Cell phone selfies aside, many people also want to take actual pictures of something other than their chins when they travel. Sometimes travel photography requires using a tripod. The perfect travel tripod should be lightweight, compact, multi-functional and sturdy. We hauled around a heavy and bulky tripod for years before we got our hands on a carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing tripod. After more than nine months of use on the road in South America–over the Andes, to the Galapagos Islands, through the deserts of Peru and into the Amazon–here’s what we think of our 3 Legged Thing.
What is a 3 Legged Thing?
When we started doing our research about carbon fiber travel tripods with a ball head, we looked into the usual suspects. The Gitzo Traveler is awesome, but at US$1,099 it’s way too expensive for many. The Manfrotto BeFree (US$350) was a possibility, but the ball head that comes with this model seemed a little too wimpy to support a DSLR with a heavy telephoto like my amazing Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens (Buy on Amazon) which weighs nearly 4 lbs. The Benro Travel Angel tripods (US$440) aren’t compact enough.
In the end it came down to two models that seemed pretty similar based on their specs: the MeFOTO Globetrotter (US$399) and the 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3 Brian (US$399, Buy on Amazon – note that this is the newer updated model, Albert).
Why did we wind up choosing the 3 Legged Thing? One word: ATTITUDE.
Three Legged Thing, the travel tripods with ‘tude
The British company that makes 3 Legged Thing tripods wanted to “bring more personality to the tripod market.” That started with the company’s name (3LT for short) and it extends to the names of their individual tripod models.
Instead of giving their tripod models a series of mind-numbing numbers for names, they named their original models after famous guitarists. “Who’s going to go into a store and remember a series of numbers?” a 3 Legged Thing spokesperson said to us. Plus, guitarists are cool. We have a Brian, named after Queen lead guitarist (and astrophysicist ??!??!) Brian May. We love Queen!
The company has since introduced new tripod models named after pioneers like Albert Einstein (the Albert replaced our Brian) and Leonardo Di Vinci and they’re about to introduce brand new models in their Punks line of less expensive aluminum tripods.
Just as attitude filled are the names of the replaceable feet for the tripod. Called “footwear,” these feet are sold as accessories for the tripod to be used in a variety of conditions. The standard rubber feet that come with the tripod are called Boots. Pointy metal feet are called Heels and they are perfect for rock and concrete. Longer, javellen-like feet are called Stilettos. And when you need extra grip you’re going to want to put on the Claws.
Even the packaging has attitude. The 3 Legged Thing boxes are slathered with ramblings, like the cleverness to the right. The main shipping box was also sealed with tape that said “Punks Never mind the Ballheads” in a typeface that, to our minds, riffed on the ransom-note typeface used on the cover of the Sex Pistols album “Never Mind the Bullocks”.
Why we really love our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod
Okay, cheeky British “taking the piss” attitude may be the first plus about 3 Legged Thing tripods, but a clever name and some cool tape isn’t going to help your travel tripod perform better. Here are a few more pluses (and a few minuses) about our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod.
- It’s made of carbon fiber so it’s VERY light – just 4 lbs. 1oz. (1.8 kg).
- It’s also VERY compact. The legs fold back on themselves and it folds down to a mere 15.75″ (40 cm) which easily fits into luggage or a day pack and it’s also easy to carry attached to a camera bag.
- Its adjustability makes it really versatile. Each leg has five sections. The center column has three sections and it can be removed completely or turned upside-down for a very low camera angle. Each leg can lock in at three different angles (23°, 55° and 80°). What does all this mean? The height of the tripod can vary from a ridiculously low 4.5″ (12 cm) to a maximum of 72.5″ (1.85 meters).
- It has a load capacity of 66 lbs. (30 kg) at the standard 23° leg angle which can securely support my heaviest camera body and lens combination which weighs nearly 6 lbs. (2.7 kg)
- The Airhed 3 Ball Head is practically a work of art (above). It’s a solid yet lightweight head that is easily adjustable and has an easy to use locking knob and 360° panning capability. It has a small built-in bubble level, but, unfortunately, this can easily be covered by the camera when mounted on the head, but there is a second bubble level built into the center column support. As for the mounting plate, it uses the popular Arca Swiss/Peak Design compatible Release Plates.
- Sometimes you don’t need a whole tripod but you want a little extra stability. Then there are times when a tripod is just too awkward to use or even prohibited. In about 20 seconds you can transform the Brian tripod into a monopod. Just screw off one of the legs, unscrew the ballhead from the center column and screw it onto the leg that you just removed. Voila!
- Because 3 Legged Thing tripods are not made of aluminum, like our last tripod was, we don’t have to worry so much about damage after the tripod gets wet. If an aluminum tripod is exposed to seawater, for example, you have to clean and dry it immediately or the metal gets pitted. Our carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing just needs to be wiped off after you’re done shooting. We’ve also used our Brian tripod in sandy and gritty conditions and the legs and leg locks rinse easily without any lingering crunch.
There are a few minuses…
- The leg and column locks are secure and easy to use. However, several times we have been surprised that the center column was not locked down causing the camera to turn freely.
- The tripod is stable and well made, but like any light-weight tripod there is a trade-off to stability which can be evident in windy conditions. However, the center column comes with a ballast hook and carabiner which allows you to easily attach a weight, like the tripod bag filled with a few rock, to increase stability in windy conditions.
- There are a lot of little parts that can come loose and regularly need tightening. For example, the leg and column locks are topped by a screw-in sleeves that are constantly coming loose. Not a big deal and it doesn’t impact functionality, but…
- The included carry case could be sturdier and slightly roomier. It’s so form fitted that the tripod doesn’t slide in easily. I also like to carry a few accessories with the tripod like my cable release, so its lack of a usable zippered pocket is frustrating. The beige canvas case is also not nearly as durable as the tripod. It would be nice if it were made from a more durable nylon. And why is the case white??!?!
Bottom Line: the 3LT Brian is a light-weight, versatile and easy to use travel tripod. It’s not groundbreaking, since it incorporates nearly all the same features shared by all of the quality carbon fiber travel tripods, but it is extremely well made with nice design and plenty of attitude.
3 Legged Thing thing gave us a Brian tripod to use and review during our Trans-Americas Journey.