While walking the floor at WPPI, there was one item we kept seeing over and over again: the MeFoto tripod. It seemed like everyone had one, and we had never heard of the brand. So we spoke with the guys at the MeFoto booth who agreed to let us test them out. Now after using all three sizes of MeFoto tripods, I can see why they were everywhere: they’re excellent.
MeFoto is a young brand (distributed by the MAC Group) that only has one style of tripod, but offers it in three sizes branded the BackPacker (smallest), the RoadTrip (medium), and the GlobeTrotter (large). The BackPacker and RoadTrip come in nine different colors which is something relatively unique to tripods on the market. Personally, I love the fact I can get a green tripod. It allows me to personalize my gear to my taste, and maybe I like to match it with my green backpack. If you choose the GlobeTrotter (in either aluminum or carbon fiber) or a carbon fiber build of the RoadTrip, you are limited to just two colors, which takes us back into the sphere or normal in the tripod business. If you’re wondering why there isn’t a carbon fiber version of the BackPacker, it’s because doing that would make it really expensive and cut off nearly none of the weight. In other words, that would be silly. We will revisit weight again later, but first I want to talk about design.
The BackPacker packs down to a measly 12.6 inches, with a maximum height of 51.2 inches. The RoadTrip is only 15.4 inches folded but extends to 61.6 inches. Finally, the largest GlobeTrotter folds down to only 16.1 inches, but has a maximum height of 64.2 inches. You’ll notice that the RoadTrip is not too much smaller in height alone than the GlobeTrotter, but the build is significantly less beefy. How you take this is up to you. You can get nearly the same height out of a smaller package if you’re looking for something light and small, but it won’t hold as much weight. The RoadTrip can only handle 17.6 pounds, while the GlobeTrotter can handle up to 26.4 pounds. In the end, it is up to your eventual intended use. For me, I can see a use in my kit for both.
Rather than having the legs collapse into each other and fold up vertically through the neck of the tripod, MeFoto opted to have the legs fold fully up 180 degrees, a design decision that mimics 3LeggedThing, a popular British tripod manufacturer. For the most part, I like this design. It works really well, with the downside only being that the legs can’t lock when they are fully folded, meaning if you attempt to hold the tripods by one leg and carry them, it can unfold on you. However, with the included carrying bag and the fact that it’s pretty easy to grip two legs simultaneously while carrying (or one leg and the center post), it’s a pretty easy annoyance to avoid.
Everything on the MeFoto tripods operates by twisting. The legs extend by twisting rubber stoppers and the same goes for the center column/neck. The benefit of this functionality is the ease of use. A very small downside is that it’s a little too easy at times. I unintentionally loosened various legs while moving the tripod around and had to hastily move the pieces back together and retighten them. Small issue, and most certainly does not detract much from the overall product.
Though it’s not part of the BackPacker (for good reason, since it’s so tiny), both the RoadTrip and the GlobeTrotter have an awesome feature: they double as monopods. One leg unscrews and the middle section can be removed from the base and both connect to make a monopod. This is a really awesome feature that I really appreciate. I like monopods for events and sports, but I really need a tripod for studio work. The fact that I can get both in one package is a huge selling point for me.
The legs lock into one of two stages, one extremely close to the ground and one at the general “standard” height (see below).
The stages are held in place by a small metal key that pulls out from the base of the tripod. They are not spring loaded and might take a minute to adjust yourself to, as they are different than what you’re probably expecting and from other major tripods on the market. They work well though, and I’m not ever concerned about the stability. The main downside of this style is that you are held to only two options for locking the legs. Rather than being held by tension or clips that allow for a wider range of leg heights and angles you're confined to the two options MeFoto gives you. If you are used to legs that give you more flexibility, it may be hard to get used to the parameters MeFoto forces you into. At first I was not particularly happy with the settings, finding the second of the two locking joins to be too harsh of a leg angle and I was afraid for the general balance of the tripod. However, after using it I came to realize that if you extend the two leg segments out, that angle becomes less of a big deal. I rarely am locked in that position without having two legs extended. Something to consider, however, if you're looking at these tripods. The second leg setting gave me the opposite feeling, interestingly enough, because I found that the mix of stability and distance to the ground to be really ideal.
The included ball head is a good version of a tried-and-true design. There is no real innovation here and it's nothing you haven't seen before, but it works. It is operated by three twistable knobs that let you determine how loose you want it to tilt or swivel. Speaking of the swivel, the panning motion is butter smooth (which means I really liked it). The 60mm Arca Swiss quick release plate that attaches to the bottom of the camera is pretty standard, and will require a screwdriver to fully tighten. I like the placement of the centering bubble on the top of the ball head. It is very easy to adjust the head to make sure it is perfectly level. If you have a particular tripod head you are in love with, not to worry. All three heads easily detach and are interchangeable with whatever head you want to use that accepts 3/8-16 threads. I did find the front twist knob to be awkwardly placed, since if you want to see the centering bubble that knob needs to be directly under where the front of your lens is going to sit. Not the best position, but not a deal breaker either.
Ok, let’s talk about the weight: the largest (GlobeTrotter) weighs only 4.6 pounds. In aluminum. That’s crazy light. Getting them in carbon fiber shaves off about a pound, putting them on 3.7 pounds, but that’s really splitting hairs. Maybe if you’re 100% backpacking through the mountains and every pound counts, then I might suggest the carbon fiber. But for less than one pound and a $160 difference (aluminum is $209, carbon fiber is $369), I have to say that the aluminum version is almost certainly going to be good enough for you. If you’re eying the RoadTrip, carbon fiber adds $140 and only cuts off half a pound. Carbon fiber might be tougher and lighter than aluminum, but in the case of MeFoto just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you have to (or should).
The takeaway from this discussion on weight is this: MeFoto tripods are crazy light. Crazy light means exceedingly portable, and what’s not to love about that?
In the end, what really sold me on these tripods was the price: $139, $189 and $209 for the small, medium and large options. They work really well, are tough as nails, super light and for all that, pretty darn inexpensive.
What I liked:
Super light-weight and portable
Doubles as a monopod (RoadTrip and GlobeTrotter only)
What could use improvement:
Legs do not lock in closed position
Legs can come unscrewed during transport
Legs only lock in two set positions
The tiny things I could nitpick about these tripods really does nothing to detract from the overall package: these tripods kick serious butt. They can withstand the trials of a professional photographer but are priced for anyone. The BackPacker is most certainly a consumer-level product, but both the RoadTrip and GlobeTrotter would easily slip into any traveling pro’s camera bag. All three fit into my Lowepro x200 along with a camera body, a lens a flash and my triggers. Did I need to bring all three with me? Of course not, but the fact that I did and my bag was no heavier than it had ever been (in fact it was lighter) says a lot about these tripods.
If you’re looking for a travel-friendly tripod that will withstand the rigors of daily use, I feel comfortable recommending MeFoto. Yeah, maybe the brand doesn’t sound as “pro” as others, but in the end it’s not about the way the brand sounds, but the performance of the product. For a full breakdown of cost and a range of color options, visit Mefoto.com.