Travel tripods: 5 carbon fiber kits reviewed
3 Legged Thing Eddie X2.1 evo 2
$590 / £429 - www.3leggedthing.com
|The 3 Legged Thing Eddie X2.1 blends right into the natural environment|
3 Legged Thing easily lays claim to being the hippest camera support brand out there, with a range of gear named for famous rock guitarists, pride in being from a small UK town, and irreverent marketing images and videos. The company's tripods and ball heads are visually unique, with deep blue and copper-colored aluminum and magnesium-alloy parts that are emblazoned with alien-inspired logos and fonts. However, this gear also has some very surprising and useful details that go beyond simple cosmetics.
The Eddie tripod comes with carbon fiber legs, but if aluminum tubes (and a lower price) are preferred, you're advised to check out the Dave. We're pretty sure that Eddie is named after a certain Dutch-American guitarist who finger-taps up the neck of his guitar, but does Dave play with Adrian? Rather than ponder this, we'll review the British tripod in our carbon fiber group.
|Folded size||16.7" (42.5cm)|
|Maximum height||63.8" (162cm)|
|Height w/ column down||56" (142cm)|
|Minimum height||8.2" (21cm) w/ short column|
|Weight||4.2 lbs (1.9kg)|
|Load limit||26.5 lbs (12kg)|
|# of leg sections||5|
|Leg tube diameters||29 / 26 / 23 / 20 / 17mm|
|# of leg angles||3|
|Angle degrees||23 / 55 / 80°|
Below is a relative height comparison between the 3 Legged Thing Eddie and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.
Design and features
|Lots of details are cast into Eddie's metal bits, and not all are cosmetic.|
The design department at 3 Legged Thing must have worked overtime when customizing the details of the Eddie and their other products. While the major functional bits are all pretty standard, the colors, embossings and labels go to the extreme edge of custom. Even the zipper pull of the included bag is shaped like the word 'Stagsden' (the town where the company originated)! Many other bespoke parts contribute to an irreverent sense of difference from all the other tripod brands out there. Putting a deep blue ball head on top is almost required to keep this feeling up.
Beyond the wild colors and logos, what is most striking about the Eddie is just how big it seems compared to other travel tripods. This impression of scale comes from the beefy 29mm diameter top leg sections, the thickly padded “leg warmer,” and a robust 41mm ball diameter head on top. That size extends to the maximum height of the tripod, but the Eddie can still fold up into a fairly compact bundle for travel, due to its five-section legs.
Airhed 2 ball head
The blue case of the Airhed 2 is the most noticeable part of this kit, with the rubber pads on the copper colored, arca-compatible plate cut into the 3LT logo. The ball itself is the largest in our travel tripod testing, at 41mm in diameter, and comes with an equally large maximum load rating of 40kg. (Naturally, only a fraction of this should be approached, as the legs can only take 12kg.)
With only a combination locking and friction knob, and smaller pan lock knob, the function of the head is rather simple. The numbers on the locking knob help when setting a repeatable friction amount.
As is the fashion these days, one of the Eddie legs comes off to become a monopod when the rest of the gear is not needed for support.
A great feature of the 3LT monopod leg is that it is secured with a standard 3/8" threaded bolt. This allows any head to be directly attached to the monopod, as well as the 3LT head platform. This also provides a place for the weight hook (in the monopod hole) when the center column is being used on the stick.
Including some very long spikes (or "Heelz") to replace the rubber feet is icing on the cake. This also makes the monopod great for walking in icy locations, as we saw in the field experience.
A variety of functional details
Showing that the whole package was designed by photographers who want their gear to perform, the 3 Legged Thing includes little details (like the 3/8" thread above) that put other brands to shame.
A padded leg is almost universal on tripods, except that 3LT goes further by providing a zip-off, fabric-covered leg muff. It can be put on any of the legs, left in the bag, or even replaced if it wears out.
Tool-free column conversion is another great feature that too few other tripods include. Nothing more than hands are needed to remove the head platform, install the short column, or extend the monopod. A hex tool is included, but that's for tightening the angle locks.
Extremely low angle
With an 80 degree angle option for the three-stage legs, and an included carbon fiber short column, the Eddie can go lower than most of its competitors. At only 8" (21cm) with the head, this is close to where ultra-compact tripods, with much smaller legs and load ratings, are typically found.
Another nice detail in the short column is the continued use of the 3/8" standard bolt hole, so it can have the weight hook reattached to it, and replace the long column completely. That, and the short column can be used to extend the long one by a few inches for some extra height, either on the legs, or when stacked on the monopod leg.
Other included features
|Converts to monopod||Yes, 53" (134cm) max height|
|Carrying case included||Yes, semi-rigid padded tube|
|Insulated leg grip||Yes, removable, replaceable|
|Removable feet||Yes, spikes included|
|Non-rotating center column||---|
|Short center column||Yes|
|Weight hook||Yes, retractable, removable|
|Top plate/ head platform||Metal plate|
|Ball head diameter/ max load||41mm ball, 40kg max load|
|QR plate included||Yes, arca-type, 60mm long|
Construction and handling
|3 Legged Thing's Eddie showing off its 'stealth' carbon fiber.|
If there is are aspects of the 3 Legged Thing Eddie that remain fairly conventional, it would be the construction and handling. Despite the unusual looks and sometimes goofy embossings, this is still a tripod made from machined aluminum, cast magnesium alloy, hard plastic, and carbon fiber tubes. There is a sense of hollowness when handling it that mainly comes from the large size of the carbon fiber legs, and the thickness of the metal components shifting the weight to the top. Unfortunately, this also contributed to it feeling a bit cheaper than its price would indicate.
In the coppery anodized parts above the legs, the assembly seems quite good with only a few visible gaps in the multi-piece central hub (or spider). There were a few dents and dings in the hub of the test unit, but then it was not factory-fresh, and we don't know what kind of abuse it has been subjected to before it came to us on loan. In any case, the aluminum will dent but the anodized finish will not be effected. For larger issues, the 3 Legged warranty is a comfortable 5 years.
At first glance, the legs may look like grey metal as well, but only because 3 Legged Thing has avoided the decorative weave layer found on many other carbon composite tripod legs. If you look closely, you can see the striations of the fibers, but from a distance, this is what they call 'stealth' carbon. Perhaps having your tripod look like an aftermarket part on a street racer is not always a good thing, but any pretension for stealthiness still seems kind of funny, given the rest of the design.
Choobz carrying tube
Even something as simple and standard as the included tripod bag has been made unique by 3LT. The top-loading tube bag (known as "Choobz") is made of a semi-rigid nylon with a smooth, padded interior to protect the tripod.
The flip-up top includes a roomy compartment for the included short center column, spikes and tools. The only real negative to this nice bag is that it’s a little too big for the Eddie tripod, and with a hard top and rigid sides, it won’t pack any smaller.
Integrated bubble level
Perhaps one of the most underrated features of a tripod, a bubble level on the hub is often associated with cheaper products (that frequently also have a compass). However, this tiny visual aid helps immensely when setting up on uneven terrain with legs at various angles and extensions.
3 Legged Thing has added a bullseye level to the side of the central hub, where it can easily be seen from above. This is another tiny detail that the folks in Stagsden have paid attention to.
Old-school angle locks
While Eddie can go quite low to the ground (8" or 21cm), setting any of the three angles is done through pull-out/push-in angle locks. These tabs of metal are slightly oversized on the 3LT tripod, so they are still easy to grip and pull out, but compared to the increasingly common automatic leg locks that click into place as the leg is pulled down, setting up the proper angles can take a bit more time. On the plus side, this style of angle lock provides plenty of room for an embossed 3 Legged alien face logo, and possibly a greater maximum load.
3 Legged Thing sells all of their tripods either as legs alone, or in kits with an "Airhed" ball head. The Eddie, although it folds down quite compact, is still a full-sized tripod with a generous load capacity. This means it comes with 3LT's largest Airhed 2, with a 41mm diameter ball, as opposed to the somewhat smaller Airhed 1 at 37mm, or the Airhed 0 at 32mm. Given the relatively light weight of these aluminum heads, the reference to air is appropriate.
The motion of the ball is smooth enough, and well controlled by the single friction and locking knob. The numeric scale on the side of the knob remains consistent, so this index is useful for remembering a particular amount of friction. The pan lock knob is also well-damped and locks securely, and both knobs (and the quick release knob) have a textured plastic grip that is easy to use with bare hands. The indexed base allows some precision in panning, except for the curious lack of an indicator line to show where things start.
One important warning: Airhed knobs have labels that go from 'Lock -> Rock', but one of those knobs releases the camera plate, so don’t rock them all at the same time!
|Shooting frozen waterfalls with a Fuji and the 3 Legged Eddie.|
Throwing the red 'Choobz' bag over a shoulder, the weight of the Eddie 2.1 kit was not a bother, but the size of the tubular bag got in the way at times. Putting this big 3LT kit into a backpack side pocket, or just attaching a sling to it, would be an easier way to carry it into the field, and there would be no empty tube waiting to be filled with detritus and snow. Still, a big bag is better than no bag at all, and a convenient place to store the tools, spikes and short column.
Once we got beyond the packing dilemma, setting up the Van Halen of tripods was pretty quick and easy. The leg locks take only a quick twist to unlock them all (if your hand can span all five), and the leg sections extend with a gentle shake, and no hint of wobble. This is because the tubes fit together quite tightly, but also move easily, without any need to pull them out when unlocked. The angle locks did take a few extra seconds to set, but that was about the only slow part.
The center column lock had to be tightened with gusto at all times when using the tripod, whether the column was up or down, since it lacks an anti-rotation groove. Occasionally we forgot to insure it was extra tight, and the column would rotate at inopportune times, changing a composition, even though the pan lock on the ball head was secured.
Monopod on ice
Much of the field testing was done in the wintertime, as can be seen in the photos, and the monopod leg of the Eddie was used as a walking stick due to its generous height, and the included foot spikes. This helped immensely when traversing the ice over rivers and below waterfalls. When the light began to dim, the monopod was equally handy for steadying the camera at a lower ISOs, and the removable leg muff can be slid up to provide a comfy grip on the stick. A very convenient and thoughtful detail.
Stress test results
Leg lock strength
To evaluate the overall strength of the leg locks, a single leg was extended and its twist locks were hand-tightened twice (once to lock, and a second twist to insure they were set). Weights were then placed directly above the extended leg (or monopod, for convertible tripods) until either a leg lock began to slip, or the stated load capacity for the tripod was reached.
The 3 Legged Eddie monopod leg showed some slight slippage in the leg locks when the full load of 26 lbs (12kg), the largest in the review group (along with the MeFoto), was approached. However, that's a fairly extreme amount of weight to put on a single leg, and no lock slip was seen when using the 3LT in tripod mode with all three legs sharing less-extreme weight amounts.
Vibrations can make even the sharpest lens turn out mushy, blurred photos, and can ruin long exposures. Camera vibration can be mechanically minimized with mirror lockup, electronic shutters, and a remote shutter release, while adding weight to the bottom of the tripod (with the weight hook or a tripod stone bag) can help with environmental vibrations like wind, water, and passing trucks. However, not all vibration can be eliminated, so we tested whether the tripod will dampen them or transmit and reflect them to the camera.
The tripod legs were fully extended with the center column lowered, and our high-tech vibration analyzer (an iPad on a 3 lb (1.36kg) aluminum block) was mounted to the ball head with a long lens plate. An industrial solenoid valve with a plastic hammer was used as a source of vibration (a knock to the bottom of one leg). The resulting graph of all three accelerometers shows both the resistance of the tripod and ball head to the initial shock, as well as the rate of decay for residual vibration within the tripod.
|3 Legged Thing Eddie and Airhed 2 vibration resistance test results - click for larger graph.
For comparison, see the reference graph from the 6.4 lb, ash wood Berlebach 2032
Our friend Eddie was not as vibration resistant as we expected from a carbon fiber leg set with such substantial components. The initial shock was transmitted to the camera location fairly immediately, but was minimized by the tripod's substantial mass, while the resulting vibrations tapered off rather slowly after that. This is one of those areas that tighter construction would help, even though the shock of this type of stress test won't be frequently encountered in the field.
Cold weather use
All of the travel tripods in this group were used extensively in one of the harshest and coldest Canadian winters in recent memory. In fact, the waterfall photos were taken on a sunny day at -13° F (-25° C)! While this extreme temperature doesn't affect the function of the tripod legs as much as the ball head, there were still things to note.
As mentioned above, the monopod with the foot spikes and positionable leg wrap was very welcome in the cold. Using the leg locks remained easy with the substantial rubber grips, however the knobs on the Airhed became slippery with gloves on. The ball action of the ball head remained fairly smooth and easy, but setting the friction for longer lenses with a single knob was a bit of trial and error that was complicated by the slippery knobs.
3 Legged Thing makes products that are visually distinct and have their fun-factor set pretty high, but it's also quite apparent that the designers are working photographers who have a good sense of the details to put in a quality piece of support gear. So many helpful little features are packed in the box with a 3LT tripod that even this review hasn't hit them all. Our only complaint about the Eddie is that it sometimes feels like the overall construction took a back seat to getting the flashiest design, though the 5 year warranty and global distribution are reassuring. In conclusion, the 3LT Eddie is a very competent, colorful, larger carbon travel tripod, and if you bring heavier camera gear on your travels, then Eddie should prove a great travel companion.
What we like:
- Big tripod size that still folds up compactly
- Has many thoughtful details that just work
- Extras are included (spikes, bag, short column)
- Fun and different colors with attitude
What we don't like:
- Too-big bag that doesn't flatten or fold
- Center column rotates on its own
- Not great vibration dampening