I'll cut to the chase: In my search for the best travel tripod I think I've found a new favorite. It's a simple design and doesn't have the bells and whistles of some of its competitors, but that simplicity is itself a virtue, and it's executed with real attention to detail.
It's the Really Right Stuff TFC-14 Series 1 carbon fiber tripod. It's the lightest and most compact tripod that Really Right Stuff produces.
It's also stands out for its simplicity. It doesn't fold back on itself like many in the current generation of travel tripods. It doesn't even have a bubble level. And it doesn't have have a center column and detachable leg that transforms into a monopod.
Where's the Center Column?
In fact, it doesn't have a center column at all. And that is one of the most important things I like about this tripod. Let me explain.
In practice, I rarely use the center columns anyway because extending the center column inevitably introduces flex. So for maximum strength and stillness, I usually keep the center column lowered.
Some travel tripods come with center column that you can switch out for a shorter version. But what the TFC-14 demonstrates is that by eliminating the center column completely you can actually get a much more compact fold. Even without fancy mechanisms allowing the legs to fold back on themselves, this tripod folds into a very tight and narrow bundle.
At a collapsed length of just over 17 inches, it's touch longer than some others. The head adds to that because it's not folded under the legs. But the narrowness is a different kind of space saving that compensates for that extra length. Ultimately, it takes up less space in my carry on bag.
The drawback, of course, is that without the center column you don't get the same shooting height. But I find that the height of this one is plenty for what I use it for. If I'm using a tripod, it's probably because of low light or shooting timelapse. In those cases, I'm probably using a remote shutter or an intervalometer, and I simply don't have to be constantly looking through the viewfinder--and probably don't want to be so as to keep the camera as still as possible. So much of the time I simply don't need a taller tripod that reaches my normal standing height. And if situations where I do need that--usually with a long telephoto lens--I'm likely using a much heavier-duty tripod anyway.
The legs extend in four sections. They're locked with twist locks. The locks are rubberized and grippy--easy to use even with cold or wet hands or while wearing gloves.
Some of these travel tripods have very spindly bottom sections that flex quite a lot. The bottom sections on this one are a bit thicker and still quite rigid, so it's quite practical to use the legs fully extended.
At the top is a 3-step ratcheted joint. The locking mechanism is spring-loaded, which is a design I prefer because it greatly reduces the risk of the lock not being fully in and the whole thing collapse when you put the weight of the camera on it.
Because there's no center column, this tripod doesn't stand as tall as some of its competitors. It tops out at about 48 inches. Some shooters will prefer a taller tripod.
On the flip side, the design also means that it can shoot unusually low. By splaying the legs to their widest setting, you can get it down to a minimum height of just 2.8 inches (add the head's height to that in practice). If you're shooting macros of wildflowers, for instance, that can be very useful.
It comes with rubber feet. They're detachable, so you can swap them out for other feet if you prefer. RRS offers their own steel spikes and larger rubber feet, but the thread is standard, so they should work with most other standard tripod feet.
When I first saw it, I was curious about the strap. It's something unique to this tripod among its competitors, but it's an oddly lo-fi approach. But after using it, I've come to see the genius of it. You can use it in much the same way as you'd use the hook on the columns of other tripods to attach weight to add stability. You can use it as a hand strap in challenging conditions. And you can use it to clip onto a belt or camera bag.
It's detachable if you want to remove it. You just undo the strap through its buckle and then it comes off freely from the bar holding it in place.
In the standard packaging, a head isn't included--it's just the legs. The stud on top is a reversible stud, so you can use it as a 3/8-16 or 1/4-20 thread. That makes it compatible with just about any tripod head available.
The base is relatively narrow, so it's better suited to heads with a smaller base rather than a large head with a broad base (it wouldn't make much sense to use a large, heavy head on this tripod anyway).
In some of the photos on this page I've got the RRS BH-25 Pro ball head attached.
A more natural fit is probably something a touch bigger and strong, like the RRS BH-30 or RRS BH-40. The Gitzo GH1382TQD would also be a good fit. As would less expensive options like the Oben BE-117.
Really Right Stuff tripods and accessories aren't cheap. But what you get for that is exceptional construction quality and attention to detail. This one is no exception.
The carbon fiber they use is a special weave they've developed and patented, and it's very stiff while still being very light.
Overall, the construction quality is top shelf.
Weight: 2.3 lb / 1 kg
Maximum Height: 47.6 inches / 121 cm
Minimum Height: 2.8 inches / 7.2 cm (add tripod head's height in practice)
Folded Length: 17.2 inches / 43.7 cm
Load Capacity: 25 lb / 11.3 kg
Leg Sections: 4
Spiked Feet: Optional (not included)
Head Mount Thread Size: 3/8"-16 and 1/4"-20 reversible
Made of: Carbon fiber, aluminum
What's in the Box?
The tripod. That's it. No bag, no spiked feet, no alternate plates. You can, of course, buy all of those things as optional extras.
The bundle I've been using is sold as legs only, without a head.
For several years, the Gitzo Traveler tripods have been my favorite travel tripods. But the TFC-14 has displaced them. Like the Gitzo's, it's not cheap--it's double the price of some other very good travel tripods.
But it's simple, strong, and beautifully made. And because it doesn't have a center column, it folds down into a very narrow package that fits easily in a standard carry-on suitcase.
Instead of bells and whistles, they've focused their attention on making a straightforward, no-nonsense compact travel tripod with unusually high construction quality. And with a load capacity of 25 pounds, it's a good fit for a DSLR or mirrorless setup.
It's not going to be an ideal choice for everyone. Aside from the budget issues--because, let's face it, there are very good travel tripods available that are much cheaper--the absence of a center column means that it tops out at about 48 inches. Some people will prefer a taller tripod.
Overall, the combination of simplicity and effectiveness make it an elegant solution for a travel tripod.
Find Them At
The TFC-14 is priced at $795.
|Gitzo Traveler Kit (Series 2)||Gitzo GT1542T||MeFOTO Globetrotter||Manfrotto BeFree||Induro Grand Turismo CGT114||Sirui T-2205X||Benro GoTravel 2||Benro C1682TV1 Travel Angel II||3 Legged Thing Leo||3 Legged Thing Brian||3 Legged Thing Rick||3 Legged Thing Roger||Oben CT-3581||Sirui T-1024XL||Varavon Baby T3||Kirk Mini||MeFOTO Globetrotter Air|
|Model No.||GK2580TQD||GT1542T||C2350Q2T||MKBFRC4-BH||CGT114||T-2205X||GC269TB2||C1682TV1||3LLEOKIT||E3BRIAN||3PKRICK||E3ROGERBL||CT-3581||SUT1204XL||BABY T3||TT-1||GTAIRBLK|
|Made of||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Alloy||Carbon fiber||Carbon fiber||Aluminum||Aluminum/Stainless Steel||Aluminum Alloy|
|Leg Sections||4||4||5||4||4||5||5||4 (also version with 5)||5||5||5||5||5||4||3||1||5|
|Folded length||16.9 in|
|14.6 in |
|Max height||60.6 in|
|Max load||15.4 lb|
|< 66 lb|
< 30 kg
|< 66 lb|
< 29.9 kg
|< 44 lb|
< 20 kg
|< 66 lb|
< 29.9 kg
|Available w/Head?||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes (not removable)||No||Yes (not removable)|