Best Travel Tripod 2011: What to get for Europe Part 1

My old tripod on the left, New hopeful on the right

Now that the tickets are bought and my wife Jenn and I are officially going to Europe my brain has gone into overdrive trying to think about all of the things I'll need photography wise to get ready for our trip. One of the first things on my list is a new tripod!

My old tripod (left) which has served me well up to this point has started to fall apart and is frankly just too heavy and cumbersome to carry around Europe for this trip. I'm pretty sure it weighs around 15 pounds. Not to mention that I have lost all the rubber feet off the bottom and the hook from the main support tube broke off a couple months ago.... You have been a good friend my old faithful tripod but its time to go.

So I have started an in depth search for the best travel tripod I can find for a price that I hope doesn't break the bank. Here is what I have found out so far.

Number one thing I'm looking for- Carbon Fiber Legs. The reason I want to go with carbon fiber is for a few reasons. Its really light weight, really strong, sturdy, and pretty indestructible. The last thing anyone wants to do is carry around a heavy tripod for miles while taking in the sights which is why many people end up leaving it in the hotel room. Its my goal to be happy with, heck, even excited, to carry this tripod around and to get some great use out of it.

The only downside, of course, to carbon fiber is the price. It is expensive but I feel will be a better investment in the long run. (Trust me, just spend the money once and avoid the struggle I have been through replacing crappy gear with what I should have gotten in the first place. Not going to do that this time).

So here is the breakdown of the models I'm looking at. All of them are pretty similar for the most part, but are distinctly different in many ways which I'll explain in a second.

Starting from low to high price wise these are the ones I have been looking at.

The Induro CT214: About $400.00 at time of writing.

Induro is a pretty new company. As far as I understand it they are still trying hard to establish themselves in the industry right now so they often offer more to try and grab new customers. This tripod actually looks like a great deal. Its the cheapest of all the carbon fiber tripods I have looked at. Its a little heaver then the others coming in at 3.3 pounds. It has three sections on the legs vs the two section on the Gitzo and 5 on Benro. It advertises really strong carbon fiber using a special 8 layers of crisscrossing which the company says makes it really strong. My only hesitation is that often the cheapest is not necessarily the best.  And I did notice that even though the legs are really strong, all the support materials are either made of plastic or magnesium alloy which isn't too bad but I wonder how long they will last. Overall its a good place to start.

The Benro C2691T: About $536.00 at time of writing.

The Benro series of tripods has been really intriguing to me. The advantage of these guys is that they started the movement of actually folding the legs backward against the main shaft to save space. This tripod folds up to a length only 17.7" including the ball head which is awesome. It also includes a ballhead as part of the price and a cool feature of being able to convert it into a monpod if desired. I love multifunctional creativity so thats a real plus!

Some of the downsides that I can see is that tripod has 5 leg sections. Great for conserving space but if I really want to use this as my main tripod having 5 leg sections is really going to cut down on stability. Not to mention that it takes a bit of extra effort to expand all those sections. The last thing you want is to take extra time setting up your shot. Particularly for Europe you want to quickly setup your tripod, take your shot and quickly tear down and move on, hopefully not making your wife wait too long :O). Speed is everything when your on foot particularly with your loved one. The other thing is I'm not sure how good the ball head is. I messed around with it in the camera store and it seems pretty good but I wondered how it would do long term.

Gitzo GT1531: About $612.00 at time of writing.

Ok now we are talking. The Gitzo tripods are regarded by most as the "top of the line". Their carbon fiber legs are super strong and light. The "Spider" is made out of compressed aircraft grade aluminum and from what I can tell every piece on the tripod is built to last. Its by far the lightest of all three at 2.2 pounds and just feels solid. It also has only three legs sections which makes it the fastest to setup of the three. The only downside to this it that its the longest when folded up. Its also the most expensive and comes with the least amount extras. All others come with a bag, strap, and sometimes a ballhead, ect. With Gitzo its legs only and thats it. Furthmore, this tripod looks like it would last forever and really would be the only one I would only have to buy once.  This is probably my top contender at this point. The downside. I'll need to either buy a Gitzo Ballhead or something simular to really take advantage of the choice. The Gitzo ballheads are not cheap and could possibly add another $200 or so dollars to this choice. Even more if I go with a Really Right Stuff ball head which I hope to explain to more about in my next post.

So which one did I choose????........Stay tuned for my next post and hear why I also returned it the next day sending me back to square one....