Why the Manfrotto BeFree Tripod is the Right Tripod for You [Review]
Typical uses for a tripod revolve around achieving a crisp image when your camera’s settings require a longer exposure. For example, let’s say you want to use a low ISO setting when photographing a static object, and additionally a tight aperture for a fuller depth of field. In that case, unless you have studio lighting with strobes or continuous lamps, you have to employ a tripod. Simply put you can’t hold a camera still enough for a sharp image and a long exposure. The blurring may be apparent, or only show up after reviewing images on a computer, but it’s going to be there.
There are so many tripods to choose from, why choose this one or another? This is a pretty common question for a new photographer looking to learn how to use a tripod. Yes, there are countless brands and models to choose from, but how do you know what will fit your needs, and what exactly your needs are to begin with?
If you’re looking for a solid travel tripod, you can skip the review and buy the Manfrotto BeFree tripod now.
Table of Contents
What Should I look for in a Tripod?
I’m a firm believer that your choice in almost all products, regardless if it’s for your budding hobby in photography or a pair of shoes for work, it ought to be based upon the principle use. If you wanted shoes that you’ll wear to work with a business casual attire, you probably shouldn’t pick a pair of steel-toe leather boots. For the overwhelming majority of time, you should go with the neutral leather loafers.
The same applies to tripods. If you’re going to pick one tripod, and the majority of the time you’re needing a tripod is when traveling, then go with a lightweight travel tripod. You can surely go with a larger and heavier tripod for better stability and capability, but from experience, tripods spend more time being carried than deployed. After that, there are some finer details to consider.
Next to weight, this is the most personal choice in regards to a tripod. The tripod should fit your height so you’re not craning your neck down or crouching just to use the viewfinder. However this point is becoming more a thing of the past with the revelation of tilting view screens and remote operation applications on tablets and smartphones. Typically with any travel tripod you should accept that unless you’re of average height or shorter in stature, you’ll want a modern tilt screen, remote application, or just crouch down to see.
Not how heavy the tripod is, but how much of a camera and lens it can support safely. Last thing you want to do is overload your lightweight tripod with a massive full frame camera and telephoto lens and have it collapse accidentally, potentially ruining your equipment. Save for some high-priced specialty tripods, most any travel tripod is going to be limited to its weight capacity.
While we’re talking about weight capacity, let’s talk about the weight of the tripod itself, and what it’s made out of. Carbon fiber tripods are obviously the lightest option, but unfortunately carry a significantly higher price tag than alternative materials. Common tripods for the amateur photographer are made out of an aluminum alloy. Also available, but beyond the scope of this review are stainless steel tripods, or combinations with wooden legs and more. Typically the lighter the tripod, the less stable and more prone to vibration it is.
Legs and Feet
The leg of the tripod determines your available height, and the feet that grip to whatever surface you’re shooting from. How the leg is engineered depends on the material chosen, and consequently so does the type of lock whether a twisting lock, or lever lock. Feet are often adjustable from a smooth hard plastic or rubber, to an exposed spike-type when screwed down. Think back to shoes for this one. If you’re on concrete floors and indoors most of the time, you don’t need ice cleats, but the option of having both is nice.
Center Column or Fourth Leg
While your tripod legs can give height once setup, to easily adjust height you can use a center column. This is generally adjusted vertically, but can increase vibrations to the camera as it’s essentially a monopod on top of a tripod. For the most stable platform, opt to run the center column all the way down so the camera is closest to the top of the tripod legs.
Pan/tilt, ballhead, pistol grip, gimbal, etc. Lots of options here, but for most new shooters just go for a ballhead or pan/tilt head. The difference in capability is rather evident from photos with the ballhead allowing 360° movement, and the pan/tilt giving more quick control over one movement. This head choice will also determine the mounting plate for your camera, and not all are universal. With most entry-level tripods, a setup comes as a system with a head, quick-release plate, and the tripod body.
What I Chose
For those of us that move around in our travels, space comes at a premium, closely followed by weight. And of travelers who enjoy taking a good camera around, a tripod is an absolute need for a myriad of shooting scenarios. After consulting the guide above, a travel tripod fit the bill, and it’s exactly what directed my purchase of an aluminum Manfrotto BeFree.
Choose the aluminum if you’re looking to save some cash, or splurge a bit for the carbon fiber model to save a bit more weight. If it’s your first tripod then you’re going to be quite happy with your purchase.
My History with the Manfrotto BeFree Tripod
Before I set out on a week-long work trip to Las Vegas earlier this year, I placed an order for the Manfrotto BeFree Aluminum in black. Paired with my Panasonic LUMIX LX100 compact mirrorless camera, I put it to use in multiple scenarios. I used it in Red Rock Canyon, the convention room for team photos, and back home for the occasional portrait or waterfall picture. After these few months of use, I must say I’m glad I bought it. Note that the camera I’m using weighs less than a pound, so it’s not exactly near the 8.82 lb weight limit of the BeFree.
Tripod Technical Specifications
- Maximum height: 56.7″ (Aluminum), 55.9″ (Carbon)
- Closed Height: 15.7 inches (40 cm)
- Weight: 3 lbs (Aluminum), 2.4 lbs (Carbon)
- Weight Capacity: 8.82 lbs
- Head Type: Ballhead
- Includes bag? Yes
There’s a niche market of excellent travel tripods out there, but I only wanted one. The purpose of this review is not to cover all of them, but instead one of most common and best sold travel tripods on the market. Manfrotto, a long-standing company known for its Italian influence on the photography world, answered the market’s demand for a compact, lightweight, and capable tripod with the BeFree. Available in two different versions each with their own respective color schemes available. The BeFree aims to provide every bit of competence one would expect, and more.
Before going into how the tripod performs, let me say this is a sleek, good-looking tripod. A convenient feature of the tripod lending to its compactness is how the legs fold. Traditionally on other tripods you lower the center column completely, collapse the legs down, and fold them into the columns like an umbrella. However, with the BeFree, you leave the center column fully-extended. Then after collapsing the legs, you can fold them 180 degrees upward. With a little added attention to the orientation of the ballhead, the tripod fits to a nice squared shape to store away in the included bag.
The bag is of good quality with elegant Manfrotto labeling, and has an adjustable strap that found itself useful during my sightseeing ventures. Keep in mind the case is not padded, and best suited for storage. So don’t go checking it with your luggage. Instead, capitalize on its small size and do what I did, tuck it in your carry-on bag.
Tripod Legs and Feet
Regardless of whether you choose the aluminum or carbon fiber model, the legs are adjusted in similar fashion with a series of lever clamps. Once the length is selected, three separate twisting locks allow three adjustments of the leg angles. One setting is specifically for collapsing the tripod or completely free movement. The other two are angles appear to be 45 and 25 degrees respectively. The legs on the BeFree are very thin at the ends, and one of them at the top-most section has comfortable padding for grabbing the tripod when moving or adjusting it.
Unfortunately, the feet are non-adjustable fixed rubber pieces. And the center column does not have any attachment for hanging a weight. Hanging weights add stability. The DIYer in me will likely modify the center column to have a weight hook at a later point. While it’s probably just with my sample, the adhesive holding the three leg lock labels wasn’t doing its job and I had to superglue mine. An easy fix, but you can surely guess my thoughts on Italian manufacturing and attention to detail.
The included ball-head is perfectly fine for the vast majority of hobbyist photographers.
On the side of the ballhead, there’s a single knob to adjust tension on the ball. For my lightweight mirrorless camera I had no problem securing the head, and found the knob to be quick to adjust. The quick release on this ballhead is the Manfrotto RC2 design, and comes with their 200PL plate.
The Manfrotto BeFree tripod is an excellent balance of price, performance, size, weight, and quality. If you’re in the market for a general purpose tripod mainly destined for traveling, you’ll be hard pressed to do better than the BeFree at its price point.