A few weeks ago I showcased 11 Fluid Head Options for Every Budget – from $80 to $5000+. In this article we’ll go over six single-tube lightweight carbon fiber camera tripods for video work that can accept 75mm, 100mm and flat-based heads.
Why do we need a single-tube lightweight carbon fiber tripod?
Video and cinema tripods tend to have double-tubing with spacers to keep the tripod from slipping. You can also get lightweight carbon fiber versions of these. The disadvantages to these systems are:
- They have a height restriction
- They are larger and more difficult to carry and ship
- They can’t go very low
- They are harder to setup at different angles and uneven terrain, though not impossible
However, dual-tube systems have many advantages as well, one of which is greater stability and resistance to rotational forces. This is why both systems survive and thrive, and ideally one must own both kinds to be as versatile as possible.
Aluminum vs carbon fiber
I chose carbon fiber for this list because they offer the lightest weight. However, overall, I prefer aluminum as my material of choice for these reasons:
- It is stronger
- It is more shatter proof
- It’s (slight) extra weight also lends more stability to the tripod system
I’ll keep the dual-tube aluminum and the travel tripod carbon fiber. My choice.
The three bases that these tripods need to cater to are:
- 75mm bowl
- 100mm bowl
- 3/8″ flat base
150mm bowls are for heavier cameras, and these cameras are at risk on tripods without spreaders. I won’t recommend them for that purpose.
I prefer bowl heads for video work for ease of levelling. It’s one thing to level a DSLR and one lens, and yet another to level a full rig at maximum load. The tripods in this article can all be conformed to all three bases either by default or with adapters. Since I’m looking at purchasing a 100mm head, I’m going to be standardizing to this format, though you must compare based on your own needs.
I’ve selected the following six options for this comparison:
- Manfrotto 536
- Gitzo Series 5 Systematic 6x 6-section
- Gitzo Series 5 Systematic 6x 4-section
- Induro CARBON 8x Video
- Miller SOLO VJ
- Cartoni STABILO
A comparison of the six best lightweight carbon fiber tripods
Here’s a comparison of tripods, based on:
- Weight of tripod
- Maximum height
- Minimum height
- Number of Sections/Stages
- Default base
- Cost of adapter to make it 100mm
- Closed length
- Maximum load capacity
- Extra features
- Total Price
Important: Specs and prices might be inaccurate or wrong. Please refer to manufacturers’ websites or material for accurate information. Do not take any decisions based on this comparison. You are responsible for your own actions.
Click to enlarge:
How I select my tripod
I select based on a process of elimination:
- Load capacity
- Maximum and minimum height
- Folded length
- Locking mechanism
- Number of sections
- Price and extra features
- Ease of buying and service
First I need to know the weight of my full rig. I’ve already estimated it to be between 8-11 kg max.
This means the fluid head should be able to hold about 14 kg or 30 lbs (I normally add 1/3rd more). Though the high-end heads can carry slightly above their weight, the counterbalance range is limited. I have boiled down my choices to either a Sachtler DV 12SB (2.7kg) or OConnor 1030D (3.9 kg).
Let’s assume I go for the 1030D. This means, the total weight of my camera+head is going to be 11+3.9+20% more for accessories = 18 kg or 40 lbs. As you can see, all the camera tripods mentioned can easily handle this weight and more. However, if I do decide to add a jib arm or slider in the future, I will surely need the extra weight. A slider wouldn’t be a problem with any of these tripods, but a jib certainly will. A single jib arm without counterweights will weigh about 12-15kg, which takes the total to about 33 kg. Then you add counterweights and you’re pushing 40kg.
I’m looking for a tripod for long-term use. So my list is sorted in this order:
- Both Gitzos and Cartoni
Maximum and minimum heights
Obviously the more versatile a tripod the better. Though one must not get too carried away. Many times, having a tripod real high is also problematic because then the operator will need a platform, ladder or stool to stand on. The minimum height is more important.
The height of the fluid head should be taken into consideration. Both my options are around 7″, and then we add about 4″ to the center of the optical axis, and we have about 11-12″, or one foot above that. Of course, if we want to go really low, we can always just use the camera and lens.
At the other end, I’m 5′ 11″, and I don’t tend to shoot above eye level. E.g., a 60″ tripod like the Gitzo will reach about 6 feet to the optical center, while the 80″ Manfrotto will reach about 7.5 feet – a big difference.
The Induro claims to be ‘just a few inches off the ground’, but they think it’s not important to let us know the exact amount. They move to the bottom of my list.
Based on these considerations, the Gitzo 6-section takes the lead:
- Gitzo 6-section
- Gitzo 4-section
The whole point of a lightweight camera tripod is so you can carry it easily. If the tripod can be folded down to carry-on luggage requirements, all the better. Unfortunately, you can only possibly cram in about 22″ from top corner to bottom corner in a roller case. However, you can strap it to the outside and get it through. A backpack can possibly hold 25″, so based on this, the Gitzo, Miller and Cartoni are definitely preferable.
This is a crucial decision I have to make. Is it acceptable to go higher? If I check in my luggage all of the tripods are okay. I decide it is important, because it is! This single factor eliminates my leader, the 6-section Gitzo, and boils down my list to four:
- Gitzo 4-section
- Manfrotto (barely makes it)
Weight of tripod
This is an easy decision. You either have a heavy tripod because you want the stability, or go for the lowest weight for easier traveling. That’s the point! And also the reason why I chose carbon fiber over aluminum. Unfortunately, all the tripods are in the 2.8-3.25kg range, so there is no clear winner here, unless it’s the Gitzo 4-section.
I have used both flip and twist locks, and I prefer flip locks because they are easier on my palms and fingers. Where I live, we don’t wear gloves.
The time to lock and unlock is not that critical, because I’m not a video journalist. No clear winner. I can live with both.
Number of sections
The lower the sections the better. Here, the Gitzo 6-section loses, though it’s not on the list anymore. Who wants to open 200,000 locks every time you want to change the height? Four sections (3-stages) are bad enough!
My remaining four are all 3-stage/4-section tripods. The positions stand.
Price and extra features
I was sad to see the Induro go, because it was the cheapest. The Induro has no extra features, unless you want to count the fact that it has 1/4″ and 3/8″ threads so you can add spikes. You also need to carry around the 100mm adapter. This, and the fact they don’t deem it fit to inform their market about the minimum height, tells me it’s wise to avoid Induro.
The Gitzo doesn’t come with spikes, but spikes are cheap. By buying the 100mm bowl adapter, I’ll also have a 3/8″ flat base for future use. The Cartoni only offers a 1-year warranty. Still no change!
Ease of buying and service
Finally, it comes to practicality. Do these manufacturers find representation in your area? Are the dealers willing to give you demos? I know that Induro has zero representation in India, where I live. Manfrotto, Gitzo and Cartoni have decent support. I can buy Miller confidently, because I’ve bought from the local dealer before and trust him. However, what about service or getting a replacement? That’s a totally different matter.
This is where one’s personal experience comes into play. I know I shoot in locations where I can easily go higher using a table or platform, so camera height isn’t an issue. I realize having a higher load capacity is more important, and here it pulls its weight.
My decision? Based on what I’ve looked at so far, I feel the Gitzo 5 6x Systematic 4-section carbon fiber tripod (Model: GT5542LS) offers the greatest bang for the buck, and is the most versatile. The only thing I sacrifice with it is maximum height. On the other hand, I sacrifice at least two things with the others:
- Manfrotto – minimum height, folded length is too long
- Miller – no presence in India, didn’t even attend Broadcast India. Low load capacity.
- Cartoni – minimum height, low warranty and high price
- I can carry it on an airplane
- It is light and can go really low
- It can carry 40 kg
- I can open the legs/sections by twisting all locks first
- It is designed to work with an 800mm lens
You can buy the tripods at B&H here:
Well, that’s it! I hope this comparison will help you find your own ideal lightweight camera tripod. What do you think?