Gear Review: Manfrotto MK190XPRO3-3W

IMG_2901AOne for the fellow photography geeks this…. I’d been toying with the idea of upgrading from the 5D MKII to the 6D for several weeks and had speculatively advertised the 5D to see what kind of response I got. Luckily I had interest quite quickly and ended up getting a great price. In short, the ‘upgrade’ was on! After sourcing a new 6D I was surprised and pleased to see that Canon were running a promotion whereby those who had bought a new 6D could claim a free accessory. I wasn’t too excited initially to be honest, expecting something small, but when I actually looked into it, it turned out that the accessories on offer were fantastic. Amongst other items on offer was a Manfrotto XPRO190 3 section aluminium tripod with XPRO 3 way ‘pan/tilt’ head. I was still pinching myself when it arrived several days later… a brand new £290 tripod for free!

I’ve already got a couple of tripods of course – specifically a battered old Manfrotto 725B with ballhead that I’ve had for several years now, and a Velbon Videomate 638 with PH-368 fluid head. I have to admit that I did immediately plan to sell the new XPro and put it towards the upgrade cost of the 6D (well actually, cancelling it out completely) but when I got it out of the box I was most impressed. Temptation got the better of me and I started to ‘have a play’.

In terms of features, this tripod had quite a few bells and whistles that my trusty 725B doesn’t. Firstly, two of the legs have rubberised sleeves on the upper section which makes carrying and manipulating the thing more comfortable in cold weather. Actually, when I’m shooting I’ll often just keep one hand on the tripod, especially in high winds, so this is more than just a cosmetic feature to me. Next, the legs have large ‘Quick Power Lock’ levers which means all 3 levers can be locked/unlocked with one hand, allowing for quick and easy set-up/breakdown. The leg clamps themselves can also be tightened with a small plastic spanner that clips around one of the legs. Still on the subject of the legs, each one can be individually adjusted and has 4 set locking points. To adjust the legs, the sliver tab at the top needs to be individually slid down slightly and then the leg needs to be moved inward a little to release it. I found this fiddly initially and the silver tabs seemed stiff and hard to manipulate. After a bit of practice though, the mechanism seemed to work well and the legs can be secured across a wide range. The widest setting can get the camera very close to the ground… all in all much more versatile than either of my other tripods, and certainly very stable.

Moving on to the centre column, the key feature is that this can be used both vertically in the traditional sense and dropped 90 degrees to the horizontal position without any dismantling of the unit (it can even be done carefully with a camera attached). All you need to do is press a button on the bottom of the column and this allows it to be pushed-up beyond the top of the leg collar. Once in this position, the centre post is hinged to allow it to be tilted horizontally. The post then slides through a vertical collar which has been presented. It’s a really clever mechanism. I’m not sure how durable it will prove to be as it seems a little ‘loose’ when the column locking nut is undone. Once the collar locking nut is tightened though, everything clamps up nicely and certainly with a medium to large DSLR the mechanism should prove secure.

On to the XPro 3 way head and take note that this can be detached from the collar by way of a small screw (strangely the instructions suggest there should be 3 but I could only find 1). That’s one thing about my old 725B I didn’t like actually… the inability to change the head (and that was the reason I had to buy the Velbon for video work). It would be nice if the X-Pro head had a quick release mechanism, or something less fiddly than the small screw though. This is the second 3 way head I’ve owned (the first being an ancient ‘device’ that was generously donated to me by my dad). Compared to that, this head is packed with useful, user-friendly features and feels beautifully well-made. The retractable adjustment levers can be pulled-out and this makes them a doddle to manipulate while allowing the head to pack down to a small size. Portrait and tilt adjustments have tension dials and the action feels really nice. Be careful not to over-loosen these though as I can see them popping out and pieces flying everywhere! The QR plate is a standard affair (which means it should be easy to replace when you lose it!) but the release mechanism feels a bit ‘plasticy’. Although it works very well, I prefer the one on my 725B ball head which is old school metal…. but that’s just me. Bubble levels for each axis are included in a neat little cluster. They are pretty tiny individually but proved to be useable even in low light. The level cluster also rotates freely around the centre column, so it can be positioned wherever it’s easiest for you to see while adjusting the tripod. This is useful and stops it from being obscured by the mounted head and camera, or getting in the way of head or camera controls. Finally, the centre column collar features and Easy Link connector for supporting a photo or video accessory (such as an LED light, flash, reflector, or other piece of equipment) on an extending arm or bracket, and making the tripod into a practical mobile studio!

Having used this tripod indoors and outdoors now on several occasions I have to say that I’m really loathe to sell it on (although the money would be useful). Outdoors, it proved to be a wonderful platform for my 6D, wide angle lens and pano head indeed this kit is comfortably within the max payload limit. It’s a little bit overkill if anything, and perhaps more suited to users with heavier body/lens combinations. I have to say, I think I prefer a ballhead for landscape work as it is much quicker to adjust that kind of mechanism in my opinion. Maybe it was infamiliarity but I found myself getting confused with the different axis adjustments when hurrying in low light. Looking at the package overall though, I’m stuck by the slick appearance of this tripod and head. It really feels very well put together and top quality, and certainly a lot of thought has gone into making it a seriously useful tool for photography or video. Weight is an issue though and this aluminium version comes in at a pretty hefty 4kg (although there is a more expensive carbon fibre leg set available). With my 725B weighing less than half of this and still with a large enough load capacity for me (just), this makes the XPro a bit of a luxury for outdoor shoots where I don’t have to walk very far, or for indoor shoots. Also this kit doesn’t come with even a basic carry case which you’ll need if you want to lug it around outdoors. That said there’s no denying this is a versatile tripod, thoughtfully designed and beautifully made for a wide range of photography and video applications.

Closed length: 72cm
Max height: 173cm
Min height: 9cm
Maximum payload: Head said to support 8kg but legs only rated for 6kg.
Weight: Legs 3kg, Head 1kg

RRP: £289.95 (source Manfrotto October 2014)

More information on Manfrotto’s website

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