Manfrotto vs SLIK Heads & 190CXPRO4 Tripod Review

Some “How to Buy” Tips for Tripods and Pistol Heads

Look, I am a flaming amateur not an equipment reviewer.  But I thought I can give you some tips and insights about some of the equipment I own to help you make a better decision before you shell out big bucks for a coupla tubes of aluminum or plastic. 

Summary

  • Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod – Pure Carbon Fiber Heaven!

I love this tripod as it is light, super flexible, and will fit into my airline luggage.

  • Manfrotto Pistol Heads – They are OK but no more than that.

They are heavy, hard to squeeze and twist around, and can slip with a heavier load like a 5 LB load of DSLR and zoom lens.  Consider one of their plain ball heads instead.

  • Slik Pistol Heads – Fantastic!

Ergonomic and intuitive design while being super easy to squeeze.  Will easily hold a 5 LB load without slipping, and if they made a tripod as flexible as the Manfrotto, I would use all Slik equipment.

Update:  I wrote a piece about choosing a ball head or pistol/joystick head.  Click here for that writeup.

My Requirements

I use tripods for a huge percentage of the photography I do.  See, I have shaky hands.  Real shaky.  Image stabilization is a gift from on-high but even with these amazing systems, I still mess up photos from moving.  Squeezing a shutter sends my neurons and muscles into bizarre spasms.  I am hopeless.

Below is a list of what I value in a basic tripod and head.  Note I wrote basic as in your everyday, most used tripod.  I have a very heavy Canon 500mm lens and that has a whole different set of requirements.

The usual list is light, small, sturdy like a rock, extends large, flexible, etc. etc.   Actually, my priorities are slightly different so below are the items most important to me:

  1. I don’t care much about sturdiness.  No kidding.  Oh sure, we all want an infinitely stiff and light as air tripod, but I have found that virtually all of the name-brand tripods I found in the stores to be adequate when it comes to sturdiness and no tripod is “like a rock” anyway.  If I mount a heavy lens, I use either the two second shutter delay on my camera, or an infrared remote trigger such as the Canon RC-6 either of which allow the camera to settle and shoot fine.  Image stabilization can mitigate any shutter squeeze related jiggles so sturdiness is just not a high priority for me.
  2. Carbon Fiber, yes you need this.  Not only is carbon fiber lighter than aluminum, it stays comfortable to touch in cold weather, and damps resonances and jiggles.  It settles down quickly with heavier loads like long zoom lenses.  I like to use a 2 second shutter delay which is just enough time for any shakes or sways to stop.
  3. Flexibility is my highest priority.  Check out the associated pics here and see the wacky ways I have used my tripod.  If you will shoot macro, you will appreciate a tripod that can contort itself into stupid, unnatural positions. 
  4. Gotta go flat and low.  The tripod legs must at least extend straight out so the tripod can lie flat.  If it has a center post, the post must be able to get out of the way so you can get down low.  If the post can be pulled out and reinserted up the bung hole er….  inserted upside down allowing your camera to hang below, you can achieve the same result although your pictures will be upside down requiring a flip in post processing.
  5. Gotta go high.  I like a tripod with a center post for a few reasons: 1) Sometimes I need the camera to be above my head, and 2) Speedy changes.  For some goofy reasons, I want to shoot down on say a flower or bug and I need the camera up a bit higher than a normal viewing position.  Yea, I know, how are you supposed to focus and compose in that situation, but it does happen.  The other, more common reason is for speedy changes.  The other day I was shooting flowers and had to shorten the tripod legs, then while I am on my knees, I needed the camera up a few inches higher.  So instead of tweaking three angled legs, the center post is just one quick adjustment.  Nice.
  6. Extensible system.  You are not buying a tripod, but are buying into a system of equipment that should allow for upgrades, new pieces, and interoperability.  Simply put, you should be able to move your camera and lenses from one tripod to the other without changing parts.  I have a small graveyard of camera support gear that I virtually never touch because it is a pain to switch between them.  The most important component is the quick release system.
  7. Easy, safe, quick release system. I purchased a few quick release mounts and attached them to my various lenses and such so I don’t need to screw around re-installing them when I need to switch equipment.  Ideally, they would work across all brands of equipment but that just is not true, at least in my experience.  I guess vendors want you to stay in their family and buy just their stuff so you may want to examine the company’s whole line before you buy… you are committing to a system so don’t be tempted by a one-off deal.
  8. I like pistol grips more than plain ball heads.  This is just one of my peculiar tastes, but I find that grabbing and aiming a pistol grip to be very natural and fast for me.  A pistol grip is a just fancy ball head anyway.  The biggest disadvantage of a pistol grip is that the camera will usually sit higher over the tripod than a lower-profile ball head.  These extra inches will add some extra torque to the system resulting in a bit more jiggling and sagging, but this is worth it to me for the improved ergonomics.  Pistol grips are also a bit heavier than a plain ball head but again, worth it to me.
  9. Must fit into my carry-on luggage.  This is a tough one as it usually means that you need a four-section leg system.  Each joint means less rigidity but if I can’t get it on an airplane, I don’t want it.  Measure your favorite luggage and use that as an accept/reject criterion.  If it won’t fit, can it be easily disassembled to fit?
  10. Must support a good zoom.  For me, my benchmark is my Canon 5D Mk II body (28.6 oz) and heavy Canon 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS II lens (52.6 oz).  Together, this rig weighs just over 5 lbs.  If you do not have a lens this big or heavy, you should plan on it because if you get into this hobby, you will probably buy a larger and heavier lens.  You don’t want to have to buy new supporting equipment.

Now I did purchase a monster Canon 500mm f/4 IS lens but this thing is so big, it is an exception to “normal” camera equipment and does require a special system.  For this lens, I purchased a Gitzo tripod with a Wimberly gimbal head and I will be writing a review in the coming months about this exception.  Stay tuned.  Unfortunately, the Wimberley head only accepts an “Arca Swiss” type plate and is incompatible with my Manfrotto quick release system.  The “Arca Swiss” plate system is probably as close as this industry comes to an open, generic quick release mounting standard.  Darn.

Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod (approx. $290) – Pure Heaven

I have the 190CXPRO4 carbon fiber model and I think it is designed by serious geeks blessed from heaven.  It is light, pretty sturdy, folds up short, extends tall, fast to set up, and…..can be contorted into more positions than a Russian gymnast.  That center post can be reinserted up its own bung or shifted to slide horizontally!  Just wow. 

The joints and clamps can be adjusted to increase or decrease friction to match your taste.  And it fits into my carry-on airline luggage even with the extra inches of the Manfrotto pistol head although I have to cock it at a 90 degree angle to work.

I have not found a tripod as flexible and useful as this wonderful Manfrotto.  I just love this thing.

 

Manfrotto vs Slik Pistol Heads

Let me get straight to it:  I prefer the Slik head but it won’t mount to my Manfrotto tripod.  I have owned two different Manfrotto pistols and while they are OK heads, they have weaknesses that the Slik does not.  The Slik is a better head.

Some history first:  I owned a Slik tripod and pistol head for probably 15 years and was enamored with the head.  The tripod I have is discontinued but most closely resembles the Slik U9000.  This tripod was nice and a real workhorse for me but not very flexible as I needed to get down low for macro work.  So, after buying my first DSLR and rediscovering photography, I was off to buy a new tripod.  I should have looked closely at the Slik line, but my local store only carried Manfrotto where I was knocked out by the 190CXPRO4.  I purchased it right there, and asked the technician to mount my Slik head on it.  Darn… screws or something were incompatible…. So I purchased the Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol head there on display because it was similar in action to my Slik.  I then quickly learned to hate it.  Loved the tripod, hated the head.  If it weren’t for this great tripod, I would ditch Manfrotto because I don’t like their pistol grips… read on….

Manfrotto 322RC2 head (approx. $135). Not a good head. I thought this was going to be great because it was similar to my beloved Slik but really was not.  Here is the list of what is wrong with this head:

  1. Very heavy.
  2. In the pistol position, as pictured in the literature, you can’t flip the camera over to one side as the grip blocks the movement and this limitation is just unacceptable to me.  But wait, this unit can be reconfigured into an upright configuration but…..
  3. The bezel is smooth and really hard to turn for tilting the unit over 90 degrees when you want to put the camera on its side or point it down.  This really ticked me off during use.
  4. The thing is hard to squeeze.  The grip pushes a spring-loaded button but the grip does not use leverage to do this… you have to squeeze directly on the button.  Very annoying.
  5. The ball will not hold my 5D MkII and 70-200mm lens in anything but a near upright position.  The thing does not have the friction to hold it.  Even when I tighten up the unit all the way, it still can slip but now it is really really hard to squeeze and the ball sticks.  Yuk.

So I sold it.  Now what to do?  The Manfrotto 222 is the same as the 322RC2 but only comes in the upright position, which is OK, but it has a knurled bezel for no slip finger grip.  Cool, I purchased it.

Manfrotto 222 head (approx. $109). Better but not great.  This has all the same problems as the 322RC2 head, but has a knurled bezel that makes this unit tolerable.  Barely.  I would ditch Manfrotto completely if it weren’t for their amazing and wonderful tripod and quick release system.

Manfrotto quick release system.  I love it.  It is a good system and your camera or lens will snap into place just by setting the camera down without touching any lever.  The top plate hits a trip button on the lower plate and the lock lever snaps forward and grabs the top plate.  I like this.  Then there is a mini lever to lock the system in place preventing accidents.  I have a bunch of top plates pre-attached to lenses and bodies.  Real simple and works.

Slik AF2100 head (approx. $110).  I love this thing.  The trigger grip uses leverage to disengage the friction and is real easy to squeeze.  It has tons of grip to hold my camera and 70-200 lens in any position I choose.  I never had to adjust the friction in 15 years.  You can squeeze just a little to keep on very smooth friction as you aim; a very easy and fluid action.  The bezel spins super free allowing you to drop your camera into any position in no time.  I had this head for probably 15 years and Slik is still making it with almost no changes to its design.  The only negative is the round quick release system which really is not a system since it only works on the AF2100 head.  This is one beautiful, easy to use, and functional piece of equipment.

Slik AF1100E head (approx $90).  I haven’t tried this head, but it is the AF2100 redesigned to use Slik’s interchangeable quick release system.  If buying today, and if Slik had a tripod as flexible as the Manfrotto, I would have this and all Slik equipment.

Ok, so what are you to make of all this?  In short, I have not found a single, one best system.  Lotsa great pieces parts, but not one great system.  Maybe there is one out there, but I don’t have the money to buy everything and test it to find out. 

My next action will probably be to ditch the Manfrotto pistol grip and try a Manfrotto ball head.  The only thing holding me back from doing this is the additional cost and to be honest, while I am trashing the Manfrotto pistol grip, it does work.  It is a bit frustrating, but it does work.  I just have to adjust the tension for different lenses, something you don’t have to do with the Slik head.

So, I hope you can use my experience to better understand your needs and avoid building an equipment graveyard like I did.

 

Galleries: Camera Tech. Tags: 5D Mk II, 70-200mm 2.8, and Manfrotto Tripod & Head.

One Response to “Manfrotto vs SLIK Heads & 190CXPRO4 Tripod Review”

  1. Boyd Etter March 11, 2017 1:47 pm #

    My 1 complaint about the Slik 2100 is the plastic thumb controlled Lock/Release toggle. I have gone through 3 Slik 2100 heads because when the tripod gets knocked over, which inevitably it will, the plastic toggle breaks off.
    Other than that, I love this pistol grip head, smooth, effortless, function.

Leave a Reply