I did a lot of research before buying this tripod. I read all the negative reviews and asked questions. And I finally chose this tripod. What were my criteria? The tripod must allow me to take tack-sharp long-exposures. It has to be light. It has to be fairly sturdy. It has to pack down small. And it has to use my existing camera plates and L-brackets. Why not carbon fiber? Carbon fiber weighed 4 ounces less and cost $100 more.
A little background so you know I’m not just a casual user. I shoot professionally. I have quite a bit of equipment including 4 other tripods. So why would I need another one? I have a large tripod which is a Gitzo G1220 MkII with an Arca Swiss B-1 MonoBall Head and RRS flip-lock quick release. Another tripod was my “travel” tripod. It’s a Gitzo G026 with a Kirk BH-3 Ball Head. The photo of the three tripods compares the MeFOTO to my two Gitzo tripods. You can see how the MeFOTO is very small in comparison to my other ones. It met the criteria for packing down small, however, I have one little complaint that I’ll mention later.
Gitzos are known to be rock-solid, with a price tag to match their quality. I’m used to using a tripod that, when I set it up, doesn’t move. Not one bit. Even my smaller Gitzo would hold anything I put on it, without budging. To say the least, I have high expectations. Given the size and cost of the MeFOTO, it was relatively steady. It held a full-size professional body with a 70-200 f/2.8 lens (6 lb. 9 oz.), in several tilted positions without any movement of the ball head. I feel pretty confident that it will hold. It easily holds the travel setup that I’ll be using, which weighs in at 3 lb. 14 oz. with filters. (shown in another photo) I’m sure it works great with smaller mirrorless systems. However, that’s not to say that the MeFOTO won’t have some movement. The legs are spindly and they flex. A lot. And don’t even think about extending the center column up any further. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I’m 5′ 9″ and without extending the center column, the camera sits plenty high enough for me to crouch over to see through the viewfinder. If you’re using your LCD screen, it works even better.
As a workaround, I’m okay with not extending the smallest (and longest) leg sections which were also the springiest. But that wasn’t the real culprit. The problem is the fixed extended center column. Any high wind or slight bump resonates through the center column and down through the legs. It wouldn’t move nearly as much if the center column could be lowered, but then the additional hardware of another twist-lock would add to the weight. If you plan to do any time exposures using this tripod, be sure to use a remote release. There’s a retractable hook on the bottom of the center column to hang your camera bag as a weight. I didn’t find that the extra weight made much difference, and depending on your bag it might actually catch the wind and make it worse. Also, the legs fold out and lock at a wider spread, but because of the fixed center column, the minimum height is 16.75″ to the top of the quick release. Not exactly low to the ground for macro work.
The ball head is small but strong. The quick release works perfectly with my existing Kirk L-brackets and plates. Some reviewers have complained that the quick release knob is difficult to turn. I don’t know if they’re referring to the screw on the bottom of the QR plate or the knob to tighten the QR clamp on the ball head. Whatever the case, camera plates are generally meant to stay on the camera. You shouldn’t need to remove them even when you’re not using the tripod. If you have more than one camera, get another QR plate. If you mount the plate properly on your camera, the knob to tighten the quick release is easy to reach and turn. I can tighten it plenty without any problems. Just to be clear, the plate goes on so that the camera moves side to side, not front to back when the QR is slightly loosened. (check out the photos) I keep the QR knob pointing forward to avoid bumping it with my chin or face.
The other complaint I read quite often are with the twist locks. I’m not sure what the issue is here. Yes, you must loosen them, tighten them, and then loosen them and tighten them again to use the tripod and then put it away. Get used to it. It’s not that difficult. You don’t have to torque it down all that much either for it to hold sufficiently, just be sure you’ve actually tightened every single lock BEFORE putting your camera on it. With any tripod I use, I usually test if the legs will hold—by pushing down on it—first before I trust it to hold $4,000 worth of gear. I like that the legs don’t rotate when I loosen the twist locks. That means I can loosen all the locks on each leg with just one twist, and then extend the leg. It’s just as convenient when you collapse the legs. One twist and they’re all tight enough for storage. Simple.
So here’s my other complaint. It’s a design complaint, and it’s rather nit-picky. When the tripod is collapsed and folded, the way the ball head is designed doesn’t allow the legs to fold in tightly. If you look at the photo, you’ll see what I mean. There’s a bit of a gap because the quick release is in the way. Ideally, if the vertical orientation slot, the main knob, and the panning knob on the ball head’s body where positioned at 12 o’clock, 4 o’clock, and 8 o’clock (120 degrees apart, see photo), the quick release could fold down into the vertical orientation slot and all the legs could fold up in between everything. The only alternative is the tilt up one side of the quick release slightly. (see the photo) Folded in this way, the tripod is exactly 12.5″ long and about 3.5″ in diameter. And, by the way, with the QR plate, the tripod weighs exactly 2 lb. 9.5 oz. or 1,175 grams.
What else should you know? The fit and finish are top quality, despite the Made in China label. The leg angle locks have just the right amount of resistance. The twist locks have a rubber coating and the legs have rubber tips that do not remove. The ball head has a bubble level on top and has markings around the circumference for panoramic work. The quick release clamp can be removed with the included hex key if you want to use a different quick release clamp. The entire ball head can be removed if you want to use a pan and tilt head for video. The leg locks and ball head are available in lots of different colors, but I chose black because it doesn’t stand out from my bag or draw any undue attention to my equipment when I’m traveling. It comes packed in a nice zippered nylon case with carrying strap, but I doubt I’ll use it because it takes up too much room. Overall, it’s very well made and worth the price.
UPDATE: I used the tripod this past weekend and decided I needed more stiffness. I returned this tripod and ordered the Sirui T-025X with the CX-10 ballhead. It’s carbon fiber and weighs about 11 oz. less. Here’s the full review and why I changed my mind.
The MeFOTO tripod is available on Amazon through our affiliate link: MeFOTO A0350Q0K Aluminium Backpacker Travel Tripod Kit (Black). It sells for $149.