It was the best of tripods, it was an even better tripod. This is why I ended up upgrading what I was already very pleased with to what I think is the best tripod my money could buy.
This story began with me searching for a tripod I could fit inside a small backpack I use when on my morning cycle ride. Camera bags are not suited to wear when on a bike, and I don’t carry a lot of kit. So, I just have my camera in that day-sack wrapped in a soft cloth for extra protection. But I do enjoy shooting long-exposure seascapes at dawn; therefore, I do need to take a tripod with me.
The tripods I already owned were far too big to carry in the bag, and strapping one onto the rear rack just wasn’t practical. Therefore, I measured the depth of the bag and started researching the best models to meet my needs.
The marketplace has changed a lot over the last few years. There was once only one brand I would contemplate; I won’t mention their name. However, recent encounters I’ve had with them have been poor, with several folk complaining about their tripods breaking within the first year of use. They clearly have a manufacturing problem.
Thankfully, there are now reputable alternatives on the market. Benro is one of the best. Their Slim Carbon Fiber tripod (TSL08C) was exactly the right size to fit in the bag; I bought one.
The Benro Slim’s Features
The tripod weighs just 2.2 lb (1.01 kg) and can carry up to 8.8 lb (4 kg), so it’s ideal for mirrorless photographers. It has a narrow profile when folded, making it perfect for traveling. Its four-section carbon fiber legs have anodized aluminum twist locks, which are ideal for me working on a beach, as sand and salt would destroy any other metal parts. Also, they only require a quarter turn to lock and unlock, ideal on those cold, winter mornings when I am running sunrise workshops.
The tripod extends to a maximum of 146.3 cm. The ballhead has an oversized, ratchet-style single-knob, again great for those cold mornings, and it is fitted with an Arca-Swiss style quick release plate. That has the camera-mounting screw fitted with a solid D-ring, making it easy to attach and remove. There’s also a handy bubble level on one shoulder.
Using the Benro Slim
In use, it is almost perfect for my needs. I am very impressed with the build quality. Both light and stable, the ballhead locks into position and doesn’t slip, as my old ones tended to do. Furthermore, it is easy to use.
The legs can open wide, adding to that stability. But that is the one design area that I wanted to improve. I like shooting very low down to the ground. I also demonstrate low-level shooting on the workshops I run. The tripod came with a center column, so it was not possible to open the legs horizontally without either raising the column or inverting it and hanging the camera below the tripod.
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That option of inverting the column is a bit of a faff, and I rarely want to raise the center column. So, I contacted Benro and asked them if they sold a short column for that model. They did. However, they also explained that they needed to get one from their factory overseas. I was in no rush, and I knew that because of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the shipping issues here caused by the UK leaving the EU, that there would be a wait.
After a while, Benro told me it had arrived, and they were dispatching it with a 48-hour delivery service. Unfortunately, despite the delivery being tracked, it then got lost by our postal service and wasn’t delivered.
Benro to the Rescue
This was a nuisance because I had some workshops running where I needed a tripod from which I could shoot a worm’s eye view. Benro was fantastic. They lent me a tripod that arrived the next day. As much as product quality is important, excellent customer service counts for a lot too, and Benro excelled.
The model they sent was the Tortoise TTOR14C-GX25. Its quality blew my socks off.
The Benro Tortoise’s Description
This carbon fiber tripod comes fitted with a GX25 aluminum ball head. It’s lightweight, not much heavier than the Slim. Weighing under 3 lb (1.32 kg), it can still carry up to 22 lb (10 kg). Like the Slim, it has four leg sections, but it has no center column. This means, at 129 cm, it stands taller than the Slim before the latter’s center column is extended. The twist-lock legs have rubber grips, and they operate with a half-turn.
The GX25 aluminum ballhead is dual panning with a Swiss-Arca style quick-release plate. It has “Safe Locking Controls,” with stops that avoid the plate sliding off, plus a pull and twist release button to avoid accidental loosening. It has a dual panoramic pan head, with the second positioned above the ball mount, so a horizontal rotation can be achieved even if the tripod is not level.
Using the Benro Tortoise
I am going to gush! Some tools and mechanical devices are so well-designed and made that they are a delight to use. This tripod is delightful. While the Slim is a super piece of kit, but the Tortoise is outstanding. You know that when you use this that you are handling a superior piece of engineering, as it oozes quality. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is the best tripod I’ve ever laid my hands on, and I’ve used dozens.
A great deal of thought has gone into the design of this tripod. All the adjustment controls are large enough and easy to manipulate when wearing gloves. Even the robust and smart carrying case has offset handles. Placing the tripod in the bag with the heavier head at the short end; it’s perfectly balanced for carrying.
The Benro Tortoise in Use
To test the tripod, I exposed it to the most extreme conditions available to me.
I took the tripod onto the beach to capture the sunrise and waded into the sea. The wind was howling, my boots sank into the sand. As the waves washed around shins, I shot long exposures, and the tripod didn’t miss a beat. Pushing the legs into the sand, it stayed still, even when I shot long exposures and the waves covered the bottom section.
Of course, sand is the bane of every seascape photographer’s life. It gets everywhere. Fortunately, my cameras and lenses are weather-sealed, but not so any tripod. However, the Benro ones are so easy to clean. Release the screw threads and dismantle the legs, run under the shower, allow to dry, and Bob’s your uncle! Getting the sand grains from the very fine screw-threads of the twist locks was the hardest part of the cleaning, but still easier than any other tripod I’ve used.
Furthermore, saltwater is a destroyer of any ferrous components. The release clips of my old tripod had failed because the springs had rusted. However, the Benro is just carbon fiber and aluminum construction; it’s sea resistant!
What I Do and Don’t Like
Both the Tortoise and the Slim are marketed as travel tripods. Indeed, they are light and compact enough to travel with. But I think the Tortoise is also a good all-rounder. It is robust, light, stable, and usable for day-to-day photography, as well as capable of withstanding the extreme conditions I’ll subject it to. Although I know the Tortoise will be the one that I use the most, the Slim is also a capable tripod too and well ahead of its competitors in design and usability.
At Fstoppers, we writers are instructed to write balanced reviews and include what we don’t like about products. I am genuinely hard-pressed to say anything negative about these tripods.
They are not cheap, but you are paying for a great design and high build quality. Their five-year guarantee shows that Benro believes in their products. As photographers are usually people who care about our planet’s limited resources, the longevity of what we buy should be an important consideration.
Putting my money where my mouth is, I was so impressed with the loaned Benro Tortoise, I bought it.