It’s no secret that a tripod is an essential part of capturing landscape shots but as a hobbyist, it’s easy to fall in the trap of grabbing a super cheap setup on Amazon or get caught up debating the downright expensive options at the local camera store. While photography is not my 9-5, it is a huge part of my life and like many travel bloggers, something I’m continually investing in with gear upgrades. So, when I decided to upgrade my camera to a heavier Canon 6D, stepping up to a new and more equipped tripod was an inevitable part of the process as well. That leads us to this review of Manfrotto’s Befree Tripod*.
Manfrotto Befree Tripod: Light & Easy
There are a nearly endless number of tripods on the market with a host of features and price points, which is right for you is all about use and of course budget. Shooting on the road and often from the side of a mountain or some other adventure, for me a tripod has to be fairly light, rather flexible, and quick to setup or I’ve found that I just won’t end up using it enough let alone taking it along.
Looking through the available options (B&H Camera has a nice round up on travel tripods), there were a lot of compelling models but with differing details to decide on:
- How much weight would I tolerate? 2 – 4 lbs
- What material did I want to go with? Carbon fiber was nice but spendy
- How high of a max reach did I want? The taller the better
- What sort of leg extension locks were best? Clips over twist
- How much did the tripod need to be able to hold? My mid-tier full-frame setup was fine
- And of course, what should it cost? Less of course!
Ultimately, I felt like the Manfrotto Befree Tripod may not be perfect but it was an all around great option. At 3.1lbs, it isn’t the lightest in the class but it is considerably cheaper than Carbon Fiber and a good pound under the sturdier 190Go. Similarly, 8.8 lb capacity doesn’t top the charts but it’s enough for my setup and lenses though as I’ll explain further on, that’s not true at full extension.
With nearly 57″ max height, it’s higher than many of the other options and uses flip locks for the leg extensions rather than twist locks which I find to be slow and easy to forget to tighten down. The ballhead offered great flexibility over pan / tilt options while the quick clip makes it easy to go from stabilized to hand shooting. Everything folds down nicely, is intitutive to use and all the individual parts are replaceable (some upgradable) to make it future-proof.
Flexible, Adjustable, Ready for Adventures
Above all else, I went with the Befree because of it’s flexible design. In a studio or at the side of the road, a tall, heavy tripod just makes sense but on the trail it’s common for me to find that the best perspective comes from a place where the 3 legs can not be set down evenly. With Befree’s design, it’s possible to lock the legs into a couple defined, stable modes but for the most part I leave it free floating meaning that the legs can all go to whatever angle I need individually.
The result is that I’m able to quickly setup the tripod right in the middle of just about any environment. In a a trip to the Guler Ice Caves, I had one leg at minimum length to reach rocks, another stretched nearly parallel out and the third right on down to find contact points among the rocks. In urban settings I’ve flattened things down to the minimum height to capture the world ahead.
True to the specs, having flip locks on the legs, multiple tightening points, and quick clip design make it super easy to setup and tear down.
As a result, I’m able to deploy my tripod and keep moving around as I hike or explore a point rather than being forced to move a bulky rig around each time. Similarly, having the entire setup collapse down makes it easy to stash the tripod back into my pack when I’m moving around.
I’ve had my Befree for the better part of two years now and find I’m willing to lug it around where most others will not take a full tripod to. Anything heavier is a pain to carry while anything more confined just isn’t useful in a true outdoor setting.
Downsides: Stability & Durability
Lighter does have its drawbacks however and while I’ve found my Befree to be very solid in most settings, that stability suffers when the center column is fully extended to the maximum the height. At that point even light vibrations (like pressing the shutter button) can resonate through the tripod adding camera shake and defeating much of the tripod value. This can be corrected with a remote of course or simply by keeping the center column down a few inches but it is a drawback (the new version has a counter-weight clip to help this.)
Similarly, while I’ve certainly put my Befree through some extreme conditions, a few parts have worn down more than I would have expected. Much of this has been self treatable (wd-40 to keep the legs sliding freely, tightening up the leg adjustments, etc) but I expect the ballhead will need to be replaced in the next year as the quick clip has taken quite a beating and has become less effective. The tripod feet were also pretty poorly attached and I’ve had to replace all three of them (the design was upgraded in the latest version but I was only able to find the old ones in stock to replace with), though with the help of a lot of superglue that problem seems to be in the past.
Finally, storing the Befree in its carrying case means flipping all of the legs back over, extending the center column and fussing with the ballhead’s placement. The hassle of it all isn’t crazy but it does take time so I’ve long since learned to leave the case at home though I do like knowing that I can make things that much more compact for travel.
All said these are not deal breakers and some of the blame certainly goes to wanting a more portable tripod. Still, it seems like Manfrotto could have stepped things up just a little more and created a platform that was truly rock solid knowing the intended use in their latest upgrade but alas, while the colors changed, it’s pretty similar results.
The Bottom Line: Buy for all around, upgrade (and up the weight) for stability
All said, I’ve had my Befree Tripod for a couple years now and while some of the parts do show the impact, I feel like it will be around for a long time to come and with me on adventures for it all.
Having an option that’s so flexible and fairly light has encouraged me to use a tripod more and more resulting in improved shots even in nice day environments which has made for better photos. I do imagine that I’ll add a taller and heavier option to my gear collection for those epic, by-the-road perspectives in the not so distant future but when it comes time to hit the trail or pack up for the airport, compact and adjustable wins.
- Category: dSLR Tripod (8.8 lbs capacity)
- Utility: Travel, Adventuring
- Pros: Great travel tripod, very adjustable
- Cons: Stability is questionable at full extension, parts weardown
- Style: Aluminum Ball Head @ 3.1lbs
- Max Height: 56.7″
- Folded Length: 15.75″
- Price: $169.95
- Rating: 3.5 out of 5
- Official Site | Buy It Now at Amazon*
* Disclosure: I earn a commissions for any sales made through Buy It Now links on this post. As for the crampons, I paid for those myself.