Sunpak 620-U4STM-CPG Tripod
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- Pistol Grip Ball Head
- Neoprene covered legs
- Removable center column quickly becomes a monopod
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4-section tri-monopod with compact pistol grip ball head. Flip lock leg locks, 4 lleg sections with leg braces for added stability. Rubber tipped feet. Compact pistol grip ball head with quick release for shooting at any angle. Weighs 4 lb and supports up to 11 lb.
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The tripod is fairly lightweight at four pounds compared to the 423px carbon fiber tripod we already own at 3.4 pounds. However, the u4stm feels sturdier in use. Another advantage of the u4stm over the (much) more expensive 423px is the center brace that opens all the legs at once instead of struggling to open each leg independently. Of course, the disadvantage to this is that you can't extend the legs beyond the range imposed by the center brace (i.e. putting the legs out at a very large angle in order to lower the tripod to within inches of the ground). However, I find this to be a specialized type of shooting that will seldom be used by the majority of people this tripod is designed for.
This tripod is tall enough that I'm able to shoot at eye level easily (I'm 6'1"). The center column is friction locked, not geared, so hold onto your camera when you loosen the center column locking nut. This is not unusual for tripods in this or even higher price range. Even my $300.00 Bogen is friction locked.
The upper legs are covered in neoprene material that has a satisfying feel to it, but I think with rough usage, this could easily become an eyesore. The neoprene will help if you're carrying this tripod in cold weather (or hot if you live in the desert like I do!) There is a built in bubble level on the chassis as well as several on the ballhead. I've used the levels when shooting multiple shots for a panorama as I want the shots to be perfectly aligned. It would also be useful when shooting architecture, but again, may be beyond the scope of this tripods target audience.
Additional features of this tripod: flip lever leg locks, a (near useless) carrying handle, and a center column that converts to a monopod.
As for the monopod feature, to use, you simply loosen the center column lock and pull the center column out of the tripod chassis. Then twist the foot to loosen and pull it down. Repeat this with the other three sections. Twist in the opposite direction to lock the sections in place. While the thought of having a monopod in addition to the tripod is great in theory, in order to make the monopod fit inside the center column, it had to be made thin enough. In my opinion, the monopod is simply too thin and flimsy for anything other than occasional use. If you really need a monopod, you'll need to spend more money. That being said, the addition of the monopod feature is simply an extra to a good tripod.
But we bought this tripod for the pistol grip ballhead. My wife likes to shoot birds and wildlife and a traditional three-handled tripod was just too slow. Other ballheads use a thumbscrew to loosen the ball, but the pistol grip is so quick and easy that we fell in love with it the first time we used it. Keep in mind that this ballhead cannot compare to ballheads in the hundred-plus dollar range, but we've mounted a four pound pro zoom lens with a DSLR plus vertical grip and used it very well. Most really good tele lenses will have a tripod mount attached and when balanced with the DSLR, will sit nicely on this ballhead with great control and stability. One complaint I've heard of this ballhead is that you can't tilt it up or down very far except in the direction of a cutout on the side of the head. While that is true, you can simply squeeze the trigger and ROTATE the cutout to the area you need to tilt to. It takes less than a second and will let you EASILY tilt this ballhead to 90 degrees in any direction. The mounting plate did seem a little flimsy at first since I'm used to the Bogen mounting plates that are about three inches across. But once I started using it, my concerns diminished. Finally, there is a locking lever on the ballhead that lets you pan the mounted camera without loosening the ball. This will let you get smooth pans with video or straight level pans for panorama shots.
Make no mistake. This is not a tripod for serious professionals. But you aren't spending three or four hundred dollars, either. With the u4stm you actually get more than you pay for.
neoprene covered upper legs
flip lever leg releases
outstanding pistol grip ballhead
built in bubble levels
lock lever for level panning
monopod is pretty flimsy
neoprene covered upper legs (yes, I listed that as a pro, but wait a year or two and I think they'll get pretty ugly)
not as sturdy as a pro tripod
useless handle (I listed this as a con only because, well, I think it's pretty useless)
friction lock center column (instead of geared)
There are four bubble levels, 2 on the swivel head, 1 on the pistol grip and 1 on the legs, offering an awful lot of flexibility in terms of leveling the camera and tripod.
Secondly, there may be an issue with the quick release plate depending on how you load your camera's battery and memory card. I have three cameras, a Canon A1000, a Nikon L310 and an Olympus E510. In the case of the Canon and the Nikon, the plate interferes with the battery and memory card compartment cover. It is not an issue with the Canon since I am not going to use the tripod with it. However, it is an issue with the Nikon. The plate will have to be removed whenever the batteries or the card have to be removed and/or replaced. It is not an issue with the Olympus. My guess is this might be a common problem with all cameras and tripods.