Travel tripods: Comparing 5 aluminum kits
Benro A1692TV0 Travel Angel II
$300 / £180 www.benro.com
|The Benro A1692TV0 Travel Angel II aluminum and magnesium-alloy tripod.|
Benro started a trend in travel tripod design with the original 'transfunctional' Travel Angel. Although it looked like a traditional tripod, it had legs that folded up 180° around the ball head, while the center column and one leg could be removed and combined to create a monopod. Not content to rest on their laurels, Benro has revised and improved their popular travel tripod series for the sequel. This time they have even included a few extras to make it 'triple transfunctional.' Perhaps, someday soon, transfunctional might even be considered a real English word.
|Folded size||16" (41cm)|
|Maximum height||61.6" (156cm)|
|Height w/ column down||53.5" (136cm)|
|Minimum height||9.6" (24.4cm) w/ short column|
|Weight||3.7 lbs (1.7kg)|
|Load limit||17.6 lbs (8kg)|
|# of leg sections||5|
|Leg tube diameters||25 / 22 / 19 / 16 / 13mm|
|# of leg angles||3|
|Angle degrees||23 / 57 / 81°|
Below is a relative height comparison between the Benro A1692TV0 and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.
Design and features
|Getting low with the Benro, thanks to the included short center column.|
This second iteration of the Travel Angel series has been improved in many ways, yet it still retains the conservative appearance of the previous (very successful) series of Angels. Benro has introduced a variation of the Travel Angel II called the Aerometal Travel Angel, which is made of forged aluminum parts instead of the cast magnesium-alloy of this model. The use of aluminum makes the Aerometal version a bit thinner and more angular in the central hub and leg hinge areas. In North America, the Benro-made MeFoto tripods incorporate these parts, along with many fashionable anodized colors.
Almost everything on the A1692TV0 is consistently black and slightly chunky in appearance. Even the dense, insulating foam on the monopod leg is quite thick, and is matched by the wide rubber twist locks. Benro states that these locks have been redesigned for increased resistance to water and dust ingress, which is a good thing for those who don't regularly disassemble, clean, and maintain their tripods (which is probably most of us).
V0 ball headBenro provides their distributors two options for the ball head included with the Travel Angel II tripods. One is the older B-series heads (B0, B1, etc.) which have separate friction and locking knobs (see our review of the B3 head here), and the other is the V-series. The last two characters of this tripod kit's full name, 1692TV0, indicates that the V0 ('vee-zero') 30mm diameter ball head is included.
The major difference is that the V-series heads have an oversized, integrated minimum friction dial on the main locking knob. This takes away one extraneous knob, and the giant dial is much easer to turn than their competitor's thumbscrews.
Removable monopod leg
For times when only one leg is needed, either for photography or hiking, the leg with the blue stripe can be unscrewed from the angle joint. The resulting pole is 50" tall without one of the attachments.
The securing bolt is very large with a coarse thread, so only the center column, hiking pole knob, or short column can be directly attached to the leg. However, the short column comes with a platform and 3/8" standard mounting bolt, so the V0 ball head can be transplanted to this monopod without removing the longer column from the rest of the tripod.
Revised leg locks
When upgrading the Travel Angel series from the original design, Benro not only designed their leg locks to be more water and dust resistant, but also state that the leg locks have been strengthened 'by 10%.' We will have to take their word for that precise amount.
The plastic and rubber locks also have a very short throw, requiring just 1/4 turn to unlock or lock each section. The locks will continue to turn in the unlock direction, so it's only the unlocking that is guaranteed to be quick.
There is also the requisite sticker to indicate which direction to turn the lock, just in case you forget.
In what must've been the easiest way to squeeze a third function out of a tripod, Benro has included a real wood hiking pole knob (with integrated compass, for hiking!), and a handy wrist strap. This is what makes the whole tripod and monopod arrangement 'triple transfunctional' for marketing purposes.
This is also described as an 'alpenstock' on the main Benro website. So, remember to install the included steel spikes when traversing those glaciers!
Other included features
|Converts to monopod||Yes, 64.5" (164cm) max height|
|Carrying case included||Yes, padded, with shoulder strap|
|Insulated leg grip||Yes, on monopod leg|
|Removable feet||Yes, spikes included|
|Non-rotating center column||Yes, grooved|
|Short center column||Yes, grooved, w/ head platform|
|Weight hook||Yes, retractable, removable|
|Top plate/ head platform||Metal plate, plastic non-slip pad|
|Ball head diameter/ max load||30mm ball, 20kg max load|
|QR plate included||Yes, arca-type, 50mm long|
Construction and handling
|The cast magnesium-alloy center hub and leg joints of the Benro Travel Angel II.|
While the Travel Angel is fairly compact, Benro does not make any part of the tripod insubstantial. In fact, the A1692 is one of the larger and heavier tripods in this comparison group, despite being the smallest Travel Angel II in terms of leg tubes and folded length. (The original Travel Angel is still available in a slightly smaller model, the A0690T.)
The entire central hub (or spider) is a single piece of cast magnesium-alloy with Benro's signature black powder coating on top. This silky and consistent finish is repeated on the leg joints and angle locks, with only the blue-anodized ring of the monopod leg breaking things up. This little flourish of color, echoed in the blue ring of the V0 head, makes it quite easy to identify which leg can be removed.
Every twist lock is nicely wrapped in a very thick and grippy rubber, from the center column to the leg locks that descend in size with each section. Underneath this rubber is a hard plastic lock that squeaks a bit when turned, but always feels solid in the hand. The tube sections of the legs fit nicely together with no wobble at all when unlocked, and the grooved center column prevents unwanted rotation without the any wiggle when unlocked.
A very full package
The V0 ball head
Not every market for the Travel Angel II offers the V-series ball head with the aluminum legs, which is a shame, as this is one of the finest ball heads made by Benro. The machined aluminum exterior is finished in a shinier black than the magnesium-alloy components on the rest of the tripod, and the metal knobs are covered in the same thick rubber as the leg locks. The anodized blue ring at the end of the locking knob encircles the largest and most useful minimum friction dial of any ball head of this size. Not only does it look nice, it's extremely easy to turn and set the level of friction that the ball will stop at when unlocked, preventing any flop with larger loads on the head.
The feel of the ball is quite smooth, and is consistent regardless of the weight placed upon it. There is never a hint of stickiness to the motion, even in extreme temperatures (see below), which is again different from our experience with the B-series heads. The V0 panning base has just the right balance of resistance and free motion to allow for precise, and yet fairly quick pans. Unfortunately, there are no degree markings around the base, so that precision isn't numeric, but that's a common exclusion at this small size. The knob arrangement around the body of the head, along with the slim quick release platform, make it easy to fold the legs up around the V0 head and minimize the size of the kit when packed.
Taking the Benro Travel Angel II into the field is not a challenge, despite the heaviness and relatively large size of the tripod. Everything packs nicely into the Benro-standard tripod bag, and the Travel Angel is a breeze to set up and start shooting with. Grab all the twist locks on a leg and give them a short turn, and the sections fall open in a waterfall of aluminum tubing. No need for wiggling individual locks or pulling leg sections out. Once extended, the leg locks take very little rotation to securely lock things in place.
Perhaps the only aspect of the tripod that was a bit difficult to use in the field were the leg angle locks. Benro has kept the older style of pull-out/push-in manual angle locks on their Travel Angels. Compared to the multitude of clicking, automatic angle locks on the other tripods in the group, it was apparent that changing the angle of the Benro legs took more time and effort.
Quick release negative
The new V0 head included with this kit is a definite step up from the B-series heads included with other Travel Angel kits, but it still uses the pull-and-turn-to-release lock on the quick release knob. This is marketed as a safety feature, to prevent a camera from falling off the head when unscrewing the release. Unfortunately, as we've seen with the Benro B-series heads and some Induro ball heads, this mechanism requires pulling with more force than should be necessary, on a knob that should not be the center of attention when loosening a load of gear from a release clamp. More than once, pulling and twisting this knob came close to defeating its 'safety' purpose, as camera gear precariously trembled while the lock was being released.
Quick release positives
When tightened down, the quick release easily clamps many different brands and sizes of arca-type plates. The addition of two grooves on either open end of the clamp work well to prevent the included PU50 plate from sliding out, and also works well with the safety-stops on many other plates.
Finally, as can be seen in the end-on photo to the side, the diminutive size of the release clamp makes packing the kit easy as well.
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 all three legs was reached.
Benro states that the leg locks were improved from the original Travel Angel, and while an older model wasn't on hand for comparison, the Travel Angel II locks performed admirably. They remained solidly locked after the full load of 17.6 lbs (8kg) was placed on just one leg, so they will definitely hold up to heavy loads when all three are involved.
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.
|Benro Travel Angel II kit vibration resistance test results - click the image for a larger graph
For comparison, see the reference graph from the 6.4 lb, ash wood Berlebach 2032
The Benro A1692TV0, although a very solid tripod in build and function, tends to reflect and transmit vibrations more than other tripods of this size and weight. As seen in the graph above, the initial shock is somewhat minimized by the heft of the kit, but it takes a while for the continued vibrations across the tripod to die down. This is probably due to the aluminum legs and joint construction, but the geometry of the whole kit does little to minimize ongoing vibrations.
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 initial group 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.
When handling the Travel Angel II in the snow, the large and grippy leg locks were comfortable to turn with thick gloves on, and the pull-out angle locks were still easy to grab and adjust because they extend beyond the sides of the leg hinges. The ball motion of the V0 head became a bit stiff in the extreme cold, but never sticky, and the main ball and pan lock knobs were still easy to grab and turn. Even the minimum friction screw, thanks to its oversized dimensions, was useable even with mitts. The only real issue was remembering to pick up and carry the Benro by that one (monopod) leg with the foam cover, as the other two, bare aluminum legs quickly became uncomfortable to hold, even with gloves on.
Benro certainly knows the full-size travel tripod market, and is not a in a 'sophomore slump' with this second iteration of the Travel Angel series. The improvements to the leg tubes and locks are great, and adding a third 'transfunction' to the kit will increase its value to some people, but perhaps the best new feature on the tested unit is the V0 head. Unfortunately, it seems US buyers of the Travel Angel II will need to upgrade to the carbon fiber version to get this greatly improved head.
That aside, the A1692 legs fold up quite small, yet still provide considerable flexibility and working height, with their weight being the only downside. This still makes them an admirable set of aluminum travel legs for users with heavier cameras and lenses, but without much room to pack a tripod and monopod (and hiking staff!). For a bit more money, the carbon fiber Travel Angel II will shave about half a pound (220 grams) from the weight, and will certainly include the V0 ball head.
What we like:
- Big legs that pack small
- Robust and tightly assembled
- Includes all the extras (and then some)
- Excellent V0 ball head
What we don't like:
- Quite heavy for its size and function
- Safety lock quick-release knob is slow and fiddly
- Not much vibration dampening