GEAR REVIEW - MANFROTTO 055 XPROB TRIPOD
I'll preface this review with a short guide, so that you can make the right purchase for your photography. The tripod is one of the most useful and yet frequently overlooked pieces of photographic equipment. Emphasis is often directed towards camera bodies and lenses. Admittedly with the invention of image stabilization technology, which is found inside some cameras and lenses depending on brand, photographers have been able to achieve much better hand held results. Manufacturers claiming up to 4 stops of light equivalent, which certainly is nothing to be sniffed at.
For long exposures, bracketed shots and trick photography though, a tripod is a must. Just like with cameras and lenses, there are a multitude of tripods to choose from out there and it can be an absolute minefield for the amateur to choose one. So where to begin? If you read my other guides and articles, you will note that I always refer to cameras and lenses as tools for specific jobs and a tripod is no different in this respect.
Attributes to consider are minimum and maximum working heights, collapsed size, weight, materials, stability and features like a movable/articulating centre column. For example, If you're doing macro work of wildflowers in nature where you need to get close to the ground, you need a tripod that enables you to get up close and personal, as macro lenses have short working distances. If you do travel and landscape photography, weight may be your primary concern, especially if traversing rough terrain on foot. If you do seascapes, where waves will crash into your tripod legs and the wind if normally strong, stability is probably going to be a your main concern. So before you go out and buy something because it's cheap, or lightweight, make sure it's got everything you need and it's not going to fall apart on you after a few months of use. As the old saying goes - "You buy cheap, you buy twice!"
Okay so on with the review. The Manfrotto 055 X-Pro B is a heavy duty professional tripod, that has surprising versatility, which made this range very popular. Being Manfrotto, you're guaranteed top quality and a highly durable product. The all aluminum construction ensures strength whilst keeping the tripod relatively lightweight for its size, weighing in at 2.4Kg. Lighter carbon fibre versions are available at a premium, for a reduction of 750g. A minimum working height of just 10cm allows you to get very close to the ground for macro, landscape or architectural photography that requires low perspectives. All the moving parts and locking mechanisms are robust and keep everything where it should be.
This is achieved through the tripod's ability to splay out its legs at an impressive 88° degrees and also the horizontal articulating of the central column. Conversely, with the legs and column fully extend the 055 X-Pro B stands 178.5cm tall. Put a head on top of that and your camera body is the wrong side of 6ft off the ground. This comes in very handy if you need to get above a crowd or other obstacle, as well as shooting down on subject matter from above.
Collapsed down, the tripod measures 65.5cm, which although fine for carrying by hand, does make it a bit cumbersome to attach to a camera bag. An optional carry case is available, either padded or unpadded. I'd recommend the latter, as an unprotected bag means the tripod isn't as protected in transportation and neither is your back. The MBAG80P is an ideal size for the 055 with a head attached.
Being a heavy duty tripod the X-Pro B is very stable, with a safety payload of 7Kg. Even with a Nikon D4s and 800mm f/5.6 VR attached, you're still good for another couple of kilos. Since the vast majority of us will have anything like the combination for general shooting, the 055 should cater for just about everyone. The legs can be tilted from closed to 23°, 45°, 65° and 88°, giving a huge footprint. Obviously in confined spaces this isn't always feasible with the legs fully extended too but, at least the option is there. In the 3 years I've used the tripod in studio, I've never had a problem with tipping. Likewise when used out on location on a windy beach, the tripod never faltered.
Whenever using a tripod in such harsh environments, it is important that the construction materials are up to the task. Some tripods are made from steel, which would rust due to the corrosive properties of salt water.
Likewise wooden tripods are still available and not something I'd want to come into contact with water. One thing I did notice is the very fine sand made its way into the joints and leg tubes, resulting in horrible grinding noises when extending them.
Thankfully the Manfrotto was relatively straightforward to disassemble and clean. Again, this is important because left unchecked sand and grit particles will cause damage over time. Looking after it with proper maintenance when needed and it will outlast you!
For portraiture, wildlife, landscapes and architecture it's a solid performing tripod. The weight is a nice balance between stability and portability in outdoor environments. Working heights are very diverse and the construction ensures safe working with even the heaviest of lenses. A lot of positive aspects and praise for the X-Pro B. The only drawback I've found is when attempting macro work close to the ground. Although capable of reaching very low, adjusting height quickly and easily isn't in its forte. If you do a lot of macro photography at low working levels, I would suggest a tripod that has an inverting centre column. This way you can set a rough working height with the legs and fine tune the framing of the shot by raising or lowering the column. Other than that, I would recommend the 055 X-Pro B to anyone looking for a versatile, sturdy tripod that lends itself well to many genres of photography. For £150 which is the current retail price, it is well worth it.