Today’s blog post is a review of a tripod and head I have recently been sent by the kind guys at Benro. I just want to say first off, as with all my reviews I aim to keep it as honest as possible. If I think there’s something wrong with a product, I will say so as much as I will praise it if it’s right.
Benro are a company that have started to quickly expand in the market, especially the UK as a trusted and good maker of tripods and heads. For me though, my relationship with Benro tripod’s goes back to the start of 2010 when I bought their C357-M8 as my first serious tripod. Back then, Benro were less prominent in the UK and I ended up actually importing it from China. When I bought the tripod I was much newer to photography and had a lot less of a clue about what to buy and what would benefit me. I did plenty of research and read plenty of reviews and the one thing that came up over and over again was “Buy a good tripod and it will last a lifetime”. In a society where we are a throwaway nation, when a product breaks, it usually goes in the bin and gets replaced this was a pretty tall order to do.
Benro came up again and again as a great brand with similar build quality to Gitzo at half the price. In the end, I think I paid around £300 for a set of legs which for me, was a lot of money. On top of that I added a Manfrotto junior geared head. I won’t talk about the model too much, but 7 years later it’s still going strong and until Benro sent me a new tripod back in October, it was my everyday tripod. I only had to service it once which involved a strip down, replacing some of the plastic grippers inside the legs and a greasing of the parts. I do think it would last a lifetime!
Needless to say, you can already probably tell I’m a fan of Benro and I’m happy to put my name to the brand.
Fast-forward to September, I spoke to Benro and they agreed to send me a tripod and head of my choice to trial out. I spent a little time researching and my main criteria was it had to be lighter than my current tripod, reasonably high maximum height (without centre column extended) and great build quality. I spent some time looking at the models and they suggested a few for me also. In the end, I settled on the TMA27C. I chose this model because it was very light at 1.4kg, had a reasonable height without the centre column being extended and had some really nice features. It seemed the best middle ground in terms of what I wanted. I didn’t go for a bigger tripod as it would add weight and would essentially become a direct a replacement for my old tripod which is still fine to use. I didn’t go for 4-section because despite a smaller packed size, it actually weighed more and was smaller when fully extended. I didn’t go for a lighter model, like a true travel tripod because I fear the stability isn’t what I would need.
Next was to choose a head. Unfortunately, Benro do not do a geared head which I am a huge fan of as the precision you get with them is second-to-none. They suggested a three-way head instead but I didn’t see any advantage to this and could just see myself getting frustrated with the sacrifice. Instead, I chose the B3 ballhead. I did not like ballheads but I was willing to give one a go to see if I could be swayed. A lot of landscape photographer’s had started to use these. They do lack in the accuracy department but make up for it in speed and importantly, weight.
I also requested the DP70 Panoramic head to try and help with panoramics on the ball head. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite understand it’s limitations when I asked for this and I have subsequently removed it and replaced it with a levelling plate for the head. Basically, the product is great, well made and really impressive but you are limited to having to have the plate dead level to do panoramics. The problem with this is, you have to have the horizon half-way up the frame which really limits composition. I could use it in conjunction with the levelling plate, but the plate is actually pretty heavy and combined with the B3 ballhead gets close to the weight of my old geared head and this defied the point of using a ballhead for me.
So, let’s get onto the tripod review first.
Benro TMA27C Tripod Review
As mentioned above, I asked for the Benro TMA27C tripod to review. Here are a few small facts about the tripod. You can read more and order here.
|MAXIMUM LOAD||30.9 lb (14 kg)|
|MAX HEIGHT (24° LEG ANGLE) W/COLUMN EXTENDED||63.78 in (162 cm)|
|MAX HEIGHT (24° LEG ANGLE) W/COLUMN RETRACTED||53.15 in (135 cm)|
|MINIMUM HEIGHT||15.16 in (38.5 cm)|
|MAXIMUM HEIGHT||63.78 in (162 cm)|
|FOLDED LENGTH||24.6 in (62.5 cm)|
|LEG LOCK TYPE||Twist|
|WEIGHT||3.13 lb (1.42 kg)|
A few key features of the tripod are the dust-resistant legs, it’s 9x carbon-fibre legs, meaning it is constructed from 9 layers of carbon-fibre to increase strength. It has magnesium castings to help lighten the load, this is most prominent around the head of the tripod. It comes with separate spiked feed and short centre column. It also comes with nice touches such as a carry case and tripod strap. It also comes with a confidence filling 5-year warranty.
On receiving the tripod, I was instantly impressed with the build quality. It’s a step above my previous tripod. It feels nice in the hand, it looks good and you feel like it’s a well built and expensive product. The 9x carbon-fibre built adds to the visuals as well as strengthening the tripod. The blue accents on the metal, especially around the centre column release is also a nice touch.
One of the main bugbears of my old tripod was that the twist locks were slow to open and close and quite often when I thought they were locked, my tripod would slowly start to collapse. This was accentuated when I pressed down on the tripod to secure its position. It was never a cause for concern but just frustrating. When working alongside people with lever locks, I would often find myself slower to get ready or pack away. The advantages of these twist locks though are they keep dust and moisture out and should need less maintenance. Luckily on the TMA27C, they are now smooth and super quick to use. They also lock positively and so far I haven’t had any problems.
In terms of size, I have taken a comparison picture against both my old tripod and a MeFoto travel tripod I bought, You can instantly see the advantage the MeFoto has with the size (and also weight) but it’s probably not suited to those windy mountain summits. For me, the TMA27C, while not a travel tripod is the perfect balance between weight and size while maintaining rigidity. It’s worth noting on the old, bigger tripod I have added spiked feet to it which makes it longer. It is also worth noting on the TMA27C, there is a levelling base between the legs and the head.
As I mentioned before, I could have chosen a smaller pack size by having a 4-section tripod but it reduces stability and it’s also slightly heavier. As a tall guy with a large pack, the size doesn’t really bother me. It may only become an issue when travelling abroad and here you may wish to take off the head.
The differences in weight with these 3 are quite significant. Between my old tripod and the TMA27C is over 1.2kg. This is a significant saving, especially when wild camping and weight is at a premium. Big plus for me here.
Below you can see the different tripods thinnest leg sections. The TMA27C is still thick enough to have confidence in.
I’ve been using the TMA27C since October and I waited to do this review to really give it a good workout and hammering. Since October it has been my everyday tripod and I haven’t fell out with it yet and nothing has broke or come loose.
In a nutshell I love the tripod with a few niggles. It’s performed very well, it feels as new as it did on day 1 and it significantly reduces my weight I have to carry. The twist-lock legs are brilliant. It’s a little difficult writing a list of positives for a tripod, but I must say I would be happy to spend my own money on this model.
At 1.4kg, it’s light. Very light. You won’t find many models lighter than this unless you go for a true travel tripod. It’s roughly 100g heavier than some of the mountain tripods you can buy from other brands, but these often come with their own drawbacks. So, while this is a normal sized tripod, for me it works well as a mountain tripod too.
Because it’s so light, one of the first things I did notice was in winds it can be a little unsteady. Nothing to worry about but just a matter to be conscious of. I was used to a really stable tripod I could walk off from but the TMA27C, I would suggest just hooking your bag onto the centre column if you intend to walk away from it. Most of the times I don’t use this feature because I find moving around once a bag is attached quite cumbersome but it’s a nice to have. I wouldn’t say it was an unstable tripod by any means, if it was I wouldn’t use it, you’ve just got to expect with less weight, the wind can find ways to knock it if it’s really strong.
Talking of centre column’s, it was a nice touch of Benro to include the short centre column which I haven’t seen with a tripod before. A short centre column helps reduce weight of the tripod at the sacrifice of shorter extended height. For me, a sacrifice I am willing to make as I rarely extend my centre column due essentially turning a tripod into a monopod upon doing so. What I did find a real shame though was they didn’t include a hook on the short centre column. This ultimately has ended up with me keeping the longer column just for the hook for the reasons mentioned above.
Talking of nice touches, it’s nice to get a full outfit of options included with the tripod. So not only do you get the short centre column but you get a carry case, tripod strap, tools, spiked feet and a protective bag for the tripod.
The carry bag feels really well made with external compartments to carry things like spiked feet etc. In honesty, I don’t use it because of the bulk but I would use it if I was perhaps wanting a little more protection. Instead, what I use is the blue cover you see under the tripod. It weighs virtually nothing and protects the tripod from knocks and bumps while out in the hills. It’s not something I’ve had with previous tripods and glad Benro thought of this.
Next, I’m going to move onto the spiked feet. This for me is something I’ve never really understood about tripod companies, but why on Earth can’t we have spiked feet with rubber capped feet attached to them? I’m hoping Benro pays attention to my cries here. Spiked feet are super useful, they let you dig into grass and mud and gives you full stability. The trouble is, out in the field we can be on a mixture of mud and rock. It quickly becomes a pain switching between spiked feet and rubber feet especially when spiked feet on a rocky surface offers virtually no contact to the ground. For my old tripod I actually ended up buying some spiked feet that you could screw rubber feet onto them. They weren’t perfect but they solved my niggle. Unfortunately you can no longer buy these and even more unfortunately I lost one of the rubber feet! They weren’t perfect because the rubber actually felt more like a hard plastic but they did save a lot of hassle.
So, in all I love the tripod and it is actually my every-day tripod. If I were to be offered the chance to change the tripod I may choose something slightly taller but this is a personal preference as I’m 6ft7. I get around the height issue by adding extra height with a levelling base and L-Bracket.
While I have mentioned it’s unstable in high-winds, I wouldn’t say it was an un-sturdy tripod. Far from it. It just seems to get easily knocked about when winds catch it at certain angles. In every day use it’s perfect with no movement at all.
Pros: The build quality is great, its quick and easy to use and it also looks good. It’s very light and not much heavier than mountain tripods but adds benefits. The twist locks are a major improvement over my previous model. The extras you get with the tripod are a real nice touch and the price of the thing isn’t too bad either.
Cons: Not many. The short centre column really does need a hook on it. I wish there was a solution to have spiked feet with rubber feet caps. Sometimes in high wind it feels a little unstable due to how light it is.
Benro B3 Ballhead Review
When Benro asked me which tripod head I wanted to review, I was really unsure. I didn’t have any interest in a 3-way head so decided, despite my distaste for ballheads to give theirs a go. Why did I dislike ballheads? Well I found them too sloppy and hard to use. You just can’t get precision like you can with a geared head. This also makes the review really hard because I don’t own any other ballheads that I would use and not had enough experience with competing brands.
However, I was open to trialling one to see how I got on with an upper-market head in the hope I could be swayed as the weight saving of 400g was instantly tempting.
I received the ballhead and the quality felt like a well machined head. The first time I used the head was on a wild camp up in Snowdonia and it was also the first time I used both the tripod and head in any form. It was quite a risk because if I couldn’t use the ballhead then I would likely miss the shots. Talk about trial by fire.
Obviously, the first thing I noticed was the weight difference. The combined weight loss with both the tripod and head was significant to my pack and made the going so much easier.
The head in use though was quick to learn. Which is instantly good news as it started to dispel my dislike for them and I actually had a successful trip out without too many hiccups.
Ballheads are relatively simple but can be equally frustrating. There’s thee knobs on the head. The largest knob tightens and loosens the ball to allow you to adjust your composition. The slightly smaller knob on the opposite side allows you to adjust friction, which allows you to control how quick you work. Tighten it up and it allows you to have more precision over your compositions, framing and your horizon levelling. I quite like to have the ballhead fairly tight but loosened off ever-so-slightly to allow a bit of free movement. Finally, there is a panning knob at the bottom of the head which allows you to turn the head 360 degrees without having to adjust the ballhead. The addition of the friction knob makes this ballhead a joy to use.
You have to remember with a ballhead, if you loosen it to adjust any of the axes you will likely affect another axis. This can be a pain when say you have straightened your horizon (x axis) but need to adjust the up and down of the image (y axis). You soon get used to this though. If you need to adjust where you are looking, sometimes it is better to use the panning knob at the bottom to adjust the head.
The panning knob should also be used for panoramics. Panoramics on a ballhead can be quite difficult. For a panoramic you need to keep your horizon level throughout so the images join correctly. With just the tripod legs and head, you would need to adjust the legs suitably to ensure the head is pan-flat level and this can be time consuming. This is much easier using a geared or three way head and you can always set your x-axis to a constant. Instead, I would recommend investing in a levelling plate which sits between the legs and head. It allows you a total of 20 degrees of adjustment (-10 to +10) which is usually enough to level the head of if you are on uneven ground. This does add around 200g of weight but if you know you are going to doing quite a few panoramics it’s a worthwhile investment. I used a levelling base on a geared head too so I wasn’t adding any weight by moving it from one tripod to another.
If you want to shoot portrait orientated shots, you can flip the ballhead into portrait via the slot that allows the column to fall into it but I find this quite difficult to use because you suddenly restrict that 360 degree movement you had before. Instead, an L-Bracket on your camera is a good idea and you can leave the ballhead in landscape mode and simply flip your camera and mount it to the head. This also works well for panoramics too as it not only makes it easier but puts your camera closer to the nodal point.
One of the things I really liked was the Arca-Swiss style plate mechanism. Arca-Swiss is almost a standard for quick release plates and all L-Brackets use this standard. It’s good to see Benro on-board here where other manufacturers (I’m looking at you Manfrotto) insist on using proprietary plates unique to that brand, requiring an adapter if you want to use an L-Bracket. However, it’s actually the safety lock I really liked. The quick release lock has to be pulled to engage the un-threading to release the tripod plate and camera. Without this, the camera stays attached to the head. Why do I like this? Well, because back last August my camera fell off my standard Arca Swiss head and I’m still unsure how. It’s worth noting, that there’s enough play in the safety catch to allow the camera to come out of the head if moved sideways, but not vertically. As of yet, I haven’t had any problems with this minor flaw though.
In all, I’ve found the ballhead good. It’s quick and simple to use and it’s really light while being well constructed. Have I been converted? I think so. I miss the geared head don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I think I’m not quite as critical with my compositions but every time I think about lugging a geared head up a mountain, I soon forget about the shortcomings of the ballhead.
So I’ve been using this combination of ballhead and tripod legs for 4 months now. For me, it’s almost the perfect tripod for travel, mountains and everyday use. I do wish the total setup was slightly taller, but that’s my own fault not the tripods. It still works well, it feels like it’s still new and I always pick it up over my older Benro tripod.
If it were my own money, I would happily buy the tripod (or one slightly taller from the same range) and I have no problems recommending it to you. The spiked feet issue isn’t just with Benro, but many manufacturers so I can’t really count this as a full negative. My only main gripe is the lack of a hook on the centre column which I think could have easily been rectified.
For the money, you get quite a lot of nice extras including the carry bag, spiked feet and short centre column.
Both products won’t break the bank but I would say are placed slightly above Manfrotto. However, I have used many Manfrotto products and I’ve never been that impressed. The geared head is where they excel, but trust me despite their solid feel they do break easily! On the other end of the scale, they are much cheaper than Gitzo and side-by-side the products aren’t too dissimilar, while Benro comes out at half the price.
If interested, I do also carry this tripod with me on my workshops and if you’re attending you are more than welcome to try it out.