Flexible, sturdy and with a high-quality head, this hugely impressive tripod falls down only on its bulky size, which could make it tricky to travel with
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OK, we’re all obsessed with smartphones – and their increasingly awesome cameras are very tempting for cutting back on baggage – but ask a travel photographer to leave their DSLR at home. Go on, ask one. They will refuse (or, at least, the good ones will), and they’ll take a tripod, too. Why? Because they want to take awesome pictures, not souvenir selfies.
But finding the right tripod for a trip is very difficult. Firstly, you have to find something that will fit in your check-in luggage (seriously, don’t try and take a big tripod in your carry-on luggage – security staff often get shirty about such things). Secondly, it has to support your camera properly. Manfrotto’s latest, the 290 Xtra, definitely priorities the second while remaining reasonably lightweight.
The aluminium 290 Xtra is not a particularly easy pack, but not because of its weight – a mere 2.5kg (the tripod is 1.7kg and the ball-head is 722g) – but rather the bulky size of its hollow legs. Those three-section legs collapse to 42 cm long when it’s ready to stow, which is still pretty long. There is a payback; get into the field and its legs stretch out to 147.5 cm, and its central column adds 24 cm, with a combined height of 171.5 cm – enough for most photographers to be eye-level with their viewfinder. For landscape photographers – and particularly for nightscapes – that’s crucial. In winter, even more so – nobody wants cold, soggy, sore knees. And its central column feels especially sturdy, too.
The aluminium 290 Xtra has four leg angle positions, and at each point there’s an adjustable aluminium leg lock. Each of those locks is large and plastic, and they’re easy for cold fingers to flick back and forth while setting up or packing up. Each of the three legs can also be made to bend upwards until they’re flat, which is handy for close-to-the-ground work. We also love the way the camera attachment screws into the bottom of a camera using a D-shaped peg; no screwdriver needed. Phew!
Head for the hills
The 290 Xtra’s 3-way head is excellent. It has large rubber-coated handles that are a lot less fiddly than most ball heads, it’s got a quick-release lever for the camera, and swivels and pivots, then locks fast. It’s all-around a joy to use. But it’s a pain to pack, even though it is easily removable. For many photographers, it will be worth it. We’re not so sure about the shoulder bag it comes with, which gives you only a drawstring to put over a shoulder. Ouch!
There’s no doubt that the 290 Xtra is an excellent tripod. It’s sturdy, it’s flexible, and it’s tall enough for almost any use. It’s pretty good value, too. However, at 2.5kg it can get heavy, and it’s really too large to fit in anything but bulky luggage, so we’re going to say that while the 290 Xtra is great for the back of a car – and for short walks and even hikes out to the subject – this isn’t the ‘travel tripod’ of our dreams. Why not? It doesn’t make any compromises, that’s why, which will make it some travel photographer’s tripod of dreams. Only our obsessive devotion to travelling light gets in the way of unconditional love for the 290 Xtra, but Manfrotto makes a lot of travel-wise camera bags, travel tripods, and phone tripods – it’s BeFree line-up, in particular, is definitely one to watch.
Price as reviewed: £139.95