The Best Tripod That I've Ever Owned

The Best Tripod That I've Ever Owned

We all make mistakes when it comes to purchases we make when we're first starting out. As we continue to grow and evolve we continue to make mistakes. Hopefully, our mistakes aren't too financially costly like a camera body or lens that we don't need and never use. When I first bought my camera a couple years ago, I picked up an ultra cheap twenty dollar tripod because the store has one and I thought I would definitely need it. That was a mistake and that tripod was pretty much a piece of junk. I have since rectified that mistake and have found my personal favorite and best tripod I've ever owned.

Recently, I took a trip to Seattle, WA and I knew that on this particular trip I was going to be spending more time outdoors, hiking, and exploring rather than rocking portrait shoots. I knew that I wanted to have a solid and reliable tripod with me to help me go after the shots that I wanted. I also knew that I wouldn't be able to spend three, four, or five hundred dollars on something. Per the usual, I checked Craigslist hoping to find a great deal but came up dry. So I start searching Amazon and YouTube reviews hoping to find something. Lo and behold I find the Zomei Z818 and boom, I find my favorite tripod.

Coming in at about $110 it doesn't break the bank and delivers everything that I'm looking for from a tripod to take on hikes and nature adventures. Solid aluminum alloy build quality, legs that adjust to any angle that I could want, and a straight to the point sturdy ball head. Plus, it's available in a few different colors which while not necessary, is pretty sweet. On my trip, I definitely put this thing to the test. Rain and snow are no problem. It's lightweight which is what I want when I take it with me for a hike. I feel completely comfortable leaving my camera attached to the head while walking through the woods with this thing. 

Moral of the story? I bought a super cheap tripod once got exactly what I paid for. Then via YouTube unboxing videos and Amazon reviews found my tripod equivalent of a best friend. Are there higher quality options out there? Yes, of course. You can spend hundreds (even thousands) of dollars on a tripod if you want to. Always do your research and make sure that whatever you go with meets your needs. Have you ever bought one on the cheap only to find it was junk? Maybe you've owned the same one your whole career and wouldn't trade it for anything. Leave a comment down below with your tripod preferences. When you look for something new, is your first instinct to check YouTube reviews like me?

Evan Kane is a portrait photographer based near Seattle. He specializes in colorful location portraits with a bit of a fairy tale flair. Always looking to create something with emotion behind it, he fell backwards into photography in mid 2015 and has been pursuing this dream ever since. One if his mottos: "There is always more to learn."

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that looks exactly like my mefoto globetrotter. it probably is with different stickers on it. i love mine (and i paid more that this one)

I had the same thought. I have the carbon fiber version of the Globetrotter (now Globetrotter Classic) and love it. It even supports my 500 f/4 pretty well.

i won't even tell you what the carbon fiber price of this one is on amazon. you should not look.

I'm pretty sure MeFoto is all aluminum where as the Zomei uses magnesium alloy in some places.
The ball head has more adjustments on the MeFoto too.
The globetrotter also comes with a set of spikes you can swap out the rubber pads for.
I think the Zomei is about 1lb lighter too but the MeFoto collapses shorter.
All that being said, the globetrotter goes for $200 to $250 USD whereas the Zomei can be had for $100. There is a YouTube comparing the two, the MeFoto does look beefier when sitting next to the Zomei.

Thanks for the comment Aaron. The Zomei actually does have both the rummer pads and spikes on the feet. You adjust them via a screw to either reveal and use the spikes or hide them and use the rubber.

i dunno. i'm looking at this one and mine sitting next to me. they look exactly the same. i did not look at the specs so you might be right. i might get the carbon one to try it out, cheap. i could sell my mefoto and probably afford both.

Mefotos all have four leg locks, this one has three.

All the designs look very similar now, because they're all following the same approximate original pattern.

And for the most part, they're all terrible in long-term survivability, and inherently flawed in at least a few ways.

Can you elaborate at all on this please? I'm entering the fray looking for a (travel) tripod and your comment on survivability and being inherently flawed design wise has me interested

James, there are two main inherent flaws in pretty much every generic / knock-off design out there: Firstly, the twist-lock legs all have the same crappy plastic shims in them which eventually start shifting and jamming. They're all notched in order to make the leg locks "anti-twist", but really all they do is eventually cause twisting to be the death of one or two leg joints. I'll attach a photo example from a Mefoto tripod I've honestly experienced this exact issue with innumerable tripods over the years. Literally the only brands that have twist-lock legs that haven't given me this problem have been Slik, and Gitzo.

The other inherent flaw is the rubber they use on the leg locks, and also on the ballhead knobs. I've also NEVER owned a tripod that didn't have the rubber on the legs eventually get gooey and start slipping independently of the metal locking mechanism, which creates a serious risk of the tripod leg lock not being fully locked of course. And on the ballhead, they usually use a different type of rubber, one which always eventually cracks and falls off, leaving sharp metal knobb edges that I wind up having to cover in gaff tape.

There are numerous other design flaws that certain companies have, such as the 5-section legs which make a tripod super tiny when compact but quite wobbly and susceptible to "vibrato" when there is a breeze.

Long story short, save up for a Slik Lite CF-422 if you can, or if you're looking for a super-ultra-light tripod, on a super cheap budget, the Slik Sprint Pro 2 works nicely just so long as you replace the dinky little head. As far as heads go, if you can't afford an RRS or similarly "luxury" ballhead, the best generic brand I've tried is Oben, because they don't mess around with silly knob rubber, all their ballhead knobs are 100% metal. And so far aI have yet to have one of the 3+ Oben ballheads I've owned get "sloppy" after continued heavy use, either, which is also a first.

The only generic brand I can think of that is at least half-decent when it comes to those first two design flaws is Induro. Their leg lock guts and leg lock knob grips are both designed decently.

Thanks very much for taking the time to respond with detail. Your points seem quite valid

The SLIK you mention is in budget but I'm a little put off by the weight hook being replaced by an LED light (never seen that before)

I shoot with a Fuji X-T2 so my tripod load requirements are much less and for such a (relatively) light setup a weight hook is helpful

Any other recommendations you care to share? Any thoughts re: longevity of flip lock tripods?

Yeah, I just use a couple zip ties to add a tie-down loop to the center column if desired. A trick I learned from long before all the generic tripods included weight hooks. (Even the best, Gitzo and RRS, charge aftermarket $$$ for their weight hooks) But, if all you've got is a X-T2, I don't see why you'd need a weight, unless you shoot in high winds all the time. I shoot in high winds a lot too, and I just open the leg angles a notch, that seems the safer thing to do...

Thanks again for the response. I thought the weight was more of a requirement because the camera is lighter, a heavier camera would exert more pressure on the legs and make them more stable whereas a lighter camera needs that weight added externally on the hook.

Nice tip on the zip ties btw

Yeah, a heavy camera on a lightweight set of legs is only useful without windy conditions, the slightest wind and you've created a risky situation for tipping, (admittedly a lighter camera on lightweight legs would be even more risky, but that's not my point) ...and you've also created an opportunity for what I call "tripod leg vibrato", which will utterly ruin image sharpness.

Moral of the story, a "serious" landscape photographer may eventually find that they need 2-3 tripods in order to really be productive and safe in ANY conditions, whether it be the roadside viewpoint, or the 20-mile backpacking trip, plus the windstorm in either situation. :-\

This is my tripod. I love it! Very sturdy in construction. Only issue i have with it is that it's a bit on the heavier side.

Looks like a nice hiking tripod.

Wait, wait, I know this one... The best tripod you ever owned is... The one you have with you! No? I purchased a carbon fiber Gitzo 17 or so years ago, and it's still going, but I use my $50 table top tripod FAR more, because I can shove it in my bag and take it with me everywhere I go. Was actually thinking of upgrading to the RRS Ultra Pocket Pod. I'll do that when I feel like throwing a couple hundred dollars towards something I probably don't need...

Looks like the MeFoto Tripod. I've been working with an NGO in Africa for 5 years and it's absolutely my fav tripod. I bought the short neck for when I use the monopod.

It looks like an imitation from the Rollei Fotopro C5i.
I have been using the Rollei Fotopro C5i for years with the heavy Canon 1-DX and I am thrilled.
Except when photographing with my Canon 600mm lens with Gimbal Head I use a different tripod.
The Rollei T-64C with Benro GH2 Gimbal Head

Thanks for the comment Carlos. Haha, I can see that a 600mm lens would be pretty demanding on a tripod!

I can relate to this. As someone who lived in Hong Kong for a number of years, I got to know who the better reputable Aliexpress manufacturers were and Zomei are high up the list. I bought a QZSD 999C Tripod about 3 years ago for around $100. It's a carbon fiber travel tripod and I think branded under other names too. It has been a workhorse for me in those 3 years. It's sturdy, works smoothly and has never given me any issues. One of the rubber feet came off once but I super-glued it back on no problems. It's easy to clean and maintain too. My only issues with it are the adjustment tabs which are pull out versions - they have come loose (once in 3 years) and required tightening. In cold weather, however, the lubricant in there clogs up a bit so the tabs are hard to pull out. The other thing is that it isn't that tall. I don't really want to use the centre column for stability reasons.

I have therefore gone ahead and just received the Innorel RT85C Carbon Fiber and it's a full size tripod. The service from the guys at Innorel was fantastic - they actually encouraged me to get this version for $170 (without ballhead) vs their more expensive version. It's as tall as I am (around 190cm), built like a tank, has perfect adjustment tabs (the flick down kind) and the quality is seriously impressive for the money. The centre column has a notch so it won't rotate which is great. The legs can be adjusted to 3 different positions each too. The action on all the twist locks is incredibly smooth. It does not feel like a cheap knock off. In fact, I was so impressed with the Innorel quality that I ordered a spare ballhead from them to have alongside my trusty Sirui. Highly recommend checking them out on Aliexpress. It does have a centre column which allows it to reach very high - there is a version without centre column also but I wanted a taller tripod for my needs. A great company to keep an eye on and I hope they do well. Their quality seems higher than QZSD and Zomei (in my experience with both).

Thanks for the comment James. I like what your said about your tripod being a workhorse, that's a great way of putting it. If a person can find the brands and manufacturers that make equipment that lasts and don't break the bank, that's the sweet spot haha.

Thanks for the comment Dan. The point is to share my experience with this tripod in the hopes that anyone out there in the market simply has access to additional information when making a purchasing decision.

In the same way that an article about someone else's favorite lens would be a good read. Though it is THEIR favorite lens, I would still be curious as to why and may be able to glean some applicable to me information.

I did make sure to indicate that of course there are a myriad of other options out there, including those that would be of superior quality. Everyone ought to do their research when they are in the market and make sure that whatever they go with will meet their needs but also their budget. A lot of people out there can't justify spending a larger sum of money on a carbon fiber tripod as well as a separate (and often also expensive) compatible head for said tripod.

Depending on the intended usage, light and casual hiking vs extreme backpacking and mountain climbing for example, may require a different caliber of equipment. At the same time, it's also very possible that for most people, from a practical perspective the $100 tripod and the $500 tripod are the same thing. So why spend more if you can't justify the purchase?

"At the same time, it's also very possible that for most people, from a practical perspective the $100 tripod and the $500 tripod are the same thing."

This is very true - I actually went to my local camera shop here in Iceland to look at the top of the range Gitzo tripod which was the height I wanted. It was $1,500 here. I looked at the features and did my research on Aliexpress before coming across the $170 Innorel RT85C. Having now received this I cannot see a reason to spend 9 times more on a Gitzo. The only thing I cannot assess yet is durability. From what I can see though, I get around 80-90% of a Gitzo for a 9th of the price. Heck, if it lasted 1 year, I could buy one every year for 9 years before spending the same as on a Gitzo, which may coincidentally be as long as a Gitzo lasts. My only other experience with a cheaper Chinese brand was my QZSD which is fantastic after 3 years making the $100 investment more than worthwhile. I'm certainly glad I didn't spend 3 times as much on a named brand.

I would say that I have spent a little more on a good ballhead though but that's because I was able to save on the tripod. I'm a big fan of these newer brands that offer quality for low prices. There are rubbish ones out there but if you do your research you can find a real gem. I'm convinced Innorel will do well.

I signed up just to comment on the reflection shot. Astounding. I mean that's not your average good reflection that is full blown Crystal Blue Persuasion. I think you'll find it highly marketable if you have the know how, just don't sell away the rights cheap. Good luck.

Haha, thanks very much Kenneth, I appreciate that!

Ya Its real nice. I actually said, "Whoa!" out loud. BTW, how do you like the ball head it comes with. Do you think it will hold up over time. (I know, hard to judge) I'm not a gear head at all so if I can get something less expensive that is reliable and will last I will. I refuse to but for name only. But at the same time sometimes going the expensive route is the right call. My gitzo tripod is 28 years old and despite beat to Hell still works great.

Good grief, now "cheap" for a tripod is only $20, ...and "good" is $109? Thom Hogan would cry if he read this.

Also, if your experience extends no further than a $20 tripod, that by definition eminently UN-qualifies you from putting any import whatsoever into the phrase "I've ever owned".

Personally, I've lost count of how many cheap / knock-off tripods I have utterly destroyed over the years. Name a third-party brand, I've either destroyed one or two myself, or tried to help friends repair / service their own broken / wobbly ones.

I go through a $100-200 tripod in about 6-12 months, if I'm lucky, (Fotopro, Oben, some Giottos) ...and if I'm unlucky, it starts acting up almost immediately. (other Giottos, Oben, Mefoto, Benro, etc. etc.)

If you want a tripod that will actually take serious abuse and stand the test of time, stick with a name brand, period. Manfrotto's track record is decent, but not as good as Gitzo's of course. But if you can't afford a Gitzo, (Or an RRS, etc.) ...there's a third brand that most people forget about, a brand which has been around for just as long, and is actually "the original" in the current design that is being copied so incessantly these days: SLIK. They get confused with crappy Sunpak tripods, so people don't think twice about them, but they actually have innumerable professional-grade models, from ultra-light backpacking tripods, to boat-anchor beast tripods. I own three Slik tripods now, and they're the three tripods that have given me the least trouble over the years.

I'm not paid by Slik, by the way, I just really enjoy reviewing tripods. It's a landscape photographer thing.

Thanks for the opinion Matthew. Look like you're definitely a landscape photographer so I'll differ to your opinion regarding more heavy-duty and long lasting tripods. Sounds like you have had quite the experiences with a variety of brands!

Remember though that "good" and "favorite" are not always the same, though there is often some overlap. What is cheap to one person might be expensive to another. It all depends on intended usage as well as build quality.

Silk is a brand that I'm not familiar with, so I'll have to keep an eye out for some of their gear sometime.

Seems like a great affordable choice .

Thank you for this article Evan! I'm relatively new to photography and this sounds as though it will fit my needs. Have a light (D3300) camera. When I asked for tripod suggestions on another photo forum most people told me to get a carbon version and that I'd need to spend at least $300. I'm not in a position to spend more for the tripod than the camera
Have ordered the Zomei .

Thanks for the comment Ed. I can definitely see a stronger build quality (like the carbon fiber options) being much more important if a person's intended usage is more towards the extreme outdoor activities or even if a person is accident prone haha.

You get what you pay for with the Zomei option and I have absolutely been impressed with it so far!

In my lack of experience I began buying cheap tripods at the beginning of my career almost 40 years ago. One thing: buy the best tripod you can that supports with confidence your valuable photo equipment. I own a modified seven year old gitzo GK1580TQR4 travel carbon fiber, still working like new. Another gem, a german tripod, FLM CP26-M4S. On top of them I use a functional Acratech GP-ss ball head modified with a Novoflex clamp for panoramas.