Travel Tripod, Oben CT-3520 - BB-1 Ballhead
Having been through the tripod continuum once before (1970's), I knew what not to that when I decided my return to photography was getting serious. So my first tripod was a Gitzo GT3541LS with a maximum height of 57.5", folded length of 21.7" at 3.8 lbs. Along with that I purchased an Arca Swiss Z-1 ballhead. I was pretty well set - until I had to travel! Since then I've been looking for a travel tripod to meet my travel needs - however this time I was not willing to spend $1,000 for something I would not use often and was short of my desires, but it had to work well. And at 6' 1" finding a semi-tall travel tripod is not easy.
Last year I attended a workshop and Gabriel Biderman from B&H showed up with a small tripod. I tried this tripod out quickly (on carpet) using a D800 and a 24-70mm lens. When Gabriel packed this thing up, it was really small. I was not expecting much, when I got home and checked out the photos they were tack sharp!
The tripod was an Oben CT-3520 with BB-1 Ballhead for $470, a brand apparently only sold by B&H in the states. Checking out the information about the tripod and head, maximum height without column extended is 57.7" (actual 56.5") to top of the clamp, a folded length of 16.6", and 3.7lbs. Wow!
Not knowing the brand I was very hesitant about buying one. I could not find anyone who had experience with one let alone owned one. Since last September I have been debating and finally ordered one.
Why did I mention the GITZO and Arca Swiss head earlier. This is the only setup I have to base the Oben qualities on, not quite a fair comparison. I do have an idea of excellence in tripods and ball heads and my comments are based on such.
The tripod arrived last week. Packed well, it has a nice case that is the right size with a pocket inside, includes an allen wrench with a unique clip to go on the leg, a strap for the case, and a universal Arca Swiss compatible quick release plate. It has twist locks for the legs and column, a bottom column hook for weight to be hung from, and spiked feet that are screwed out from the rubber feet. I thought five leg sections might be too many and could not find the diameters of the legs. From top to bottom they are: 28mm, 25mm, 22mm, 19mm, and finally 16mm.
Bottom line - this tripod and head exceeded my expectations considering size, design and cost. The tripod is very useable with a D800 and 80-200mm push-pull lens. I also tested with an 80-400mm and at 400mm proper tripod usage is required to get decent results.
Initially I found everything a little tight on the tripod and head, but everything is loosening up. The legs lock at only two angles, upright and very wide for close to the ground. It does not have the smooth feel of a GITZO and Arca Swiss, but functions well. The leg twist locks take about a 1/4 - 1/2 turn to loosen and tighten and there is a definitive locked fell. The ball head was pretty amazing considering size, and it functions well, but I would have preferred an Oben BC-1 ballhead that has the friction control integrated with the ball locking knob.
The center column rest on a rubber o-ring when down all the way, and I found it better to slightly raise the column and lock it down tight to remove any movement.
I tested the tripod at full height, without the column extended, by mounting a D800, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, a 80-200mm f/2.8 push-pull lens (with no tripod collar), and an 80-400mm lens. This is not the way I intend to use it, but testing at the weakest level makes the capabilities and weaknesses clear. And the height allows use of the tripod on very uneven mountainous areas.
All three lenses were easily be positioned with the ball head and only minimal movement (almost none) when locking the ball head down. Quite amazing and especially considering the 80-200 does not have a tripod foot!
The 24-70mm and 80-200 mm presented no challenges even with a 10mph wind and I got tack sharp images . I tested at 1/30 and 1 second exposures and could get by without mirror lockup or using a remote.
The 80-400mm at 400mm almost requires the use of weight from the column, mirror lock up and a shutter remote. At 1/30 and 1 second subjects from 225 distance were very nice but not tack sharp.
So the only question remaining - is the longevity of the tripod and head.
If you do not want to spend the money for a RSS or Gitzo travel tripod with a RSS or Markins ball head, this tripod might very well fulfill your needs.
Here are a few photos and two links of relevant reviews,
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