Travel tripods: 5 carbon fiber kits reviewed
MeFoto GlobeTrotter Carbon C2350Q2T
$369 / £220 - www.mefoto.com
|The carbon fiber MeFoto GlobeTrotter, on the rocks.|
MeFoto is a sub-brand of the US-based Mac Group, with a very youthful and colorful (literally) attitude, as some of the company's products are available in up to 12 metallic colors. Beneath all that marketing gloss, however, are tripods that are also known as Benro MeFoto tripods in other parts of the world. So even if the brand name is fairly new, the people bringing these to market are no strangers to the design and manufacture of quality tripods.
The names of every tripod in the MeFoto line conjure up images of travel, from the tiny DayTrip and BackPacker, to the compact RoadTrip, all the way to their largest model, the GlobeTrotter (and, yes, they are all capitalized like that). Although it has thick legs and substantial components, this is still a packable kit, and the carbon fiber leg option shaves nearly a pound (0.4kg) off the aluminum legged GlobeTrotter.
|Folded size||16.1" (41cm)|
|Maximum height||64.2" (163cm)|
|Height w/ column down||55.1" (140cm)|
|Minimum height||16.1" (41cm)|
|Weight||3.7 lbs (1.7kg)|
|Load limit||26.5 lbs (12kg)|
|# of leg sections||5|
|Leg tube diameters||28.6 / 25 / 21.5 / 18 / 15mm|
|# of leg angles||2|
|Angle degrees||24 / 65°|
Below is a relative height comparison between the MeFoto GlobeTrotter and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.
Design and features
|The MeFoto GlobeTrotter is designed to stand tall and pack small.|
Though it may not quite be a Harlem Globetrotter in size, this is still a travel tripod designed for those who don't want to sacrifice working height or gear capacity when on the road. The legs are a thick 28.6mm in diameter at the top, and the grooved center column can take things up to well over 5 feet, before any camera has been attached. The components that allow for this height are robust, with thick aluminum leg pivots and locks, and a multi-part central hub that neither looks nor feels insubstantial.
Aside from the options of a 'titanium' silver or basic black finish on the aluminum parts, and either carbon fiber or aluminum leg tubes, the GlobeTrotter remains a fairly conventional tripod. There are almost no flourishes of form over function to be found, though the MeFoto brand name shows up on the leg sticker, the ball head, and in a subtle form on the foam leg pad. While not exactly generic, this tripod almost needs the brighter finish to stand out from other support gear.
Q2 ball head
The double-action controls of the MeFoto ball head show its heritage from the Benro B-series of heads. With a 33mm diameter ball, the Q2 is slightly smaller than a Benro B1, with the same quality build and separate knobs for adding friction and locking the ball.
The narrow, machined aluminum case, and the generous spaces between each knob, allow the legs of the GlobeTrotter to fold around the head and remain a compact package. The indexed panning base is perfectly sized for the center column platform, as well.
Forged aluminum hub and joints
Although not much is mentioned about their tripod materials in the MeFoto marketing, the very precise machining and anodized colors indicate aluminum is used throughout. While Benro markets a very similar tripod as an 'aerometal' Travel Angel II, the MeFoto GlobeTrotter is content to simply look good, in either basic black or the silvery finish shown here.
This tripod almost couldn't be sold as a Benro MeFoto without the requisite, detachable monopod leg. The beefy components of the GlobeTrotter extend to the very thick bolt that holds this leg and the angle joint together.
The center column has the same, wide thread at the bottom, and can be attached to the monopod leg to bring the total height back up to the 64" (163cm) height of the entire tripod.
Aluminum leg locks
The carbon fiber leg tubes are locked together with very smooth-turning, aluminum leg locks. Beneath them are plastic sleeves, and on top is a grippy rubber cover, but the lock tube itself is built to last.
These locks also require a very short twist to lock and unlock the legs, and are said to be dust and water resistant (though we can't see any seals). Naturally, a helpful sticker indicates the direction for the twist, even if it won't be needed after the first few times using the tripod.
Other included features
|Converts to monopod||Yes, 64.2" (163cm) max height|
|Carrying case included||Yes, semi-padded case|
|Insulated leg grip||Yes, on 1 leg only|
|Removable feet||Yes, spikes included|
|Non-rotating center column||Yes, grooved|
|Short center column||--- (optional $28 accessory)|
|Weight hook||Yes, retractable, removable|
|Top plate/ head platform||Metal, reversible mount screw|
|Ball head diameter/ max load||33mm ball, 12kg max load|
|QR plate included||Yes, arca-type, 60mm long|
Construction and handling
|Although the finish is called 'titanium', the MeFoto metal is aluminum.|
Almost every metal part of the GlobeTrotter is well-finished aluminum, with the option of either the traditional anodized black finish, or the bright 'titanium' finish (a kind of iridescent silver) seen on our review unit. The metal components are made through aluminum forging, which is a combination of pressure casting and machine finishing. This produces very precise parts with a high strength-to-weight ratio.
These parts fit together so tightly, it's difficult to tell that the multi-part central hub is not carved from a single piece of aluminum. This tight construction means the MeFoto feels very solid in the hand, and even though it has carbon fiber leg tubes, it's also not exactly a light tripod. The GlobeTrotter would be even heavier with the aluminum leg tubes, but this bulk is a concession to a greater gear capacity and taller extended height than many other travel tripods.
Limited leg angle locks
The MeFoto GlobeTrotter uses the simpler and slower push-in/pull-out type of leg angle locks. They take a few more seconds when setting up, compared to the spring-loaded automatic angle locks on other tripods, and can be harder to grab with gloves on.
In addition to this, the GlobeTrotter has only two angle choices; 24 or 64 degrees. This is where MeFoto differs from the almost-identical Benro Aerometal Travel Angel, which has three angles, including an almost-horizontal 84 degrees.
This also explains why MeFoto doesn't include a short column, since it would be of limited use.
Dual action ball head
Like many other Benro-derived ball heads, the MeFoto Q2 in this kit has separate knobs for setting the minimum friction and locking the ball. In theory, this is not much different from the many ball heads that use a thumbscrew to set the minimum friction, only another knob sticking out from the case. In practice, however, the Q2 suffers from the same lack of feedback in the knobs as the Benro B-series ball heads. This means when the friction or locking knob is used to apply a lot of friction to the ball, the other knob spins freely without much function. Both knobs turn the same locking mechanism, and the index numbers printed around them (to remember a friction level) lose relevance as the dual actions compete with each other.
The feel of the ball motion is not as smooth as some, but never has a hint of stickiness, even under heavier loads. Once an appropriate level of friction is set, the ball will still move easily to orient a longer lens or large camera. Locking the ball down completely produces significant shift in framing with longer lenses, which indicates a lot of travel for the ball and lock pads. This can be inconvenient for telephoto work or macros, where the framing should be maintained.
|The MeFoto's generous height and thick leg tubes as seen in the field.|
The MeFoto GlobeTrotter was a favorite tripod to use in the field, thanks to its generous height, unobtrusive weight, and the helpful extras of a form-fitting bag with leg spikes included in a pocket. The leg locks turned quickly and easily to allow the legs to slide out or collapse up in very short order. The firm feeling of the construction was also reassuring when setting up on uneven ground, particularly with larger cameras and lenses than we would try on other travel tripods.
Although the leg angle locks are the old push-and-pull style, they did not slow things down too much during set up and adjustments, and the choice of two leg angles was only a detriment when attempting macros with a shorter lens (see below). In general, the MeFoto was a solid support companion with very few things to complain about, and we even adapted to using the dual-action ball head by simply ignoring one knob (the smaller friction one) and using the head like a single knob unit, similar to other kits in this group.
The center column weight hook is retractable and removable, as expected. One nice detail is that it shares the same, wide screw thread as the monopod leg. So, when the center column is being used to extend the working height of the monopod, the weight hook can be conveniently attached and stored in the empty hole left by the detached leg.
Unfortunately, this same hook does not extend very far away from its recessed compartment, so only thin straps or small carabiners can be hung from it. Not a single camera bag handle we tested (out of 7 bags in the gear closet) could squeeze into this opening.
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.
When the leg locks were tightened down, there was no slippage between sections at all. The GlobeTrotter held up the largest maximum load of the review group (equal to the 3LT Eddie), at 26.5 lbs (12kg), with no complaints. However, the locks do need to be tightened securely in the field, as there were occasions when they would slip slightly under duress (leaning on the monopod).
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.
|MeFoto GlobeTrotter Carbon vibration resistance test results - click for larger graph.
For comparison, see the reference graph from the 6.4 lb, ash wood Berlebach 2032
The tight construction of the GlobeTrotter, combined with its relatively larger mass, minimized the initial shock quite well, and the vibrations were dampened extremely quickly after that. There was a very slight, continued vibration long after things settled down, but it was only noticeable on the test graph after this rather extreme stress test. The overall impression is that the MeFoto can be expected to easily resist the smaller vibrations of field photography.
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.
With carbon fiber leg tubes and a foam grip on one leg, the GlobeTrotter was easy to handle in the cold, and the leg and column locks were easy enough to grip and turn, although bare hands would get the occasional cold snap from the aluminum ring of the locks. The included leg spikes were helpful, both for the monopod and when setting up on ice or other slick surfaces. The ball head had the same feel when cold as in warmer weather, and the knobs were easy to manipulate with gloves or mitts on. Overall, there was little to discourage using the MeFoto in extreme cold.
There is something about the MeFoto GlobeTrotter that transcends its own origins and many of the small issues mentioned above. We know it was designed to fit a marketing brief, and that many of its parts are almost identical to (if not from the same bin as) other Benro tripods, but it feels like a solid kit that was expressly built to hold heavier gear in out-of-the-way places. The ball head could use an upgrade (to the Benro V-series, please) and the angle locks should join the 3-way automatics of other brands, but even these complaints are tempered by how well the rest of the kit just works.
The icing on the cake is a price that is more than reasonable for this amount of carbon and aluminum.
What we like:
- Large capacity and useful height
- Very compact when folded
- Solid build with excellent finish
- Great price for carbon legs
What we don't like:
- Confusing dual ball head knobs
- Not very low-angle or macro friendly
- Weight hook is very narrow