DIYP reviews the Manfrotto Befree Live Twist travel tripod – A great travel companion for video

Sep 3, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

DIYP reviews the Manfrotto Befree Live Twist travel tripod – A great travel companion for video

Sep 3, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I’m going to save you all a lot of time and tell you from the start that I really like the Manfrotto Befree Live Twist (BLT – Yes, I’m calling it the BLT) video tripod. If you’ve been on the fence about buying one and wondering whether or not it’s decent… Well, for the most part, I think it is.

In many ways, the BLT a lot like its predecessor, the regular flip lock version of Befree Live. But it has received a couple of significant changes. The flip locks have gone in favour of twist locks (hence the new name), and the adjusters at the top of each leg have had a much-needed redesign. But let’s take a look at how it handles overall.

What is it?

Unlike regular photography tripods, the BLT is a video tripod. This means that it meets certain criteria to make it suitable for video. Namely, that the whole head assembly pivots around its base in order to make it level. This way, when you pan and tilt the camera, it remains level throughout the shot.

But it is also a travel tripod, which means that it needs to fit some size and weight constraints for it to be of practical use while travelling.

  • It needs to be small enough when folded to fit inside your standard carry-on luggage case.
  • It needs to be light enough that it’s easy to carry around on a long day’s travel without wearing your down or tiring you out.

The Befree Live Twist accomplishes both of these tasks with relative ease. Folded up to its closed length it sits at a mere 40cm (16″) and it weighs only 1.64kg (3.6lbs).

The Befree Live Twist comes with a zip up bag that fits the tripod snugly

The BLT might sound a little on the heavy side compared to other travel tripods, especially photography ones. For comparison, the Manfrotto Element Carbon Small we reviewed a few months ago weighs 1.05kg (2.3lbs). But the Befree Live Twist isn’t unreasonable. It’s still very light for a video tripod and it actually weighs a little less than the flip lever lock version Befree Live.

This little extra weight does make a lot of difference when you’re shooting video, though. It provides more stability, which means it’s not going to easily tip when you turn the handle to pan the camera – something that isn’t really required for stills photography. If this still might be a tad too heavy for you, though, Manfrotto has recently released a carbon fibre version of the Befree Live Twist, which weighs only 1.38kg (3.0lb)

As for the size… The BLT isn’t quite as compact as the Manfrotto Element Carbon Small. But what’s 8cm between friends? It still easily fits inside a standard sized (for most airlines) carry-on case.

Comparing the size of the Manfrotto Befree Live Twist to the Manfrotto Element Carbon

This is the Lowepro PhotoStream SP 200. A 4-wheeled standard carry-on sized roller case. It’s a great roller, but there’ll be a separate review coming for that soon. Here, though, you can see that the Befree Live Twist fits inside it perfectly for travel, even when inside its own bag.

Folded up, it also straps nicely to the outside of the PhotoStream roller case, too, for handy access when you’re walking around. My larger Libec video tripod certainly doesn’t fit in here.

So, it meets the two basic requirements for a travel tripod.

Spec differences – Original vs Twist vs Twist Carbon

With the recent announcement of the BLT Carbon, there are now three versions of the Befree Live fluid head video tripod. There’s the original Befree Live, the Befree Live Twist being reviewed here, and now the newest Befree Live Twist Carbon. All three models are largely the same, except for a few differences.

Befree Live Befree Live Twist Befree Live Twist Carbon
Min height 43cm 40cm 41cm
Max height 151cm 150cm 150cm
Max height (centre column down) 128cm 129cm 129cm
Leg tube diameter 12, 15.5, 19, 22.5mm 12, 15.5, 19, 22.5mm 11.2, 14.7, 18.2, 21.7mm
Leg angles 25°,51° 22°, 54°, 89° 22°, 54°, 89°
Leg lock type Flip lock Twist lock Twist lock
Closed length 40cm 40cm 41cm
Colour Black Black/silver Black/silver
Easy Link No Yes Yes
Weight 1.8kg 1.64kg 1.38kg

All three tripods have the same 4kg load capacity and the same fluid video head with a built-in bubble level. They all have four leg sections, and each comes with its own protective zip up bag.

The Head

The head on the twist version is the same as it is on the older lever lock version of the Befree Live. It’s a decent enough head, though, given its size.

A large knob at the bottom allows you to quickly and easily unlock the levelling base to set the level, and then lock it again. A standard (but small) fluid video tripod head then sits on top of this levelling base.

This head had already impressed me when I used the older version of the Befree Live and it continues to impress me. That Manfrotto managed to make a fluid head this small that actually works this well is pretty amazing.

It’s not quite perfect, though. There’s no adjustable drag to let you get more or less resistance for panning or tilting at different speeds like there is with larger heads. The pan & tilt are either locked or they’re not, and there’s not really any in between.

The head can be levelled independent of tilt, allowing for perfect horizontal pans.

But that’s not a deal breaker, especially with a head this small. Like I said, it’s an impressive head, designed to be as light as possible. So, we can’t really expect features we see on larger, heavier heads, like drag control. With a little practice, though, you’ll still be able to get those nice slow smooth pans and tilts with a well balanced camera.

On top of the head, sits Manfrotto’s standard 501PL video plate. This is something that I’ve really come to appreciate more than I thougth I would, as the Zhiyun Crane 2 uses the same style plate.

The Befree Live Twist uses a standard 501PL mounting plate

When I shoot video, I typically take at least 2 cameras with me. One is the main camera, and the other is for getting a second angle or shooting b-roll. Now I keep both cameras in my bag with the plates from the BLT and the Crane 2 attached. I can pull out either camera and stick it on either system.

The Zhiyun Crane 2 also uses a 501PL compatible plate, so I can quickly go between one and the other

For you, this may not be relevant, but it is for me. Standardising my tripod plates has been my goal for about the last decade. I’ve got a whole bunch of tripods, monopods, sliders and gimbals, and almost all of them now are either 501PL or Arca Swiss compatible – which makes life a lot easier.

The Legs

Moving down the tripod, we come to the legs. And this is where we see the two main differences between the Befree Live Twist and the older regular Befree Live. For a start, the flip lever locks are gone, replaced by twist locks. At first, I didn’t like this. I much prefer the levers, in general. I mentioned in my Element Carbon review that I preferred the levers of the Befree range.

I’ve had a good few months to get used to twist locks now with the Element Carbon, and while I still prefer lever locks on the older Befree Live, twist locks are starting to grow on me. Being able to easily take the leg assemblies apart to give them a good cleaning is a very nice feature – especially with the kinds of locations at which I typically shoot.

But, I have noticed that most twist lock tripod legs, not just those on the BLT, but on other tripods, too, do tend to suck up more of that dirt on location. The legs get stuck, requiring a lot more effort to pull them out, and they require disassembly to clean them far more often than lever lock tripod legs.

The low profile twist locks do mean that the tripod folds up a little narrower, though, and reduces the weight. And that little extra space and weight saved in your bags when travelling can make a big difference.

What I do really love, though, over the previous version are the leg angle adjusters. On the older Befree Live, it was a set of little spinny things. You can see them in the photo below. They did their job, but they always seemed to work themselves loose and were just a pain to deal with.

Some people liked the old ones, but I wasn’t a fan. Sure, it was nice to be able to quickly adjust, but every time I picked up the tripod to move it elsewhere, they seemed to randomly shift themselves into a different position and suddenly one of my legs was flying out all over the place.

The new leg angle adjuster, though, is a night and day difference from the old one. Here we have actual spring loaded levers. Levers that don’t randomly decide they want to let one of your legs fly out or lock them closed. And once you get used to them, they’re just as quick to adjust (if not faster) than the spinny things on the previous version.

As I said, some people liked the old way, but for me, these leg angle adjusters alone would be enough of a reason for me to upgrade from the old one to the new one – even if I do have to deal with twist lock legs.

Other than that, the legs hold their weight well. It’s rated to hold up to 4kg (8.8lbs) and while I’ve not tried it with anything more than about 2kg, it’s handled very well.

I’ve been pleased with the footage I’ve shot while using it, with little-to-no random wobble at all. But, do bear in mind, this is a fairly small travel tripod. At maximum height, it’s only 150cm (59″) tall. So, you’re not exactly going to be shooting over the heads of a crowd with this thing.

Pros

  • New leg angle adjusters (oh yes, top of the list)
  • Small and compact to fit in a carry-on case
  • Very lightweight for a video tripod
  • Smooth pan & tilt fluid head
  • Solid build quality for such a small tripod
  • Standard 501PL plate is the same as my Crane 2 for easy swapping between the two

Cons

  • Still not entirely convinced about twist locks – they require more regular disassembly and cleaning to keep them running smooth
  • No drag adjustment (I’m being nitpicky)

One final, sort of con. It would be nice if it were possible to buy the legs on their own without the head. That way, existing Befree users could upgrade or replace the legs without having to pay for another head. After all, you can buy the head on its own.

Conclusion

Overall, for a travel video tripod, the Befree Live Twist is an excellent option. It’s small and lightweight enough to fit the “travel” category. But it’s well built and stable enough to be functional.

Even though it only has a 150cm maximum height, it can still serve well in more professional environments, too. For many situations, such as seated interviews or establishing shots of locations, you don’t usually need a whole lot of height. The Befree Live Twist can easily stand up to such tasks (because I’ve used it for such tasks).

While I definitely do recommend this tripod, personally, for my own needs, I think that the perfect Befree Live would be a combination of the Twist and the previous version. A tripod with the new style leg angle adjusters, but with older style flip lever locks to adjust the height of the legs.

My main video tripod for the last decade or so has been a Libec. In the past, I’ve often grabbed the Libec instead of a regular tripod even when I want to shoot photos, due to the easy levelling. The last few weeks, though, I’ve found myself grabbing the Befree Live Twist more than any of my tripods when I want to shoot video. I haven’t even pulled the Libec out of its bag for at least the last three months.

It’s a nice compact and lightweight tripod that one can easily take anywhere. It’s a nice complement for the Manfrotto Element Carbon. I can use the Element for stills, and the BLT for video. Both of these tripods are so light and pack up so small that I regularly find myself taking both of them out with me when I shoot now. Even if I’m not travelling all that far.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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