It was only a short distance so I kept the tripod extended with the camera still in place (something I keep telling my workshop participants NOT to do!). After a short while hunting around I found something that I thought might be worth a few frames and proceeded to open the tripod legs in readiness. Imagine my horror when one of the legs started to wobble and just flopped to the ground! Fortuitously I was still holding the tripod (or what was left of it!) with its precious cargo still perched on top! Still not certain what had occurred I was just about able to gently remove the camera from the Manfrotto 410 head and safely rest it on the ground. Closer inspection revealed that a large lump of metal had fallen off the tripod collar where the top leg should have been securely and permanently fixed! The first thing that crossed my mind was to recover the missing piece in the hope that I could somehow fix it. It turned out that the missing piece had literally crumbled into dozens of small pieces in the long grass. As it was only meant to be a quick local morning foray I decided to call it a day and pack everything away. Back at home I was able to look in more detail as to what had happened. The first thing I noted was the amount of fine powder still evident around the void where the leg should have been and the pitted grey surface inside. This led me to believe that it had somehow corroded and cracked through metal fatigue. My first thought was that salt water had been the culprit but this was at the very top and has never come in to direct contact with the sea. Thankfully I still had my old Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod which I could use until I could sort out a repair.
Gitzo spares were quoting £130.00 plus postage for the spare part so I began thinking as to whether it was going to be worth it? The tripod was eight years old and one of the other legs was showing similar signs of corrosion. I did in fact make a bodge repair over the coming days with a combination of a large amount of Araldite, gaffer tape and a jumbo jubilee clip! It seemed to be holding but I would never feel confident enough using it on an important trip.
Whilst all this was happening I also took to social media to have a bit of a moan and ask for any recommendations regarding what to replace it with? No sooner had I started to garner people’s opinions and suggestions that I received a private message from Mark Hoskins, Brand Manager at Benro asking if he could be of assistance? Quite coincidentally I had been admiring some of the Benro tripods at last years Photography Show with Pete Hyde who was also thinking of a change. I always like to try before I buy so Mark very kindly offered to send me a display model and would I like to choose one? After much deliberation I decided to give the Benro Mach3 TMA48CXL a go, the reason being that it seemed a similar spec to my old Gitzo GT3541 XLS.
When it arrived my first reaction was that it was a hefty piece of equipment! The feel of it though was one of quality, from the very attractive carbon fibre weave to the very hi-tech looking blue anodized column release and similar accents on the leg twist locks. As there was no head attached I quickly popped on my Manfrotto 410 which instantly increased the weight even more. As it was only on loan to me I thought it wise to try it out in my local woodland rather than give it a battering on the coast. One addition on my Gitzo, that I can’t do without, especially in woodland, were the leg spikes. Using a tripod with leaf litter underfoot is like placing your tripod on a springy mattress! Fortunately the Benro came supplied with a set of stainless steel spikes, albeit shorter than Gitzo’s long spikes but they seemed to work fine.
The immediate difference between the old and new was that the Benro leg sections were shorter meaning that I had to extend three leg sections instead of the normal two to get to the same eye level height as on my Gitzo (very rarely did I have to use the bottom leg sections on the XLS). This resulted in undoing nine rubber twist locks instead of my usual six. It did indeed surprise me that it really didn’t take that much longer to extend or retract the legs and after a short while became second nature. The leg sections on the TMA48CXL were also considerably thicker giving reassuring stability. Then there was the build quality. Gitzo have long held the reputation for using top quality materials and were built for professional reliability. It didn’t take me long to realise that they had met their match!
Inevitably the time came when I had to hand it back. By then though I had made the decision that Benro was going to supply my next tripod. I still had the niggling doubt though, as to whether the TMA48CXL was the right model for me. It was incredibly stable, however it did weigh more than my old Gitzo, and with it being more compact seemed to feel bulkier and even heavier so I was having a few doubts. After a quick conversation with Mark he suggested that the TMA38CL, the next model down, was probably the one to go for and he would arrange for one to be sent to my studio from their distribution centre together with their B2 ball head which would compliment it perfectly.
I didn’t have to wait long before the courier knocked on my door with a large oblong shaped box! As with most items of brand new photographic equipment it is always quite exiting to unbox it, something that people even make videos of! Unlike the loan model this brand new tripod also came complete with a very sturdy, padded carry bag which when opened revealed the object of desire encased in a neat, bright blue, drawstring dust bag. The tripod itself looked incredibly smart as per the loan model. Aside from the main item I discovered other goodies lurking in the side pockets. A set of short stainless steel spikes, a small spanner, two sizes of allen keys, a short column and a carry strap for the padded bag. Remembering back to when I took delivery of my Gitzo I think it only came with a dust bag and an allen key. Another plus (which was also on my loan model) was that one of the legs has a cold weather friendly foam leg warmer. Similarly when I unpacked the B2 ball head it just oozed quality.
Up to this point I was still in a quandary as to whether or not to attach my trusty 410 head or give the ball head a try? I’ve been using a Manfrotto 410 geared head for as long as I can remember (I’ve had three over the years!) and find the micro adjustments suit my style of composition. The only other ball head I’ve owned (and still do!) was the one that came supplied with my Benbo Trekker. There’s no quick release tripod plate, you just screw it into the bottom of your camera and with no friction control, it flops around like a babies head once released! The 410 head was duly transferred over, spikes screwed in and I was ready to go!