27 years seems like a long time to carry on a relationship. 27 years of exploring the world together and capturing images. It's sad when one day you realize that you've grown apart. No ones' fault really but you realize that you just need something more.

It's a funny way to think about an inanimate object but for 27 years my Bogen 3051 tripod has traveled everywhere with me. It has faithfully carried the burden of my heavy cameras, been contorted in ridiculous ways to get the right view, been bounced and dropped. Knocked over and stuffed in the bellies of planes. In short it's been an absolute workhorse and is just as strong and sturdy today as it was the day we first met.

Bogen/Manfrotto 3051 with 3047 head

But times change. I no longer have 28lbs of camera that need to be supported. Airlines don't let you check through just anything and 16 lbs of tripod resting on my shoulders becomes wearysome in much less time than it used to. I needed to make some changes.

For traveling I purchased a simple smallish aluminum tripod that just barely fits inside my luggage. It's just strong enough to hold my camera and a panohead but not nearly as rigid as I need. Being able to stuff it into my travel bag is really its' only virtue. After two trips with this tripod the head broke. I tried to order parts to fix it but no luck. This really made me appreciate that every part for my 27 year old bogen can still be easily ordered online or from just about any camera store.

A few years ago I bought a carbon fiber tripod for my wife. Her needs were modest but I tend to try to spec things a little more that what's needed and find it usually pays off. It is a basic Dynatrans I found on ebay for a very attractive price. When it arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find it light strong and of reasonable build quality. It's not a Gitzo but it was one tenth the price. I'm often getting in trouble for having it with me when my wife goes to use it. My only compliant is that the center column has too much wobble in it. Not at all good for stitching mosaics or critical sharpness. I had read comments that some people prefer tripods without a center column for just that reason. So I made a simple adapter to allow mounting a ballhead directly to the chassis and soon found that to be my preferred way to go. This tripod with a ballhead mounted directly is a great combination. Simple, light, rigid and highly effective. If it folded small enough to fit in my luggage my wife might never see it.

 

Dynatrans tripod from Amvona Center column replaced with direct mount adapter

I've taken enough beatings for stealing her tripod to know that I had to find my own solution. Being sold on the configuration of a ballhead mounted directly to carbon fiber legs I felt that if I could find one that folded down small enough to fit in my luggage and have a load rating of 20lbs or more I would have my ideal combination. With this short list of criteria I sarted my search.

  • Carbon Fiber construction.
  • Folded length less than 20 inches.
  • Extended height of at least 48 inches.
  • Load capacity of 20lbs or more.
  • No center column.
  • Option of adding a center column for those rare times it's needed.
  • Multi-angle leg locks.
  • Under $250.

And less easily quantified:

  • Rigidity.
  • Build quality

These last two items are particularly vexing because you can't get a sense of them from reading the specs or testimonials on the internet. You really need to experience the items first hand.

Checking out the offerings at my local camera shops didn't turn up anything that really impressed me. So I browsed all the units on B&H. I searched on Amazon and all my favorite forumns. Turns out that finding a tripod with all these characteristics is not that easy. There are plenty of units that fit some of the criteria but very few that fit them all.

During my search I started seeing the name Feisol popping up with very positive comments. B&H doesn't carry them so that kind of put me off. Once I found their website I spotted what seemed to be the perfect fit; the CT-3442. But it's $400 price tag and shipping from Taiwan left me skeptical. Especially since I could not experience the tripod first hand to assess it's rigidity and build quality.

I have always beleived in buying quality even when the cost seems high at first. The Bogen 3051 was very pricey at the time but the quality paid for itself over and over again throughout the years. While I expect to pay for quality I have a severe aversion to overpaying or paying a premium just for a brand name. So many times I heard the comment "just buy a Gitzo and be done with it." But I couldn't find a Gitzo that met all my criteria and I felt sure that I could find a trusted brand that fit the bill for the price I wanted.

Interestingly my search did not produce a clear winner. In fact I really started to become confused by the vast number of offerings. So after identifying all the potential tripods that fit my criteria I put together a spreadsheet that listed them with their specs and major and minor features. I then assigned a score to each feature and weighted the features according to their importance to me then used a formula to calculate a final score for each one. No matter how I weighted the features two Feisol models kept coming up on top. But honestly I was really bothered by the fact that I had never seen them before. I didn't know anyone who was using them and there was no where to go to have a look at them.

All these choices percolated in my mind and I came accross positive review after positive review of the Feisols and when I found their US distributor I eventually decided to try the CT-3442 Rapid.

Feisol CT-3442 Rapid Tripod

 

The point of my unnecessarily long story is "Wow!" I had ordered the CT-3442 with hopes that it would be of high enough quality and rigid enough that I would be satisfied but I was unprepared for how exceptional it turned out to be. At 2.3lbs (1.05 kg) it's so light it's almost scary and you can't help but smile the first time you pick it up. It's rigid. Really stiff and rigid. Exactly the kind of rigidity that lead me to carbon fiber. The machining on all metal parts is superb. The legs release and lock with a quick half turn and are silky smooth as they slide in or out with no binding. It's rated to hold up to 22lbs and I feel very comforatble putting my gear on top.

So how did it actually stack up against my criteria?

  • Carbon Fiber construction - check.
  • Folded length less than 20 inches - folded length = 18.9 inches.
  • Extended height of at least 48 inches - extended height = 54 inches.
  • Load capacity of 20lbs or more - load capacity = 22 lbs.
  • No center column - check.
  • Option of adding a center column for those rare times it's needed - check.
  • Multi-angle leg locks - check.
  • Under $250 - we didn't make this one, $399.

And less easily quantified:

  • Rigidity - very rigid.
  • Build quality - excellent.

 

Feisol CT-3442 Rapid Tripod and ballhead fits nicely in standard carry-on bag with or without the tripod carry bag

 

The tripod comes with a mounting plate with a 3/8 stud. I have a couple of heads that need a 1/4-20 stud so I manufactured a plate. The plates drop right into the mainframe and secure with three set screws.

 

Panohead mounted on 1/4-20 plate

 

Ballhead mounted to 3/8 plate.

 

Leg Twist Lock.

 

Feisol CT-3442 fully extended with panorama head attached.

 

I had really hoped to find something for about half the price but my particular needs and criteria created a narrow selection. Feisol does have a model (CT-3401) without the antirotation feature for the legs that can be had for about $220. Same folded size but doesn't extend quite as high and the chassis looks to be cast not machined. You can find it on their Taiwan site but not on the US site. In the end I chose the CT-3442 Rapid for its extra height, anti-rotaion legs, machined parts, higher load capacity and the feature where the legs fold up 180 degrees over the chassis ala "Traveler" style. This keeps the folded size to 18.9 inches even with a ballhead attached. I couldn't be more pleased with it's feature set and it's initial sense of quality. Time will tell if it is everything I think it is now. But I feel confident that it will see many years of service and in the end my $399 spent will be a real bargain.

Tripod comparison. Left to right: Bogen 3051, Amvona-Dynatrans, Velbon Stratos 480, Sunpak Digi-Pro XLT, Feisol CT-3442

Looking at the images above you can get a sense of the CT-3442. Folded it is the smallest tripod I own. Extended it is the tallest (not counting the center columns.) It is also the lightest and second only to the Bogen for load capacity.

 

 

 
     

 

All images and content copyright © 1980 - 2011 Scott Hendershot