Velbon Ultra REXi L Tripod

The lightweight Velbon Ultra REXi L travel tripod is fantastic for travelling or everyday photography where a conventional tripod would weigh you down. 

Traveling can be daunting, especially with tons of photography gear to lug around from airport to airport. The Velbon Ultra REXi L is designed with the travelling photographer in mind. Weighing just 2.89 lbs (1.31kg), the Ultra REXi L will easily slip into a duffel bag or strap to the outside of a photo backpack without adding too much heft, but it's still capable of holding 11 pounds of camera gear at a decent height off the ground, making it one of the best 'travel' tripods around (and a personal favourite of dpreview's Andy Westlake - Ed.).

Key to the Ultra REXi L's compact size when folded is the 'trunnion shaft' design of its legs, which retract into one another almost completely. When extended, the Ultra REXi L can support your camera at a maximum height of 60.2 inches, or 153cm. This is about five feet - a good working height for most general-purpose photography, and the chunky adjustment controls make setup quick and easy, even in poor weather. We don't normally get excited about how low a tripod can go, but the REXi L's minimum extension of ~10cm (3.94 inches) makes it great for ground-level macro photography. 

Despite its compact size, the Velbon Ultra REXi L can comfortably handle a medium-sized DSLR like a Canon EOS 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 with a standard or wideangle zoom attached. Not uncommonly, the Ultra REXi L does not come with a head, but has a reversible bolt that will accept heads with standard 1/4" and 3/8" connections. Velbon offers a few high quality ball and pan/tilt heads too.

Key Features/Specifications

  • Height (fully extended): 60.2in / 153cm
  • Height (without center column extended): 51.2in 130cm
  • Minimum working height: 4in / 10cm
  • Folded length: 14.2 inches / 36.07cm
  • Max load: 11.02 lb / 5kg
  • Weight: 2.89 lb / 1.31kg
  • Twist Lock leg system

What we like - Lightweight, full-height tripod with extremely short folded length. Chunky adjustment controls are great for quick setup.

What we don't like - The tradeoff for short folded length is a relatively large diameter when folded, which makes stowage in some camera bags awkward. The lowest of the leg grips is the foot of the tripod (not great when setting up in mud/sand)

Velbon Super Mag Macro Tripod Slider

The Velbon Super Mag Slider is a must for serious macro photography, where precise camera positioning is critical.

Macro photography is one of the most popular genres for keen enthusiast photographers, but it's also one of the most difficult. Anyone who's ever taken biology in high school knows how difficult it is to line up tiny things under a microscope, and shooting insects or small flowers with a macro lens isn't much easier. Even miniscule movements at high magnifications might cause you to lose your shot. The average tripod head is not capable of the super-fine movements that are really required when lining up a macro subject, but that's what macro, or microadjustment plates are for.

The Velbon Super Mag Macro Tripod Slider (as used in one of DPReview's studios - Ed.) is an inexpensive microadjustment plate that features precise 4-way adjustment. The design mounts the camera on a cork-covered plate attached to two magnesium alloy rails. The camera can be moved 60mm (2.36 inches) forward and backward, and 30mm (1.18 inches) left and right by turning the large knurled adjustment knobs. The whole thing weighs just 470 grams (1.04lbs). Coupled perhaps with a macro ring light, the Velbon Super Mag Macro Tripod Slider is a great companion for macro photography, but also works well for any application where you need precise control over framing alignment.

Key Features/Specifications

  • Precise 4-way camera alignment
  • Can be moved forward, back, left and right
  • Weighs 470 grams (1.04lbs)
  • Allows 60mm (2.36 in) forwards and backwards movement and 30mm (1.18 in) left to right
  • Features two reversible 1/4-20" to 3-8" tripod connections, and a 1/4-20" camera screw

What we like - Precise four-way movement allows exacting camera movement, light weight, great value

What we don't like - Lacks ruler or millimeter markings, which would be helpful to gauge exact distances

Phottix Aion Wireless Timer and Shutter Release

The Phottix Aion system enables wireless control of self-timer and shutter release.

A wireless shutter release is one of the most useful accessories that any photographer can have in his or her kitbag, and the Phottix Aion is one of the best. In addition to wirelessly controlling the shutter release, the Aion can activate your camera's self-timer, control bulb exposures and even control auto-bracketed timer settings for HDR photos.

The Phottix Aion has a two-stage shutter button for AF and shutter release functions, just like a typical digital camera. It offers several exposure modes - instant, continuous 5 shot, 2 second delay and bulb shutter. 

The Phottix Aion operates over a 2.4GHz radio frequency and has a 60 meter range. We were impressed with the Phottix Odin's performance at long ranges, and we've no reason to think that the Aion will disappoint. The remote unit of the Aion features a backlit LCD screen for enhanced vision at night and both the remote and transmitter run on AAA batteries. The Phottix Aion can also be used as a wired remote system in order to free up the hot shoe for other accessories, though the transmitter can be mounted anywhere during the wireless setup as well. Canon, Nikon, Sony and Olympus cameras are supported.

Key Features/Specifications

  • Self, interval and long exposure timers
  • Number of frames setting
  • Auto-bracketed timer setting for HDR photos
  • Two-stage shutter button for AF and shutter release
  • Instant, continuous 5 shot, 2 second delay and bulb shutter release mode
  • 2.4GHz frequency
  • 60m range
  • Backlit LCD
  • AAA batteries

What we like: - Capable of a variety of shutter and timer functions, long radio frequency range, backlit LCD

What we don't like: - a tad pricey

Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

The Tiffen Variable ND filter provides 2-8 stops of filtration, making it ideal for the travelling photographer or videographer. 

Neutral Density filters are basically like sunglasses for your lens, allowing you to achieve slow shutter speeds or shoot at large apertures in daylight for long-exposure shots of crowds or waterfalls, or perhaps shallow depth-of-field portraits. Conventional ND filters come in fixed densities though, which can make them awkward to use if you want to experiment with different exposure settings. 

The Tiffen Variable ND filter solves this problem. It eliminates the need to buy multiple filters by providing 2-8 (0.6- 2.4) stops of density control. The density is controlled by opposing polarizing filters. You twist the filter's ring to increase or decrease the amount of opposition, which in turn changes the density of the filter, allowing more or less light into the lens. It's versatility also makes this filter very useful for DSLR video capture.

I've had a chance to use the Tiffen Variable ND filter pretty intensively, and it's a high quality piece of kit. The ring is buttery smooth and the filter is slim and compact. Tiffen ships the Variable ND filter in a padded nylon pouch with lens wipe. It's constructed from Tiffen's high quality optical glass, and features a 10-year warranty. 

Also worth considering, if your budget is more flexible is the Light Craft Workshop Fader ND Digi Pro-HD Filter, which offers 1-10 stops of density, and comes with an adjustment rod and lens cap.

Key Features/Specifications

  • Provides 2 to 8 stops of light control
  • Thin profile ring - 9mm
  • Wide outer filter to help reduce vignetting at wide angles
  • Supplied with black nylon pouch
  • 10-year warranty

What we like: - Multiple ND filters in one, high quality construction, smooth rotation

What we don't like: - Does not ship with a lens cap, no adjustment rod

Click here to go to page 3 of our 2012 Holiday Gift Guide