Well, there is no tripod good enough for all tasks, so you cannot have a combination of a studio tripod sturdiness, a traveler tripod transportability, a versatile tripod functionality, plus longevity and just spend a few dollars or euros.
In my opinion, if one can afford it of course, a photographer should have more than one tripods, making his/her choice(s) according to the equipment he/she wants to support and the tasks the tripod is intended for.
With due respect to the innovation masters of the tripod world, like Gitzo and Manfrotto, I can say that not everybody can afford having many tripods suitable to task from these manufacturers. Especially an amateur photographer who does not make money from photography.
Having used a Manfrotto 190XPROB for quite sometime, I wanted to upgrade to something taller and sturdier in order to support heavier camera/lens combinations, while keeping the horizontal column versatility.
The most obvious choice at that time seemed its bigger brother the Manfrotto 055XPROB. Somehow, I hesitated for a while due to its folded length and substantial weight. Going for a carbon fiber solution, was out of the question at the time.
Then my local photographic equipment supplier, proposed to me an alternative solution from the Benro line they had just started promoting.
After a short hands-on test on leg-hub torsion, leg stability and center column functionality, I was impressed by the tripod height and left the shop with a Benro A-298EX wrapped in a quality carrying bag and steel spikes. While paying about 100 euro less than the equivalent 055XPROB with an extra bag and extra spikes, I had got a tripod that weighted less, was more carryable and more versatile.
That was a little impulsive decision, wasn't it? Let's see further if it were worthy ...
|A-298 EX Al-Mg Versatile Transformer Tripod|
|Max Leg Diameter:||28 mm / 1.10"|
|Min Leg Diameter:||16 mm / 0.63"|
|Max Height (Center Column Extended):||1842 mm / 72.52"|
|Max Height (Center Column Retracted):||1460 mm / 57.48"|
|Min Height:||390 mm / 15,35"|
|Transport Height:||560 mm / 22.05"|
|Weight:||2.26 kg / 4.98 lbs|
|Max Load capacity:||10 kg / 22 lbs|
For reference I submit also the specification of the most current model
|A2980F Al-Mg Versatile Transformer Tripod|
|Max Leg Diameter:||29 mm / 1.14"|
|Min Leg Diameter:||18.5 mm / 0.73"|
|Max Height (Center Column Extended):||1730 mm / 68.11"|
|Max Height (Center Column Retracted):||1365 mm / 53.74"|
|Min Height:||390 mm / 15,35"|
|Transport Height:||560 mm / 22.05"|
|Weight:||2.11 kg / 4.65 lbs|
|Max Load capacity:||10 kg / 22 lbs|
|Measured Specification: *|
|Leg Diameters:||28, 24, 20, 16 mm /|
1.10, 0..94, 0.78, 0.63"
|Leg Angles (degrees):||22°, 55°, 82°|
|Max Height (Center Column Extended, Legs at 22°):||1740 - 1780 mm /|
68.50 - 70.07" **
|Max Height (Center Column Retracted, Legs at 22°):||1480 mm / 58.27"|
|Min Height (Long Center Column at standard vertical position, Legs at 22°):||520 mm / 2.05"|
|Min Height (Long Center Column at standard vertical position, Legs at 55°):||390 mm / 15.35"|
|Min Height (Long Center Column at horizontal position, Legs at 82°):||200 mm / 0.79"|
|Min Height (Optional AC-33 short Center Column, Legs at 82°):||165 mm / 6.50"|
|Min working Height (Long Center Column at inclined position, Legs at 82°):||10mm / 0.39"|
|Transport Height:||560 mm / 22.05"|
|Weight:||2.22 kg / 4.89 lb|
|Max Load capacity:||To be verified|
* All measurements are without a ball head attached.
**The height of 1780mm is the maximum possible height (without a head) by tightening the center column only to the center hub (spider) by the relevant clamp (explicit photos will follow further down).
The maximum height difference between the one declared by the manufacturer to the one measured, could signify that the manufacturer includes the height of a ball head.
|The tripod comes in the standard Benro brownish-black hard carton box.|
|On the box top flip cover there is a sticker with tripod model and specification.|
|By opening the box you find a very well made nylon padded carrying case. Where, within the carrying case are the tripod wrapped in an extra nylon bag, tripod documentation, tools and a folded carrying strap.|
Contents and Accessories
|Benro A-298EX out of its nylon dust bag.|
|Among the contents there were a Warranty Card, a product card, an envelop with a fan-fold sheet with the tripod instructions, a 4mm Allen Hex key and a tool kit.|
|The Product Card, which was originally hung on the leg hub/spider, with tripod specification and Quality Check stamp.|
Starting with the Carrying case
The case dimensions are a little larger than the tripod's, able to contain it with a ball head mounted as we shall see later in the "Packing and/or Carrying the Tripod" section. Its external dimensions are 63cm (~25") long by 10cm (~4") in diameter.
|The case zipper is also of strong plastic running from the "base" all the way around the "top". Total weight of carrying bag and strap is 455 gr (1 lb).|
|The internal lining is of a softer nylon fabric as usual with all cases.|
|There is also a zipped pocket inside for the tripod accessories.|
The Shoulder / Carrying strap
Benro's straps have a dual purpose as they can be used either as a shoulder strap attached on the carrying bag, but also as a shoulder carrying strap attached directly on the tripod.
|The carrying strap is made of a thick nylon band 40mm (1.57") wide with good stitching's too. Its max. extended length is 1 m (3,2') from hook to hook. The shoulder pad is not more than 5 mm thick and measures 65 x 200 mm. (2.56 x 7.87").|
|At both ends of the strap there exist metal swivel hooks with safety spring clips.|
|As mentioned above the strap, can either be clipped on the bag's metal D rings or use the smaller strap extension to carry the tripod without a bag. We'll see how, later in "Packing and/or Carrying the tripod"|
Unfolding the Tripod
|A large sticker (among the many) on another leg shows the brand and model names.|
|A smaller sticker declares the materials of Aluminium for the legs and Magnesium for the tripod hub /spider.|
The Legs Hub
The legs hub (spider) together with the articulating structure is the heart of this tripod versatility.
Leg Angle Locks & Angles
|With all leg sections extended at the standard upright angle of 22 degrees and center column retracted, the maximum height reaches 1480 mm (without a ball head).|
|Likewise with center column fully extended the maximum height reaches 1740 mm (68.50") although it can go up to 1780 mm (70.07")). However, at this point vibrations are quite prominent as with almost all fully extended center columns.|
|One of the most stable positions of the tripod is illustrated above. Two leg sections extended at the 55 degrees angle reaching a height of 540 mm (21.25").|
|Benro A-298EX with legs spread at the 82 degrees angle, equipped with the optional short center column. Going down to a height of 165 mm (6.49") without ball head and loaded gear of course.|
Leg sections Tubing & Flip leg locks
The reason to choose a tripod with Flip locks instead of Twist locks depends on the tripod-school one follows and/or is experienced with. That is Manfrotto (Bogen) vs Gitzo schools. Flip locks have some advantages over twist locks, as fast locking/unlocking, optical verification of locked/unlocked status and the ability to calibrate both the friction of leg sections' in/out movement and the locking strength. On the other hand there are some disadvantages too. They need some re calibration from time to time, are more prone on catching on other gear since they protrude from the legs (although I never had such an incident) and last but not least Flip Locks make a click sound when they lock, which might drive birds away if you are a fan of bird watching or bird photography.
Actually Benro offers a choice of both Flip Locks and Twist locks for their tripods, so it's up to you.
|The Flip Locks are quite large made of thick quality plastic that seem to withstand hard use. All corners are rounded and shape of the flips is designed in a way they don't catch easily on any other gear, straps or strings.|
|The Flip locks can all be opened simultaneously with one hand...|
|...in order to extend and/or adjust the leg sections as desired.|
|The four leg sections have a diameter of 28, 24, 20 and 16 mm respectively. The second and third leg sections have an anti-rotation mechanism, while the last one can rotate freely.|
|The anti-rotation mechanism helps keeping all flip locks aligned for easy handling, therefore it is not necessary for the last section.|
|Using the 3mm Allen Hex key the top section of the Flip Locks, which fixes them on each previous leg section, may be loosened and the Flip Locks removed for maintenance.|
|By removing the leg Flip Locks we can see more clearly that there exist two rubber rings between the locks. These rings serve as bumpers in order to avoid banging the Locks onto each other when retracting the leg sections. Nice touch!|
|Closer view of the removed leg Lock and rubber ring.|
|All leg sections dismantled, revealing the rubber rings and foot at their lower ends.|
|While at the upper ends we can see the friction/anti-rotation Teflon cylinders revealed.|
|All parts taken apart, aligned for "inspection".|
Adjusting the Flip Locks
|As mentioned in the beginning, there is a hard plastic ring clamped on the larger tube of one of the legs (without foam grip), that serves as a spanner for the flip lock adjustment.|
|The plastic spanner can be fit on the regulating bolt, and adjust the locking strength as well as the minimum friction for extending or retracting the leg tubes.|
Leg Rubber Feet & Spikes
|A small detail is that all rubber feet screws are lubricated with a thick coat of sticky silicone-grease serving not only for ease of screwing/unscrewing the feet but also for weather and water insulation of the last leg section.|
|After replacing the rubber feet with the steel spikes...|
|You can use the spanner supplied with the tool-kit in order to tighten them firmly.|
Articulated Center Column Stem
|The articulated center column stem is regulated by an identical large rubber-covered knob that acts as a nut on the stainless steel bolt/shaft.|
|The abilities of the center column to swivel vertically and to pan makes Benro A-298EX worthy of its "Versatile" characterization. It is very difficult to find a position that can not be attained.|
|The articulated center column may turn from vertical (0) to 130 degrees in 10 degree increments, while it may also pan a full circle of 360 degrees.|
Long Center Column (Standard)
The tripod comes with a long aluminium alloy center column, 28 mm (1.10") in diameter, as the top of the tripod leg tubes, with a quite large top mounting plate and a hook at the bottom.
|Total tube length is 350 mm (13.78"). Effective length 344 mm (13.54"). Total weight with top plate attached 229 gr (0.50 lb). Total length (height) with top plate and hook 390 mm (15.35").|
|The center nut may be tightened or loosened using the included spanner. Best way to tighten firmly and in turn loosen the center nut is by putting the column on a flat surface and turn it while the spanner contacts the flat surface as pictured above.|
|The headless hex screws intended for securing any ball/pan head on the top plate can be screwed / unscrewed with the aid of the smaller Allen hex key also included in the tool-kit.|
|The bottom of the top mounting plate shows clearly its structure and the headless stainless-steel hex screws.|
|Long center column mounted at a horizontal position.|
Short Center Column (optional)
Since Benro A-298EX tripod has an articulated center column that can reach very low for macro shooting, there is no reference for a short center column from Benro. However, there are circumstances that a short center column proves more convenient, mostly in balancing equipment over the center of the tripod, rather than hanging them off-set.
Therefore, Benro AC-33 short center column which has the same 28 mm (1.10") diameter as the long center column is applicable.
|AC-33's total tube length is 120 mm (4.72"). Effective length is 114 mm (4.49"). Total weight with top plate attached 159 gr (0.35 lb). Total length (height) with top plate and hook 140 mm (5.51").|
More information can be found in Benro AC-33 Short Center Column Review
|With the short center column the tripod can go as low as 165 mm (6.50") with the legs spread at 82 degrees.|
|Given the benefits of the articulated center column stem as well as its panning ability, a short center column may expand the tripod's versatility by reaching points an angles where the long center column proves bulky.|
|As reaching very low, being able to look from top, without the long center column piercing your chest.|
Attaching a ball head
The task of choosing an appropriate ball head for your tripod is also hard. There are many parameters involved, however it is most important to find a head that will complement or even enhance the tripod characteristics while staying within the budget. At the time, Benro B-2 seemed to me a good choice, since its weight and maximum load capacity were in par with my gear to be used and within the tripod limits. Further, its locking ability both on the ball and the panning base suited fine the versatile character of the tripod, enabling me to use it sideways when the center column would be set in awkward angles.
|Benro B-2 Ball Head reviewed and tested quite sometime ago, complements Benro A-298EX well in many aspects. The size fits nicely on the tripod top plate, adding an extra height of 10 cm and only 460 gr on the total weight of the tripod.|
|Benro A-298 EX with Benro B-2 ball head.|
Working with the tripod
The purpose of buying a Versatile tripod is to be able to use it in places and spaces not reachable by a standard tripod. Therefore, I tried to illustrate the tripod's versatility with a few photos in a place that would be very difficult or even impossible for another tripod to perform this task.
|In this case the ball head drop notch is used in order to tilt the camera a little upwards.|
|The outcome... Not much of a macro photo but I doubt I could focus on the tiny hair on the leaf without the steady support of the tripod.|
More ideas in Working with the tripod
Nevertheless, a versatile tripod may be used as an ordinary upright standing tripod as well, but an articulated but also swiveling center column stem, can also give food to your imagination in exploiting the possibilities.
|Benro A-298 EX with Benro AC-33 Short Center Column, Benro B-2 ball head and PC-1 Panorama clamp used as Gimbal in Create an Alternative Economy Gimbal Head.|
|Benro A-298 EX with Benro B-2 ball head and Benro PC-1 Panorama Clamp as a base for a Panorama head in Using a Multi Row Panorama Head.|
|Benro A-298 EX with Benro HD-38 3-way head and PC-1 Panorama clamp. This proves to be a very precise solution, in positioning the camera/lens for macro shooting. However, if you intend to shoot extending the center column in any angle sideways, then the heavy HD-38/PC-1 combination, absolutely requires a counter balance weight hanging from the relevant hook at the other end of the center column.|
|Benro A-298 EX with Benro HD-38 3way-head, PC-1 Panorama clamp and Nodal rail in Create an Economy 5 Way head.|
|Benro A-298 EX with Benro B-2 ball head and Manfrotto Super clamp 35, measuring B-2's Torque at 45 degrees in Benro B-2 ball head Torque Test.|
Packing and/or Carrying the Tripod
As fore mentioned, the tripod can be carried either packed in the supplied carrying case, or directly strapped with the shoulder strap. In the later case you can save about 0,5kg (~1 Lb) of weight.
|The carrying case is large (long) enough to contain the tripod with a ball head mounted as in this case the Benro B-2.|
With the B-2 quick release clamp parked in the drop notch, the tripod...
|...fits in the carrying case with no problem.|
|Somehow, as it is obvious from the photo above, it fits marginally and better when the QR clamp faces inwards.|
|Alternatively, if we clip one end of the Shoulder Strap on the free swivel ring that exists on the tripod leg hub (spider)...|
|...then make a loop with the extra narrower strap that exists at the other end of the Shoulder strap.|
|...and insert the legs into the loop.|
|We can carry the tripod easily and safely as the loop tightens automatically around the legs just by lifting it up.|
|When a ball head is mounted on the tripod...|
...it is most advisable to protect it with a small bag, like the Matin M-size neoprene bag pictured above. (Matin Neoprene Lens Pouch Set Review).|
This will protect the ball head from any accidental banging onto trees or bushes during a hike. Or Even from an accidental drop.
Useful long term usage Tips
As noticed previously the center columns of Benro's versatile tripods are designed with a permanently fixed hook at the lower end with no protruding parts, as do the screw in hooks of their other center columns (see AC-33 Short Center column above), in order to facilitate quick removal and re-orientation of the center column on the articulated column stem.
However, all screw in hooks have a rubber ring on their perimeter protecting the legs from banging on the center column when folded.
|Therefore, I found that using a rubber gasket for 1" pipes wrapped around the lower end of the center column, can do the same job, while it's very fast to remove when one needs to remove the center column quickly.|
|The rubber gaskets for 1 inch pipes with internal diameter of 23mm, are very cheap and easy to find at any hardware store. So you can store 1-2 spares in the tripod carrying case pocket.|
Excellent design up to the last detail.
Very good quality material and finishing.
Low weight compared to competition.
Excellent value for money.
Long center column prone to vibration when extended sideways and loaded with heavy equipment.
Last leg section not so stable and prone to flex under heavy load. (Something, I suppose that must have been improved in the latest versions, since according to the manufacturer specification the last section diameter has been increased to 18,5mm / 0.73").
Having used the Benro A-298EX for two years now, permits me to have a clear aspect about its strengths and weaknesses.
During this period it had some dips in the mud, some dust, some sprays of salt water, a little exposure to direct sun at 45 oC and a few bumps with other fellow photo equipment in the trunk of my car although bagged.
I have only noticed a little loss of locking force of the Flip Locks when exposed at high summer temperatures, which is probably due to expansion of the plastic, but is easily compensated by adjusting the Flip Lock nuts.
Nevertheless, the tripod still operates smoothly and does not seem to have lost its functionality, I would recommend a periodical check and tightening of all leg joints and flip locks though.
Considering all the above, I can say that it has proven to be a very good choice after all.
I hope you find this review useful, thank you for viewing.
All Photos: © 2011-2012 S.C.Vlachos
Benro A2980F Al-Versatile Tripod is available from/bei Amazon.de or from eBay
Matin Neoprene Pouches are available from Amazon
If you are interested in the above product(s) or any other product please consider using the relevant link(s) to make your purchase and help support this site. Your support is needed and greatly appreciated.
Benro AC-33 Short Center Column Review
Benro B-2 Ball Head Review
Benro B-2 Ball Head Torque Test
Benro PC-1 Panorama Clamp Review
Benro HD-38 3-way head Review
Create an Economy 5 Way head
Create an Alternative Economy Gimbal Head
Using a Multi Row Panorama Head
Using Multi Row Panorama Head Ver. II
Matin Neoprene Lens Pouch Set Review
Benro MA-96 EX Fliplock Aluminiuim Monopod Review