Michael Rammell

MeFoto Backpacker Tripod Review

Gear, Product, ReviewMichael Rammell2 Comments

Christmas isn't far away now at all. If you're still thinking of what it is you would like for Christmas then this could well be a perfectly timed post for you. Today I want to tell you about the MeFoto Backpacker Tripod.

I have something of a disclaimer before I continue though...

I am not endorsed or sponsored by any company or product. Everything I ever review, good or bad, is a product I've purchased with my own money. As I have said before I would change brands at the drop of the hat if I genuinely felt that a different product made my work noticeably better and the change was financially sensible. I am well aware that I can often seem to be an Olympus fan-boy, but if I believe a product is a bad product I'll say so.

Don't get me wrong, If Olympus want to come and sponsor me I will welcome it because I believe that Olympus cameras and lenses have elevated and unlocked my creativity. But even if I were sponsored, I don't see that it would change the way I review or talk about products

So, with all that said let's get into the subject of this post: The MeFoto Backpacker Tripod!

The diminutive MeFOTO folded away to it's smallest size. Fits snug inside my small Caselogic backpack

The diminutive MeFOTO folded away to it's smallest size. Fits snug inside my small Caselogic backpack

Small Camera allows for smaller accessories

Since moving to an all-Olympus setup back in January 2015, most of my other gear and accessories have also shrunk in size too: smaller flashes and smaller bags for example. But one thing that I hadn't downsized until recently was my Tripod.

For the longest time I've relied on my trusty Manfrotto Tripod; a heavy-ish and not-so-compact tripod by any means, but it was certainly sturdy most of the time and able to support the weight of my old Canon DSLR's combined with battery grips, a 580EX II Flash and my old favourite Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L II lens (that was possibly the heaviest setup I would ever have had on it back then at about 4Kg's).

I had that tripod for around 4 or 5 years and used it for everything from landscapes to wildlife and sports to weddings. It traveled all over the UK and Europe and the Middle East with me and even went along with me to two Le Mans races where it took a bit of a battering. In addition to being a tripod I've used it as a light stand, a climbing pole and a stick to beat down fern bushes as I waded through forests to photograph Deer and the like. It's been in sand, mud and seawater and still to this day works pretty well. Every now and then when I extend the legs you can hear the 'crunch' of sand between the extending leg sections. Also, those latch-type / lever leg locks become a little loose over time too.

But, 'Ol' reliable' was getting exactly that; Old.

So, naturally when it came time to seek out a replacement I looked for something smaller, lighter and more in-keeping with the size and weight of the Olympus gear I choose to use these days. I made a list of the things I was looking for in a tripod, and this is what I came up with:

  • Small & Compact when folded away (ideally could fit in to my bag)
  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy enough to support my Olympus OM-D E-M1 with a battery grip and my Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 PRO lens
  • Twisting leg mechanisms to lock them in place (instead of levers) both to ave weight and to ensure that sand can't get into those parts and ruin the way it works
  • Arca Swiss style plate* (reasoning explained later)
  • £200 Budget

The MeFOTO Backpacker ticks all the boxes

I did a lot of research and tried out a few tripods at The Photography Show back in March here in the UK and the result was that the MeFOTO BackPacker just seemed to be the best of the bunch. And as a bonus it also came in at the lower end of my budget too which was a pleasant and welcome surprise.

The MeFOTO BackPacker has those twisting locking mechanisms on the legs, it's the smallest of all of the options and is one of the lightest too. At the same time it is able to support the required weight of my Olympus Gear. The included Ball Head is simply something to behold as well (especially at this price point!). In design terms it is relatively similar to the premium products on offer from Really Right Stuff.

One of my favourite things about it though is that the dials and knobs used to adjust the tension and movement are big and chunky, meaning even with gloves on I can make the most of this tripod! 

Chunky Dials on the ball head. Finished in gold to match my iPad and iPhone :) 

Chunky Dials on the ball head. Finished in gold to match my iPad and iPhone :) 

Why The Need for Arca Swiss?

So, it was light, small and within the budget, but why was it I wanted that Arca Swiss plate so much you ask? Here's why: An Arca Swiss style plate offers more options in terms of compatibility with cameras and mounts. All tripods and monopods I know of work in the same way; that being a plate that screws in to your camera (or lens) and then a system of some description on the tripod head will latch onto said plate. Some monopod's so will screw directly into a lens, sure, but if you want to use a ball head you'll need some sort of plate to fix your camera or lens to it. Most manufacturers, such as Manfrotto, have come up with their own unique shaped plate that will then fit only their tripod (or tripod heads). 

This is where Arca Swiss is different: You still have a plate, sure, but this particular plate mounts to whichever ball head is also Arca Swiss compatible, which you can find on offer from a wide variety of manufacturers. Arca Swiss style plates and tripod heads attach to one another using a dovetail approach with (usually) a screw mechanism to then tighten the grip of that dovetail.

Furthermore, because the Arca Swiss is considered a more widely adopted mounting system the plates themselves are usually a little more adjustable in terms of their positioning so that they can work and be better suited to the size and shape of the various cameras they may be used on. 

This was really only apparent to me when I saw this video from David Thorpe over YouTube with his review of the Olympus PEN-F.

In his review David highlights the point that the awkwardness of the threads' position on the PEN-F, which is relatively forward on the camera, affects the possible compatibility of certain plates: When you mount one of the PRO lenses, such as the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 or the M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 you may find that mounting a plate and therefore tripod of your choosing is a tight fit (or worse, not possible at all). It's for this reason that I wanted the Arca Swiss plate: they offer a little adjustment and movement and being something of a standardized type of plate, as opposed to a brand-specific plate like Manfrotto's, should mean that if the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark 2 (which I will be sure to get when it is released) features the same issue as the PEN-F, I should be able to continue to use the MeFOTO backpacker, or at least find a plate that works from a company such as Really Right Stuff (thanks Martin Bailey).

Now, typically I use a battery grip, so it would give me plenty of clearance no matter which one of my lenses I'm using. But, when investing in a new tripod I just wanted to be sure I wasn't going to encounter any issues at all. After all, as I've found out my Tripod should out-last my camera and so giving thought to this should mean I am future proofing myself (I hope)

So, that said, I've had the MeFOTO Backpacker tripod for a few months now and have had some to get out and use it and am thoroughly enjoying it. As you can see from the sample images here I've gone for the gold option. It may be a bit 'flashy' for some people's tastes, but my Wedding Photography branding is golden & yellow and thought that this matched quite neatly indeed. It also neatly matches my iPad Pro and iPhone too :)

There are also a series of other quite colours available, but I felt the yellow and the red were perhaps too loud and could even possibly get in the way when photographing Deer at Richmond Park and wildlife in general, where subtlety is your friend!

All in all the MeFoto is sturdy, folds up to a wonderfully compact size and comes with a generously high quality ball head with chunky, solid dials and mechanisms. It's build quality gets top marks too.

I've not been this excited and impressed with a tripod...well...ever!

Alternative Tripods to the MeFOTO & what I found

So now let's talk about the competition and why it is I felt the MeFOTO won out over them.

I stumbled across this comparison of lightweight travel tripods from Digital Camera World and found quite quickly that it was down to one of three tripods (and this was generally the consensus from many other comparisons too): The Manfrotto BeFree Aluminium, the Nest Traveller or the MeFoto Backpacker. Each of these most closely met my requirements and often came in among the best rated for travel / lightweight tripods.

Initially of course, being a previous Manfrotto tripod owner I was pleased to see the Manfrotto BeFree making the cut and being mentioned as one of the better Tripods available. Being a Manfrotto user all these years I felt compelled to remain loyal and to stick with a brand I know. But, then I realised it had the lever-type mechanisms to lock the legs in place. I wasn't a fan of that on my old tripod. It only took me about a week to lose the plastic tool that comes with the tripod to allow you to tighten those levers, due to them loosening over time. It also didn't feature the Arca Swiss head I wanted. So, the Manfrotto option was removed from the table, leaving me with the Nest Traveller and the MeFOTO BackPacker.

Nest & MeFOTO - Neck and Neck! 

It really was neck and neck between the two remaining tripods. Both had everything I was looking for; they were nearly identical, even on price!

Both Tripods were available for between £120 - £140 each online. Both featured the Arca Swiss ball head, twist-to-lock legs. Both even featured a recessed hook hidden in the central column so you can hang some weight from it to keep it steady and a bonus in-built bubble to level the tripod. Each came with a padded shoulder bag too. Handy! The only remaining thing to tell them apart was their size and weight.

In terms of weight, the Nest comes in at 1.75Kg (or 3.8lbs). The MeFOTO BackPacker was lighter at 1.18Kg (or 2.6lbs). That's a pretty decent difference in weight.

The size difference when folded away was a similar story: the Nest is a neat 415mm (or 16.3 inches) whereas the MeFOTO was smaller still at 320mm (or 12.6 inches).

In fact, the only thing that the Nest won a point on was it's maximum height when extended. The nest could reach a maximum height of 1500mm or 59 inches, beating the MeFOTO, which can only go to 1300mm or 51.2 inches. 

For these reasons, the MeFOTO better met my brief and it was my new tripod of choice.

Criticisms / Issues

So far, so good. The built quality is superb and the moving parts are expertly machined I have to say, but if there was one thing I would say about the MeFOTO is that when it's extended to it's absolute maximum height (the legs are out and the center column is as tall as it can go) there does seem to be a little bit of wobble going on. The legs slide into one another to hide away. It's the thinnest legs at the very end that seem to have a little bit of flex. Typically speaking when I use a tripod I am shooting with a trigger or using a 2 second delay time to ensure I've not touch the camera when the image is captured, so this isn't too much of an issue, but I would prefer if it were stiffer.

I haven't yet tried to tackle this issue by attaching a weight to the concealed in-built hook, but I'm sure that would go some way to helping reduce or prevent this behavior by centering the weight of the tripod to keep it grounded. 

It could well just be me though and my expectations of a travel tripod are way off the mark. After all I am coming from a massive, heavy and rather clumsy aluminium Manfrotto. 

All that said, the shake in question doesn't appear to have impacted the resulting images at all. They're sharp to me and I'm happy. The fact that it fits inside my backpack is a bonus and one that I don't think I would be willing to lose moving forward. It's a good compromise.  

Conclusion

I'm not shy of spending good money on good accessories in the belief that they'll last longer, but having not looked at tripods in such a long time (not needing to) I was surprised to find that generally I was able to find far more value for money than I was 5 years ago when I picked up my Manfrotto.

I imagine, thanks in part to the growth in popularity of mirrorless cameras, that the tripod market is now far more diverse. Historically purchasing a tripod meant you spent a lot of money or your purchase would involve some sort of compromise of weight, the weight it could support or it's general quality:

  1. A heavy tripod could support a heavy weight and cost less.
  2. A light tripod that could support more weight was typically made of carbon fibre and as such the price would soar too.
  3. Alternatively you could pick up a cheap tripod from eBay and throw it away after just a few uses as plastic components broke and aluminium parts would buckle or dent!

These days though, with my gear weighing less I can focus more on the weight of the tripod and be less concerned about how much weight it can support. As such I've found that Tripods in the £100 - £200 region appear pretty reasonably equipped and very well reviewed indeed!

The MeFoto was my pick of the bunch for a mirrorless-ready tripod and so far I'm very happy with my choice. Time will tell. For now though, The old manfrotto comes along with me to most weddings as a stand for the video light or ends up staying in the boot of the car, with my MeFoto backpacker more often out in the field.



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