My first tripod, a Quantary QSX9002 TB by Sunpak is still a great piece of gear, though a few bits have fallen off since I bought it while travelling in California around 7 years ago. However over time I've grown quite frustrated having to carry the 2ft folded length and 2.5Kg around, to such an extent that on occasions I've been inclined to leave it at home...and then regretted it. Additionally, It’s max load capacity is only 3Kg, which was pushing my current gear (6D + 70-200 f2.8 USM II) to the edge.
For some time now, I have been on the lookout for the holy grail of tripods, one that I could take on our grand tours.….something lighter, more flexible, more compact and with a higher load capability. With an upcoming trip across Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan coming up I decided to get serious about finding myself a newer model.
First thing I realised was the huge choice out there... but once you start to narrow down based on specific criteria.. you can quickly focus on a narrow selection. The key thing for me was portability and load capability.
One of the companies that got me excited was MeFoto, With their funky range of colours, they seem to specialise on the traveller class, and products very similar to the 3-Legged Thing. It’s interesting to see that Manfrotto are now following suit on the colour trend and are now making their travel BeFree tripod in some additional colours. Always great when the underdogs make the big boys howl.
MeFoto is a young brand that only has a limited range of tripods, but offers it in three sizes branded the BackPacker (smallest), the RoadTrip (medium), and the GlobeTrotter (large). At time of writing they have just launched an even smaller model ('Air') which we hope to review in future.
The BackPacker and RoadTrip are sold in nine different colours , some quite funky and cool. This is great if you like to ‘personalise' your gear to your own taste/psyche, or to sync with other gear (e.g. camera bags). Note that the GlobeTrotter (in either aluminum or carbon fiber) and the carbon fiber version of the RoadTrip, are for some reason only offered in 2 colors.
The smallest model, the BackPacker folds down to just 12.6 inches. The largest, GlobeTrotter folds down to 16.1 inches, but has a maximum height of 64.2 inches. Although it's only a little taller than the Roadtrip, it’s significantly beefier and can take 26.4 pounds compared to 17.6 pound load spec of the RoadTrip. So it really depends on what you need, and for my purposes, the 8kg load spec of the Roadtrip was more than ample. The Roadtrip has a maximum height of 153.7cm (60.5 inches), and a minimum of 38.7cm (15.25 inches). The latter also being the folded length of the tripod for storage. I believe the tripod is tall enough for most travel use, but maybe not short enough for a purist landscape photographer. The images below show with centre column fully and partially extended.
Of course, in order to achieve such short folded height, the tripod uses 5 leg sections, with lowest section being the narrowest at 12mm diameter (see image above with legs partially extended). However the legs are rock solid, I cannot bend them at all. The compromise is therefore at the joint where you can start to see some level of flex, but I did not find this to be an issue for any travel work, and it’s compromise I think is fine to make against the need for portability.
The MeFoto has a similar design to the 3-LeggedThing, in that the legs fold fully up 180 degrees alongside the centre column. This enables it to have a very short folded length, though a downside is that the legs can’t lock when they are fully folded, hence if you were to carry the folded tripod around by gripping just one leg there is a potential risk of the tripod unfolding on you. I found that this rarely occurred in practice, and the friction within the joints was sufficient. I generally have the tripod hooked onto my camera back with a strap that grips it near the top - I did notice that I would sometimes find the legs splayed out a little after several hours of hiking.
For some, the tripod will be transported in the surprisingly good quality camera bag that comes with it, so the above would be a non-issue. Furthermore, if you were hand carrying the tripod then you can easily grab two of the legs in a single hand span to prevent unfolding.
One of the three legs has a sponge grip - this is very useful for low temperature days when the aluminium can be very cold to hold. This is the same leg that can be removed to use as a Monopod (see later)
The Roadtrip legs and the centre column, are extended by twisting the rubber grips. I found this to work really well, and actually found that I could spread my hand across all 4 of the rubber grips and release them all in one twist, allowing all the sections to fall open instantly. Folks, with smaller hands may need to use two separate twists, but it’s still a very quick operation.
Having said that, I did find one issue. Despite being clearly marked, on one occasion I forgot which direction I need to be twisting, and I managed to turn the rubber grip so far that the leg section actually came apart. with the 2 inner plastic bushes and another component falling out onto the street. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve the parts and quickly figure out how to carefully put them back together again in situ. I dare say that had I been in a rush, or in a busier location the tripod could have been rendered unusable. I've since got a better feel for how much rotation is required, and not had any incident.
Once you have got the 3 legs folded down, the first you are likely to do is release and drop the centre column to it’s lowest position and re-locking. In general centre columns introduce vibration, so best to keep them down unless you really need the extra height.
I do wonder how the tripod legs would handle being dunked in water, I suspect water ingress is likely, but have less idea of how that would affect the internal parts. The MeFoto web site does have a service guide showing you how to dismantle your tripod and clean it. I’d highly recommend this should you decide to plant the feet of your MeFoto underwater.
Locking the legs
The legs on the MeFoto Roadtrip have two locking
positions, the first is what you might call a ‘standard’ height around 30’ angle (See right), the other is much closer to the ground around 70’ angle. (See below)
The lock is enabled, by pushing down a small metal tab at the top of each leg. To release it, you need to grab the tab and pull it out again (See Image below). The tripod felt pretty solid when locked in and I sensed no slipping, despite the tabs not being spring loaded. I actually found it impossible to release the lock with legs in splayed position due to the friction. When you do want to release, you just need to close the leg very slightly to allow it to release the friction lock and then lift out the locking tab. The design does not allow you to lock the feet in any other angles - which may be a problem for some. Personally I found it no issue at all, and two positions is fairly common for this price bracket.
The camera is attached via an industry standard 60mm Arca-Swiss Quick Release plate which attach to a clamp on the tripod, the clamp is tightened via a knob - there is no quick release as you would get with some other makes like Manfrotto. The plate that comes with the tripod has a slot to allow you to tighten the plate to the camera using a coin. One of the first things I did was order a couple of spare plates off Amazon. These had a D ring that in principal allow you to tighten without the need for a coin. However, I always used a coin anyway just to be sure.
The plate (original and extra) is one of the least impressive aspects of the design. The top surface is not well rubberised and if you have substantial weight fitted, then you may well start to see slippage, particularly if you have the camera mounted in Portrait mode with a heavy lens - in this mode the plate is sitting vertically, and the torque could cause the camera to rotate on the plate. This is not uncommon with ARCA style plates.
The other interesting thing, is that the 2 lugs at each end of the plate (see above) are the only things preventing your expensive camera from sliding off the tripod all together. In reality, these seem to work fine, and I never noticed a situation where I felt the plate was going to slide off.
Yes, the design of the MeFoto allows you to completely change the ball head for something you might prefer…. as long as the head accepts 3/8-16 threads. for example most Manfrotto heads.
After 2 weeks daily use on the road, I found my confidence in the design grew, though I always carried a coin to crank the plate on to the camera as tightly as possible. Indeed, my confidence was such that I was comfortably traipsing around holding the tripod by it’s legs with my 6D and 24-70 attached without any fear of it falling off.
The included ball head is a fairly standard design and it is operated by three separate knobs that let you control tilt, pan and friction, all of which are very smooth, The pan control is lovely, and with clear markings along the circumference of the base to show the angles
The friction (or ‘drag') control is particularly valuable when you have a heavy load fitted on the tripod as it allows you to adjust how freely the ball will move when released. Without this control, it would be almost impossible to fine adjust the weight of say an EOS 6D + 70-200m f2.8.
One slightly frustrating aspect of the ARCA style plates is the top knob used to attach the plate to tripod can easily be mistaken for one of the positional adjustment knobs. So one does need to make sure you have a hand on the camera when adjusting and look down to make sure you are adjusting the actual control that you think are adjusting.
Like many tripod’s there’s a bubble gauge easily visible on the top of the ball head - even though my previous tripod had one, I very rarely tended to use it - generally preferring to use the level gauge in the camera itself. One minor flaw on the MeFoto bubble gauge is that it’s located directly opposite from the plate locking knob. Depending on the orientation by which you attach the plate to your camera above, you may find the bubble gauge is located underneath the lens which is then difficult to see. Of course, you could work around this by fitting the plate to the camera in a different position. But this can be a little annoying if you forget.
Monopod & Centre Column Functions.
The RoadTrip has a nice feature, whereby you can remove the centre column and one of the legs completely from the tripod. These two can then be screwed together to form a monopod. You will also need to remove the metal base (See below) of the centre column and put it somewhere safe as this allows access to the thread at the bottom of the column.
The monopod mode is very useful for locations where you are not permitted to take a tripod, e.g. museums, sports events etc. I found many staff will consider a Monopod (in non-extended state) to be like a selfie stick, and hence you have more chance of it getting waved through without hassle.
In monopod mode it's max height is 1625mm (64 inches) and its minimum is 39.5cm (15.6 inches).
Note, the process to convert above can take a few minutes, so I often found myself just extending one leg of the tripod and using the whole thing as a monopod. It's a little more cumbersome, but works fine and can be useful if you don’t have the space to spread the tripod legs, just need a little extra stability/support without the need for full tripod function or are being rushed. I found the monopod stability and handling was great for a full frame camera with a heavy lens.
One other nice feature, is that once you have removed the centre column, you can actually re-install it in reverse. This allows you to hang the camera upside down close to the ground to get real low for macro shots. Of course, you can do the same by just folding the legs back upwards and then using it without the legs locked… though I would not recommend doing that with any expensive kit attached. Hence, the ability to reverse the centre column is another great freebie.
Recessed into the removable metal base of the Centre column is a pull out hook from which you are able to hang your camera bag in order to increase its stability. The hook is not big, but does give provide you with this extra option should you need it.
The road trip weighs 3.6pounds (1.63kg) for the aluminium version, the Carbon fibre version is 3.1pounds (1.4Kg), but is getting close to twice the price. Most of the time my tripod is attached to the back of my camera bag, or I’m carrying it in one hand as a walking stick. I’m not doing any crazy/mountain climbing etc, so I was happy save the £150 and go with the aluminium.
I believe the RoadTrip (incl Ball Head) is similar weight to the Manfrotto equivalent range (BeFree), but is smaller and more flexible - but I’m open to correction.
As mentioned earlier, the price includes a really good quality bag with orange piping, and a wide adjustable shoulder strap. Inside the bag is the tripod, a set of spiked feet that can be exchanged with the rubber ones that are pre-fitted on the tripod. There’s also a Hex (Allen) key for adjusting the tension on the leg sections, and user manual. These items are handily stored in a nice internal zipped pocket. I liked the attention to detail
Looking through a number of blogs sites, I also see that MeFoto seem quite responsive to customer issues (lost feet, hex keys etc).
What swung it for me in the end was the combination of Good Looks, Portability, Load carrying capability and price. At £160 for the Roadtrip with Ball Head included it looked a great buy, and I would say a good option for the Enthusiast/Travel Pro. I have looked at more expensive and more rugged tripods, but I believe a tripod is only any use if you are prepared to lug every where you go - this tripod is one I’m happy to carry around.
If you are planning to put your tripod through extreme conditions, treat them like hell, and are prepared to lug it around wherever you want to go, then you can probably invest in >£750 set of legs, but for those of you that need a sturdy, reliable, portable tripod for under £200, this looks to me be a very solid buy.
A quick Note about durability : We expect our tripods's to last forever, indeed I still use my 35yr old Manfrotto studio ART model that I inherited from my father. However, a travel tripod is going to be put through a lot more strain. Time will tell if the MeFoto is up to the job, but after a 2 week trip hiking around Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I can report no immediate concerns. The bright orange colour is remarkably scratch free, nothing broken or loose. The only marks are on the ARCA Plate near the bubble level where the black finish has worn off, and the rubber feet have a few dings. Nothing that you wouldn't expect.
Light-weight and folds to a very short/compact format
Comfortably handles a full frame camera with 70-200 f2.8 IS USM II (or similar)
Doubles as a monopod
Plenty of funky Color options
Quick Release mechanism for leg sections
What could use improvement: (all Minor)
Legs do not lock in closed position
Legs only lock in two set positions
Can inadvertently disconnect a leg section if not careful - but you soon learn.
Bubble Guide can get hidden when camera mounted.
No Quick Release Mechasnism
If you have any experience of this product or other similar Travel Tripods, we'd love to hear thoughts. Let us know below.
I have no connection with MeFoto, and have not been sponsored or incentivised in any way by them.
The review is based on my own purchase of the tripod, and subsequent real world testing.