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Pro Review: Works great for my photo work in the field without spending big bucks or causing embarrassment
on November 12, 2013
I don't always use a tripod, but when I do, I usually need it to take portraits for a family with small children who don't want to look at the camera. Being a one-man-crew, I try to pop out from behind the lens and make them smile/laugh and look at the camera... which is impossible without a tripod. In addition to the above, I occasionally do some urban photography, residential and landscapes - but not too often. I already have a studio tripod, and while incredibly stable, it also weighs about 20lb and folds down to about 36" long. So bearing that in mind, here's my must haves:
1) Needs to be light enough for me to carry all over creation without too much trouble ~ 4lb
2) Needs to be tall enough for me (6ft 5in) to operate comfortably
3) Needs to be sturdy enough to hold a large DSLR and long lens ~ 15lb load
4) Needs to fold down to a relatively short length ~ 25"
5) Needs to be stable enough to do longer exposures (2-3 sec) in real world conditions
6) Needs to be under $100 with a decent ball head
7) Needs to look and feel professional. No embarrassment factor.
8) Needs to be durable enough to be used regularly (but gently) while still working reliably
If you look at that list, it's pretty tough to find anything that works for under $250, and even then, it often falls short on one area or another: It's really sturdy, but weighs 10 pounds. It's light and compact, but only extends to 55 inches. You get the idea.
I had tried the Ravelli Professional 65" with the ball head ($40) and wasn't impressed. Yes, it was a great find for someone with a smaller camera - it knocked the socks off of the Best Buy garbage - but it really wasn't sturdy enough. The legs had too much flex, the ball head was a bit undersized for my DSLR. It was tall enough though and it did get really compact and was quite competitive in the lightweight category, but failing the other points was too much for me, sooo... I returned it.
I then stumbled upon Dolica in some of my reading and decided to check it out and was amazed by the number of highly positive reviews. I was originally going to get the Dolica AX620B100 62-Inch Proline ($44) from Amazon, but was concerned about the weight handling and durability - it looked like another nicer, comsumer-ish tripod - similar to the Ravelli. So there I sat, dashed and disappointed, ready to shell out $150 for a Vanguard Alto Pro Vista when someone in a forum suggested that I try the Dolica GX650B204 65" Proline instead.
After watching a few YouTube reviews and reading the comments, I gave it a go. I'm so glad I did. I've used it for several photo shoots now and it's worked great. I've heard some people say that it's not very stable. I would partially concede to their complaint as there is a bit of flex if you are leaning on the legs, but this is technically a travel/small-light tripod, which is a known drawback at any price point. It's sort of like buying a Mini Cooper and then complaining that it doesn't carry your family of eight. Or buying a house and complaining that it doesn't fly. If that's what you needed, you've been looking in the wrong category.
That said though, I've found the tripod to be more than sturdy enough. I don't have any fear while using it and it doesn't bounce and flex like many of the lightweight tripods do at this sub-$100 price point. That's partly due to just being better made and also due to the fact that they use rounded square legs - which keeps them from twisting like round legs do under torsion. Did I mention I did a 16 second exposure at late dusk in a light breeze and achieved perfect results? For me, that's way more than I expected and better than any $55 tripod should be expected to produce.
It's light, it's easy to setup, the leg locks are easy to use and accessible, nothing is cheaply made and the ball head is excellent. Really people, the ball head is great - it's worth $55 by itself. It's a much larger ball head than I anticipated (a good thing) and the stability and separately locking axis are great!
The only gripe I had is that the ball head was slightly sticky when trying to readjust - nothing major, but not as smooth as I'd like. The same was true of a leg or two; just a bit sticky when pulling them out or collapsing them later. I have had this problem with other tripods before and I just use beeswax or vegetable shortening ("Crisco") to lubricate them. Apply a thin coat, work the head or legs around until it's smooth, and then use a dry paper towel to remove the excess. After that, everything is now working like a champ and quite smooth on this tripod and head.
So let's review, class: For $55, I got a stable, light, tall, compact, well-made, attractive tripod that does everything I need with ease. Does it scream "$500 tripod made by Italians"? No, but the fact that it doesn't scream "$55 tripod made in China" is incredible. To put it simply, it just works - it does the job quietly and without any fuss or embarrassment. As a pro, I can carry this around (all day) and never have a client give me a judging glance or questioning frown. If you want to spend $250+, get a Manfrotto 055XPROB. If you want to spend $150, get a Vanguard Alto Pro Vista. But if you want to spend $55, get the Dolica GX650B204 65" Proline.