Travel tripods: Comparing 5 aluminum kits
Cullmann Concept One 622T
$250 / £150 www.cullmann.de
|The Cullmann Concept One 622T aluminum tripod, fully extended.|
Cullmann of Germany, well known for both their budget tripods and the very high-end Titan tripod, has recently launched the Concept One line of travel tripods right in the middle of this range. These tripods, and other Concept One products, feature a very different look from other Cullmann items, and have some innovative features that are not found elsewhere. In addition to these various tripods, Cullmann also creates ball heads (one of which we reviewed), bags and other photo accessories.
|Folded size||13" (34cm)|
|Maximum height||53.5" (136cm)|
|Height w/ column down||44.5" (113cm)|
|Minimum height||9" (23cm) w/ short column|
|Weight||3 lbs (1.36kg)|
|Load limit||11 lbs (5kg)|
|# of leg sections||5|
|Leg tube diameters||22 / 19 / 16 / 13 / 10mm|
|# of leg angles||3|
|Angle degrees||22 / 45 / 80°|
Below is a relative height comparison between the Cullmann 622T and a 6 foot (1.83m) photographer.
Design and features
|The visually striking and compact Concept One 622T with short column.|
Rather than rely on existing designs or borrowed parts from their many other tripods, Cullmann has broken new ground with the design and detailing of the Concept One series. The tripods and heads in this new series are slim, with generously rounded knobs and locks, subtle neutral colors instead of basic black (more on that below), and only the occasional bright cyan reminder of the Cullmann trademark color scheme. Everything about the 622T looks quite modern and unique, and should look even better with the carbon fiber legs of the 622TC, and on the larger tripods in the series.
Other included features
|Converts to monopod||---|
|Carrying case||--- (optional $30 accessory)|
|Insulated leg grip||Yes, on all three legs|
|Non-rotating center column||Yes, grooved|
|Short center column||Yes, grooved|
|Weight hook||Yes, retractable, removable|
|Top plate/ head platform||Metal, reversible mount screw|
|Ball head diameter/ max load||28mm ball, 5kg max load|
|QR plate included||Yes, arca-type, 40mm long|
Construction and handling
|A dense collection of machined and cast aluminum, all tightly assembled.|
Beyond the striking Concept One design, the 622T has a serious heft in the hand, and feels very dense and solid. While this won't make it the lightest contender at this size, the build quality is reassuring. Even the leg locks and angle locks are made of thick aluminum with substantial rubber grips, and the foam covering the top of each leg is thick, and feels more durable than the foam on other tripods. It's clear that Cullmann intends these tripods to last, and include a remarkable 10 year warranty to back it up.
With a single-piece, cast aluminum spider, the legs and center column come together at a solid apex, despite the small dimensions of the part. In fact, the whole Cullmann tripod seems engineered to take up as little room as possible, but still be as rigid as much larger leg sets. This impression continues even down to the very slim leg sections, which have no wobble when extending, and feel like they are almost solid aluminum rods at the bottom 10mm section. The fit and finish is exceptional, and brings Cullmann back into the serious tripod game.
Is it green or grey?
One curious part of the 622T is the finish color on the angle locks and central hub. While the rest of the tripod's metal parts are grey or black, these parts appear neutral in artificial light, but then seem olive green in natural light. When looking at the marketing photos from Cullmann, the intention appears to be a restrained grey, but even the greenish hue isn't bothersome (although it isn't olive drab enough to satisfy hard-core outdoorspeople, I'm sure).
The ball head on these slim shoulders is a fairly thick-walled cylinder of aluminum, with chunky, almost oversized knobs. Every part of the head is put together with exceptional finish, and even the knobs are greased with just the right amount of resistance. The ball itself slides smoothly in the case, and has a plastic bumper around the drop slot to prevent any scratching or banging when going 90° off the vertical.
Above the ball head is a fairly unique, arca-compatible quick release. Cullmann has gone its own way in the past, with proprietary quick release plates and platforms, and some not-too-compatible arca-style release designs.
For the Concept One range, a very clever sliding clamp is used, with an adjustable lever to lock things down. This approach makes the release more cross-compatible, and still very easy to use.
The included plate follows the arca standard, with plastic guides bolted to sides to insure that it is centered on the platform (but they need to be removed to use the plate on other heads).
What, no bag?
The lack of any included carrying or storage bag becomes a truly glaring omission long before trying to pack the tripod up to go out in the field. The included short center column comes in a tiny pouch along with the two necessary tools to swap the ball head platform over to this column; but where do you put this bag of tricks when in the field, or even in the gear closet? Really, the Podbag 200 that is designed for this tripod might be an amazing container and well worth the $30 or so that it goes for, but Cullmann should still have included a bag in the box (like pretty much every other manufacturer of a travel tripod).
|The neutral colors of the Concept One look almost olive green in the sunlight.|
In this group of aluminum tripods, the Cullmann 622T and Manfrotto BeFree were the little guys in terms of overall height, load capacity, and compact dimensions. However, this didn't take away from their utility in the field, as sometimes the other tripods were overkill for the camera being used, or too big for the bag being packed. On top of that, these smaller tripods weigh less than all but the slimmest carbon fiber models, despite being aluminum leg sets.
While the Cullmann 622T does not come with a bag (yes, it really bugged us), the very compact size of the folded tripod made it easy to strap to a backpack or even stuff into a lens bag. Carrying it in a free hand over short distances was not a challenge, but the very dense weight started to get tiring. During the many field trips made with the Cullmann and other tripods for review, a spare tripod case was pressed into service to even things out.
Many of the tripods being reviewed in this group (and also in the carbon fiber group), have automatic leg angle locks. They click into the pre-set angles as you pull the legs down from the stowed position, making it very easy to set the tripod up.
Where the Cullman Concept One tripods differ, is that changing the angle or putting the legs back up is equally easy. Pressing the small, spring loaded buttons on other tripods requires a lot of attention, and can still pinch fingers or gloves. With a rubber wrapped, pull-down lock encircling the leg joint, it barely matters where the 622T angle lock is grabbed to unlock the leg. This made working with the Cullmann on uneven terrain a real breeze.
Considering how small and short the 622T is (fully extended, it's just shy of 4.5 ft.), it was not surprising that this 6-foot-plus reviewer had the center column up almost constantly. Oddly enough, this didn't make the tripod much more unstable or wobbly, which is vastly different from many of the larger tripods with their columns up. Perhaps the only explanation for this is that the Cullmann has such a slim and short geometry already, the difference in feel between column up and down is far less dramatic than on the chunkier tripods in the group. In any case, this is a good thing, otherwise only those under 5 feet tall would ever feel at home standing behind this compact leg set.
The low-down problem
To install the included short column, the head platform must be removed from the longer column. Without this platform, the short column is just a grooved tube that will fall through the column lock.
However, the swap requires the included hex wrench and socket to remove the platform and mount screw. Compared to the tool-less conversions of other tripods, this seems like an afterthought, and one that could be corrected by simply including a platform on the short column.
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 the stated load capacity for all three legs was reached, or when any leg lock began to slip.
The twist locks of the Cullmann 622T began to slip very slightly before the maximum load was achieved, and always at the bottom (thinnest) leg section. No amount of additional tightening could eliminate this slippage under duress, so it’s quite possible that part of the locking mechanism is just a bit too big for the tube beneath it. In the field, the amount of weight or pressure required for the lock to slip was never encountered.
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.
|Cullmann Concept One 622T 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
Here we see how the light weight and smaller diameter leg tubes of the Cullmann 622T combine to produce a dramatic effect when a leg is struck. Although the tripod is quite well constructed, the initial shock is definitely transmitted to the test weight, while the residual vibrations are broad and only gradually dampened. This is not a great result, but considering the slim geometry and all-aluminum construction of the 622T, not too surprising.
Cold weather use
All of the tripods in this group were used extensively in one of the harshest and coldest Canadian winters in recent memory. In fact, the group photos were taken on a sunny day at -13° F (-25° C)! While this extreme temperature does not affect the function of the tripod legs as much as the ball head, there were still things to note.
Handling the Cullmann 622T in extreme cold really highlighted how easy it is to change the leg angles with the large, rubber gripped, pull-down locks. They are essentially no different from grabbing the leg section twist-locks when using thick mittens or gloves. Next, the presence of foam covers on all three legs made it comfortable to simply grab and reposition the aluminum legs at any time, even with thinner gloves on. The generous control knobs on the ball head were also easy to grab and turn, while the feel of the ball and the panning base did not appreciably change in the very low temperatures. Overall, the design and function of the 622T is excellent for inclement weather.
Cullmann's Concept One line of tripods is a significant development from this well-known maker of camera support gear. There is an attention paid to the details that make the actual use of the 622T a real joy in the field, all wrapped in a design that is very easy on the eyes. This petite Cullmann really shines with smaller cameras and on longer hikes, but the overall geometry and limited height put it just below the truly full-sized tripods, while only a bit taller (and much heavier) than an increasingly competitive field of ultra-compact tripods. To really stand out from either crowd, perhaps the 622TC carbon fiber version (at nearly half a pound, or 220 grams, lighter) should be considered.
What we like:
- Very solid build quality
- Innovative leg angle locks
- Nice ball head and QR platform
- Compact dimensions
What we don't like:
- Weight to height ratio
- Tools required for short column
- No bag included
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