I’ve just bought my second “travel” tripod and I spent far more than I was expecting. My most recent photographic outing exposed my previous tripod’s weaknesses. All of them. All at once. I narrowly avoided tragedy despite my sloth-like reflexes. Once I got home and managed to calm down while processing the photos shot that morning, I began to start listing the requirements for a new tripod. Unlike the first time, price was kept off the list as I tallied up all of the deficiencies and poorly implemented “features” that existed with my tripod. To this I also added some less realistic “wants,” to further define what I expected in my next platform.
Let me begin by describing the outgoing tripod. Mind you, this was my first “real” tripod; a cheap, white label, Chinese sourced item composed of 13 carbon fiber sticks joined by assorted bits of aluminum and sporting the silly brand name of “Sinnofoto.” Because carbon fiber is like catnip for men, I thought it was a great deal. It was light weight at under 3 lbs, folded down from a 62” height to less than 18” tall for travel and featured twist locks on the legs and center column that seemed ideal based on my experience with them on other products. Plus, one of the legs could be removed and combined with the center column to create a monopod. It sold on Amazon for just under $100, complete with a dual action panning ballhead.
The problems began the day it arrived. The monopod leg couldn’t be unscrewed from the base, aka the center bracket, basket, cradle or spider. The leg was tightened on before the hinged end was bolted to the spider, putting additional force on the leg at the threads, making it impossible to remove. I had to completely disassemble the leg at the hinge to ultimately make it work as advertised. No big deal, I’m mechanically inclined. However, after the second use, the leg hinges began to loosen on their own. I constantly retightened them with the included hex wrenches to prevent the legs from flopping around. I couldn’t add Loctite as there was so much grease in the hinges and bolt threads it wouldn’t set. Removing the grease resulted in stiction of the hinges, so I put up with it, putting the wrenches in my camera bag, for emergencies. In opposition, the locking tabs that held the legs at a desired angle began to stick, making their use difficult and slowing the process of setup and collapsing. They became so tight that I had difficulty operating them with gloves on during the winter. Despite a maximum height of 62”, the actual maximum height without the center column was around 48” and thus the center column had to be extended to full mast to place the viewfinder at eye level. Combined with the collapsible center column design, this extended height would cause the camera to sway and is obviously not ideal when taking long exposure shots, which is most of the photographs I take. Add to this the fact that the center column also rotated. the final straw was during my most recent outing when I missed one of the leg locks during setup and almost dropped my camera and lens combination. Granted, that’s on me but twist locks have no visual indication of their status. I tightened 8 out of 9 leg locks and nearly destroyed $3400 worth of silicon, magnesium and glass.
Sorry for the long-ass backstory. Here’s where I talk about my new tripod.
I recently took delivery of a Benro Adventure Series 2 Carbon with B2 ballhead (TAD28CB2). It’s not the most expensive tripod of this size, but it’s not cheap either. It’s also available in aluminum for much less, the obvious penalty being increased weight, but the rest of the design is almost identical. It is however much larger than my previous tripod, very much stretching the definition of “travel tripod.”
About my philosophy: I prefer to buy things once, putting in a lot of time and effort into researching things to make the wisest decision possible. This act is prioritized by cost; as the price increases, the more time and effort I invest into the search. My previous tripod, on account of it’s purchase price, had obviously received little research before purchase and it ultimately didn’t meet my needs.
Realizing that the tripod is my most used and most critically important item beyond the camera and lenses, this time I invested much time and effort into finding those that possibly met my needs and then narrowing them down to one. The result of my search led to the Benro Adventure 1 TAD18iB1, a tripod whose specs and features seemingly met all of my needs, plus it was affordable. But after seeing the available options, I decided to stretch, tripling the purchase price for options that should increase its longevity and better meet the demands I required. So, I sprung for the carbon fiber option and Series 2 girth with B2 ball head, a far heavier duty solution than the Series 1 aluminum B1 combo that is the base model. And after checking out the equivalent models from RRS, Gitzo, and 3 Legged Thing all in person (especially the RRS since a friend owns one and Gitzo since Glazer’s carries the full lineup), I was confident enough to put the Benro Adventure 2 Carbon head to head against the others’ Series 2 setups based on design, construction, materials, durability and reliability, despite the significant gulf in price. After examination, I was convinced the Benro equaled them in every way except for price, service & support and refinement, but only by the thinnest of margins in the last regard. And though I refused to admit it, I am also price sensitive but did my best to ensure it had no bearing on my decision. To be honest, I found the Benro to be the better tripod, in comparison to those listed, at any price. Had it been priced similarly to the others, I still would have chosen it based on what I’d read about their service and support in the US, both from Benro and through the reviews and testimonials of owners.
I’d heard anecdotes from others about Benro’s mediocre quality and performance from many years ago, but those returning to the brand for a second look admitted that the Benro tripods of today are on a whole different level. My education and past experiences also qualify me to look critically at the Benro, to make informed assessments through observation and examination of the materials and design that contribute to its durability, reliability and stability.
Now back to the review…
Those legs stand the tripod up at 57.5” at full height without the center column and 65.4” with, both measures including the B2 ball head. Minimum working height is 12.2” or 7” with the optional half-height center column installed, enabled by 3 fixed angle settings of the independently moveable legs, each one set by a toggle lock located just below each leg’s hinge. The center column can be inverted to place the camera between the tripod’s legs and bring the camera height down to ground level. The leg sections and center column are all keyed, to prevent rotation for easier setup and take down, and sized to exacting tolerances. This works to provide as little friction as possible to maintain the ability for gravity controlled extension and retraction of the legs and center column despite carbon fiber’s exceptionally low mass. It’s this attention to detail: They added rubber grommets to each leg section and the base of the center column to soften the impact of the components sliding freely into themselves, enabling greater convenience without risking durability. Setup and take down is quick and the flip locks make it reliable, repeatable and fast, while also being a positive visual indicator to prevent collapse from a missed lock, something no twist lock leg setup can currently provide.
The legs and center column consist of 8 layers of carbon fiber. The spider, collar, leg hinges and leg locks are all magnesium for increased strength, stiffness and lighter weight compared to aluminum. Legs locks and hinges are user adjustable, with all necessary tools included, so tension can be dialed in by the owner to their preference as well as tuned up periodically as parts wear over time. The use of plastic has been minimized, limited to the flaps of the leg locks and the base of the center column and parts of the hook. Aluminum is also limited to the ball head, primarily the body and sphere, while stainless steel hardware is used throughout. Steel set screws, bolts and pins are used on parts that would normally be held together by moldings, pressed bushings or adhesives on lesser tripods, all signs of superior design that leads to greater reliability and longevity through the ability to replace worn or broken parts individually.
Folded, the TAD28C is just under 25” and weighs 4.3 lbs with ball head. Yes, a fair bit larger than the average “travel tripod,” but so far, all of the benefits combine to make a tripod that’s lighter than it should be and as stable as they get for the size. The height without center column actually places my camera near my eye level, thus eliminating the need to use the least stable part of any tripod: the center column. Helping to establish a stable, level platform when deployed, are two spirit levels, one on the spider for leveling the base via the legs, and one on the ball head’s QR clamp to level the camera. Most tripods you see will skip the former and misplace the latter, despite being critically important in setting up on uneven terrain and to establish level pans. For further stability, the center column is fitted with a hook to hang additional stabilizing weight to the bottom of the tripod.
The ball head itself is a triple action panning head. There’s a panning lock, a large ball head lock knob with rough tension adjustment and a tuning knob to fine tune and hold tension. The base of the ball head pans 360 degrees and can roll 90 degrees for portrait orientation. The clamp is ARCA Swiss compatible and features a “pull & turn” safety lock to prevent dropping of a camera through inadvertent rotation of the clamp’s lock knob. The combined weight capacity of the ball head and tripod is nearly 27 lbs.
Included with the tripod you also get a padded carry bag, dual purpose sling to carry the bag, or the tripod, over the shoulder, complete tool kit, quick wrench (to adjust flip locks on the fly and stored by clipping to a leg), a set of steel spiked feet, 60mm QR camera plate and a 5 year warranty.
Because my photographic interests center on landscapes and cityscapes that require the use of a tripod for long exposures, one that’s exceptionally stable to get great results, the Benro TAD28C ended up being my primary tripod due to it’s well rounded feature set, despite its size. It may be far cheaper than comparable tripods, but it’s still quite expensive for the average person, especially when compared to the price of the average Chinese crap tripods dominating Amazon sales.
However, it’s not capable of doing everything and that’s why I own more than one tripod. Besides the TAD28C, I also own a Slik 700DX Pro to reach heights above 70” and I just ordered a Benro ProAngel Series 1 compact tripod for times when the TAD28C would exceed my physical ability to carry it or when a smaller tripod will simply perform the job better. Despite my belief in the need for multiple tripods, if all you need is one, do it all tripod, I enthusiastically recommend the Benro Adventure 2 Carbon TAD28C, especially if you can afford to not just purchase it, but carry it along wherever you need it. If your budget cannot accommodate it, I highly recommend the aluminum version as the much lower cost and similar capability far outweighs the slight weight penalty.
No, you really don’t need to spend $1000 blindly on a RRS tripod. If you don’t care to do all of the research I’ve done to find the ideal tripod as I have, take my advice: you can get nearly all of the “legendary” quality of an RRS or Gitzo for far less money in the Benro TAD28C. You will end up with something far better in all ways compared to any sub-$100 “China Special” off Amazon. If that doesn’t meet your needs as far as size, weight or price, Benro has a complete lineup that covers a wide range of photographic needs and budgets, a lineup that’s proved to me able to give buyers far higher quality per dollar spent.
It’s hard for me to contain my excitement because this tripod managed to fulfill every one of my needs, from a list of requirements that was simultaneously achievable but highly unlikely to be met, by a product that actually exists. Fortunately, the $370 cost is affordable for me.