Review of Sirui M-3204, Arca-Swiss P0, A-S L-bracket, SunwayFoto DDY-64i
This is a review of the Sirui M-3204 tripod, Arca-Swiss (A-S) P0 ball head, A-S universal L-bracket, and SunwayFoto DDY-64i clamp. I bought this setup online without the ability to touch in person. Overall, I am pleased and the great tripod quest is accomplished!
I sought a stable, versatile, and relatively lightweight support system for backpacking, landscape, portrait, travel, macro and general purpose use. I also wanted to adopt the A-S plate system for faster setups. The tripod to needed to accomodate eye-level shooting without the center column extended with my 5'11" height. I use a Nikon D600, 24-85G VR, 70-200/4G VR, 85/1.8G, and Sigma 35/1.4. Photography is my serious -- and increasingly expensive! -- hobby. I do not make any money from it. You could say I loose money from it, but gain enjoyment!
I intended this purchase to replace two early 1980's Gitzo aluminum tripod sets:
1.) 4-section Reporter (2-series) with Leitz ball head, which had been my general use tripod
2.) 3-section, 3-series Studio with Gitzo Pan/Tilt head No.3, my around the house workhorse, which I'm keeping
ARCA-SWISS P0 head and SUNWAYFOTO DDY-64i clamp
I chose the A-S P0 head for it's innovative design, light weight and quality build. One hand controls the camera and the other hand adjusts the locking ring, which wraps around the head and is always ergonomically in the same place regardless of how the head is setup and which hand is free. CCW loosens the head and CW rotation tightens it -- just like normal screw threads (not counting those weirdos at Nikon who have both the lens mount and focus direction backwards. LOL!!) Since the head is inverted over the ball, it is much more difficult for it to get contaminated with water and sand. There is a cutout notch for the ball shaft on the side opposite the pano lock clamp useful for extreme tilts or placing the head 90 degrees on it's side. Like the much heavier Z1 model, the P0 ball is asymmetrical so it adds progressive resistance for a partially loosened head as it is tilted away from the level position. This way, it is less likely your camera and lens will flop over. Overall, this is a brilliant design!
By using Nikon's virtual level on the rear LCD, I can easily setup the shot to be level along the left-right and front-rear axis. Once leveled, the top plate can rotate 360 degrees for pano shots, with 5 degree markings on the top of the head just below the SunwayFoto DDY-64i clamp -- which takes standard A-S plates, not the newer "quickfix" type. There is no specific index mark on the clamp to align with the 5-degree markings on the head, but I find I can reference the "-" in the "DDY-64i" model designation, which happens to be on the exact opposite side of the clamp lock knob, and 90 degrees perpendicular to the plate clamp mechanism. The built-in bubble level on the clamp is small but useable and fairly accurate. However, the Nikon virtual level is so much better and easier that I won't be using it much.
There were a few setup and operation surprises once I actually had the P0 and DDY-64i in hand:
1) The P0 head has a slightly raised, round center section that the plate clamp attaches to. ONLY that section rotates. The outer part with the 5 degree markings and pano lock knob does not move. Until I realized this, I thought it was defective because I was trying make the entire top section rotate and it wouldn't!
2) Because of #1, it was much easier to mount and align the clamp than I thought it would be. The P0 has a 3/8-16 female thread and comes with a male-male 3/8 to 1/4-20 adapter that has an 11mm hex head in the middle for tightening to the P0. I left this in place. The DDY-64i clamp appears to be made just for the P0 because the 64mm diameter matches the tightening ring on the P0. The clamp came with a couple of short, beveled flat head 1/4-20 screws, a 3/8-16 to 1/4-20 step down adapter, and a long M6 beveled flat head screw. The P0 also came with a nice brass 3/8-16 to 1/4-20 adapter with a bevel and flathead screwdriver slots at one end. I screwed this brass fitting into the top of the DDY-64i tightly with a large screwdriver, then rotated the clamp atop the P0 (with pano knob tight) until the clamp was secure on the P0. At this point, I don't feel the need to use any type of thread lock material. Since the clamp can rotate 360 degrees on top of the head, I can easily position it for different shots, whether I'm using Arca plates that slide left-right (L-bracket) or front-rear (Kirk 70-200 collar). Wonderful!
3) The DDY-64i locking knob rubs and just barely clears the P0 pano knob. Since the clamp knob has a soft texture, there is enough "give" for it to pass over. This is not a big deal, and otherwise I can rotate the head to put the pano knob on the opposite side of the clamp lock knob no matter what type of plate setup I am using. If you are thinking about this setup and this sort of thing might bother you, just get the DDY-64iL with longer clamp lock knob and the two knobs won't touch at all. I prefer the shorter clamp knob because it is less in the way during transport and setup.
SIRUI M-3204 tripod
The Sirui M-3204 easily outdoes the Gitzo GT2542L:
1) much lower cost, even with $150 Gitzo Spring '13 rebate
2) larger diameter outer tube (32mm vs 28mm), shorter foldup height, equivalent operational heights
3) built-in spiked feet protrude simply by rotating rubber feet
4) one leg screws off and converts to a very nice, super lightweight monopod with a wrist strap and extra top plate included
5) well-made, padded carry case and padded shoulder strap that can also be attached directly to the tripod in various ways
6) short column for using tripod at near ground level. Not sure if I'll use this much as I can invert the center column to get even lower shots if needed.
7) dense foam pads on 2 of 3 legs, including monopod section
8) 6-year warranty
9) The carbon fiber is 8x construction, which is 2 better than Gitzo's 6X innit? (;->)
Neither the legs nor the center column rotate, so it is very fast to setup. For each leg section, I hold the tripod with left hand close to my body and just above my shoulder, I wrap my right hand around all three leg lock knobs, rotate 1/4 turn to free all locks at once, spread right arm outwards extending all four sections, then tighten each knob. I like it! I can't do this with my old Gitzos because both legs and column free spin and have to be adjusted in a very specific, tedious and time consuming way, else no can do.
Testing with different combinations of lenses and shooting situations, I find this tripod & head combo to be plenty stable for my uses. It is almost as solid as the much heavier, aluminum 3-series Gitzo with 3 leg sections (6.92 lbs. and 9.78 w/ No.3 pan-tilt head!) It is more stable and taller than the 2-series Reporter, but weighs less (3.84 vs. 4.33 lbs.). The M-3204, P0 & DDY-64i weigh 4.71 lbs.. The head and clamp alone weigh just 14oz. The entire working kit with tripod, head, case and strap weighs 5.88 lbs. With the long center column extended, the legs can fold 180 degrees up and over over the column and head for a compact package of just 20.18". With the column not extended and the legs in the traditional folded position, the tripod and head are about 25.5" long. I will tend to carry the tripod to a shoot with strap attached to the tripod and head section protruding from one end of the carry case, which isn't long enough to carry with head inside unless the legs are folded over the top. Then when I arrive at the shoot, I can grab the tripod from the case, put over my shoulder or on a backpack, and off I go. Of course, once the newness wears off and the inevitable scratches begin to appear, I'll probably skip the case altogether...
ARCA-SWISS UNIVERSAL L-BRACKET
I considered the dedicated Kirk L-bracket for the D600 with MB-D14 grip. (Actually, I use a Vello BG-N10 grip, which I am very happy with, and the $195 savings almost paid for this Arca Swiss L-Bracket.) On the plus side, the Kirk and RRS brackets are custom fit and as light and contoured as possible. If not using this A-S bracket, I would prefer the Kirk because it costs $5 less than the RRS, the LCD protector doesn't have to come off, it has a camera strap connection on bottom, and I can order it online from several vendors shipped for free. The A-S bracket weighs 9.75 oz, or almost twice as much as the two others. It costs about $40-45 more, but is much more difficult to make so represents a better value, especially considering it's versatility and future-proof use:
1) I can use it on just about any DSLR or other camera with or without grip.
2) Using the lever tighteners, I can easily remove the "L" tube bracket from either the longer horizontal plate or shorter vertical plate, and these plates can be slid almost anywhere along the bracket, so long as I leave enough tube sticking inside the plates for a secure fit.
3) As shipped, the longer section of "L" tube goes into the larger bottom plate. I reversed the tube and put the long section into the side/vertical plate, which has to go fairly high up the side with a gripped DSLR to center the plate with the sensor and lens axis. This resulted in more contact area for the the side plate lever grip, while leaving plenty of contact area for the bottom plate lever grip.
4) Using a 90 degree carpentry tool for making cross cuts, I checked the actual angle of the L-bracket with plates and it was exactly 90 degrees.
5) There has been some negative commentary elsewhere about the rubber pads on the A-S plates for this bracket and how they contact the camera base. The rubber pad is inset as an oblong, rectangular "O" and is surrounded by the metal plate inside and out. The textured pad protrudes slightly above the metal. The base of the camera compressess the pad and is completely against the metal when the camera is tightened to the plate, so the camera is secure and won't twist. There is no rubbery "give" affecting the stability. They may have improved it for the version I have and older versions weren't as good. All I know is.. it works!
6) The plates are somewhat thicker, squarer and bulkier than dedicated brackets appear to be. However, with the bottom plate mounted and the camera off the tripod, I can use the vertical grip to hold the camera and it doesn't bother my palm. I have big hands, though, so it may bother you. Of course, the plate can always be removed for extended shooting, speaking of which...
7) The included 3mm allen key is used to tighten the 1/4-20 screw for the bottom plate into the camera base. To keep from losing the allen key, I superglued it to a 1/2" x 8" velcro cable tie which I wrap around the L-bracket tubes with the allen key to the inside, next to the camera.
8) A-S include an index pin that fits into one of several holes arranged on the bottom plate. This is to align with the index hole on the bottom of several camera models, as shown in the included instruction sheet. Alas, there is no alignment for the D600, so this pin is of no use to me. Fortunately, the base plate mount to the camera seems plenty stable without it.
1) The P0 base is about 53mm diameter, a couple of mm less than the top plate on the M-3204, which is more or less a perfect fit.
2) The M-3204 comes with two each of two sizes of allen keys. The larger one adjusts the tension for each leg where it pivots at the central collar. The other tensions a small screw located in the top plate to secure the head so it won't come loose. It happens to be 3mm, same as for the A-S L-bracket base mount screw, so I now have three of these allen keys in case I loose one or more.
3) I considered the N-2204, but it is less than a pound lighter, not large enough for full standing use without center column extended, and only cost about $35 less anyway.
4) I will sell or give away the Gitzo Reporter as it is no longer needed.
5) This is some seriously well-designed gear! I'd admire it even if I weren't a photographer. It's time to go take some more photos and become instinctive at using it.
6) Just because it works for me, it may not work for you, OK?
Cheers, and have fun!
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