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Benro Tripod Review A2970F / B1

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The Benro A2970F is a serious tripod that stakes as it’s point of difference a centre column that can be set to horizontal (or any other angle). This tripod competes with Manfrotto designs that offer similar features, but, depending on where you live, can be significant;y cheaper. In the USA this tripod is slightly cheaper than the Manfortto 055XProB, but in New Zealand the Benro is around half the price of the Manfrotto.

I’m using it here with the Benro B1 ball head.

Build Quality
The build quality of the tripod is respectable – comparable with similarly priced Manfrotto models. Everything seems well made, with all the leg locks and adjustment knobs working smoothly.

Normal Use
Before we get to the “special interest” use of the centre column, let’s look at how it functions as an ordinary tripod. I’m 5’11”, and with the legs extended fully, and the centre column fully down, I find the tripod to be around the right height for me to see throughout the viewfinder when standing, and often a little too tall. In many situations, I’ll have to get in the habit of locking the lower leg sections  75% extended (which is not a significant difficulty once you get used to it). With the center column fully extended I’d need a step ladder to use the tripod, so we can safely say that, since the centre column is not needed for general use, and the tripod is well built, that this tripod is extremely stable.

However the centre column is also solidly constructed, meaning that unusually high angles are possible with this tripod.

The leg angles are independently adjustable.

Unconventional uses
The A2970F allows you to extend it’s centre column, and then drop it over to any angle you choose. Unlike the Manfrotto design, this tripod will allow you to position the centre column at any angle the Manfrottos only give you a choice between vertical or horizontal. This makes the tripod ideal for macro work, or photographing documents or flat objects on a table.

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Knobs
However such flexibility entails a lot of knobs on the tripod:

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1 & 2 – These are actually knobs on the B1 ball head. Set the smaller one to adjust the drag on the ball – so you can move the camera freely, but not so loosely that your camera flops over when you are not holding it, and use the other for locking it into position.

3 – also on the B1 – allows a panning movement. Since you can also pan when the camera is unlocked with 1 & 2 the main use of this knob would be for panoramas.

4 – unlocks the centre column, allowing you to raise, lower, or even remove it.

5 – allows the centre column to be tilted, and locks it into any position

6 – only of use when you have the centre column in the tilted position, this will allow you to rotate the centre column.

At first the plethora of knobs is a little confusing, and it’s easy to mistake knobs 4 and 5. But with a little use you get used to them, and having the ability to precisely control the beast is an advantage.

Portability
The tripod is not heavy enough to worry me in the uses that I have for it, and it has a pleasant heft to it. However, if my main use involved hiking into the hills, the weight might be an issue, and might warrant looking to a carbon fibre set of legs. In terms of size, the tripod folds down very nicely into a small size. Considering how tall the tripods is when fully extended, the folded size is very compact. Certainly not a problem if you are transporting it in a car.

Vibration Damping
One of the key aspects to a good tripod is how long vibrations continue. In this case they are well dampened, and die out quickly.

Special extras – 

  • The bottom of the centre column has a hook that allows you to add a weight (such as a camera bag) for added stability.
  • The tripod comes with a well made carry bag
  • You can unscrew the rubber feet, and screw in supplied spikes
  • The tension on the legs is adjustable, and the required allen key is supplied. The default setting seems fine to me, but if you are keen you could tinker with this.

Silly problems – 

  • With the B1 head fitted it is difficult to fit it into the supplied carry bag. Not impossible, but not easy either. Given that the B1 is the natural partner for this tripod, this would seem to be a silly error.
  • Not a problem with this tripod in particular, but once upon a time a tripod like this would have come with retractable spikes. You would be able to, without going for a special tool, adjust the feet from rubber feet to spikes. These seem to have largely disappeared, yet they make common sense. With this tripod I can change the feet with the supplied spikes and tools (with the competing Manfortto I’d need to buy the extras), but retractable spikes would make life easier, and I’d like to see them as a standard feature.

The Last Word
This is a well made and well designed tripod. The tripod is extremely stable in normal positions, and has an especially flexible range of positions available as well. For most DSLR users the tripod is really over-engineered (in a good way). Weight might be a consideration for those who carry their gear very long distances, but all in all this tripod is great value for money, and to me represents both a sturdy support as well as having the ability to be used in tricky situations.

Highly recommended.

All images and text © Phil Davison 2012

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