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Initial Impressions: Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod

January 17, 2011

An aside… schoolwork is on the back burner for a week or so while the red pens do their work.  This will maybe give me a few minutes to catch up with some intended blogging…

Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod

Over the last few years, and especially since I busted my wrist, I have shot the vast majority of my images off a tripod or monopod.  It was actually that wrist break that forced me (kicking and screaming may I add) into using support equipment more often.  I sure as heck wasn’t going to let a broken bone keep me from making images.  And after resisting it at first, I became a true believer as I saw the images come back and they were far sharper than anything I had done handheld.

What was keeping me from using a tripod more often and instead settling for a monopod was the weight and awkwardness of my previous tripod.  I own a 8 year old Bogen/Manfrotto 3021 Pro and it has treated me well over the years.  The weight and stability that it afforded me was invaluable in Iceland when trying to make images of the Aurora Borealis under windy conditions.  The biggest strength of that tripod is also its biggest weakness:  It is heavy–a whopping 5.25 pounds before adding a head.  But with a load capacity of nearly triple that, it is an outstanding platform for making images.  It is also 5 pounds of dead weight when you’re hiking.

With this in mind, I have been lusting after a new tripod.  Carbon fiber was the preferred solution.  Something lighter but yet sturdy enough to handle my current and future endeavors.   Worst case for me is the weight of the head, Canon 30D w/battery grip, Canon 300mm f4 L IS lens, and the 1.4x Extender II.  All combined I was looking at around 7.1 lbs (3.25 Kg).  With that in mind I started looking for something in the 5 Kg range (11 lbs) to give me a little more room should I go crazy with a lens or new body some day.

What I settled on and put into my wish list at B&H was a Manfrotto 190CXPRO4.  It met all of my basic specs for height, weight, construction, and versatility.  And my bride, knowing that I wanted it, made it my Christmas present (and she even let me open it up a week early).

Okay, enough with the preamble… How did it work?

Over the holidays I was able to take it out twice to the bird blind at San Angelo State Park.  While there is a parking area right in front of the bird blind, the park staff strongly prefers folks to park in the paved parking area over by the playground and then walk down the dirt road to the blind.  This in the past is where I’ve hated the old 3021 Pro the most.  5.25 pounds of dead weight over the I’m guessing quarter mile from parking lot to blind.  I’m whining, but when the wrist is sore to begin with and you’re carrying the extra weight, it is a lousy experience.  With the new tripod weighing in at just a hair under 3lbs (1.34 Kg) it hardly felt like I was carrying anything.  Verdict: Win!

Inside the blind I found it just as easy if not easier to get set up and ready to make images with the new tripod as with the old.  Because the legs are carbon fiber instead of the metal used in the 3021, I found that it was quieter adjusting the legs, both gross adjustments to get started and the fine adjustments at the end.  Verdict: Win!

I found the 190CXPRO4 to be just as steady as the the 3021.  The images I brought back were again tack sharp.  In fact, I found quickly that my 322RC2 is starting to fail on me and I will be investing in some form of a Gimble-type head in the near future.  Steady = Win!

© jmillerphoto.com - Variegated Meadowhawk

The final test was one I had not even contemplated.  I was walking back to the car and noted the tell-tale sign of a dragonfly buzzing by.  Now I’m thinking, “This is December.  No way I could have seen a, oh yes I did.”  It landed not very far off the road and I made an image or two handheld before I thought to myself, “Self… let’s try the tripod.”  It was quick to get into position from being fully retracted, quiet enough not to spook the dragonfly (which was perched just off the ground), and steady enough to shoot at 1/60th at f25 and still get a good look at the Variegated Meadowhawk’s tiny antennae under very trying light conditions.  Go figure… a life list dragonfly in West Texas in December.  Verdict:  Win!

For an initial couple of spins with this tripod, I am very impressed.  It did everything I wanted to do and more, and did so minus a couple of pounds of weight.  I will be looking for a strap to make it even more hike-friendly, but for now it is a very good replacement for my 3021 Pro and may replace my monopod for many of the things I do.

About the image:

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) dragonfly, spotted on the trail between the bird blind (officially the wildlife viewing area) and the playground parking lot at San Angelo State Park near San Angelo, Texas.  Shutter/f-stop details are in the text.  Tough light.  There is no early/late date for this particular dragonfly as they are considered to be present year-round in Texas.  I don’t think there is a county-by-county early/late dates record list and I was very surprised to see this fella after the cold snap the area had recently experienced.  He was pretty beat up, but still out looking for elusive pre-Christmas meal.

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