twice, I was disappointed twice, and now it's somewhere in my girlfriend parents attic.
So for my trip in Crete I decided to invest some money in a lighter tripod, as I didn't want to bring my heavy tripod but I didn't want to travel to Crete without one either, and I started my search for a good travel tripod.
If I were extremely rich I would probably walk in the first shop, ask for the most expensive carbon fiber tripod from Manfrotto or Gitzo, throw some good money in the air, and walk away. But unfortunately I'm not, and before spending some good money in photography, I have to research well on the web to find what are my alternatives.
I've been reading reviews of tripods for a while, considering several different brands, until I found this brand new tripod from Manfrotto, called BeFree , that came out in the market just this summer, I read the few reviews I could find at the time, checked the price online and on local shops, and decided to buy in Conns Cameras, a local shop here in Dublin, which had the best price (as a general rule for me, if the price of the local shop is the same of slightly bigger than the online one, I go for the first one as I prefer to give money to locals rather than big corporates).
On the paper it was almost perfect, and even if I generally don't stick with a brand, but I always try to find the best products that fits my needs, Manfrotto it's a brand that can hardly disappoint you.

Lightweight and compact
Only 1.4 kilograms, a good 40 percent less than my other tripod, and that extra kilogram you save it means a lot when you travel, especially with mean airlines companies like Ryanair. But even if you go out for a photographic walk it's a pure relief, you can wander around the whole day without feeling like you are carrying a heavy brick on your hands.
It's mostly made in aluminium, with just a few parts made in rubber and (very) hard plastic, and it's extremely compact. When it's fully extended is 144 cm height, which falls a  bit shorter than my other tripod, but it's still height enough, but when it's folded it's only 40cm long, it fits on my backback! I really like the system Manfrotto used to reduce the size once it's folded, rather than the usual way, the legs flips by 180 degrees and the head is designed to sit in between the legs, it's a nice "tetris" approach which makes this tripod extremely compact. The only downsides of this system is that you cannot change the tripod's head, but I think it would be pointless to replace the head with an heavier one, as the main purpose of this tripod is to be lightweight and compact. Also the quick release plate has to be removed when you fold the tripod, but that's not a real issue as the plate is on the bottom of my camera all the times, and I don't see why it should be otherwise honestly.
The, what I call, "tetris" system, alongside with the special knobs used where the legs merge to the main body of the tripod, makes this tripod very well-designed in my opinion. Every details is studied to make this tripod as light and compact as possible.

But it is sturdy enough?
Surprisingly it is. Even if you may think that this tripod it's probably too light to be sturdy enough, once it's extended, despite the initial impression of being too light, it's incredibly sturdy. I've tested this tripod in different situations and I never felt like this tripod it wasn't up for the task. I've used it in very windy situations, and if you live in Ireland you know it's pretty windy here. I've used it into the sea in Crete, it still has some sand from that trip and no problem, I've used in several other occasions, and it has been always as sturdy as my other heavier tripod. I honestly I don't know how they managed to build a tripod light and sturdy at the same time, and since then it's my main tripod, and I don't see a reason why it shouldn't.

The ball head
My only concern before I bought it was the ball head. I never liked them, I always thought they were too clumsy and too difficult to use to consider to buy one of them, and I didn't really have much faith on it when I bought it, but as this tripod surprised me for many other things, the ball head is another big surprise.
It's as easy to control and sturdy as her big brothers, maybe the joystick it's quicker to use, but I can say that I don't really miss it that much, now I rather prefer to have a lighter tripod that looking like someone giving gas to a fancy scooter. And possibly it's even sturdier than my joystick head, as with the same gear (DSLR + heavy lens + heavy filter + remote controller) the joystick sometimes move a little bit, while the ball head once it's secured it's rock solid.

Conclusion
I bought this tripod thinking to have just a lightweight tripod, but that couldn't stand a chance agains my heavy tripod in terms of sturdiness, but I was wrong. It's a little great tripod, maybe it's not very height, maybe you prefer a bigger head, but trust me, that's a tripod to have, even if you don't travel often or you don't have the necessity of a lightweight tripod, it's a general purpose tripod, that can handle different situations without a problem, and in most of the cases it's even cheaper than the more classic combo of legs + head.
It also comes with a handy back to carry it around, and I can't hardly find anything negative to say about this tripod. Yeah, of course there are lighter tripods out there, but for this price and this compactness it's hard to beat it.

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