Tabletop & Mini Tripods For D-SLRs: A Diverse Range Of Three-Legged Supports
My impression of a tabletop tripod was probably like yours—a squat, three-legged support that collapsed down to handily fit inside a camera bag. After unpacking the 17 camera supports that arrived, I had to modify my definition of the genre to include designs that mushroom to roughly 2 feet when fully open—and some with considerable girth and heft. That also meant extending my thinking to models with a center column and multiple leg sections, which might be more correctly termed “mini” tripods. Either way, in contrast to a standard tripod at its full height, the tripods under discussion, when fully open, have a small footprint and should effortlessly fit in tight spaces.
I worked with every unit in this report except one, and in a few cases lacked what I thought necessary accessories to make a full evaluation. Those exceptions are noted. I began by mounting a Nikon D300 and a 60mm macro (approximate total weight: 45 oz/lens alone: 15 oz; lens length: 3.5”) to each tripod, and if that was too much, I switched to a D5100 with an 18-55mm zoom (total: 29 oz/lens: 9.3 oz; lens length: 3.1”)—the lighter camera is generally a safe bet. For cameras heavier and bulkier than the D300, I’d recommend more diligence in the choice of leg assembly and that you opt for a professional ball head or leveling head. I shot both horizontals and verticals. Head creep, or drift, was observed with some tripods, but I often (though not always) found it easy enough to work around these shortcomings to ensure proper or reasonably acceptable alignment when shooting horizontals. Vertical shooting proved the most troublesome, especially with some of the models tested—and was often uncorrectable, at least to my satisfaction. One thing: locking the head down is when alignment often shifts, so watch for this.
I should point out that one leg should be aligned underneath the lens for best support, but you may be forced to modify this stance to accommodate the camera when shooting verticals with some of these tripods. Added to that, there is a tendency to tip over when shooting verticals with many of these supports that have a high center of gravity relative to the weight and spread of the leg assembly (you may have to weight or hold the legs down).
As a rule, fewer knobs on the leg assembly are better; but more knobs make for a more controllable head. I’d recommend the support be as compact as possible while providing the necessary working height. Don’t buy something tiny just because it’s easy to carry or something big because you think you may need the added height. Buy something you can easily stow inside a camera bag, without resorting to the tripod sling on your photo pack. The motto of a useful tabletop tripod: keep it simple, keep it quick, keep it handy.
With that in mind, here are notes on terms used and how specs are defined:
• Maximum operating height refers to height with built-in extensions, legs opened to the default positions.
• Minimum operating height applies to tripods with leg-spread feature fully engaged and/or with center column recessed.
• Collapsed length means folded down, with legs/column retracted.
• Load capacity (max load) is given for properly balanced gear, meaning no long, heavy optics. Independent measurements were taken where not provided by the manufacturer.
• All measurements include supplied head, unless noted otherwise.
• Price is street price, unless noted otherwise. In creating categories within this group:
• Tabletop has either no extension or when extended still sits low to the ground.
• Mini tripod has center column and/or leg sections that take it to over 1 foot in height.
• Flexible tablepod is a tabletop with bendable legs.
• Table/monopod works either as a short monopod or tabletop tripod.
My evaluations are based on usage with a Nikon D300 with a 60mm macro and/or a D5100 with an 18-55mm zoom—whichever combo seemed suitable—and consider stability, support, flexibility, compactness, ease of use, overall functionality, and value.
Product shots courtesy of the respective manufacturers; select photos by the author.
Berlebach Mini Leveling Wood Tripod
(www.hpmarketingcorp.com; www.berlebach.de); $293. Mini tripod. Max/min. height: 15/4”, collapsed length: 11”, weight: 2 lbs; max load: 17.6 lbs; features: ash wood, two-section legs, variable-angle leg spread, 25˚ tilt in any direction with spring-loaded mounting screw. Evaluation: positive locking lever holds camera in place atop a spacious platform for horizontal shooting; bulky; but you can’t beat wood in vibration-prone environments. I would consider this the sturdiest tabletop in the bunch. (Note: for verticals, HP Marketing recommends an Arca-compatible quick release from Novoflex or Giottos and an L-bracket.) Pricey, but worth it.
Calumet Minipod Tabletop Tripod
(www.calumetphoto.com); $30. Tabletop/monopod. Max/min. height: 2.75” (as tripod), collapsed length: 7.5” (as mini monopod), weight: less than 1 lb; max load: 14 lbs; features: aluminum-alloy construction; folds up to form a miniature monopod, with included rubber cap; spring-loaded camera mounting screw. Evaluation: monopod is a handy feature; as a tabletop, out of the box it’s limited to horizontal shooting, on a fixed level platform, although I did gain some leverage using the end cap attached to one leg. A good value for its versatility.
Cullmann Magnesit Copter
(www.rtsphoto.com); $29. Tabletop/monopod. Max/min. height: 6.5”, collapsed length: 8.5”, weight: 9.4 oz; max load: 2.5 lbs; features: supplied with Cullmann CB-2 mini ball head (with reversible top plate: camera platform or flash shoe); aircraft aluminum. Evaluation: a neat little tabletop that can also be used as a mini monopod.
The head worked fairly well with the D300/macro in horizontal, but this combo tended to slip out of alignment when shooting verticals. However, the D5100 in vertical was no problem. A great value for smaller D-SLRs.
Davis & Sanford Vista Table Top Pro
(www.tiffen.com); $16. Tabletop. Max/min. height: 9/7”, collapsed length: 9”, weight: 1 lb; max load: 2.5 lbs; features: permanently attached quick-release three-way pan/tilt head; suction cup at base of center column for stability; two-section legs; spirit level in head; plastic. Evaluation: it may become unstable when the suction cup can’t be used, especially with verticals on porous, rough, and irregular surfaces. There is a slight shift when tightening the handle and handling is somewhat uneven. It’s best suited to a D5100-class camera or smaller. (Note: center column was raised nearly all the way to level the tripod without leg extension.) Fantastic value, despite some shortcomings.
Joby Gorillapod Focus + Ballhead X
(www.joby.com); $149. Flexible tablepod. Max/min. height: flexible, collapsed length: 14.25” with head, weight: 1.7 lbs with head; max load: 11 lbs; features: combination metal/ABS plastic flexible legs adapt to flat or uneven surfaces or twist around objects (such as a branch) for a secure hold; universal quick-release mounting plate on head, which has separate pan + lock/tension knobs. Evaluation: you can buy the Focus sans head or leave the head home and attach the camera directly to the spacious baseplate, although it does make accurate alignment more difficult. It’s a good ball head, ably supporting the D5100 and short zoom, except that it tends to stick between uses. Pricey perhaps, but look at all the things you can do with it.
Manfrotto Pocket MP3-D01
(www.manfrotto.us); $35. Raised platform. Max/min. height: 1.5”, collapsed length: negligible (folds flat); max load: 3.3 lbs; features: a camera platform that can remain attached to the camera at all times. Evaluation: useful in situations where you don’t want to rest the camera on dirt or scratchy surfaces; otherwise not very practical as a tabletop tripod; the tripod screw comes loose and drops out (good thing they include a backup). Easily supported the D5100 with short zoom. Not enough utility for the price, but you may like its quirky nature.
(www.hpmarketingcorp.com; www.novoflex.com); $65. Tabletop. Max/min. height: 4.8” with head, collapsed length: 7.4” with head, weight: 5.2 oz; max load: 6.5 lbs; features: combines the Micropod with the Neiger Ball 19; rods store in sockets and are removed and inserted into other sockets to form the tabletop. Evaluation: very slim profile and lightweight but the pod lacks flexibility in the legs to handle uneven ground. The head on this tabletop was no match for the D300, but supported the D5100. Perhaps pricey, but a solid support and a space saver on the road.
OSN OS 250
(www.osnusa.net); $35. Mini tripod. Max/min. height: 24.5/7.5”, collapsed length: 12.25”, weight: 1 lb, 10 oz; max load: 6.5 lbs; features: quick-release three-way pan/tilt head; four-section aluminum legs; variable-angle leg spread; center column. Evaluation: tends to be a bit unstable when shooting verticals, especially with a camera like the D300, but otherwise showed itself to be a useful tripod, with some nice design touches; there is no discernible shift once the head is locked in place. A great value and handy all-around tripod for lighter gear.
Slik Mini Pro DQ
(www.thkphoto.com); $30. Tabletop. Max/min. height: 85⁄6/7”, collapsed length: 81⁄4”, weight: 13 oz; max load: 4.4 lbs; features: Slik SBH-100DQ quick-release mini ball head; two-section legs; suction cup at base of center post to stabilize tripod on flat, slick surfaces. Evaluation: solid little tabletop that is best suited for a compact D-SLR with compact zoom or small macro; suction cup base is a nice touch but can’t be used when center column/legs are extended; keep a coin handy for the camera mounting screw. Discernible shift when locking the head in place. A great value, despite mild reservations.
Smith-Victor Pinnacle P600
(www.smithvictor.com); $28. Mini tripod. Max/min. height: 28/14”, collapsed length: 14”, weight: 1.8 lbs; max load: 4 lbs; features: permanently attached, quick-release three-way pan/tilt head; crank-operated center column; three-section aluminum legs; center brace. Evaluation: the lack of variable-angle leg spreading is a limiting factor outdoors; potentially unstable when shooting verticals; noticeable shift when tightening handle; clumsy setup with too many knobs and such. I’d use it with D5100-size cameras or lighter loads. An economical all-around, albeit shorter, alternative to a traditional tripod.
Sunpak FlexPod Pro Gripper
(www.tocad.com); $13. Flexible tablepod. Max/min. height: flexible, collapsed length: 11”, weight: 10 oz; max load: 2.3 lbs; features: bendable legs with self-leveling feet; quick-release ball head included. Evaluation: I’m not too keen on the ball head (especially the not-so-quick-release system—make sure the lever snaps back in place to lock); a little prone to vibration so allow a few seconds before releasing the shutter; despite everything, it works quite nicely with a light load, such as the D5100 or other compact D-SLR—just be prepared for a little drift when locking down the head. At this price, what’s not to love?
UltraPod II Digital
(www.industrialrev.com/pedco); $16. Tabletop. Max/min. height: 63⁄8/47⁄8”, collapsed length: 7”, weight: 4 oz; max load: 4 lbs; features: resin body with built-in ball head; includes touch-fastener strap for attachment to branch, chair, etc.; “neck” can be raised to add height or tilted. Evaluation: the least ergonomic tabletop in the group and certainly ill suited to verticals; best with D5100-size cameras and smaller. Not my cup of tea, but the innovative design and price may appeal to you.
(www.vanguardworld.com); $49. Mini tripod/monopod. Max/min. height: 12/10”, collapsed length: 133⁄8”, weight: 1.3 lbs; max load: 11 lbs; features: permanently attached two-way pan/tilt head; all-metal construction; extending center column but no leg extensions. Evaluation: fluid-like pan/tilt movement with enough tension so the camera is comfortably seated; forms an effective mini monopod when collapsed; too long to easily fit in a small camera bag; make sure to lock the column in place after using the quick column release (otherwise, too much play). Best suited to D5100-style compacts. Excellent value, especially if you also shoot video.
Velbon Ultra Maxi Mini
(www.osnusa.net); $135. Mini tripod. Max/min. height: 18.8/5.4”, collapsed length: 7.7”, weight: 1.3 lbs; max load: 5 lbs; features: quick-release ball head; five-section aluminum legs (with leg warmers); split center column for ground-hugging work (with full leg spread). Evaluation: with the head removed, the two pieces easily fit in the upper compartment of a small sling bag; well-constructed leg assembly that opens and closes in a breeze. The head is the weakest link: good for horizontals, especially with the D5100, but the camera tended to drift downward in vertical position. A sweet tripod, if a bit pricey—get it, but swap out the head.
Following are units that are worthy of note that either were unavailable for hands-on evaluation or that, while supplied, lacked critical accessories to make a full evaluation.
(www.bronimaging.com); $593. Mini tripod. Max/min. height: variable/3.9”, collapsed length: 11.8”, weight: 4.6 lbs; max load: 132 lbs (on base); features: optional with Combitube components that let you vary the height; adjustable leg spread; heavy-duty. Evaluation: sample not available.
(www.hpmarketingcorp.com; www.giottosusa.com); $100. Mini tripod. Max/min. height: 24.2/7.9”, collapsed length: 13.8”, weight: 1.9 lbs; max load: 6.6 lbs; features: two-section aluminum legs (with leg warmers); variable-angle leg spread; center column; bubble level. Evaluation: this tripod feels solid and works like a regular tripod, but on a smaller scale. A good match would be a professional-quality ball head. Note: since a companion Giottos head was not provided, I couldn’t fully evaluate this tripod.
Kirk Mini Table Top Tripod
(www.kirkphoto.com); $119. Tabletop. Max height: 47⁄16”, collapsed length: 53⁄4”, weight: 9 oz; max load: 100 lbs (on leg assembly; optional head will limit capacity considerably); features: all-metal construction; almost flat when collapsed. Evaluation: the leg assembly is solid and it opens quickly, with just a twist of a knob to free the legs and another quick twist to lock them in place. The trick will be finding a ball head to match. Note: since a companion head was not provided, I couldn’t fully evaluate this tripod.
Uni-Loc Table Top Tripod
(www.uniloctripod.com); $165 (with center column). Mini tripod. Max/min. height: 20”/practically flat (with legs splayed out), collapsed length: 15”, weight: 4.8 lbs (with center column); max load: N/A; features: articulated multi-position center column; variable-angle leg spread; all-metal construction. Evaluation: this looks and feels like a behemoth: heavy, bulky, and considerably more difficult to use than the other pods in this roundup—but the articulated center column gives it a certain edge the others can’t claim. Note: since a companion Uni-Loc head was not provided, I couldn’t fully evaluate this tripod.
Tabletop Tripod Considerations
Most, but not all, of these supports come with a head, usually a ball head on true tabletops and a pan/tilt head on mini tripods. A few heads include a quick-release feature. You can upgrade to a better head on most tripods, although some heads are permanently attached. Make sure any new head doesn’t make the tripod even more top-heavy or taller, which can throw it off balance.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of working height. How tall do you need this tabletop or mini tripod to be? What do you plan to shoot? Even if you position a tabletop tripod on the same table as the set, do you want to shoot eye level with the subject? Or would you prefer to shoot from a higher angle?
Of the tabletop supports under discussion, a few work equally well as a short monopod. And they all have rubber-tipped legs. A couple of them are uniquely fashioned with bendable legs so they can be wrapped around a railing or tree, in case there’s no suitable surface or for a more advantageous point of view.
• Adorama (Flashpoint): www.adorama.com
• Bron Imaging (Foba): www.bronimaging.com
• Calumet: www.calumetphoto.com
• Delkin Devices: www.delkin.com
• HP Marketing (Berlebach, Giottos, Novoflex): www.hpmarketingcorp.com
• Industrial Revolution/Pedco: www.industrialrev.com/pedco
• Joby: www.joby.com
• Kirk Enterprises: www.kirkphoto.com
• Manfrotto Distribution: www.manfrotto.us
• OmegaBrandess: www.omegabrandess.com
• OSN (Velbon): www.osnusa.net
• RTS Inc. (Cullmann): www.rtsphoto.com
• Smith-Victor: www.smithvictor.com
• THK Photo Products (Slik): www.thkphoto.com
• Tiffen (Davis & Sanford): www.tiffen.com
• ToCAD America (Sunpak): www.tocad.com
• Uni-Loc: www.uniloctripod.com
• Vanguard: www.vanguardworld.com