February 13


3 Great Budget Carbon Fiber Tripods

By Dan

February 13, 2012

Ask most people what they want in a good tripod for shooting landscapes and general outdoor photography and they’ll probably say Carbon Fiber. There’s a reason for this, and not just because CF is sexy. Carbon fiber offers excellent strength to weight ratio and good vibration damping, which is why they build mountain bikes and fighter jets out of the stuff.

Of course, the tradeoff is that carbon fiber is more expensive than aluminum, so when it comes to tripods, most of them cost well over three to four bills, sometimes over a thousand dollars if you want a high end Gitzo.

However, you don’t have to melt your credit card in order to get a decent carbon fiber tripod; here are 3 good, budget models that cost under $250. There are other OK models out there, but in my research, these are the best ones that fall into the “affordable but not cheap” category. If you’re looking for an even more affordable, yet quality tripod, check out my review from the other day, 5 Budget Tripods for Outdoor & Landscape Photography.

1. Manfrotto 190CXPro4 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod

In my mind, the best budget carbon fiber tripod around is the Manfrotto 190CXPro4. It’s not as light as some ultra light tripods, but it will hold a heavier camera/lens setup. With a max load limit of 11 lbs, it will steadily support all but the heaviest camera/lens combos.

Derived from the 190XPROB, which won the American Photo Editor’s Choice award, the 190CXPro4 uses the same Q90 Quick Center Column that allows it to swing into a horizontal position.

The 4 flip lock legs can be arranged in any one of four angles for wide versatility of placement. Extending to 54″, weighing 2.9 lbs, and closing to 19.8″, the Manfrotto 190CXPro4 is a great lightweight tripod that offers excellent stability at a very reasonable price. ($249.)

2. Slik Pro 634CF 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod

Slik makes great budget tripods; my first tripod was a Slik and I think that they’re great legs for the money.

The Slik Pro 634CF ($259) breaks the two pound mark, weighing only 1.8 lbs without head. It’s listed as holding 8.8 lbs of camera gear, but people say that it’ll hold 11 lbs find. Max height on the screw lock legs is 44.7″, and the reversible center column allows for extremely low angle and macro shooting.

Travel photographers, take note: The Slik Pro 634CF closes down to only 18″ long when folded. That’s makes it an awesome budget tripod choice for backpacking or world hopping.

3. Vanguard Alta Plus 255CT Carbon Fiber Tripod

At its current price of only $289 (currently only $169 at B&H), the Vanguard 255CT costs under half as much as some super high end Gitzo tripods. It’s lighter than most of the Manfrotto models, and it gets great reviews.

I got to check it out for myself at PhotoPlus last year, and after playing around with the legs and locks for a minutes, it seems like the 225CT is built pretty well. With 5 screw lock leg sections, the legs close down to only 15.6″ and the whole thing only weighs just over 3.6 lbs w/o head.

The Vanguard 255CT is sturdy enough for a mirrorless camera setup, and up to medium weight DSLR and lens gear, but it’s probably not the one you want if you’re shooting a lot with a bigger, heavier lens or a pro body.

Support This Site: If you do decide to grab some new legs, please consider clicking through these links. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps compensate me for the time and effort that it takes to run this site. Thanks! -Dan

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About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

  • I was lucky enough to pick up a Gitzo Mountaineer with a Manfrotto ball head, for peanuts and looked like it was never used. I find I don’t often bring it along but it’s a nice piece of gear. It’s amazing how solid a nice tripod feels.

    Something like that last one looks interesting. I don’t carry or set up the tripod often so one that packs down into smaller sections might give me more reason to carry one in my pack.

    I almost always have a gorrilapod with ball head with me. Obviously not a full tripod but I was sure glad to have it this morning to take some shots of the sunrise on my way to work. It’s small and light enough that I just throw it in all the time.

  • Your last couple articles have been great since I am about to buy my first “real” tripod. I’m going back and forth between the monfrotto aluminum 190x and the carbon 732. I do a bit of outdoors stuff including backpacking. I also want to spend some time doing some video work in the near future. It seems like the heavier tripod would be more stable for video work, but obviously the lighter carbon would be easier on the back. If you could only buy one, which would you get?

  • Marcus, I did buy one last year, and I chose the Manfrotto Carbon 732CY. It’s light to pack, easy to carry and will hold a regular DLSR or smaller camera just fine. The 190X is also a great tripod, but it’s heavier. In my mind, it boils down to this: Which one are you more likely to carry more often? A heavier tripod isn’t sturdier if you leave it at home. That said, I already own an old heavier Bogen 3001, which is the old version of the 190X. However, it usually stays at home. Hope that helps!

  • I love VR, but sometimes you just need a tripod. I’m partial to Manfrotto, so thanks for covering those. The 732CY sounds really good for the money.

  • Luminous-Landscapes categorically have found that a tripod with a centre column is simply not up to the job of holding a high definition camera with a quality lens still enough. I have to agree. Its essentially a well supported monopod, not a tripod at all. This holds true even if you retract the column all the way in!

    I am looking for a carbon fibre tripod with no centre column. This is more of a challenge to find.

  • Peter, you’re right, center columns are not always stable, especially when extended.

    Following Galen Rowell’s lead, some photographers find a set of legs that they like, then ditch the center column and bolt the head directly to the tripod with a long stud and a few washers. Not only do you gain stability, you also reduce weight.

  • I do think it’s plunging way deep into the weeds if you turn away from any tripod in the universe with a center column. The solution (especially since the proposed alternative would not offer a height alternative) is to simply not extend the center column! The difference between it being locked down tightly in the low position right at the base of the tripod joint, versus being the tripod joint itself, is 100% imperceptible to you, and maybe 1% perceptible to a seismograph. It has no bearing at all on the productive creation of art. That’s what this is about, right?

  • I needed a tripod to hold my Celestron Hummingbird spotting scope. I chose the 190CX. Haven’t looked back.

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    Terry Bourk

    I have read you new book “Behind the Landscape.” I could not “put it down” meaning that I kept at it because each photo you presented/analyzed was interesting and informative. I am trying to develop an eye for composition (both the scene and the light).

    Thank you! The examples you present and the suggestions are very helpful. Purple Mountains, McKinley River and Wonder Lake are fascinating.

    Roger Sinclair

    You have done it again! Another triumph.

    Your generosity to share, the clarity of thought and concise explanation thereof is brilliant. Perhaps I should also mention the beautiful photos and the talent necessary to produce them.

    Thank you, Dan.