Manfrotto 724B

My Review of the Manfrotto/Bogen 724B

This is one of the tripods in Manfrotto’s “digital” entry level series.  Not everyone needs or can afford a $300 tripod.  This is where the digital series tripods come in.  I would consider them higher quality versions of the cheap Silk and Velbon tripods found in Japan Camera and Futureshop. My 724B had fairly good build quality and wasn’t too bad for the money.  But I did have some problems with it.

I originally went with the 724B because of the build quality, and I liked that it was black.  It also comes with a carrying case which is useless for me since I carry my tripod around strapped to my Lowepro bag.  The 724B also reached a height I needed, and it comes with a Ball head.  The unit itself isn’t too bad depending on what you’re using it for.  Weighing in at only 3.1 lbs it is actually 2 lbs lighter than my 486RC2 and 190Procombination.  It actually is a few inches shorter when folded down as well, so portability is definitely a selling point of this little unit.

However this unit obviously isn’t as stable as my 190Pro and 486 ball head.  This unit in fact cannot support my Digital SLR, coupled with 28-105 USM lens, macro adapter and 420EX speedlite.  So it isn’t that suitable for when I’m doing macro photography.  Where this unit shines is in its portability.  You have to make sure you’re not using heavy lenses such as L glass, or long zooms with this unit.

Another disappointment is that the ball head can’t be detached and replaced.  I would’ve liked to be able to use this small ball head on something like a monopod, but I won’t be able to use it.  As an investment it is a dead end.  If you read enough articles on my site, you’ll find investment value is a big selling feature for me.

I would recommend this only for times when you are going to be using a Point and Shoot camera, or you really need to travel light, but can’t afford a Carbon Fiber tripod.  Otherwise it isn’t the greatest investment, and the small ball head and weak legs won’t be a great support for your equipment. If you are extremely tight on budget it is better than a cheap Velbon or Silk tripod though.  I would spend the extra few dollars on the new Manfrotto 190 classic and 484 ball head.  It’s not too much more, and a much stronger tripod and it’s a better investment.

Manfrotto 486RC2 Ball Head

Review of the Manfrotto/Boken 486 RC2 ball head

Manfrotto also known as Bogen in the US is very well known for their tripods and support equipment.  I had been using a Manfrotto tripod and ball head for the past while, but it was time to upgrade to something a little heavier duty to support my camera equipment.  The 486 Ball head was an excellent size for me, and it’s from a company I trust.  If you have never tried a ball head for photography, you should read on to find out why most serious photographers use a ball head.

Using a ball head on a tripod is one of those things you will have to experience for yourself. Traditional 3 way pan-tilt heads are for camcorders, and not cameras.  I never understood what the big deal was until I tried one myself.  It lets you frame your shot quickly and easily. It lets your tripod do what it was meant to do; support your camera.  With a 3 way pan and tilt head that most people are accustomed to, especially if you bought your tripod at an electronics retailer or small photo printing store in the mall is actually like putting hand cuffs on your camera.  It lets you move around somewhat, and you can look it in place, but you don’t have real freedom.

A ball head attaches to your camera and lets you move it around freely while on a tripod. The best feeling in the world is having your camera attached and following action around at like a baseball game. You get excellent control so you can follow a batter swinging, and while he’s running around the bases.

So I was in the market for another ball head.  The biggest concern when shopping for tripod equipment should be, well this support my equipment? There is no point in getting a tripod, or head that can’t hold your camera, lenses, and accessories properly.  When looking at a brand like Manfrotto you know you can trust their ratings for max weight. With some other cheap manufacturers around I wouldn’t go anywhere near their max load ratings.

The 486 was a good size for me as it would be able to hold not only my camera, but my camera when fully loaded.  Don’t forget macro adapters, flash heads, camera grips, or anything else you might have when shopping.

The price is excellent on these ball heads as well.  A good ball head can be in the several hundred dollar range.  While I’m not going to say this is better than a $450 Markins Ball head it is excellent quality for less than 1/4 the cost.

The ball head is pictured on the left, with the quick release plate on the right. You can see the locking mechanism as well as the safety pin on top of the head.

The 486 has a single lever which locks the ball in place.  This same lever also locks the base from panning as well. So if you do a lot of panning type shots (at a race track for example) you probably will want to opt for the 488 which has separate locks for the panning and ball movements.  There is no spirit level on this head either, unless you opt for one of the other quick release plates.  I have never felt a spirit level totally necessary, although it would be useful for panoramic shots.

The 486 adds 10cm of height onto your tripod, and is rated to hold up to 6kg of equipment.  The ball movement is pretty smooth, and the locking mechanism is strong.

The Manfrotto quick release plate is actually fairly nice to work with.  It is easy to screw on to your camera, and the extra clip to help you really tighten it is very useful.  It takes all of 1 sec to release and snap back in place.  A lot of people will recommend going with Arca Swiss style release plates and L clamps, but that is another $200 I could be spending on lenses and lighting so it’s an option I did not go for.  If funds became unlimited it is something I would look into. But for now the Manfrotto release system is more than adequate.

This is a ball head I would recommend if budget is of concern. If you have a little more to spend, get the 488 for the separate locks.  And if your budget is unlimited, look into the RRS, and Markins heads.   The Manfrotto 486 RC2  is a head that will suit your needs and get the job done.

Manfrotto 190 Pro Tripod

Review of the Manfrotto 190 Pro / Bogen 3001 Tripod

If you read some photography books or websites you will find a good quality tripod is very high on the recommended list of things to have.  There have been many times a tripod has allowed me to get a shot I otherwise would’ve had no chance at getting.  There have also been numerous times where I’ve been too lazy to bring my tripod with me and missed a shot. (Yes even with the Canon IS lens) So I was really excited when I had the opportunity to replace my old Manfrotto tripod with something a lot better.  My choice was the 190 PRO.

I needed a tripod that would be able to support my camera equipment with lenses, macro attachments, flashes, and other accessories, bodies, or lenses I might get in the near future. It has to be somewhat portable, and cost as always was a large factor.

Manfrotto 190 Pro legs with my Manfrotto 486 RC2 head attached.

The 190 PRO was easily the best compromise for what I needed and is one of the most highly recommended legs available.  When buying a set of legs, first find out how heavy your equipment is going to be at the heaviest.  That will limit you to units that can carry that load.  Next you want to filter out units that aren’t going to be tall enough.

You always want to try avoiding raising the centre column on your tripod.  So if possible get one that will reach a comfortable height for you with the centre column lowered.  Don’t forget you will probably have a ball head (like the Manfrotto 486RC2 I also picked up) and your camera. I’m a little lucky here, as I’m only 5’6.  The 190 Pro will be a little short for those of you taller than me.  Something you might want to consider at that point is Canon’s Angle finder for your camera.  This will help with the height issue and make macro and low level shooting much easier.  It’s something I will probably pick up at some point as well anyways.

The 190 Pro has a max height of 46.85″ with the centre column lowered.  Fully raised it is 57″.  Adding a few inches for my ball head, and than another couple for the camera, it is a fairly good height for me.  It also only has 3 leg sections which I prefer because it saves weight, and is quicker to setup.

The 190 Pro might be heavier than what a lot of you are used to at 4.2 lbs. but it’s actually fairly light for a tripod of this quality.  If it’s too heavy, you’ll either have to go with something that doesn’t provide as much support, or spend a lot more on a carbon fiber version.

BG-E1 Battery Grip

The Canon BG-E1 Battery grip or vertical grip as it’s sometimes called is an accessory often overlooked by many amateur photographers. Besides the obvious of adding capacity to shoot off two batteries instead of one, there are many intangible ergonomic functions to the grip which are of even more importance.

The front of the Canon BG-E1 Battery grip. On the bottom is the quick release plate for my Manfrotto Tripod which is not included.

Having always had a battery grip for my Canon Film EOS camera adjusting to the 300D or Digital Rebel without a grip took some adjusting to. In the end I broke down and opted to buy a used grip on eBay. The grip allows you to hold one extra battery to extend shooting time. This makes extended shooting very convenient especially when it gets cold up here in the winter. If you find the camera heavy however you can still shoot with the grip with only one of the battery slots occupied. This isn’t like some other Canon grips that use both batteries simultaneously. My understanding is when the first battery is drained, than the grip switches to the second battery.

The grip is meant to be used vertically. So in this image you would rotate it 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Than all your essential camera controls are at the top again.

Besides extra battery storage the grip adds controls for shooting portraits. Instead of having to hold the camera in an awkward and likely unsteady position. You can hold it much as you would normally. The jog dial, shutter, Av, focus selector, ae/fe lock controls are all located on the grip where you would expect them if your camera was held vertically. This makes shooting portraits a lot easier. I also personally find it easier to access the controls while the camera is on a tripod as they are in an upright position. The BG-E1 also includes an on-off switch which allows you to turn off the grips buttons if you are shooting landscape format shots only and don’t want the buttons to trigger automatically.

One other excellent thing the extra battery grips allow you to do is since you actually are shooting with the camera vertical, and that’s the way the controls are set, there is no reason to turn the camera back to horizontal after taking a photo.  That means you can turn off auto-rotate in the 3rd menu of the 300D.  This applies to all cameras though.  Think about it, since your holding the camera normally vertically, you can view the photo in the same manner.  The camera has less processing work to do on the image preview, and you can view the photo full size in the screen.  This is a huge thing for us 300D users because we are stuck with a relatively small LCD screen and the 300D is a relatively slow camera as well.

Here’s a tip.  A know many people who have never read through the instructions of the things they buy.  For all Canon battery grips I have ever known including the BG-E1 there is a place to store the battery cover you had to remove to insert the grip.  On the BG-E1 it is located on the part that inserts into the battery compartment. You simply slide your cover in.  For those of you with the BG-E2 or BG-E3 it’s actually more of a little hole you slide the cover into.  Make sure you use it otherwise you’ll lose your original cover.  Trust me.

I love the extra weight and feel of the grip. For those of you used to larger or pro bodies the BG-E1 and other Canon grips are essential. I find this even more so on the Canon 350D or Rebel XT. Without the BG-E2 grip for that camera it is extremely unbalanced and lens weight biased. In other words with a decent lens on the 350D and no grip the camera tips forward in weight and is very awkward to use.