A while back SmallRig entered the tripods market with a heavy-duty aluminum tripod. It was an entry-level video tripod at about $150. Now, there is a second, more professional version of the SmallRig Heavy-Duty Tripod in Carbon Fiber ($399.00), and it is packed with features.
I guess that Smallrig took the time between the design and manufacturing of those tripods to listen to customer feedback, because a lot of the things that were missing from the first-generation tripod are now solved. Let’s jump right in.
An affordable full Heavy-Duty tripod kit
The SmallRig Heavy-Duty Tripod carbon fiber kit comes as a full kit: Sticks, head, and case. While some videographers prefer betting each part of the kit separately, most shooters will find that this kit answers more than just their basic needs. The feature set kinda reminds me of the Manfrotto 645 FAST Twin system, but while it offers many of its features, it sits lower in the range. It also does not cost nearly as much.
The tripod weighs 5 kilos, head included. Height-wise, the tripod folds down to 83 cm, and extends all the way to 1.81 meters. With the spreader fully opened, the tripod sits as low as 77 cm. Once you add the fluid head, you are looking at an additional 15cm from the base to the camera plate. (So 98 cm folded; 92 cm lowest position; 1.96m high position). This range handles pretty much anything you would throw at it, aside from super-low shots. Weight-wise, it can handle up to eight kilos.
You also get a padded carrying case. It’s the standard tripod soft case, and it comes with both shoulder straps and carrying handles. Interestingly, the handles are placed a little bit to the top of the case, so the case remains balanced even though the side with the head weighs a little bit more. (PRO TIP: make sure to pack the head on the handles’ side, the case will be nice and balanced) The case also has a small zipped pocket with instructions and a small Allen wrench (more on that wrench later).
The SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod sticks
The “sticks” part of the SmallRig Heavy-Duty Tripod is made of Carbon fiber (DUH). It’s the double rodes type, where each leg is made from three sections. Then, each section is made from two parallel carbon fiber rods, and they fold next to each other. The top part has a 75mm bowl receptor. All and all, the tripod feels very sturdy and well-constructed. The only part that I would love to see changed is the hinge that connects the legs to the bowl. It is made of sturdy ABS plastic, and I wish it were a metal cast.
The legs come with a built-in, non-detachable spreader that sits at mid-level. When the tripod is set at minimum height, it is very stable, and the spreader has very little impact on stability. When you set the tripod to its highest, you can definitely feel that it stabilizes the tripod. If you need even more stability, you can adjust the length of the spreader. Our go-to camera is the Sony FX3, and the SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod was more than capable of handling it. (If you look at the previous AD-01 tripod, the spreader there is fixed, so this is a nice improvement).
Single lever operation
Maybe the first thing you notice about the tripod is that it has a different locking mechanism from the ones you are familiar with. Looks-wise, it is a bold, golden lever – you really can’t ignore it. The locking mechanism is also a bit different, with a big gear that you can actually see once the sticks are unlocked. Just like the Manfrotto 645 FAST Twin tripod, the SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod has one lever per leg. That lever is positioned between the first and second sections, so you can always control the tripod without bending to a lower lock.
The SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod locks feature an adjustable locking force mechanism. This mechanism allows you to set the strength which you will have to apply to lock the lever. Remember that little Allen wrench that you got in the case? This is what it’s for. When I got the tripod, two locks were set on a relatively “loose” settings, and one was tight. I set all the locks to “loose”, and it significantly improved how the sections drop once you unlock the lever. That said, even at the “loose” setting, the levers are a bit too tight for my taste.
The last thing worth noting with the sticks is that under every hinge, there is a small rubber-padded cushion. This makes carrying the tripod from place to place extremely convenient.
Spike/rubber feet selection
Out of the box, the SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod comes with rubber feet. They have the same golden finish that matches the locks. Actually, it seems that gold is the highlight color for this tripod – it’s on the locks, feet, and a few locations on the head. Anyways, if you need to swap to spiked feet, you can take the rubber off and reveal a set of metal spikes.
The only caveat here is that the rubber comes off, rather than folds away. Make sure you place those rubber feet somewhere you’d remember, so you don’t lose them.
The SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod fluid head
This specific set – SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod carbon fiber – comes with a 75mm bowl and a fluid head as part of the kit. The standard bowl will accept other heads, but you are getting a head right out of the box.
I would say that the head is pretty standard as far as fluid heads go, but remember; it is a part of the kit (with sticks, a bowl adapter, and a case) that costs $399. And for that budget, it’s giving great value for money.
The head locks into the bowl by screwing it in. There are no locking screws at the bottom like other heads have, so you need to make sure you lock it tight, and you will probably have some agony when you try to remove it. The head also features a small bubble level and a wrench compartment with another Allen wrench. (That’s two wrenches – by now, this is probably SmallRig’s signature move). To be honest, I think it’s quite clever to add a wrench compartment to the head. Somehow, you always need a wrench, and can’t find one. Not only that, you can lock the plate screw with either a flat driver or with this hex key. This is an elegant solution.
Tilt and pan operation
The head tilts a full 90 degrees downwards and about -75 degrees backward., and it can lock anywhere in between with a small knob. It has a spring that moves it back to the horizontal position. There is no counterbalance to the head, but this is a feature that is usually reserved for more pricy kits.
On the panning side, you can control the pan tension using a rotating ring, anywhere from very stiff to fully free. The panning is smooth, but it could be smoother. That said, nothing is more fun than letting your camera spin on a tripod.
Clever DJI RS / Manfrotto dual mode
The tripod comes with a standard Manforrot plate with two screws (1/4-20 and 3/8) and a removable locking pin. But it has a feature that I have yet to see on any non-SmallRig tripod. You can adjust the head also to receive a DJI RS plate. Now pause and think about it for a second. Yes, this means that you can move the camera from your Ronin RS to the SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod, and back without rebalancing the gimbal. This is such a time saver.
SmallRig achieved this magic with two small buttons to select which system is now in use. (PRO TIP: the button that is in the “up” position is the button with the active system.)
This is also a good time to talk about the plate locking mechanism. It is made from a release button on the back, and a tightening screw on the side. Yup, both in gold.
Extendable pan-bar and ports
The SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod features an extendable pan-bar. It locks into place on either the right or left side of the head using a rosette-type connection. It’s a telescopic handle, so you can decide how long you want it to be. (PRO TIP: when storing the tripod in the case, make sure that the pan-bar is loose).
All and all, you have three ports on the head. They are all 1/4-20. Two of them are rosette-type on the back and can also receive the pan-bar, and one is on the front, which is ideal for a monitor. The front port does not have a locking mechanism, though.
Interestingly, there are not a lot of competing models for the SmallRig Heavy-Duty tripod. And definitely not in that price range.
|Tripod||Self weight||Load capacity||Max height||Min height||Folded height||Counter balance||material||price|
|SmallRig Heavy-Duty CF||5 kg||8kg||180 cm||77 cm||83 cm||X||Carbon Fiber||$399.00 XXX NEED TO ADD|
|SmallRig AD-01||4 kg||8 kg||185 cm||85 cm||88.9 cm||X||Alluminum||$159.00|
|Manfrotto FAST + 504X||3 kg||12 kg||153 cm||58.5 cm||69 cm||V||Carbon Fiber||$1,331.88|
|Flowtech + ACE XL||1.7 kg||8 kg||153 cm||26 cm||68 cm||V||Carbon Fiber||$2,232.50|
The SmallRig Heavy duty carbon fiber tripod is an amazing tripod if you are looking for a video tripod to start with. It is light, portable, goes extremely high, and can mount both long Manfrotto plates and DJI RS plates. That last feature alone is a good reason to get it. Can this tripod be improved? For sure. But there is always a balance. The more features you add, the more the tripod will cost, and for me, SmallRig made some very clever choices balancing price and usability. For $399.00, it’s an easy choice. In fact, if you own the previous aluminum version, I think you would appreciate the upgrade.
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