The Search for Lightweight Long Exposures
Photographic tripod specialists, Manfrotto, collaborate with Italian trekking pole experts, Fizan, to create an ultra lightweight tripod option for weight conscious outdoor photographers. As with any product on either end of the design vs function spectrum, the Manfrotto Off Road tripod can excel an outdoor experience, while also introducing new challenges and limitations.
An interesting point of view when analysing its overall effectiveness is when I use this tripod on a multi-day hike with both camping and photography gear packed. It becomes less of a burden and more of an aid; a tool of support relieving me of the weight already on my back. The Off Road is a tripod with a specific purpose. To be as light as possible while still being able to hold your camera in a position without the support of your hands. You could mention rogue winds blowing it over, but that is what our better judgement and decision making skills are for.
On a hike through the Kumano Kodo track in the Kansai region of Japan, the weather was wet, the trails were mossy, and the decline was often steep. I found myself keeping the tripod extended to my preferred shooting height and using it as a three-pronged hiking trident. The tripod feet have spiky metal ends like that of a trekking pole, designed for better traction on various soft and hard surfaces. Keep in mind when setting up to shoot, the spiked feet have the ability to very slowly sink into any soft layers of ground due to their 'sharper', penetrating design. For long exposure shots in overcast tropical forests in the rain, this can present problems. It's helpful to lightly drive the tripod into the ground when you decide on a chosen point of view to help with stability and minimise further depression during an exposure. Manfrotto also provide 3 rubber covers for the tripod feet to help provide stability on most types of surfaces. Not only that, it also protects children's heads in cities and towns from the exposed metal ridged feet if the tripod is strapped to the side of your backpack and you're walking through congested areas.
The head of the tripod rotates 360 degrees and features a bubble level gauge. The 1/4" camera attachment has a quick wheel which is like attaching a battery pack to your camera.
Setting up this tripod is extremely time consuming when compared to conventional tripods with quick release levers. The segments of each leg must be twisted without the aid of a grip friendly handle like on many trekking poles. If you can't open up jam jars, you'll have a battle with this one. For this reason, I keep the legs extended the whole time throughout the hike.
The ball and socket joint is controlled by a single adjustment knob for quick re-positioning. I think of this knob as more of an on and off switch. Once you turn it, the pressure on the ball completely decreases to a very loose joint connection with no friction. I actually preferred this during rainy situations where I didn't want to keep the camera exposed to the elements, longer than it had to be. Just make sure you hold the camera when you release the knob or you will get a micro heart attack when the camera suddenly drops to portrait!
If you spend a lot of time shooting outdoors and mainly take part in multi day work, this tripod is a necessity. Rather than carrying a tripod that weighs you down, this tripod when used as a walking aid between shots actually help distribute the weight away from your old, tired and tortured joints. That is the ultimate benefit of this tripod. It successfully achieves it's criteria of being an ultra lightweight tripod with trekking pole functions. The camera gear I use are mirrorless interchangeable lens camera bodies and mainly prime lenses with one zoom. Taking this tripod over my other, much heavier 2.5kg option allows me to carry a second camera body with two more lenses. The limitations of such a lightweight tripod are outweighed by the function of the Manfrotto Off Road Tripod. For short day hikes, I may look to possibly taking either of my tripods depending on the weather. For longer walks, this is the winner. Better options for better outcomes.
SPECIFICATIONS (taken from Manfrotto's official website - 2015)
Max Height: 122cm / 48.03"
Weight: 650 g
Leg Angles: 21°
Panoramic Rotation: 360°
Colour Options: Blue, Green, Red