Benro is preparing to release two new tripods via Kickstarter. They’re called the Benro Theta and Theta Max, and they’re sort of “smart” tripods. One of the biggest features they boast is that they’re auto-levelling tripods – the world’s first, they say. I have to admit, when I saw the video of one in action, it didn’t do it the way I thought it would. When we think of “auto-levelling” cameras, we typically think of gimbals. I assumed the head would move, but no, it’s the legs!
As well as automatic leg levelling, the tripods feature the ability through optional modules to control the camera, with remote live view, file syncing and more. You can also instantly live stream from wherever you are (assuming you have a signal), or there’s even an optical sensor module that automatically detects the ambient light levels and adjusts your shooting settings accordingly for those day-to-night holy grail timelapses.
Benro doesn’t go into too much detail about how the whole thing works from a mechanical level and what’s inside the legs, but you can see form the video above that all you need to do is push a button, and the legs adjust their length to get the camera level. I expect there’s a gyro or accelerometer in the mounting plate on top of the tripod and motors inside the legs in order to be able to adjust the height of all three until the gyro reads that it’s level.
The goal, of course, is to allow you to level your camera more quickly when you’re at a location. In Benro’s own words, “level adjustment has always been a waste of valuable prep time”. And, sure, constantly having to adjust the tripod each time you shift location is kind of necessary. I’m not entirely sure Benro’s solution solves the issue completely but it certainly opens up a lot of possibilities.
Those possibilities, though, are largely thanks to the other optional modules that allow things like camera control and exposure adjustments when shooting timelapse. Sure, the ability to just press a button and have your tripod automatically level itself are nice, but given that you really don’t know exactly where the camera’s going to end up after it’s done, you’re probably still going to have to tweak it to get the composition you want anyway. And then what? Hit the re-level button again?
There are two models of tripod being released by the looks of it. One is the regular Theta, which packs down to 42cm (16.5″) long, 7.2cm (2.8″) in diameter and weighs 1.35kg (2.98lb). It takes a payload of up to 11kg (24.3lb) and is 120cm (47.2″) tall with the centre column down or 155cm (61″) with the column up. The larger Theta Max is 45cm (17.7″) folded down with a 7.9cm (3.1″) diameter, weighing 1.5kg (3.3lb) and taking a max payload of 20kg (44.1lb). Extended out, it has a height with the centre column down of 125cm (49.2″) and a column up height of 160.5cm (63.2″).
On top of each tripod is a multi-function ball head that offers both regular ball head capabilities as well as gears specifically for panning and tilting while keeping the other axis the same. Both tripods extend out to a very similar height (120cm vs 125cm), so the big difference between the two here is the load capacity. Given the weight of most camera and lens combos photographers would use with a tripod like this, though, I can’t imagine many rigs being heavier than the load capacity of the standard-sized Theta.
There are several modules available for the Benro Theta.
- The main one is the Battery Module. This powers the Theta and provides the one-touch levelling capability. It also acts as a USB power bank when required if you need to top your phone up. You can install up to three of these on the tripod, depending on your battery needs.
- The Camera Control Module gives you modular control over your camera, with remote live view using the Benro Theta app. You get full remote control over settings and even the ability to download photos and videos to your smartphone for previewing or sending to social media.
- The GoLive module features an HDMI port to transmit your camera’s view to live streaming platforms. YouTube and Facebook are natively supported, while RTMP lets you stream to other platforms you might want to add. Live streaming is all done over WiFi, so if you’re out on location, you’ll need to tether to your phone as a hotspot or to a similar device.
- The Optical Matrix Sensor Module constantly monitors the ambient light for when you’re shooting timelapse. When it sees changes in the brightness of the scene before it, it instructs the camera to adjust whatever setting you’ve told it to adjust based on the light value. For example, you probably want to keep your shutter speed and aperture where they are to maintain a consistent depth of field and level of motion blur, so perhaps you’ll have it adjust your ISO to compensate.
There’s no word on exactly when the Theta and Theta Max will launch on Kickstarter, but it looks like we have both campaign and retail prices available already. The regular Theta shows $599 reduced to $349, the Theta Max shows $699 reduced to $399 and the various modules also show retail prices of $149 or $249 reduced to $50 and $99 respectively.
It looks like an interesting concept, for sure, but I do wonder how much time the auto-levelling feature will really save out on location vs just loosening a knob and levelling it the old-fashioned way. What does make it particularly cool, though, are the remote control and monitoring options. Modules that attach to your tripod mean you should never forget to take them with you!
The Kickstarter launch date has not yet been announced, but you can sign up to be notified on the Benro website.