Our New Favorite Tripod Is Actually the Most Affordable We Tested

Normally, you get what you pay for. If you try to buy something that is less than half the price of its competitors, it's going to be bad. This is certainly what we expected when we compared four of the most popular carbon fiber tripods, but I'm shocked and excited to tell you we actually liked the most affordable model we tried the best.

Our tripod of choice for years has been the Manfrotto 055xproB. It was built like a tank, it easily fit in our checked luggage, and at around $250, it was very affordable. I could have been happy using this tripod exclusively for the rest of my career, but Manfrotto replaced this tripod with the worst tripod we have ever used. This tripod was literally falling apart just a few days into filming "Photographing The World 1."

We recently left to film Photographing The World 3 and we got B&H to send us four similar carbon fiber tripods from Really Right Stuff, Gitzo, Induro, and Benro. Throughout this season of "Photographing The World 3 Behind The Scenes," you'll be able to watch us use and compare all of them, but the bottom line is that the cheapest tripod, the Benro Mach3 TMA38CL, was our favorite. We didn't think it was the best because it was the best value. Both Patrick and I agreed that if all of the tripods were the exact same price, we each would have chosen the Benro TMA38CL as our favorite.

You're probably wondering how this could be possible, and we were also shocked. We both expected the $1,000 RRS tripod to be our favorite, and don't get me wrong, it was a great tripod. But it was the little things that you would only notice after using the tripods back to back day after day that really help you choose a favorite. We love the Benro tripod for a few reasons, but the first thing that you will notice when you pick it up is the overall build quality. Every aspect of it is solid, smooth, and secure. Nothing rattles or squeaks, and when you first open the legs they move, in a smooth and controlled way. The screw locks on the legs feel amazing, and when they are loose, the legs are capable of sliding freely on their own (although not as freely as a heavy metal leg). None of the other carbon fiber tripods that we tested worked as smoothly. With some of our old tripods, it seemed like we were losing feet on a weekly basis; the threads on these feet are coated with a clear oil that holds them securely in place but still allows them to be swapped out for the included spiked feet when you need them. 

At just 4.3 pounds, this is much lighter than our previous tripod, and when it's collapsed, it's actually smaller. And when it's fully extended, it's almost the exact same height at 69 inches.

As for negatives, It would have been nice if the center column could become a lateral arm like our old Manfrotto. We do occasionally like to shoot straight down. The screw locks on the legs were our favorite to use. They were smooth, and with a short turn, they could fully lock and unlock the legs. That being said, if you are used to a old school flip lever lock, the screw locks may take some getting used to. While we were filming "Photographing The World 3," we met up with a few photographers who didn't have the best things to say about older Benro tripods, but after seeing ours, they were impressed. This is the first Benro product I have ever used, and this leads me to believe that Benro has really stepped things up with the new Mach 3 series. So, you may want to see this new line of gear in person before you completely write it off. We've only had ours for a few months now, so we can't comment on the ruggedness of these tripods over years of abuse, but after months of use, we haven't had a single problem or even a loose screw. If we ever do start to have issues with them, we will certainly update all of you.

For years, we resisted moving to carbon fiber simply because they were too expensive and I knew we would destroy them anyway. Even though this was our favorite tripod that we have ever used, if it cost $1,000, we wouldn't have bought it. That's just too much when we consider that we need at least five and when you consider how we treat them. But for just $410, it was an easy decision to swap out our old Manfrotto tripod with five new Benro TMA38CL Mach3 tripods. We will still be holding on to our old Manfrotto tripods, but from now on, we will only use them when we have a shoot at the beach.

What I Liked

  • Shockingly affordable for carbon fiber at just $410
  • Incredible build quality for the price

  • Included padded case, tools, spiked feet, and short center column

  • Extremely small at just 23.2 inches but can expand to an impressive 69.7 inches

What I Didn't Like

  • Center column cannot move laterally (none of the tripods we tested had this feature but our old Manfrotto did)
  • Screw locks in general may take some getting used to
  • The Benro brand name isn't as prestigious as Gitzo or RRS so it probably won't impress your photography buddies

You can purchase the Benro TMA38CL Mach3 here.

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67 Comments

TImothy Tichy's picture

I'm curious why you're afraid to put your pods in the ocean? It's a pretty common thing for me. Just hose it off, and occasionally take the legs apart and rinse out the sand. That's the beauty of the twist lock legs. They simple unscrew to come apart for cleaning. So much easier than lever lock legs.

Lee Morris's picture

I look forward to trying to clean the these new tripods when they finally get sandy. Hopefully, because they are carbon, they won't corrode like our old Manfrottos.

michael andrew's picture

Salt water corrodes anything. It will find a way. I have one of these for surfing, its cheap and sprays water, folds down to nothing when not full. Perfect for the ocean.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M0N1I20/ref=asc_df_B01M0N1I205208245/?tag=h...

Lee Morris's picture

Check out the rinse kit as well. I love mine and no pumping: https://www.amazon.com/Rinse-Kit-869735000002-Portable-Sprayer/dp/B00UGA...

michael andrew's picture

l looked at that one, but on a camping trip with a buddy that had one it was only 2 gallons, never shrunk down to small size after use, and needed pressure to fill it up.

I hate to sound like a spokes person, but at 6 gallons and the ability to fill it up at a drinking fountain or any water source and pump even the last drop to high pressure, hang on your roof to warm in the sun for temperature adjustment and stow away smaller than a hat when empty the Nemo is the jam.

I have showered my dog and myself maybe 6-10 times total after beach days on 1 fill up.

Ralph Hightower's picture

Yea, I'm looking to see how it stands up to your Manfrotto abuse.

Marcia Jolley's picture

I use the Benro A2573F tripod. It is a little heavy for me, but very stable. The S6 head is great for video, but I did not realize that you could not turn portrait (my error for not noticing). Any work around for taking portrait oriented photos with such a tripod?

Lee Morris's picture

It sounds like you are trying to use a video pan head for stills. We only use video heads for video and then we swap the head for stills.

Anonymous's picture

Can't you just put a L bracket on? Granted you would have to have 2 plates and then keep attaching and detaching instead of just turning the head like you would on a different head, but it could still be done I think

Gabe Border's picture

I started out with a Benro and still use it from time to time. They are great. Needed something bigger so I bought a Feisol, damn thing is great! Half the cost of a similar RRS.

Marcia Jolley's picture

Yes, I just have the one head at this time.

Felix C's picture

"Manfrotto replaced this tripod with the worst tripod we have ever used." I have to agree. The cotter washer to secure the center column they use is horrible. I do not know how many times the center section would break free sending parts all over the place.

Lee Morris's picture

We must not have kept ours long enough to have dealt with THAT specific problem.

Simon Whitehead's picture

Lee, did B&H not give you any of the 3 Legged Thing tripods to test? I've yet to try one, but have heard nothing but good things. Their Leo carbon fibre sticks are only $225, weigh 3lb and can support over 60lb.

Mike Kelley's picture

For what it's worth, I don't think 3LT can really stand up to the abuse of travel and location photography. I owned one that started to fall apart on me after say 7-8 flights and just as many days of hiking/shooting. I am curious about the Benro though. After my Manfrotto fell apart, and then my 3LT fell apart, I just bit the bullet and bought a RRS which has been rock solid for a couple years now. No complaints at all, other than the fact that it's absolutely massive!

Simon Whitehead's picture

That's interesting Mike, thanks for that. The cost and specs of these seem really really compelling, but I suppose there's always a price to pay.

Lee Morris's picture

I have not yet tried one

Patrick Hall's picture

The owner of 3LT emailed us right before we went out on the road for Photographing the World and we were supposed to test them as well. I'm not sure what happened but we never received anything from them.

Lee Morris's picture

Oh ya... I remember you telling me about this. I wonder what happened.

Alan Klughammer's picture

I wonder how well the Benro will last compared to other "name brand" tripods...
Although I guess if it lasts half as long it is still a decent investment...

DOUG LEHMENKULER's picture

I have used this tripod for a couple of years with a Benro carbon fiber gimble. It's a great combo.

Lee Morris's picture

I don't know much about Benro but didn't this tripod recently come out?

DOUG LEHMENKULER's picture

I checked my Benro. It is a Mach 3 TMA38C. It looks just like the TMA38CL. I'm not sure what the difference is.It has been a realy good tripod for me.

ron fya's picture

For those who are shooting video, there is a new type of tripod on the market the Flowtech 75 from Sachtler-Vinten. It features an ultra-quick-release (i.e. one latch only for each leg) and seems quite promising to use if it's able to stand the test of travel and time.
Maybe worth checking out.
http://www.4kshooters.net/2017/09/06/new-sachtlervinten-flowtech-75-the-...

Michael Higa's picture

It would seem that a carbon fiber tripod would do better in salt water than one made of aluminum. I've put carbon fiber tripod in the ocean and had no problems. It gets gritty, but as soon as you rinse them off with fresh water, all is good.

I also put one of those freebie aluminum tripods in salt water and it stopped working within hours. This is how I ended up with carbon fiber tripods.

Lee Morris's picture

That would be awesome. I can't stand sand in my metal tripods... and all but one of them have sand throughout.

Daniel Guinn's picture

Lee, you mentioned in the video that the Benro came with a tool kit. I own an older Gitzo GT3541LS Carbon Fiber tripod that I love but some of the screws have started to wear out/rust a bit since I have been negligent in my cleanings. Gitzo did not put a kit in with this tripod and I was wondering if you (or other FStoppers) knew of any such kits or replacement parts I could look into for replacing the screws on each column?

Deleted Account's picture

If you’re in the US you might want to give the official Manfrotto importer (www.manfrotto.us) a try as Gitzo is now a Manfrotto brand; fortunately with little side effects on the tripods‘ build and quality so far.

In Europe I‘d recommend www.gitzospares.com. They are in the UK and have plenty of stock also for older models. Bought from them several times for my Gitzos, service and shipping times are top notch.

Daniel Guinn's picture

I'm in the US Thomas, I will take a look at the manfrotto.us thanks!

Daniel Guinn's picture

They should be pretty standard screws, only difference I see is a few of them have gitzo engraved on them. May take them to home depot or something if the manfrotto site doesn't pan out.

Ben Perrin's picture

What about the stability of this tripod? I've got an older manfrotto, the 055xprob as well and I've always been able to trust it completely for stability. I've put it in water on many occasions and even had it out on rocks with waves crashing all around whilst I was shooting remotely from 30 meters away; I knew that it would be fine and it was. Does the stability of these new carbon fibre tripods compare or are we trading weight for stability and rigidity?

Lee Morris's picture

It's very rigid but nothing will ever be as stable as a giant, heavy, oldschool steel tripod. Especially if you are putting it in rushing water or heavy wind. But this tripod does have a weight hook on the bottom of the center column.

Alex Armitage's picture

Lee,

I own 5 Benro tripods. Well technically 3 Benro and 2 MeFoTo tripods (same manufacturer). I've had one of my travel pods for 5 years and I still use it today. I don't think you'll have to worry about the lasting quality.

That said, I also wanted to point out that B&H has had these on their 24 hour sales before for INSANE prices. Check out what I snagged for the price back in March. Pretty sure that's the exact same tripod in your video!

Lee Morris's picture

That’s incredible! The c was replaced by the cl and only slightly smaller. I don’t know how anyone can make profit at that price.

Alex Armitage's picture

I assume the "L" stands for long/large as it's a bit taller. That said, they are pretty much the same.

Yes these are made in China. I was skeptical 6 years ago when I bought my first one. This is different though, quality is top notch in my opinion. Don't let that tagline of being made in china turn you off.

Geoffrey Forrest's picture

Good point. A Carbon is lighter for transport, therefore not as stable as a heavier one. Studio tripods weigh a lot.

Alex Armitage's picture

Also let me know if you ever need tips for cleaning them! This was after a trip to Indonesia and lots of sand/saltwater

J. K.'s picture

I really like my Benro too. The only thing that bugs the heck out of me are those white plastic pieces. After washing it out, those things are a pain in the arse to get back on and in correctly. I'm better with practice, but it is still extremely annoying. I'd almost pick a different model if it didn't have them.

Mark Pedregosa's picture

I grabbed this photo from my friend's FB who is using the Benro's SystemGo Classic GC257F tripod. You can move the center column laterally. I am using the GC268T (twist lock type), the same thing what it can do on the center column. Though I am not sure about the max height if this suits you.

Konrad Sarnowski's picture

Even cheap'o aluminum Benro stands strong after years of travels - sand, water, sea - their leg blocking system still works fine ;)

Jonathan Reid's picture

I'm surprised you like this with the screw locks. I use a tripod everyday, all day and travel extensively with it. I tried a screw lock tripod and it drove me crazy how much time I spent setting up and pack away the tripod. The good, old fashioned clamp lock is the speed king.

Craig Jeffries's picture

I've had a Benro aluminium tripod for 6 years, and it's still doing great. I have an angle adjustable centre column, plus LBA2 leveller attachment for my panorama head. Been in snow, saltwater, creeks, mud, sand. I paid so little for it being the aluminium version, but it really has gone the distance.

Dylan Goldby's picture

Curious as to why you guys didn't just move to this one...

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1034141-REG/manfrotto_mt055cxpro4...

I have it and love it.

Lee Morris's picture

That looks identical to the one we hated so much but carbon instead of aluminum.

tee lions's picture

I also used a Manfrotto 055xproB. for years until the clamps gave out. Disappointed that it was no longer sold in major camera stores i finally found one (new) on ebay for $225. It should last the next several years for me.

Steven Andrews's picture

Do you also have a recommendation for a corresponding head?

Lee Morris's picture

Because we are so rough with our stuff we use cheap heads. I like this one for video because it's so small and uses the small plates that work with our ball heads and the plates are small enough to leave on the cameras permanently.

https://www.amazon.com/Manfrotto-MHXPRO-2W-Fluid-Fluidity-Selector/dp/B0...

Alex Wilke's picture

I'd love to know specifically what the issues are with the MT055XPRO3 compared to the 055XPROB. I'd been looking at purchasing one of the newer ones as the horizontal centre column is pretty appealing to me. Is there another system you could suggest for this or should I just be looking at cross-bars?

Lee Morris's picture

Don't do it! Maybe you'll treat yours really well and it won't break but I hate the build of these new tripods. The legs are flimsy, the feet fall off, and the levers are made of cheap plastic and get loose.

Alex Wilke's picture

Ha that's pretty specific, thanks man. Looks like Benro have a few different models with the 90° centre column so I'll have a look at them.

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