Tuesday, June 29, 2010

CDR-King WT-3540 tripod review

The model I'm going to discuss here is the biggest silver one with the pan head CDR King WT-3540. I'll write about the black one with the ballhead (CDRKing BW-23 tripod) next time.

Tripod handle, center column adjustment, label

I have an upcoming trip to an interesting place with snowy mountain ranges so recently, I've been looking for a tripod that will help me take better pictures when travelling. Here are my two option groups with pros and cons:

Beanbag, gorillapod-
+ small, light, inexpensive, can use just about anywhere
- "anywhere" doesn't include this place. Not much to grab on to.
- difficult to compose while lying prone on wet or frozen ground.

CF tripods (velbon sherpa pro, benro travel angel, 190cxpro4, giottos mt8240)
+ very sturdy
+ very light
- all cost more than PHP 9k without head
- head will increase weight
- all except travel angel are still a little long when folded
- the head I like (488rc2) is heavy, expensive, and doesn't have a bubble level.

Panhead and quick release clamp

I thought, if I can't find one that satisfies all my needs and budget, then I'm gonna have to stick to what I have. Then I took my tripod out, played around with it, and tried to figure out why I wanted to replace it. Then I found this site: Never judge a tripod by its looks which inspired me to give my tripod a second chance, and to write this entry.

Why I'm keeping my CDRKing tripod
+I have a Nikon D90, 18-105 AFS, and 35 f1.8 AFS. I might get the Tokina 11-16 in the future, but at the moment, I don't need carbon fiber or some other exotic material to support my equipment. I also might buy a battery pack because I don't want to run out of juice when making star trails, but I'm sure my tripod can still support my body + lens + a grip.

+Weight - this thing feels a tiny bit lighter with a head than the last CF tripod I held (Giottos MT8240). Haven't weighed it, but if it feels lighter, it probably is!

+Bubble levels- mine has two- one right beside the QR plate, and one right on the plate above the legs. This is very helpful for me because it makes aligning with the horizon easier. I don't understand why some manufacturers can't put a simple bubble level on the head (488rc2) and force you to buy the bigger, heavier, and more expensive heads like the 488rc4. Imagine if you want to make a nice panorama, but when you use the separate pan control on your ballhead, you see that it's slightly off.

+Lever locks- I don't like the twist locks on the giottos mt and travel angel. Twist locks are more difficult for me to use.

+Independent pan control - Not so smooth, but precise enough. Great for stitching.

+Price - free because I already have it, and if I want to buy another one, it'll just cost PHP 650.

-Length - It's still too long to fit in my medium-sized travel bag. This is probably the reason I thought of getting the travel angel. I'm thinking of buying some rubber straps and just tying it to my backpack.

-Head- Biggest reason for considering replacing my cdrking tripod. Can't replace it, not a ballhead, can't fit an l-bracket, and a little fiddly.

-Resistance to the elements - this probably wouldn't last very long if I dip the legs in mud or water. However, most people would think twice before dipping their expensive, supposedly sealed tripods in that stuff. And if something does go wrong, I'd just go to cdrking and pay 650 for a new one, ready for the next trip.

-Stability in windy conditions- I've used this tripod on a windy mountaintop before to catch a sunrise. It was very tough, but hanging my bag on the hook at the bottom of the center column helped a lot.

-Bag and handle- The bag it comes with is very thin, unpadded, and looks like the bag med students use to carry dead cats around. That'll deter those tripod thieves when you leave it strapped to the side of your bag. It also doesn't have a clip-on strap like most good tripods have. It does, however, have a plastic handle so you wouldn't have to put it back in the bag when you carry it around, only to set it up again seconds later.
Geared center column- some like these, but I don't. Anyway, I use the gear handle to hang my remote shutter release cable, and almost never extend the center column for more stability.

Leg with swiveling rubber foot

-Brand- This and the lack of an UWA lens might be the biggest reasons why I haven't signed up for the Chasing Light class. Imagine going there with "CDR-King" marked on your tripod!

-Non-replaceable feet- my tripod has non-removeable rubber feet and are connected to the legs by a ball joint. These are great for shots on flat surfaces. They also work on sand, gravel, and mud (I've tried!) but you have to let them dig into the stuff to ensure stability. Most high-end tripods have rubber feet you can replace with spikes for snow and other soft surfaces.

If you don't have heavy gear, don't have very specialized requirements, or don't have much money, an inexpensive tripod will be infinitely better than not having one. The money you save can be used for travelling to nice places. Just make sure to inspect the product thoroughly because quality may be inconsistent, and if your tripod drops your camera you will cry like a little girl.

Close-up of QR clamp

If you buy this tripod and in the future decide to upgrade, buy the best you can afford. Tripods aren't consumable items. You buy one and hold on to it until it breaks (or until you break!) Don't skimp on the ballhead either. Would you spend PHP 5K on this piece of crap?- Benro KS2 teardown Get a ballhead that's light enough, has quick release, and has panorama control.

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