Not quite, but close. Several days ago, I posted regarding the "magic" tripod (Read it HERE). You know, the one that will fulfill all our desires and cost less than a fancy dinner for two with drinks and dessert. To summarize the previous article, after a few false starts, I found a happy compromise with the Slik Pro 330 DX. While it is a nice tripod and came with a quite serviceable 3-way tilt/pan head, I really wanted something a little lighter and closer to my original vision.
The point of issue was the head. I bought the version with the head because that model was in the store, the price was good, and I do have the occasional need for a head of that design. Unfortunately, the head was 1/3 the weight of the tripod and I wanted a little lighter package.
Off With Its Head!!!
So off came the head. Wow! The 330 DX is really light without its head! You can also buy it that way for just under $85 USD. The weight without head is a little under 2.5 lbs according to data on the Slik Web site (tripod - head = legs only). To my hands, it feels more like 2 lbs. I wanted the total weight to come in at under 3 lbs. So off to I went to the Internets to see what product might fit my needs. (In case you are wondering, I also checked the friendly local camera store to see what offerings they had in stock.)
There Are Really A Lot Of Choices...
Interestingly enough, there is a very crowded field of cheap, light tripod heads. The problem is deciding which one will do the job. Here is my short list of desired features:
- Capacity of between 6 and 8 lbs
- Less than 0.5 lbs weight
- Ball style
- Plain camera platform (no quick release)
- Base diameter compatible with the 330 DX
- Large enough camera platform to fully engage the camera base with a minimum of shifting
- Priced less than $60 USD
- QR plates and clamps are expensive
- QR plates and clamps add extra weight
- QR systems are only quick if all your cameras have plates and have them attached when you need them on the tripod
- QR plates are not very compatible with camera cases such as those on most of my film cameras
- A standard camera platform on a ball head is surprising easy to attach to most cameras
- Loosen the ball head and flop the camera platform over into the vertical slot
- Holding the camera in your left hand (if right handed), mate the tripod socket to the mounting screw on the head
- Using the right hand, spin the head onto the tripod socket
- Snug until firm
Choices, Choices, Choices
As mentioned above, there is a lot of product at the low end, though I finally found several candidates with the top contenders being from Cullman, Velbon, FLM, and Manfrotto. All met my criteria and each would probably have done the job quite nicely. My choice fell to the Manfrotto 494 Mini Ball Head, mostly because I had seen the QR version at the local camera shop and knew the general quality of construction. Here is a photo of the M 494 mounted to the 330 DX:
|Slik Pro 330 DX with Manfrotto 494 head attached|
|Manfrotto 494 Ball Head|
As you can see, the base diameter of the head is a good match to the platform on the Slik. Manfrotto claims a capacity of 8.82 lbs and I see no reason to dispute that figure. The ball locks down securely with minimal effort. Head movement is not as smooth as some of its competitors, but that is a general issue with the lower-end Manfrotto ball heads in general. I would describe the movement as more purposeful than silky.
Do I have any complaints?
Only one. Could someone at Manfrotto please explain to me why the outer margin of the camera platform is smooth with no grip what-so-ever? It is a pain to snug this head to the camera. A small strip of rubber or some knurling would go nicely here. B-M marketing, are you listening? 'Nuff said about that. How about seeing what this baby will do!
What Works And What Doesn't
I figured it would be best to try worst case first. While I bought the 330 DX for use with my 35mm film SLRs, it is not inconceivable that I might have to use it with my heavier gear at some point. Here is the 330 DX with my heaviest kit attached. The K10D with my Vivitar 200/3.5.
The Viv is all metal and glass and is a hefty tool. Notice too that it lacks a much needed tripod ring to balance the load. It does not look too bad in the picture, but in this orientation the lens/camera position sags about 1/4 inch when the hands are removed and the tripod having to support the load. Is the head at fault? Strangely enough, no. The head is holding the load quite nicely. What is hard to see is that the legs are bowing slightly from the poorly balanced load. How about something closer to what I intended for this combo?
This is a much better match. The Ricoh XR-2s with Tamron Adaptal-2 70-150/3.5 (20A) is not particularly light, but is more in line with the tripod and head's capabilities. You can put this combo in any position with confidence. And finally...
|This One Is Just Right!!|
Does this mean that the Slik Pro 330 DX mated to the Manfrotto 494 head is a "no-go" with dSLRs? By no means! I believe that it would be a good match with any of the compact dSLR bodies currently available. A Pentax K-x or K-r would work quite well with this setup as would similar products from Nikon, Canon, Olympus, etc.. The key is to make sure that the load is balanced on the head and that you don't push the limits for capacity. Leave the "Bigma" (Sigma 50-500 f/4.0-6.3) at home and everybody will stay happy!
The Final Analysis
- $85 for the legs
- $50 for the head
- About 3 lbs
- 8.8 lb capacity
- Fits in my backpack