Travel tripods: 5 carbon fiber kits reviewed
Feisol Traveler 3441SB-30
$494 / £291 - www.feisol.net
|The Feisol 3441SB tripod with the CB-30D ball head, at half extension.|
Feisol came almost out of nowhere in 2002 with a line of very affordable and well-made carbon fiber tripods with machined aluminum parts. With a name that is symbolic of a flying sun (Pinyin "fei" and Latin "sol"), this Taiwanese brand has truly enjoyed a meteoric rise in the realm of camera support gear. Today they not only offer tripods, monopods and ball heads, but also bike mounts, photo carts, and even carbon fiber gimbal heads!
One hallmark of Feisol products is their very obvious carbon fiber pattern, which is even found on the ends of the ball head knobs, and wrapped around some ball heads. The company started as a carbon fiber tube manufacturer, so this affinity is understandable. Keeping with tradition, they don't offer any tripods with aluminum legs, and they focus on exploiting the strengths of their carbon tubes in every application.
|Folded size||16.9" (43cm)|
|Maximum height||72.8" (185cm)|
|Height w/ column down||53" (135cm)|
|Minimum height||17" (43cm)|
|Weight||3.1 lbs (1.4kg)|
|Load limit||16 lbs (7kg)|
|# of leg sections||4|
|Leg tube diameters||28 / 24.5 / 21 / 17mm|
|# of leg angles||3|
|Angle degrees||23 / 45 / 70°|
Below is a relative height comparison between the Feisol 3441SB and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.
Design and features
|Like the butler in the Addams Family, the 3441 is very tall, thin, and restrained.|
While the overall design of the 3441SB could be summed up as workmanlike, the double-extending center column puts the Feisol (literally) above the other tripods in this comparison. This height is intentional, and helped along by the rather narrow spread of the legs in their most upright position. Next, the legs are a substantial 28mm in top diameter, but the aluminum central hub and leg joints are decidedly compact.
Our studio images of the Feisol kit could easily be monochrome, since there is not a hint of color anywhere on the product. To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can have it in any color you like, as long as it's black. Everything is either anodized black, covered in black rubber, or has the characteristic black-on-black weave of the Feisol carbon fiber. Even the stenciled labels are slightly grey, and not a bright white.
Other included features
|Converts to monopod||---|
|Carrying case included||Yes, padded, top-loading w/ strap|
|Insulated leg grip||Yes, on all 3 legs|
|Removable feet||Yes (spikes, optional $15 accessory)|
|Non-rotating center column||---|
|Short center column||--- (optional $25 accessory)|
|Weight hook||Yes, removable, non-retractable|
|Top plate/ head platform||Metal plate|
|Ball head diameter/ max load||30mm ball, 5.5kg max load|
|QR plate included||Yes, arca-type, 50mm long|
Construction and handling
|The epic knobs of the CB-30D ball head crown the slim geometry of the 3441.|
Most apparent when handling the Feisol is just how deceptively light it is. The four-section leg tubes start at a wide 28mm diameter for the top section, reducing to only 17mm at the lowest section, and yet the whole package comes to barely over 3 lbs (1.4kg). The main reasons for this low weight are the very compact and minimalist aluminum components used in the central hub and leg joints, and the diminutive ball head.
The included ball head in this kit is the smaller of two choices between the CB-30 (30mm ball dia.) and CB-40 (40mm dia.) heads. Most noticeable about this selection are the comparatively giant knobs sticking out from it. Perhaps they look more appropriate on the larger head, but they are spaced well and don't get in the way of the legs when it folds up.
Fit and finish
All of the aluminum parts are finely machined and have a consistent matte finish, while the leg locks provide a gloss counterpoint to the rubber grips. In general, everything is tightly assembled, with only a slight wiggle in the angle lock levers. The leg and column locks turn smoothly, and the legs lock solidly without much effort (more on the column below). The carbon fiber tubes slide in and out with no wobble at all, and are accompanied by a characteristic "whoosh" sound, due to very tight and consistent tolerances.
Barely big enough bag
While the 3441SB folds up into the smallest dimensions of any tripod made by Feisol, the full 17" package just barely fits within the supplied top-loading bag. In fact, if the ball head quick release isn't carefully stowed in the drop slot (with its knob facing downward), zipping the bag is a tough proposition. It's nice that the bag can collapse to take up less room when not in use, and it is fairly well made, but having to pack away the tripod in this very particular fashion each time is a pain. This makes us wonder what the larger CB-40 ball head would do to the package!
Screw-on weight hook
Adding mass to lower the center of gravity is an important way to both stabilize a tripod and to improve its vibration resistance. Naturally, most tripod manufacturers include a weight hook at the bottom of the center column for this purpose, and Feisol does as well.
However, the Feisol method is to screw a large, non-retractable hook onto a threaded stud under the center column. Most of the time this hook is in the side pocket of the tripod bag. Why the side pocket? When it's attached to the center column, there is no way to fit the folded tripod into the (already tight) bag, due to the added length.
|The center column spent most of its time in the field all the way down.|
Once carefully stowed in its bag, the Feisol 3441SB is an easy tripod to take along in the field. The very light weight and ability to support larger gear made this a go-to tripod for long hikes with larger lenses, but always with the column down. The double-extending center column may be a great headline feature, but it was a bit wobbly even when just a single section was used. On one occasion, we pulled out all the stops and got a camera up to nearly 2 meters, but there was too much sway in the system to feel confident for more than a short time. The full height is better reserved for light-stand duty, or small cameras at high shutter speeds.
The automatic leg angle locks made setting things up very quick, and the leg locks took a very short twist to unlock. There was a bit more time needed to insure every lock was tightened down, but leaving the legs extended and carrying the whole thing from place to place was easy thanks to the low weight.
Head in the field
The CB-30D ball head was slightly rough at all friction levels, but held up some substantial lenses and cameras. The almost flush dial for setting the minimum friction was still easy to turn and use, and stayed out of the way when folding the tripod up.
The included arca-compatible plate has a firm rubber pad that slipped around a bit. Overall, while the Feisol CB-30D head may look a bit unrefined, it works pretty well, and there's no complaining that the knobs are hard to grab!
Center column confusion
One of the problems we ran into time and again with the Feisol was the column rotating on its own. There is no anti-rotation groove in the tube(s), and while the column lock can potentially tighten things down quite well, there are two sections to worry about. The top section lock would loosen a bit, and the camera could turn in a slow and stiff manner, as if the panning base on the head was just barely unlocked.
To correct this, we grab that small column lock and twist it further to tighten it down, and instead of stopping at a lock point, it starts turning slowly and firmly all the way around. Ah, so it was the lower column lock that was just a tiny bit loose! A single-section column with an anti-rotation groove started to sound really good right about then.
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 ensure 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 Feisol leg locks needed to be tightened with some extra strength to hold up the full 16 lbs (7kg) stated load on a single leg, but once tight, they held admirably. In the field, there were occasions when a section would slip a bit under heavier loads, so the firm locking maneuver soon became standard operating procedure.
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 both center column sections 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.
|Feisol 3441SB and CB-30 ball head vibration resistance test results - click for larger graph.
For comparison, see the reference graph from the 6.4 lb, ash wood Berlebach 2032
The results of the test with the Feisol are quite good. Despite its low mass, the 3441SB kit minimizes the initial shock, and then dampens the continued vibrations quickly and effectively. The stiff build, quality carbon fiber, and solid components contribute to this excellent performance. This kit should do equally well suppressing smaller vibrations in the field, but keep in mind that it was tested with both center column sections down.
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.
The three leg pads made it no problem to grab the tripod in the cold, even though the carbon tubes don't conduct heat like aluminum. The leg locks were always easy to grab and turn, though they did squeak a bit in the extreme cold. The little tabs for setting the leg angles were difficult to reach with thick gloves or mitts on, but could still be managed. Also, it would have been nice if foot spikes were included (like some other kits), but the rubber feet still did a good job in most situations.
While we may poke fun at the oversized knobs of the CB-30D head, they were a blessing in the extreme cold with thick gloves on. Adjusting the minimum friction from the almost-flush dial was basically impossible with gloves on, but this is not much different from other heads with thumbscrews to handle this same function. The motion of the ball became a bit rougher and the panning base slowed in the sub-zero temperatures, but everything else worked exactly as if it were warmer. Overall, the Feisol 3441SB is an excellent choice for inclement weather and extreme cold.
Feisol continues its tradition of making light and stable tripods with the 3441 Traveler, and they have exploited the carbon fiber they are known for to great effect. While the look of the tripod is a little underwhelming, and might lack the visual flair of its competition, the components are quite well made and tightly assembled. The emphasis is definitely on function over form, with the exception of the ungainly, two-section center column with problematic locks, and a weight hook that seems like an afterthought.
While the 3441SB is an incredibly light yet robust tripod with a compact and capable head, those few negative details degrade the day-to-day performance, which drags the overall rating down.
What we like:
- Very light weight for its size
- Robust build quality and fine finish
- Good vibration resistance
- Nice ball head (available in two sizes)
What we don't like:
- Non-retractable weight hook
- Rotating dual center columns
- Full height best as light stand
- Tight fitting bag