Like a lot of Amateur photographers I went out and spends hundreds of dollars on a camera body. Several hundred more on lenses and accessories, till before you know it, you have thousands of dollars invested in camera gear. Believe me it sneaks up on you. Then I go and put all this expensive gear on a Wal-Mart Special $24.95 tripod with a plastic head, and a crappy video style mount. How dumb can I be?
This sound familiar to you? If it does, I might have the solution for you. In my search for a tripod, and it was extensive, I looked at every possible scenario there was. I shopped for Manfrotto, Gitzo, Ravelli, and several other major brands. But their affordable or entry level items were to say the least, less than stellar for what you had to pay. You could get a decent tripod with a ball head for around $100, but the ball head was not removable. So you never have a chance to upgrade, or move it to another tripod if this one breaks. The other problem I ran into was inferior quality. Most of the major players entry level stuff was worse in quality than most of the Chinese knockoffs out there. I know they have had to make concessions to keep up with the market, but I say if it’s crap, don’t tarnish your rep by putting it out there.
The Search for the Right One.
Buying a tripod can be a daunting task if you really want to know the truth. A tripod is something that your going to keep for several camera bodies, and if it’s not right, your not going to use it as you should. The criteria for a good tripod for you is based loosely on what you are planning to use it for. If your staying in the studio then a 12 pound behemoth that is rock solid will work for you. But your not going to want to take that same tripod backpacking in the Himalayas. I was looking for a combination of the two, as I think many amateurs are. I want light weight, stable, compact ,affordable and tall enough I don’t have to get on my knees to look through the viewfinder. Not necessarily in that order.
After reading dozens of reviews, and opinions on what I should get, I finally stumbled across Dolica Tripods. I hadn‘t heard of them before, but the pictures looked good and specs sounded really good. The reviews leaned more towards the good than bad. Better yet the price looked great for the features you were getting. There were a few other contenders, but a few things Dolica does with their tripods pushed me towards them in the end. I also was looking at a company name Ravelli, which have a very similar price and style of tripod, but they use twist lock leg clamps and I am not a big fan of those. It even looks like they are using exactly the same head as the Dolica. Check them out here.
It’s On Its Way
I finally pulled the trigger and ordered the Dolica GX650B204. for $59.99 on Amazon. I ponied up the money so I could get it by the weekend by paying for 2 day shipping. I think it cost me an additional $8.
The nice thing about Dolica’s Tripods is that their model numbers tell you a lot about the model your getting right up front. The first few letters indicate the series of tripod your getting. Mine is a GX which is sort of their middle of the Aluminum affordable line. ZX is the Carbon Fiber line. ST is what appears to be about the same as the Wal-mart line I was talking about earlier.. The next 3 letters are the height of the tripod, 650 indicates your ordering a 65″ tall tripod, 600 is 60″ and so on. After a quick phone call to Dolicas customer service line, I figured out that the The B indicates your getting a ball head, and if it is a P it’s a pan head. And finally the last three numbers are indicative of the weight capacity of the ball or pan head. You need to go here to check their actual capacities, but it at least lets you know one is bigger than another. The 204 series has a capacity of 17 lbs.
When it arrived, the first thing I did was pull it out of the box, and notice the carrying case it comes packed in was really well made. Nice durable feeling material. Padded very well, and a decent length shoulder sling to carry it around with.There is a small zipper pocket on the front to store extra mount plates or what ever you want in while you travel. i did notice right away, that when you open the zipper on the case, it zips down over the end of the tripod to reveals that the ball head is folded in a rather precarious position inside. pay attention to this, you will need to remember it later. But at least it will store in the case with the ball head attached. There were a lot of tripods I was considering that this was not the case.
At 3.5 lbs this tripod is amazingly light weight, and yet it feels solid while your holding it. It is not flopping around in your hands. The joints are nice and tight, and everything seems to operate smoothly. Everything I touched when I first held it did not give me the impression of a $60 tripod. If I had stumbled across this one in a store I probably would have put it back, thinking it was out of my price rage.
Padding on the Legs
The Rubber padding on the legs is a nice feature. You can fold the legs in and throw the tripod with the camera on it over your shoulder for transport and not have it dig into your shoulder. These appear to be a nice closed cell style foam that should hold up pretty good.
The legs are anodized in a flat black finish and are a rounded square shape. Should be pretty strong based on the feel of then.By the time I did this review there were a couple of dings/tiny scratches in my finish up around the joint. But I honestly can’t say if I did it or they were already there from shipping. There are 4 sections to the legs, this is a pretty important feature considering that this is a 65″ tall tripod, which IS tall BTW. But it compacts down to a 25″ folded length. There are definitely smaller folded lengths out there, but they don’t even come close to being as tall.
The latches and joint connections are all plastic/composite, which is very common on any tripod now. The latches look and feel like they are constructed pretty good. They operate smoothly and don’t feel like they are going to snap off if you press too hard when your closing them. .
***USER TIP***When your adjusting your tripod for lower heights you can leave the smaller legs retracted and only extend the larger legs. This will give you much more stability for that tack sharp shot.
On the tip of each leg is an adjustable Rubber foot that does double duty as a ground spike. Spin the foot all the way out and you have a nice protective rubber grip for indoors on your hardwood floor, that won’t let your tripod slide all over. Spin the rubber foot in towards the top to expose a nice shiny spike, and you now have an anchor that will stick in the ground and prevent your tripod from floating around outside or on thick carpet when your inside again. Just remember if you use the spikes to retract them when you return inside, or your not going to have a happy spouse when she sees the dimples/scratches in the nice hard wood. You will also want to make sure you clean these spikes and threads off really well when you do get them dirty. Otherwise they will rust, or jamb up with sand and become useless to you.
This model of Dolica is an upgraded version that went from a 3 position to a 4 position adjustable leg. It also appears they changed the latch assembly a little bit. To operate this one you simply grasp the leg with your hand and pull down on the catch release with your thumb to open it up to the other positions. I learned that it is much easier if you close the legs in a little bit to relieve pressure on the latch, before releasing the release. Once you get the hang of it, it is a piece of cake to operate the legs though. To close the legs you do not have to operate the catch, you just close them down.