Photography Articles: Tripod Wars

Hold on to your seats as these giant metal monsters battle to the death - all for your entertainment!

Okay, seriously, this is a comparison article of two popular tripods. It isn't really as exciting as the graphic I made might lead you to believe.

The contenders: On the left, fighting out of USA is the SLIK U-212 tripod. On the right, fighting out of Italy is the Bogen Manfrotto 055XPROB along with the one, the only, the Bogen-Manfrotto 322RC2 Ball Head.

Round 1: Height

This is a simple thing to judge. The Bogen Manfrotto simply goes higher. Higher is better, and this is crucial if the user is over 6-feet tall, like I am.

The SLIK is okay, but with just the legs fully extended I still have to raise the center post before I can look through a camera's view finder.

Winner: Bogen Manfrotto

Round 2: Leveling

Again, I'm keeping the easier categories to judge up front. The Bogen Manfrotto has a bubble level on the leg setup itself, and another one on whatever head you put on it.

In the case of the ball head like I have, even though the camera mount shoe can be unscrewed and relocated on the head, it retains the bubble level.

The SLIK on the other hand has only a single bubble. This is a big step up from many other tripods in its price range that lack any level, but it is independent of the camera mounting part. Thus, the leg assembly could be perfectly level, yet the camera is not.

Winner: Bogen Manfrotto

Round 3: Price

This is an easy round. The SLIK has been around for years and can be had for super cheap used on eBay, Craigslist, your local paper, or from a friend. It is also still available new for $100 or less.

The Bogen Manfrotto is nearly $200 just for the legs, and you have to add nearly another $200 for the ball head, all before you can mount a camera on it.

Winner: SLIK U-212

Round 4: Longevity

When you have a tripod, of course it is going to have three legs. But, perhaps more importantly: does it have legs? You know, will it last?

The SLIK has been around for ages. Your friend with a dusty one sitting in the closet from 1983 is probably still as happy with his as he was when he got it used back then.

But, I use mine a lot, and the one snap for the one leg has started to loose it's strength and slowly collapses under the weight of a camera and use. This reason alone is why I invested int the Bogen Manfrotto. But, I'm not trashing the SLIK as it still works fine for shorter uses, like product photography in my studio.

The Bogen Manfrotto is a newer product, but it seems super well built, at least if not more so than the SLIK product. Plus, it comes with a tool to tighten the leg snaps, if they ever need it. So long as I don't lose this tool in the next 20 years before I need it, I should be good to go for life.

Winner: Tie

Round 5: Name

Sure, the name doesn't impact how well a tripod works, but having an embarrassing or hard to say name can have an impact when some inquiring person asks, "What kind of tripod is that?"

Do you want your answer to be slick and hip sounding? Or, do you want to sound like some bizarre Lord of the Rings fan?

Also, if your name is too long, and you opt to just go with your initials, you don't want to sound like some sort of bathroom behavior. Hear that, Bogen Manfrotto?

Winner: SLIK U-212

Round 6: Quick-Release Mechanism

The goal here is to have precision while keeping cost down. The SLIK tripod has the cheaper quick release post (see on the right) that is also easy to attach to your camera.

However, these posts do not control the side-to-side twisting motion of the camera and thus if you remove and re-attach a camera you are not assured it will be precisely in the same location each time.

The Bogen Manfrotto tripod has a more expensive, larger, and harder to attach mechanism, but this ensures a precise attachment between the tripod and camera. Also, this system has both a quick-pop removal AND a locking mechanism to prevent accidental quick-pop removals.

Winner: Bogen Manfrotto, by a nose

Round 7: Customizability

Both tripods allow for their legs to go into all sorts of vertical and horizontal arrangements, but only one lets the center shaft slide to a horizontal position: the Bogen Manfrotto.

The SLIK counters with a neat foot system with rubber feet that can retract revealing metal stakes to account for both indoor and soil uses. The SLIK also has optional snow shoes - yes snow shoes! - for use on softer terrains.

But, I think that horizontal trick is going to be more desired and more used by photographers who don't live on either polar ice cap.

Winner: Bogen Manfrotto, again by a nose

Round 8: Usability

This is it, the final round, who will have what it takes to win? Let's put the tripods out there and see who is the most usable!

The problem in this round is that there are two types of cameras: video and still, each with their own desires and both tripods make one happy while they annoy the other.

For still photography, you want to be able to have a level setup for panoramas while still being able to quickly and easily jump from one angle to the next. The SLIK has a nice ability to horizontally lock the camera for panning, which helps with the panoramas, but this really becomes annoying for the quick jumps since you have to unlock both the horizontal and vertical controls and then lock them both again. While the Bogen Manfrotto requires you to be a little more thoughtful when shooting panoramas, the ball head is more useful for getting the main goal accomplished: pointing the camera in the desired location, and then quickly changing as your subject moves.

But, this ability to lock the tripod for just a horizontal pan of the camera means that the video camera users out there will very much enjoy this feature of the SLIK. The Bogen Manfrotto's ball head too easily shifts up/down and left/right making a smooth pan very hard to accomplish.

I would like to add that a head for the Bogen Manfrotto is available which permits the independent locking of the horizontal and vertical movements. But, all that does is turn the Bogen Manfrotto into a SLIK, and for over three times the cost.

Video Camera Winner: SLIK U-212
Still Camera Winner: Bogen Manfrotto

Overall Winner

The overall feature winner is the Bogen Manfrotto, however taking home the runner-up will still give you a lot of great tripod for a lot less money.

Let your wallet decide if you need the special things that the Bogen Manfrotto offers.