Manfrotto BeFree Advanced
Manfrotto.com | $324.99 (~$280 street)

Specifications

  • Max. height 127cm (50"), or 151cm (59.4") with center column
  • Min. height 40.5cm (15.9"), or 19cm (7.5") with optional short center column
  • Folds to 4cm (16.1") with 10.5cm (4.1") diameter
  • Weighs 1.3kg (2.8lb) with accessories
  • 8kg (17.6lb) load limit
  • Three leg angles, four leg sections
  • Separate pan and tilt/roll controls
  • Swappable head
  • Self-locking Manfrotto RC2 quick-release plate
  • Supports Manfrotto Easy Link accessories
  • Padded bag with shoulder strap included
  • Aluminum version available for $194.99 MSRP

Description

The Manfrotto BeFree Advanced is significantly more affordable than either the Gitzo or Peak Design offerings, but it offers fewer features.

For example, unlike every other tripod reviewed here, even the MeFoto which retails for just $120, there's no bubble level. Nor are the tripod feet interchangeable, there's no degree scale for panoramic shooting, and while there's a short column accessory for extreme low-angle shooting, it's an optional extra.

The short center column for the BeFree Advanced is an optional extra; this is its minimum height without it.

But you have to expect some feature omissions in a tripod which costs less than half as much as its nearest rivals. And while it lacks some features, it still extends to become almost as tall as the Peak Design tripod and, with that optional short column add-on, retracts to be almost as short as well. Plus it offers one more leg angle than either the Gitzo or Peak Design offerings, allowing rather more versatility as to leg placement.

And it has one unique feature of its own: support for Manfrotto's Easy Link system, which allows you to mount not only your camera atop the ball head, but also other accessories such as lights or modifiers from an attachment point on one side of the tripod spider.

The Manfrotto lacks a bubble level or degree scale, but a separate pan lock makes it better for panoramas than the Peak Design.

In use

While I found the BeFree Advanced to be noticeably less sturdy than the Gitzo or Peak Design tripods, I didn't find it unreasonably so. And with an 8kg load capacity, it's still in the same ballpark in terms of the payload you can expect to mount. It's also noticeably lighter than either the Gitzo or Peak Design models, which in many cases – if you're hiking, say – will be useful.

And for its price point, the ball head included with the BeFree Advanced struck me as pretty good. It's smooth and quick to adjust, and allows panning with other axes locked. It also automatically latches onto the quick release plate as it's mounted, so long as you first prime its spring-loaded mechanism by depressing a lever and flicking an adjacent switch.

The Manfrotto's sandbag hook is in the side of the tripod spider, which also includes the company's Easy Link accessory port.

But that mechanism is also the Manfrotto's biggest potential drawback. Where every other tripod in this roundup accepts ARCA-compatible plates, the Manfrotto's ball head accepts only its proprietary RC2 plates. (RC2 plates can be mounted on ARCA-compatible heads, but not vice versa.)

And while a fairly nice padded bag with shoulder strap is included, the strap can't be mounted directly to the tripod, nor does the bag include a pocket for the included Torx key, making it quite easy to lose.

The Manfrotto's ballhead is the only one in this group that does not accept ARCA quick-release plates. To mount an RC2 plate, you rotate the metal lever while pressing down the plastic tab. The plate locks in place automatically.

What we like

  • Nice balance of size, build quality and affordability
  • Reasonably sturdy for the price
  • Lighter than the Gitzo or Peak Design
  • More leg angle choices, too
  • Supports Manfrotto Easy Link system for mounting accessories

What we don't like

  • Fewer features compared to more expensive rivals
  • Ball head won't accept ARCA plates
  • No bubble level
  • Self-latching mechanism has to be primed before use