Part of my summer program was reducing the load weight of the camera backpack during photo missions, from camera body to lenses to tripod. The introduction of the Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Tripod was wonderful news to my ears, so I picked one up to start the recalibration of my gear after hearing it was engineered to do everything a demanding photographer needs, while being light weight and compact.
I’ve forever been loyal to the Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod 190CXPRO3, this product gets it done absolutely everywhere in every season, it has never failed me in the coldest of climates to the hottest, most humid summer days. I actually own seven of these tripods because of my extensive flash work and multiple camera usage on any given photo shoot. You could say I have high standards for camera tripods after Manfrotto has the set the bar for the industry to try and follow!
Upon receiving the product, I opened the box and was pleasantly surprised to see the tripod encased in a padded bag (with shoulder strap). This saved me a step in locating a bag, as I prefer to keep my tripods in a case while traveling by airplane, an already positive experience and I hadn’t even seen the actual tripod yet!
Once I pulled the product out my initial reaction was one of joy because Manfrotto had designed the legs to fold up and over the ball head, reaching a folded length of just 15.7 inches (40 cm), talk about compact! After you get the tripod in your hands you immediately notice the lack of weight, it’s light (2.4 lbs / 1.1 kg)!However, with a tripod in this weight range, you have to ask yourself if it will do the job once connected to a modern DSLR camera, so it was off to the Vermont mountains for a few days of camping, photo shooting and testing the BeFree.
Seeing how I was still in the research phase of finding a smaller DSLR (Nikon D810 vs. Canon 5D Mark III), I decided to roll with my Nikon D4 workhorse and put the BeFreeball head to the test with a big camera body.
The Nikon D4 (and Canon 1Dx) DSLRs are physically some of the biggest digital cameras on the market, so the aluminumball head with large ergonomic locking handle and quick release mechanism (with dual locks so you don’t accidentally release the camera) would be holding a fair bit weight for this initial test. The quick release platehas been minimized to save weight and cater to the compactness of the tripod, with no loss in function, while attaching and detaching the camera to the quick release plate is a breeze, you could perform this move with your eyes closed (or in the dark night if you’ve forgot your headlamp!). The ball head passed with flying colors with the camera mounted horizontally, while the real test would be if it could hold the 41.6 oz. (1180 g) body and 9.9 oz. (280g) 50mm lens while positioned vertically. As you can see in the image below, it was no problem, the ball head easily kept the D4 in place, ready to shoot at a moments notice
Next was seeing how the tripod legs would perform, as I’d become accustomed to the functionality and efficiency of the 190CXPRO3 model. The ‘leg selectors’ of the BeFree allow you to quickly select between two different ‘leg inclinations,’ depending on where you set them with the quick flick of the thumb.The legs will hit a stopping point at two different angles, allowing more functionality that a one-inclination leg designallows. However, you can leave the leg selectors all the way to the left and the legs will ‘float’ without a stopping point. I utilized the varied leg inclinations throughout my testing and found these additional stopping points to benefit your camera composition depending on slope angle, lower angled camera positioning and subject matter.
Secondly, the D-shaped legs of the BeFree are fast to extend and adjust with Flip Lock levers that block and unblock each leg section quickly.The rigid construction keeps your camera steady, making for an overall topnotchperformance that exceeded my expectations.Not to be forgotten, the telescoping center column performed like a charm with its smooth floating action and easy to grip column tensioner.
After the camping mission in the mountains, I headed to the eastern seaboard and picked a particularly windy evening to run some long exposures at a lighthouse setting. At this point I was in the middle of testing a Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D810, seeing if the BeFree’s lightweight design and ball head would hold a modern DSLRsteady during windy conditions. After checking my photographs that were shot with varied exposure timesof two, three and four minutes, the tripod performed as billed and I was extremely pleased with the lighthouse images, including this one your see below
I must mention that the BeFree overall extended height is six inches shorter than that of the 190CXPRO3 model, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a chance. I found no issues with the shorter overall height when sizing up any of the photo compositions within this review.
Also, the 1.2 lb weight saving you get with the BeFree is huge, especially if you’re traveling a lot or hiking into remote locations. Appearance wise this is a beautifully crafted product that is sleek and elegant, good to the touch,while commandingquite a few comments from passersby.
Manfrotto has done it once again by producing an industry-leading product aimed at the lightweight travel tripod sector, I couldn’t be happier with my purchase, as I’m sure you will be as well.
BeFree Max Height 56.7″ (144 cm) Weight: 2.4 lb (1.1 kg)
190CXPRO3 Max Height 63″ (160 cm) Weight: 3.6 lb (1.6 kg)