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What tripod
by J. Ramón Palacios (jrp)

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» Manfrotto
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Manfrotto Tripods

These come in several sizes and variations, but once you have decided if you want a set of legs at eye level, or the camera's viewfinder at eye level, or decided it doesn't matter that much to you; and on a PRO model or not, silver or black, if anodized aluminum or carbon fiber, the choices for still photography are easy to make. Below the most frequent Nikonians' selections in this brand.

Manfrotto CF tripod
Earlier Manfrotto 441 Carbon One tripod

Closed size
Max height
Min height
Load to weight ratio Current price*
Manfrotto Description L/W USD
055XDB Basic - Aluminum 7/15.4 2.1/4.6 61.0/24.0 137.5/54.1 48/18.9 3.3 $150
055XB Classic - Aluminum 7/15.4 2.3/5.1 61.0/24.0 137.5/56.7 7.0/2.8 3.1 $170
055CX3 CF - 3 sections 8/17.6  1.8/3.9 61.5/24.2 136.0/53.5 6.5/2.6 4.5 $380

Basic - Aluminum

5/11.1  1.8/4.0 
118.5/46.7  35.0/6.7  2.8  $130
190XB Classic - Aluminum 5/11.1 1.8/3.9 53.5/21.1 118.5/46.7 8.0/3.2 2.8 $140
190CX3 CF - 3 sections 5/11.1  1.3/2.9   55.0/21.7 122.0/48.0  6.0/2.4   3.8 $270
*Prices quoted in the USA as of July, 2011

The classic 055XB is by far the most popular. Considered by Manfrotto users a very affordable and sturdy aluminum tripod; stable, with 3 leg sections and four leg locking angle settings.   The 055 series is most available, still convenient, not that heavy to carry around, more so if you are young and strong. It can handle a large camera with a long tele lens, even a 300mm f/2.8, when coupled with the appropriate head and good technique. It fits most heights if you are not too tall. Last time I checked these legs were selling for USD $165*. I try to keep my vintage version in the trunk of the car at all times -they can take a lot of beating- with a Markins M20 ball head and Wimberley Sidekick arm, capable of handling any camera body and any medium sized lens I may have at the time, with ease and speed. However, avoid wind, or wait until it stops for critical shutter speeds.

The 055CX3 has carbon fiber legs. Sturdier and with a 45% increase in load-to-weight efficiency over the Classic.

The MAG Fiber versions achieve very little load to weight ratio improvement (14-20%) over aluminum, at a higher price.

There are also "PRO" variations in the 055 series, for horizontal center column positioning. Not the most recommended as that alters the center of gravity reducing stability.

The 190XB is a very compact inexpensive aluminum tripod, yet sturdy enough to handle a pro body with up to a 300mm f/4 lens, when topped with a good head and using appropriate tripod technique. A great buy for  USD $130*, as it has almost the same folded size and weight than a carbon fiber one. I bought a chrome one instead of a black, for just $87 USD. Although that was long ago, they sell for $99 today* A good starting choice, but again, if there is no wind and your setup load is light.

Note: The higher cost of energy and therefore of aluminum (with an energy-intensive production cost) has pushed tripod and monopod manufacturers to seek alternative materials. Manfrotto looked into carbon fiber tubing combined with magnesium die cast parts for quick-action lever locking collars, top plate, top spider and clamping system in the PRO models. The three-faceted center column remains of aluminum. We will closely follow the evolution of the various MAG-Fiber tripods. The Manfrotto 190 series is more load-to-weight and cost efficient in aluminum than the Mag-fiber versions, but it may not be available in the future and the conclusion may not hold true for other models. Manfrotto engineering has proven for decades they are very resourceful and ingenious.

How about the "Digi" tripods? They are very light and convenient, but only for very very light loads. Like for a Coolpix or a small DSLR with a small lens.

How about the geared column tripods? If they are to stay stationary (like for studio use only) they are a good solid camera support, although at the cost of much weight. Very tall Nikonians who bought these for field work eventually exchanged them for Gitzo carbon fiber alternatives.
I find the professional ball heads out of my budget right now. What are the alternatives? If you cannot afford a pro ball head to use on a tripod, buy a good three-way pan/tilt. You will be happier than with a less expensive ball head which will move, creep, or worst, even place your gear in danger. This is our advice not only from our own experience but because it is also the conclusion from the experience of many Nikonians and non-Nikonians.
  Manfrotto 804RC2 Basic Pan/Tilt 3-way head

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