I was shopping for a hiking tripod, i.e. one light enough to not break my back like the 8Kg / 17,6 Lbs monster I usually carry around, but stable enough to let me take un-blurred pictures even with medium / large format equipment. Oh, and it should haven’t costed an arm and a leg…so one of the Gitzo Mountaineer series was a no-start.
After checking the reviews on the internet I narrowed my choice to the Benro Travel Flat A2190T vs. the Velbon Ultra Rexi L.
They are both pretty light, in the order of 1,5 Kg / 3.3 Lbs. The attractive of the Benro was, well, that it folds perfectly flat. This would came pretty handy when you strap it against a backpack – or if you have to stuff it in a suitcase. What made me chose the Velbon Ultra Rexi L over it was that the Benro, because of its design constraints, cannot spread the legs to to be lowered enough; the fact that I read in more than a user review that it is flimsy did’t help its cause.
The Velbon Ultra Rexi L proved to be pretty much almost perfect for my needs. My only concerns are:
1) the system to open the legs is pretty handy, but sometimes the legs seem locked when they are not. I ascribe this as just a matter of habitude, and not a design fault. Now I’ve taken the habit of just pushing on the tripod head to check for some unlocked section before putting the camera on*
2) reliability of the system used to lock the legs. It looks pretty strong, but only time will tell if dirt and debris will have the best of it**
3) the tripod has the unusual, for a tripod, 1/4″ screw – the same you find on the bottom of every camera. Given that almost any serious tripod head comes with a classic 3/8″ hole – and that anyway Velbon gives you along with the tripod a nice tool kit – why on Earth not include a small ultra-cheap adapter screw? I had one laying around, but still…
Last – and this is what this post is really about, so drum roll please:
4) the tripod does not have a hook under the center column to hang a bag if the weather is windy, to add stability
1) is pretty much my fault, after a life spent using other kinds of locking systems. Besides, this system is MUCH faster to open / close than the traditional ones*
2) is more a concern for a technology I never used before than a fault**
3) is irritating and a lack of forward thinking of the marketing department, but hardly a defect
the only real issue impacting usability is 4), but that is easily fixed.
The quick and dirty modification
You will need:
– a drill, but in a pinch you can also operate the drill bit by hand
– a drill bit suited for plastic or, way better, a stepped bit like the one on the right
– an eye screw and a plug / conical anchor or, better still if you can find one: an eye bolt, a suitable nut and a washer
I used an eye screw, with a closed circular hook, because on pretty much all of my photographic gear I have carabiners. If you don’t use them you probably will better be using an open hook, to hang on it the shoulder strap of your bag.
– unscrew the plastic cap from the bottom of the center column
– drill a 6mm hole straight in its center – in the picture above the anchor is already half inserted in the hole
– pass the bolt through and lock it from the inside of the cap with the washer and than the nut – or in my case with the anchor
By the way, if you want to save further on the tripod weight you can unscrew the bottom part of the center column but still screw the cap on the remaining bit. I did this, because I never use the center column if I can help it; doing so is like using a monopod with three legs, not a tripod, and greatly decreases stability.
* Yes, it was definitively a matter of habitude. Now that I’ve grown accustomed to this system I’m feeling extremely uncomfortable when I use my others tripods with their more traditional leg locks!
** For now I’ve dragged it in mud, water, grass and lugged it around quite a few woods and mountaintops, but it is still going strong