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Review: Sunwayfoto T1C40T Travel Tripod


Dallas

In the second half of last year, Sunwayfoto expanded their camera support business from the manufacture of ballheads, plates and levelling bases to include a small selection of tripods. They very kindly sent me two of their first range of products to field test, namely the very lightweight carbon fibre travel tripod with the model number T1C40T and a tabletop tripod with the T1A10 model designation.

I’ll go through some of the features of the CF travel model and let you know what I think of it.

The Design

Firstly, as with all the Sunwayfoto products I have had the pleasure of using over the past few years, this is a very well made piece of kit. The smooth carbon fibre legs extend in four segments and are fastened with rubberised screw down rings, much the same as you’ll find in the Gitzo range of CF legs. They are very easy to turn and quick to extend, unlike legs that use clips to release tension on the locks (and which a certain other manufacturer of Italian origin designed in such a way as to almost always catch the flesh between my thumb and forefinger).

gallery_2_394_872869.jpg

The feet of the tripod are rubber tipped, but there is no spike option on this model. Prior to getting this tripod I have been using the Velbon CF-430 Sherpa Pro which has a few additional features that this Sunwayfoto tripod doesn’t have, such as rubberised feet that can be screwed upwards to reveal metal spikes for use on terrain where the feet might not achieve optimal purchase. I can’t say I have used the spikes on the Velbon very often, so I am not missing them on the Sunwayfoto.

gallery_2_394_75351.jpg

The legs of the T1C40T fold all the way around the central column and ballhead (when extended) so as to minimise the length when you are travelling, as well as protect the ballhead from bumps and bruises that can easily occur during transit (I’ve experienced this quite often over the years with other tripods), so it’s a very nice design in this regard. The legs also have two angles you can splay them to, one for normal use and another for splayed use. The problem with the splayed option is that the centre column needs to be raised in order to get the legs lower to the ground, so while you can get the legs much lower, you still have to deal with the centre column in its extended position and possible vibration from that. The Velbon I have has an advantage here in that the centre column has two sections that can be unscrewed, which allows you to get much closer to the ground than the T1C40T does. I am hopeful that a future version of the T1C40T will offer the same feature.

gallery_2_394_150961.jpg

While I am talking about the centre column I should also mention that Sunwayfoto have designed this column with a groove that runs the length of it and which slots with a little nib in the throat of the tripod that stops it from turning in position. Now I suppose there is a reason for this, but my preference is for a centre column that can rotate smoothly when loosened in place, because not all heads have the ability to pan, the one I am using on this tripod being one of them. Most heads do have a panning ability so I suppose I need to invest in one of those if I want to do panoramas. The centre column also has a retractible hook that you can use to hang a bag of rocks or your camera bag from for additional downforce in windy conditions. A very handy feature.

gallery_2_394_51474.jpg

Another useful feature of the T1C40T is that it can accept both standard tripod thread sizes (1/4" and 5/8"). I discovered this purely by chance when I somehow managed to get an adapter stuck in my Sunwayfoto FB-28 head. There are small hex screws on the top of the centre column that when loosened reveal a reversible thread size. I was hugely relieved to find this because at least now I can use the same head on both tripods and not have to stress about trying to get the stuck adapter out of it.

In The Field

So how does the T1C40T handle in the field? Well, as a dedicated tripod it certainly is easy to use, is very lightweight and can easily be stored in your checked luggage without taking up much room if you are travelling by air. It measures only 43.5cm when folded down, which makes it at least 10cm shorter than my Velbon when using the same Sunwayfoto FB-28 head. When using the centre column extended it stands to a height of 140cm, which for me is fairly comfortable, even though I am 6’ tall. However, I seldom extend the centre column so I would need to stoop a bit when I am using the viewfinder. Fortunately with my Olympus OM-D cameras this doesn’t come into play because all I do is tilt the rear LCD when I am in landscape mode and shoot that way. I very seldom shoot portrait orientation when using a tripod and if I had to then I suppose I might need to hunker down some to get the shot. Actually what I’d probably do is not extend the legs that much and then just sit behind the viewfinder if I was shooting landscapes (which would be the only time I would use a tripod anyway, so whether I am standing or sitting doesn’t make much difference to the outcome).

gallery_2_394_1264060.jpg

Recently I took the tripod with me into the Drakensberg mountains in the hope of doing some landscape work, but unfortunately the weather was a bit iffy while I was there and most of my time was spent doing other things (like drinking beer, playing bingo, falling around a volleyball court and other things holiday makers do). I did venture off on a hiking trail with it one morning while the sun was shining and got to a small stream where I had hoped to do some cliche’d slow shutter speed work with water running over rocks. Not quite the picture of paradise I had hoped to make, but the shot below is what I managed to do without getting any part of me wet. The tripod was easy to carry by hand in the little material sleeve it comes in and it didn’t phase me at all on the short 4km hike. However, I will probably get a different bag made with a sling for when I go on more adventurous hikes and where I will need to use both hands to find my way across rocks. I found it to be pretty sturdy, particularly when hanging a bag from the hook. No quibble there.

gallery_2_394_711416.jpg

Improvements I’d Like

Things I would change would be the centre column. I’d lose the groove and make it a 2-piece column so that you can get the camera closer to the ground when splaying the legs in their widest position. Something I didn’t mention before but would also consider a good improvement would be to put numbered markings on the legs so that you can space the segments equally when not fully extended. My Velbon has these markings and I use them quite often, especially when shooting product in studio.

Final Thoughts

All said I think that this is a very good first effort at a travel tripod by Sunwayfoto so if you are looking for something basic that is a good fit for a lightweight mirrorless system you can’t really go wrong with the T1C40T. It’s handsome, unobtrusive and does what you expect it to do.

As I have two travel tripods I am probably going to use this one more often for two reasons. Firstly it’s smaller than my Velbon and secondly it is easier to operate when it comes to extending the legs. I will be using this one on my upcoming Olympus Trail Blaze in the iMfolozi Wilderness, which is an OM-D workshop I have put together with Olympus SA for our local people. I may very well offer this to our Safarians in 2016 too, so keep a look out for that.

You can buy it directly from Sunwayfoto’s shop using the link in our page footers. At the time I am publishing this they don’t have any stock, but I am told that they will be available again soon. The price is $269 excluding shipping.

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It is a nice tripod, Andrew. Apart from the minor issues I mentioned it is very inconspicuous. I do want to get back into the field with it soon and when I do I will post a follow up of this review. 

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Dallas, what brand of L-Bracket are you using on the E-M1 and how have you been happy with how it functions? 

 

When used in the portrait mode, is there any tendency for the two "open" rails on the side of the camera body to pinch together and give a less secure grip by the plate on the tripod?  I notice that this open rail feature on the rails on the side of the camera body is used by more than one supplier.

 

TIA.

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Should not a review of a travel tripod report the weight? (Perhaps I missed it?).

 

As much as it looks nicely made, whenever I see a tripod with a center column I think wasted weight and compromised stability. I took the consequence of this with my Gitzo 120 many years ago; brought out the hack saw and god rid of it...

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Should not a review of a travel tripod report the weight? (Perhaps I missed it?).

 

As much as it looks nicely made, whenever I see a tripod with a center column I think wasted weight and compromised stability. I took the consequence of this with my Gitzo 120 many years ago; brought out the hack saw and god rid of it...

 

Agreed. I was looking for the weight on their website but they don't have it listed and I don't have an accurate scale. I will try and find out today and include that in the article. Unfortunately my contact at Sunwayfoto, Jennifer, has just left their employ and I don't have another contact person I can direct this question to. I will see if she knows who can help. 

 

Hugh, the L-bracket is made by Leofoto, which is not affiliated to Sunwayfoto at all. Jennifer sent it to me together with the tripods and I will be writing a short piece on it fairly soon. From what I can tell there is no bowing of the short section when clamping into the ballhead - the fit is pretty secure and I have no reason to think it would come lose. The E-M1 isn't heavy enough to put enough pressure on there to come lose in any event. 

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Thanks Dallas - the Leofoto 100 off prices look good.  Wonder what the single unit retail price will be?

 

Link:  http://leofoto.en.alibaba.com/product/60162313673-800929825/L_Shaped_Vertical_Metal_Quick_Release_Plate_Camera_Bracket_leofoto_Series_leofoto_Series_LB_EM1_for_OLYMPUS_EM1.html

 

 

The two piece architecture is the same as the RRS and iShoot L-Brackets for the E-M1.  I like the way the base part of these three brands encircle the camera body, thereby blending with the body and removing any tendencies to movement once fixed to the body.

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Yes, that's why I have stopped using the battery grip now. I find that the L-plate adds just the right amount of additional base to the E-M1 for me to use it comfortably. And it also has a slot into which I can slip the hand grip, so on the whole the camera is a little better for me to handle now. I do lose the grip's vertical shutter and additional Fn buttons, but I find I am not using them so much anyway. 

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I'm always interested in travel tripods. This looks like a pretty good one, but I still prefer my Gitzo 0531 with a RRS BH25 head. It only weighs 2 lbs including head, and has a removable center column for ground-level use. The downsides are that is a little long for packing, and costs quite a bit more than the Sunway.

 

I would still like to know the weight of the Sunway tripod.

 

By the way, I couldn't find the tripod on their web page.

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They have apparently run out of stock, Jim. I need to find the box for it as the weight is supposedly printed on there. It must be in the basement... will have a look for it. 

 

Yeah, the centre column not being too versatile is my only issue with this tripod. 

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      The first thing I sought out was a reasonably priced set of carbon fibre tripod legs. Ideally I was looking for something that could extend to about 1.2m and would collapse to around 50cm. There are a number of options available to photographers, with Gitzo being the most obvious name when it comes to quality assurance. Manfrotto also make a few CF legs, but when I looked at the options available to me locally I didn’t see anything that suggested really small and light. I also found the asking prices quite exorbitant and not the kind of money I would spend on what is essentially my hobby photo kit (I don’t use it professionally).

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      Part two of my mission was therefore to find a good quality lightweight ballhead for the CF-435.

      I already own a Kirk BH-3 ballhead that has served me well over the years and which has become permanently affixed to my Manfrotto 055C legs, but while it is the smaller of the two options Kirk offer, it can’t quite be considered lightweight weighing in at 538g. So the search was on!

      As with all good searches the best place to start is right here at the Fotozones / Nikongear community, so I posted my question in a thread here a few weeks ago.
      I received a lot of responses to that request and one of the companies that was suggested to me (by simato73) was Sunwayfoto. They are based in China and have been producing high quality ballheads for tripods since 2009, so they’re relatively new kids on the block.

      In November last year they introduced the FB-28 ballhead to their range of products. This is a very small and lightweight ballhead and it was this particular product that I wanted to investigate feasibility of as a permanent partner for my Velbon CF-435. Sunwayfoto very kindly sent me a sample for evaluation on Fotozones/Nikongear.com.


      The Sunwayfoto FB-28

      In The Flesh

      The FB-28 arrived at my door via DHL shortly before New Year. I opened the box and was really surprised at just how small, solid and yet light this item was. It weighs a mere 200g, which is considerably lighter than the Kirk BH-3’s 538g heft.



      Direct comparison between the Kirk BH-3 and Sunwayfoto FB-28

      Like all good ballheads, the Sunwayfoto FB-28 uses the Arca-Swiss type dovetail clamping system, so if you have plates from any of the major manufacturers you won’t have any issues using those with this head.

      It’s made from machined aluminium and has a very high grade finish. There is a single locking knob with machined grooves to aid with tightening and releasing. I like this a lot better than rubber and plastic grips that are usually found on locking knobs as rubber tends to wear and become grubby with continued use. However, this metallic grip might present a problem for those members who work in very cold climates where touching metal might not be as comfortable as synthetic material.


      Compared to my watch it's tiny!

      The panning base has degrees painted on it in 5 degree increments up to 90 and then back down to zero. The numbers are partly blocked off by the locking knob, but you can still see the markings below that should you need to check off degrees through the whole 360deg range.

      A nice feature of the quick release clamp is that it has a spirit level built in. This will get covered over as soon as the camera is mounted onto the base (see my product shot), but Sunwayfoto have put mounting holes on the three other sides of the QR plate where you can attach an accessory bubble level if you need to.


      Using the FB-28

      Unlike bigger ballheads, the FB-28 only has this single locking knob that also serves a double function as a tension controller. This has a few drawbacks, not least of which is that if you are planning on using the head to do quick panoramas, you’re not going to be able to swivel the camera around the panning base without compromising the level position of the camera you are using. Yes, if you are using the accessory bubble level and the degree markings this shouldn’t be a problem, but know that it is going to be slower than using a ballhead that has a separate clamping knob for panning.

      The Velbon CF-435 has the advantage of having a circular centre extension arm, so if I loosen that I am able to pan the head without having to loosen the FB-28’s tension knob at all. Problem solved for me, at least.


      The whole package

      For portrait oriented shots the FB-28 has a single notch cutaway. What I have found is that if I want to shoot in portrait orientation I have to clamp the Olympus OM-D to the right side of its base plate otherwise there is not enough clearance for it to avoid being impeded by the top of the tripod legs. This is likely to be the case with all tripod legs as this is a very compact ballhead - only 7cm high including the QR base plate. This isn't a problem if I extend the centre column of the tripod, but that's something I try to avoid if possible.


      In The Field

      The most important aspect of ballhead use is how well it holds your camera in position when you tighten the ball. I’m happy to report that with the little micro four thirds kit I own there are no issues with this at all. When you lock the FB-28 into position it stays there. The Sunwayfoto website claims that the FB-28 is capable of holding a 12kg load, but to be honest that’s pretty heavy and I think you’re definitely going to find the load shifting in the ballhead at that kind of weight, unless you have the physical ability of locking the tightening knob to the point where it simply can’t move any further to the right. It’s not something I’m going to try. The purpose of this ballhead for me is to support a small, lightweight m43 system, not a big heavy one.

      If I loosen the locking knob slightly I can get enough friction to re-position the OM-D without it totally drooping out of its original position. The trick, of course, is to learn the feel of the FB-28 and know just how much you can slacken the tension without drooping occurring.


      Conclusion

      I can wholeheartedly recommend this ballhead as an excellent option for anybody who is looking to go light without too many compromises. It’s very nicely made and I don’t think there is anything quite as light as this on the market right now.

      The only drawback I can find is it not having a separate panning tension knob, but this is a small price to pay for the advantage of an excellent ballhead that weighs 200g and stands only 7cm high. As I mentioned if you have a tripod with a circular centre column that drawback is obviated.

      You can get the FB-28 from Amazon.com for only $109. Click here to buy it and help support Fotozones/Nikongear.com.
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