Part 1. Initial impressions and discussions.
I recently decided to treat myself to a new tripod. I have had a Redsnapper standard tripod for about 4 years, which I use either with a Manfrotto 482RC2 ball head or a Slik fluid video head, and it’s been fine for my very light usage.
The only problem I’ve had with it was recently the rubber on one of the twist grips coming loose which meant that I wasn’t able to undo the grip to extend one of the legs. However this was probably my own fault for over tightening it. After removing the rubber I got my other half to loosen off the overly tight twist grip and it’s fine again now… as long as I don’t do it up too tight again!
So why did I want a new tripod? Well, four reasons;
- Unadulterated lust. Pure and simple. I just wanted one because they look very cool.
- 3 Legged Thing are cool, they’re funny (watch some of their You Tube video’s featuring Danny – very British sense of humour on show there)– their tripods have Rock Star names!
- They are a British company, and it’s good to support British industry.
- The practical reason – I thought a tripod that would pack up smaller and is very versatile may be more convenient and therefore get used more often.
I’m a little embarrassed about no’s 1 and 2. I’m not normally one to get carried away by such superficial things and probable marketing hype, as I’m a practical kind of person, you know, “form over function” and not normally one to be swayed just by something that looks pretty or is bigged up as “cool”, I’m a bit technical and geeky that way. Hence I have more cameras than I have pairs of shoes (and I’m a girl.. that can’t be right!).
But the 3 Legged Thing range do look very good, the close up pictures on the website and from other users do add a reassuring sense of quality, decent design and good materials, and thankfully, my saving grace to restore my geek level, is that there are a few other reasons why I started lusting over them. Their travel range fold up very small, are very light but can also hold a lot of weight. Given that my current ball head is only rated for 4kg, the Redsnapper (which I believe can hold 8kg) is therefore limited by the ball head for it’s weight carrying capacity, it’s also a chunky tripod and, though it has a nice carry bag, it doesn’t fold that small.
Which model to go for?
3 Legged Thing’s travel tripods “Adrian” and “Brian” can both hold 8kg in weight and the Airhed 1 can hold a massive 35kg! Easily enough to hold my heaviest cameras and lenses and yet they pack up very small – small enough to fit in carry-on luggage for an overseas flight.
The decision whether to go for Adrian or Brian ultimately came down to cost. 3 Legged Thing tripods are not the most expensive on the market and neither are they the cheapest, they are what I consider an “investment” and therefore worthy of thought and deliberation. My Redsnapper cost me a bargain £50ish 4 years ago, and though cheap did go through a process of deliberation and thought to get me the best value I could get. Actually since I’ve been re-evaluating it in the light of my new tripod purchase, I think actually does a sterling job for that price!
Adrian is an magnesium alloy version of 3LT’s multi-award winning Brian, which is a more expensive carbon construction, it weighs only slightly more than Brian since it does away with two of Brian’s three centre column extension units, meaning it will only go up to about 1.5m in height fully extended (without head) compared to Brian’s over 2 metres… fine by me I’m not 6ft fall so it shouldn’t be a problem and anyway, with the centre column extended, Brian is really only rated as useful as a light stand rather than for a heavy camera and lenses.
I opted to go for the airhed1 package bundle even though I already have a couple of heads, mainly because in combination with the tripod the price is much better than buying it on it’s own, and because it looks very well engineered… oh and the one I bought is blue. Sexxxxxyyyyy!! (Ooops there I go again).
Unboxing.. and first impressions
It comes in a very funky looking box which proudly announces the tripod’s name Adrian2 (evolution 2 Adrian) and that it comes from Stagsden, designed by 3LT in Britain (Made in China).
Opening the box and you see the compact tripod bag, funky blue in colour and seemingly quite
well made with a nice carry handle and D-rings to attach the shoulder strap (or attach it to a bag).
Opening up the bag I got the first glimpse of Adrian.
In the top of the bag there is a compartment which contains allen keys and a short centre column. In fact the only piece of the tripod and bag which I thought felt at all flimsy was the zip around the inside of the top compartment that gives access to this pocket!!
Pulling Adrian out feet first I’m immediately impressed with his size. He’s a contortionist and manages to squeeze himself up very small, he is also very light(and as you can see, thanks to the weird but strangely friendly name, I’ve already anthropomorphed “him”).
Size comparison with my Redsnapper and build quality
Comparing Adrian to my folded Redsnapper, he’s only just over half the size, and with airhed weighs 1.7kg to the Redsnapper’s 2.3kg (with Manfrotto RC42 head), so a noticeable difference in size and weight there.
The legs are folded back on themselves in order to achieve this feat of contortionism. They easily fold back into the correct position, held in place by some strong feeling catches on the tops of the legs. These catches are not on a spring or click mechanism though, you need to pull them out and push them back in again when the leg is in the correct position (1 of 3 choices). One of the legs has a zip off muff in place with ”3 Legged Thing” in white writing.
It’s then that you get a feel for how well made the tripod is, although it’s much smaller (the largest leg sections are approx. 2/3 the diameter of the Redsnapper) it feels pretty robust and not about to break or fall apart any time.
The Airhed and attachment plate, which are in view now that the legs are out of the way is a stunning piece of art.. um I mean engineering and screams quality and style with it’s anodised colour and smooth lines.
The plate is an arca-swiss style, it’s a very nice looking piece with 3LT rubber on the top. Being a big Black Rapid strap fan I replaced the standard camera attachment for a Fasten T1 adapter.
A quarter turn using one hand frees up all five twist locks on one leg to extend them downwards. With the centre column extended the tripod with airhed head reaches up to just under my eye height fully extended (I am about 165cm tall or just under 5’ 6”). In comparison to the Redsnapper (which has 3 leg sections) it’s only about 10cm shorter in height fully extended, and only 2cm difference to the base plate position when the centre column is not extended, quite impressive given the difference in size of them both when folded.
I’m not going to lie and say that Adrian feels rock steady fully extended. He doesn’t, the Redsnapper does feel much more stable due to its greater weight to counteract any movement and much larger leg sections. But then I’m comparing an apple with orange really as the Redsnapper is not trying to be light weight or compact or a travel tripod.
It would be fairer to compare Adrian to something like the Manfrotto Befree. But I can’t because I haven’t got one, I considered one but Adrian got the gig!
It’s not a case that Adrian would blow away in a wind, or that it’ll fall over when weight is attached. It’s not that, it’s more that there’s some “give” in the stability when fully extended – well there are five leg sections after all and the bottom ones are pretty small in cross section. Adding a bag to the hook on the bottom of the centre column to add ballast would counteract that, and indeed just the weight of a camera on top helps too. 3LT of course also do some much bigger, heavier and more robust tripod models for greater stability if that’s your thing. This is a travel tripod, and seen in that light then he is very impressive due to his 8kg weight carrying ability which I do not doubt. This is one reason (other than cool factor) that Adrian got the gig over the Befree for me, he is slightly taller and has a greater weight carrying capacity, though I have to say the Befree is handsome too.
Unscrew this … attach that, extend this..
I’ve spent some time playing with the configurations of Adrian and here he really shines, not only is he a decent height, compact, travel tripod, he is a transformer too. One good thing is that the leg with the muff can be removed by unscrewing from the top, this can then become reasonable height monopod if the base plate and head is added, which is easy to do. Even the first time I tried I could get the leg off and the base plate/head added to the monopod in less than 1 minute. It’s a reasonable height too for me, with camera attached it is only slightly below eye height with the leg fully extended – possibly not so good for taller people however!
Adrian is very good for macro photography too. The centre column can be inverted, changed for a shorter one or removed completely. With the column removed completely and the camera attached directly to the base, with the legs splayed in their widest configuration, he goes very low indeed, so low you’d have to lie on the ground to see through the viewfinder.
But even with the normal centre column and the legs at the second widest setting he can get pretty low.
Having that much versatility is excellent but brings me on to…
The tripod is designed for user maintenance, each leg section can be unscrewed, pulled out and cleaned/re-greased (or replaced if necessary). If you pull out the leg sections you have to be careful not to lose/break the plastic shims and friction lock inserts, otherwise your tripod will be useless until you can get hold of a replacement from 3LT.
As I found out it is possible to accidentally remove one of the leg sections if you unscrew the leg locks too far (half a turn should be plenty to loosen the friction lock). Then I had a leg section in my hand, a loose friction lock and two loose plastic shims which luckily I didn’t lose! However I noticed one of them was slightly damaged where I’d tried to push the leg back in before deciding it was a better idea to take it out completely and put it back properly.
It took me a while to get the friction lock back on the leg section due to the plastic insides being out of place and in the way and I had to fiddle to get them back into place a bit. Eventually I got it back together and it still works fine with no worries on the friction lock strength. Now I’ve taken it apart once I think I could do it again a bit quicker, there are helpful videos on the 3LT website/youtube channel.
The other thing to be careful of is the fine thread that attaches the top of the tripod to the centre column friction lock screw or directly to the head attachment plate. If you remove the centre column to put the head attachment plate directly on the tripod top it’s actually quite hard to get the threads lined up and would be very easy to cross-thread them and ruin what is the main part of the tripod. Personally I don’t think I’ll be using the head directly attached very much. The short column will probably do me if I need to get down low. The thread seems to react better when attached to the twistlock for the centre column than directly to the head attachment plate, I don’t get the worrying feeling that it’s going to cross thread then.
So now we come to the Airhed1 (at last I hear you say).
Well quite simply the Airhed ball-head is a lovely piece of kit, it looks and works, very well indeed. The lovely looking and extremely strong plate attaches to the camera in the normal way. The plate is BlackRapid compatible with the FastenR-T1 adaptor which I purchased straight away as I’m a big BlackRapid fan. This adapor has the advantage of adding a D-ring to the attachment bolt (onto whcih the strap clips) which is not present on the original. The original bolt which requires a coin to attach to the camera – mildly annoying I think so I’m glad of replacing. I do however wonder whether the addition of the circlip to the plate impedes its function – I’ll come on to that later and it is something I’ve emailed 3 LT about.
On the head there are three knobs the top one is used to lock the plate on to the top of the head – fairly obvious stuff. There’s a small catch that should stop the plate sliding out sideways if you accidentally loosen the knob slightly.
Lower down there’s the substantially sized ball surrounded by the lovely blue (on mine) smooth metal of the main body of the head. The next knob is a larger clutch/lock knob which controls the amount of friction and locks off the ball head position.
At the bottom there is another small knob which locks off/controls friction on the pan motion. This is totally brilliant. With the main knob locked off you can smoothly pan the head using the pan control. This is easily as smooth and fluid as my dedicated Slik fluid video head, if not more so, it has a gorgeous smooth pan motion. Also included are markings showing 360 degrees, handy for panoramas.
Here’s a video taken in very bad light just to show the pan motion from the Airhed. Any slight jerkiness is more likely to be me slowing down and then speeding up than a fault of the Airhed, I also hadn’t really played with the tension to see what worked best for this type of pan. But hopefully it demonstrates how the head moves.
All the dials have “Lock/Rock” on them to indicate which way they turn, another cool reference to the rockstar.There’s also 3 bubble spirit levels included on the head, along with one on the tripod itself to help you get it level.
Provided you attach the camera the right way round on the airhed (they recommend having the release knob for the plate underneath the lens), then it’s possible to use the two very useful bubble levels to level up the camera. The bubble levels matched up well with my D800’s onboard leveling display (love that it feels like I’m flying an aircraft when I use it!!).
The head easily holds my camera and heavy lenses at very obtuse angles I have no qualms about it’s strength. However I did notice that the camera does slightly twist on the plate – it’s not about to come off but it just isn’t quite tight and therefore not always quite straight. After seeing a video on youtube of some guy complaining about the rubbers coming off the plate and being told by 3LT not to over tighten them I don’t and I did wonder if this was the reason. But I actually think it’s the fault of the circlip on the thread of the attachment bolt. as that would push the camera away from the rubber slightly. This is what I’ve just emailed 3LT about . I’ll update when I find out more.
I will also update with Pt 2 after a bit more time/use in the future.