Gear Review: SunwayFoto T1A20D Mini Tripod

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SunwayFoto T1A20D mini tripod

After the trip to Forks, I realized I needed a mini tripod for those times when I forget my full or travel sized tripod. One that’s small enough to carry all of the time and when height isn’t all that important compared to just getting the shot. This is one of those things I’ll be throwing into the bag whenever I may encounter low light, ensuring I can use whatever shutter speed I need to get proper exposure without fear of instability.

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SunwayFoto T1A20D and Feisol TT-15 mini tripods with Benro ball heads

I do have a small, Feisol TT-15 carbon tripod I use as a stabilizing base for my monopod, and while it would work ok, I really wanted something with longer legs for more stability and possibly more height. It wasn’t exactly an immediate need, but I saw the SunwayFoto T1A20D show up on Amazon from a dealer I’ve done a lot of business with. It was advertised as being in “like new” condition as it had previously been lent out as a demo unit and half the price of new, so I bought it. Since it didn’t include a head, I bought the matching head for it.

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Leg angle switch and adjustable angle tensioners

Unfortunately, it’s not available in a carbon fiber version, thus what I got is all aluminum construction. Strong, but not as light as it could be although the compact size helps mitigate that fact. More importantly, the legs have 2 sections, allowing their length to nearly double for either more height or more stability. Sections are held in place with dampened internal threads, unscrewing a few turns before coming free to extend then screwing them a few more turns to lock into place. On the ends of the legs are non-removable rubber feet with a hemispherical shape. The legs feature 2 angles, selectable by a switch on the base. A 1/4″-20 stud and 40mm diameter base accommodates a ball head, and while I’m able to use an adapter bushing, I’d prefer it have been a 3/8″-16 stud instead for more strength and resistance to unscrewing.

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2 section legs and unremovable hemispherical feet

Overall, the legs are well designed, strong and stable both in the stowed and deployed configurations. You’ve probably seen and even used a tripod like this but not with this sort of feel. It’s solid, with the legs feeling dense and the pivots having no wobble at all. Even better, the pivot bolts are adjustable and locked with individual set screws, letting you tune the legs for the amount of tension you prefer. The legs just exude quality and you’ll feel it the first time you pick them up.

To round out the description, in the box you get the legs, adapter bushing, hex wrench, and drawstring bag.

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SunwayFoto XB-28 low profile ball head with separate panorama lock and 90 degree notch

Less satisfying is the ball head, the SunwayFoto XB-28. It’s a 28mm ball with a 40mm base and low profile design. I went with it based on that low profile design and separate ball and panorama locks. Most ball heads in this size range lack a separate panorama lock. Once in the hand, it looks and feels well built. It’s only once you start to use the features do you notice its problems. The ball lock lever takes far too many turns to lock the head. Same goes for the knob on the clamp. The combination of these issues results in a tripod that should be quick to deploy, but isn’t. Otherwise, everything works smoothly and feels well dampened. Nothing feels loose and the ball moves freely with no stiction but you may encounter some drift as it’s hard to determine when the head is truly locked because of the vague locking lever.

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The troublesome ball locking lever and panorama lock knob

Otherwise, in the box you get a couple of hex wrenches, adapter bushing, cleaning cloth, and drawstring bag. For the price, it’s fine, but I really wasn’t expecting the issues it has, even at its price point. I think I’m able to accept these shortcomings since the alternative would force me to live without a separate panorama lock or with a ball head that’s significantly taller. I’ll just have to accept the locking and unlocking process will take longer than I’m used to and be a bit more careful during use.

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You can get the legs and head for $40 each or in a kit together for $80. No obvious pricing benefits to buying the kit. It’s a great alternative to the Gitzo Mini Tripod that came out earlier this year, especially for the price, as long as you can tolerate the slightly heavier weight in your bag. The 2 section legs and build ensure enough stability and strength to support even a full-size dSLR with 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 lens without fear of tipping over in any ball head position.

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