Transformer Tripods: More than Meets the Leg

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Most tripods on the market are simple three-legged supports for your camera and lens, and that is usually all that photographers need a tripod to do. But, there are some tripods on the market that, while serving to support photographic gear, have some funky and, oftentimes, unique features that set themselves apart from the classic traditional tripod.

Before we look at some of these transformer tripods, if you are looking for a treatise on the tripod itself, click here. If you are looking for a buying guide for some of our favorite full-sized or travel tripods, click on these two hyperlinks. And, if you are looking for alternative camera supports, we have you covered there, with Allan Weitz’s article: 20 Tripods That Are Not Really Tripods.

Tripod/Monopod/Selfie Stick-in-One

There are a number of tripods on the market today that have a detachable leg, or legs, for use as a monopod and/or selfie stick.

If this is a feature you think you would enjoy, keep an eye out for tripods that allow a leg to be removed for this purpose. There are many tripods that offer this option, including the Sirui W-2204 Waterproof Carbon Fiber Tripod and the Oben CT-3565 Carbon Fiber Tripod.

Reversing and Short Center Columns

Many tripods today offer the photographer a reversible center column to facilitate low-angle shooting. This is especially helpful for macro subjects or creative viewpoints because most tripod-based photos are taken from—you guessed it—the top of a fully extended tripod.

Some other tripods feature an additional short center column, or a center column that transforms from a standard length to a shorter length. This also allows you to shoot lower since you can, depending on the tripod design, spread the tripod legs to near horizontal and still shoot normally above the tripod chassis.

Reversing Legs

I’ve always said that a “travel” tripod is any tripod with which you are willing to travel. However, many photographers feel that a travel tripod must have reversing legs—legs that fold up and around the center column. While this does make the folded form factor shorter, there is absolutely no rule stating that a travel tripod must do this. In fact, a downside of this leg reversing is the extra time it takes to set the rig up and break it down.

Regardless, if this increased leg-folding flexibility is something you admire in the tripods of others, here is a link to tripods that have this feature with and without included tripod heads. A word to the wise shopper: if you are adding a reverse-folding tripod to your favorite tripod head, be sure to see how the reversed legs fold around your head, because they might not fold as flush as they can with a head designed for those legs.

The Lateral Arm

The lateral arm—usually a center column that can rotate 90° or be removed and inserted into a horizontal hole in the tripod chassis—is great for creative compositions, getting the camera somewhere that a “normal” tripod cannot reach, or for macro work.

Again, we have a list of lateral-arm-equipped tripods that come with their own tripod heads and some legs without heads.

The most important thing to remember for these tripods—a fact that is overlooked by many enthusiastic photographers—is that once you move your camera rig off the center of gravity of the camera/tripod setup, stability is compromised. While there might not be a lot of noticeable play and wiggling in the setup, you might notice that it is very easy to tip the whole rig over by sticking a DSLR and large lens a couple of feet from the center axis of the tripod. So, if you are using a lateral arm, only extend the arm as far as you absolutely need to and also be prepared to counterbalance the load by hanging weight (camera bag, sand bag, etc.) from the tripod cargo hook (if equipped) or by anchoring the opposite leg (or legs) in some fashion.

And, if you have just been bitten by the thought of a lateral arm tripod, know that you can add a lateral arm to your existing rig without investing in a new tripod.

MeFOTO BackPacker Air Travel Tripod

The MeFOTO BackPacker Air Travel Tripod has a surprise hidden inside its center column—a smartphone holder for stabilizing your smartphone at the top of the tripod. A tripod for my smartphone? Why? Well, not only are tripods great for “real cameras,” but their added stability can help improve your smartphone photos, too.

Guess what? The center column on the BackPacker Air can detach and transform into a selfie stick, as well—a great use for that hidden phone bracket! Also, the BackPacker comes with a universal Bluetooth remote to trigger your phone while it is at the end of the selfie stick or mounted on all three legs. Of course, it is not just for stabilizing your smartphone, because you can support up to 8.8 lb of camera gear atop the BackPacker Air.

Novoflex Quadropod

Pop quiz, Hotshot: When is a tripod not a tripod?

Answer: When it is a quadropod!

Enter the Novoflex QuadroPod System!

It is common knowledge in the industrial design world that a chair or table with three legs (or feet) is more stable than a four-legged contraption. How many of us have shoved napkins under a restaurant dinner table to keep it from rocking? So, with three legs, the tripod is a pretty good tool for stabilizing a camera. However, if you are like me and have used a tripod on the side of a hill or on a staircase or extended the legs at random lengths and angles to get the camera positioned right, you may have noticed that there are times when stability is compromised and the three-legged rig becomes unbalanced. This is where the Quadropod comes in—added stability when you need it in a way with which no tripod could ever dream of competing.

The QuadroPod system is completely modular so that you can roll with the terrain with a monopod, tripod, or 4-legged quadropod. The entire Novoflex support system has legs with different section counts, miniature legs, different chassis, walking sticks that turn into monopods or tripod legs, and alternative support mounts like suction cups as well—a completely customizable experience for photographers shooting in different environments.

Manfrotto 458B Neotec

At first glance, the Manfrotto 458B Neotec looks like a standard tripod. But, look closer and you notice that there are no twist or flip locks on the tripod legs. To extend each leg, you simply pull down on each section and they extend without having to fidget with leg locks. To retract fully, or partially, you depress a button at the top of each leg and then adjust the leg length or retract fully. The upsides of this unique leg design is that it makes for a very slick and easy-to-use tripod with fewer moving parts and, because of the “smooth” leg joints, the bottom 18" of the legs are completely waterproof.

Adding to its versatility, the 458B Neotec features a lateral arm capability for the center column, as well as a reversible center column.

Peak Design Travel Tripod

The Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod may be transforming tripod design with its innovative take on the classic tripod. The tripod features triangular-shaped legs and a pioneering integral chassis and ball head that allows the legs to fold up in a very compact fashion. Also, the tripod’s flip locks are stacked close so that you can engage or disengage them simultaneously to speed setup and breakdown.

Like the MeFOTO BackPacker Air, the Peak Design tripod has a hidden mobile phone holder inside its reversible center column.

Joby

When it comes to versatile and transforming tripods, Joby certainly raises the bar with its GorillaPod family of flexible tripods and other stabilizing products that are built with the same general beaded ball-and-socket joint design. Designed for photographers on the go, vloggers, and content creators, the Joby GorillaPods are as comfortable pretending to be a traditional tripod with three outstretched legs as they are when wrapped around a race-car’s roll bar or staircase railing. Some even have magnetic feet!

While they are lightweight and portable, many of the GorillaPods have surprisingly high load capacities (up to 11 lb) and those with heavier gear need not shy away from the versatility of the design.

Manfrotto 058B Aluminum Triaut Tripod

Another innovative tripod from the Manfrotto line, the Manfrotto 058B Aluminum Triaut Tripod has some unique features not found in other tripods. Designed for heavier medium and large format cameras, the tripod has a system of red triggers that release the leg sections from beneath the chassis. Press one of three triggers, and gravity extends a telescoping leg to the ground or however far you want it to drop. A universal trigger releases all three legs simultaneously. A lower third section of the leg can extend the tripod farther with a standard twist lock to get the system to its maximum height of 85.4". Also rare, mid-level spreaders help give the tripod more rigidity.

Designed for big cameras, the center column does not invert or have a lateral function, but the center column height is controlled by a geared crank system.

Wood Tripods

More old-school than transformative because the first tripods were made of wood, today’s wooden tripods have distinct vibration-absorbing advantages over their modern-material counterparts. Just like a wooden baseball bat absorbs vibrations better than an aluminum bat (especially on a cold day—ouch!), so does the wooden tripod. Linhof and Berlebach continue to make gorgeous wooden tripods that look as beautiful as a piece of home décor as they do out in the field with a camera atop their chassis. Speaking of décor, Berlebach makes a floor lamp for its tripods but, unfortunately, B&H is not in the furniture business and does not sell the lamp.

A note to buyers: some Berlebach tripods are designed specifically for certain telescope-mounting systems because of their enormous load capacities—some more than 250 lb!

Tiltall Tripod TE Original Series Tripod

Last on our list of transformer tripods is the classic Tiltall Tripod TE Original Series that has been around for decades. While many of the tripods above transform physically in some unique way, the Tiltall tripod transforms its appearance in a unique silver or gold finish. Yes, other brands have unique colors and designs, but do they have the Midas touch? I think not!

Build Your Own

Do you want to customize or specialize your own tripod? B&H Photo sells a large number of tripod accessories and tripod head add-ons to solve almost any stability challenge!

Do you know of other transformer tripods? Do you have questions about tripods or tripod accessories? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

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