Thursday, January 5, 2012

Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod Review


Introduction:
Photographers have been using tripods almost as long as there have been cameras, and for a good reason. Stability is the name of the game when it comes to taking photos, in low light, for close ups, group shots, panoramas and more. In my tripod buying guide I talk about how to choose the right tripod for your needs, and I hope that this review of the Manfrotto 055XPROB will help you see if it is right for you.

Build Quality:
The Manfrotto 055XPROB is an aluminum tripod made in Italy (three of the top tripod manufactures in the world are in Italy). The legs feel solid thanks to the 28mm aluminum tubes. There are very few parts sticking out that could break, which is nice to see. As a result the 055XPROB is a tough set of tripod legs and I haven't managed to break anything on it, even though mine has taken it's fair share of abuse (dropped and dragged over rocks while hiking for example). For the most part the tripod is made of aluminum, but there are a number of plastic parts, such as the knob for adjusting the centre column and an accessory attachment point.


Specs:
Tripod Head Attaches by: 3/8" attachment type
Closed length: 65.5 cm (2.14 ft)
Leg sections: 3 number
Load capacity: 7 kg (15.43 pounds)
Maximum height: 178.5 cm (centre column raised) (5.8 ft)
Maximum height: 142.0 cm (centre column down) (4.6 ft)
Minimum height: 10.0 cm (0.32 ft)
Weight: 2.4 kg (5.29 pounds)

Features:
The feature set is normal for a tripod in this class: There are three legs, each with three sections, which are extended by releasing the levers on the legs. Two of the legs have a hard rubber over the upper half for more comfortable handling. The three legs can be spread by pushing each individual leg in towards the centre column, pressing the button at the top of the leg section and adjusting as needed. This is done to achieve greater stability and to allow the tripod to sit flat on the ground. To get the 055XPROB flat on the ground the centre column is adjusted by raising the it up all the way, pressing a small button on the base of it, and sliding it down horizontally (see image below). Keep in mind that stability will be somewhat reduced when the tripod centre column is used this way. In addition there is a small hook you can use to hang your camera bag, if you need to add more weight to the tripod for additional stability.


Stability:
When the legs are fully extended the 055XPROB is very stable. That is as long as you don't load it down with too much weight, and it is on a flat surface. Stability can be compromised in several ways. The first way stability of the tripod may be decreased is if too much weight is on the tripod. In cases like that the legs may start to flex, I've seen this happen. That being said, if you are using an entry level DSLR and consumer grade lenses this tripod will be more than able to handle your equipment. Professional F2.8 zoom lenses and heavy cameras can start to push the limits of this tripod, depending on how you use it.

The second way stability could be compromised is by the use of heavy telephoto lenses. Even a 300mm F4 can start to make the tripod feel a little unstable at times, if used with professional camera bodies. The stability of the legs is fine as long as the weight is centred over the legs. If you use a ball head and position heavy equipment off centre the tripod may become top heavy on one side. Adjusting the angle of the legs to a wider position can help.

Vibration Handling:
Being an aluminum tripod the 055XPROB is not the best when it comes to handling vibrations. That being said, it is good for an aluminum tripod. If you are using a telephoto lens you will start to notice how long it takes to absorb vibration very quickly (you will see it in the viewfinder a little). Absorbing vibration usually takes 6-10 seconds after handling, depending on the force applied. For general purpose shooting the vibration will not be an issue, but it could be for low light/night photography. Make sure to use a cable release and mirror lockup, or at the very least the self timer, so the shutter does not release until after the tripod has stopped vibrating. Using mirror lockup is ideal, because the raising of the camera mirror is enough to cause vibration in the tripod.

In Use:
In practice the 055XPROB is an easy tripod to use, thanks to the simple design and straight forward adjustments. Generally speaking I have found using this tripod over the last three years to be a trouble free. There are a few situations when the 055XPROB becomes troublesome, such as in cold weather.

In when the temperature starts to get close to freezing the legs work against you, meaning they draw heat away from your hands. As a result the use of gloves is almost required. Most of the time that is not an issue, but using gloves can be a hinderance when operating small buttons of some cameras. Another consideration is the effect cold weather has on the speed in which the leg sections move. Like most conductive material aluminum expands and contracts based on the temperature.

In cold weather the leg sections feel tight, so you might need to use the included wrench to adjust the friction of the leg sections. I had to do that last spring when one of the legs got so loose that it wouldn't even stay down (any weight applied made the section collapse. Considering that I've only experienced that once in three years, I don't count that against the quality of 055XPROB. I've never had the leg sections freeze in cold weather, even when there happens to be some moisture on them. The last issue that I have with this tripod is weight.

As mentioned weight is also an issue that I have with the 055XPROB, but any similar aluminum tripod would have the same problem. Keep in mind that this tripod weighs 2.4KG, so it is somewhat heavy compared to a carbon fibre tripod with similar load capacity. I would not recommend dragging this tripod around on serious hikes or other long treks, although I have been known to walk around with it for 2-4 hours at a time. This weight would not be an issue to a studio shooter, or someone who gets out of their car and walks a few hundred meters to get into position for a shot. For me the weight is only an issue when going for longer walks, because once the tripod is deployed for shooting the weight is a non issue. In some cases the weight can be an advantage, such as resistance to breezy or windy conditions (just keep in mind that it has somewhat poor vibration absorption). Lighter carbon fibre tripods may need additional weight added to counteract gusts of wind.

Comments and Conclusion:
The Manfrotto 055XPROB is a good general purpose tripod for amateur and professional photographers. Although this tripod has some shortcomings, that are common with aluminum tripods, it is more than able to handle the load of the average amateur photographers gear (including the likes of 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 lenses on pro cameras). The tripod is well made, and can take a number of bumps and drops without coming apart. The only real downsides are the weight, which is an issue for long hikes, and the tripods performance in terms of adjusting the leg sections in cold weather (they get a little stiff). Vibration dampening is not great, but again that is normal for an aluminum tripod. One thing I did not talk about this earlier is that this tripod is well suited to people of average high, even up to people 6 feet tall (if the right tripod head is attached).


I do want to be cautious, this review may make the Manfrotto 055XPROB sound like a poor tripod, but that is not the case at all. In fact this tripod has severed me well over the last few years. In my case, the tripod is generally acceptable, but there are some parts of the year and ways that I use it that the 055XPROB becomes less than ideal. Performance drops off in some areas that I need the tripod to be flawless and that is why the tone of this review may seem somewhat negative, although that is not the true intention.

Pros:
  • Build quality is good for the price (can handle some drops and scrapes)
  • Stable (unless overloaded)
  • Can handle anything from point and shoot cameras to pro DSLRs, with select lenses
  • Adjustable centre column for shooting at low angles
  • Can sit flat on the ground for low angle shooting (when centre column is adjusted)
  • Good height for people who are 5'8-6 ft (when legs are fully extended)



Cons:
  • Somewhat heavy, not ideal for hiking
  • Leg sections can get stiff in cold weather
  • Somewhat poor vibration dampening (takes 6-10 seconds to absorb impact)