For many photographers upgrading their gear and looking to take their photography up a notch, the tripod can be the most overlooked piece of equipment. After buying a camera body, a couple of lenses, and a flash, one may have little left over in the budget for a quality tripod. And this is understandable -- camera, lens, and flash prices have soared in recent years, and pro-quality nature photography tripod prices range from the slightly undersized Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod at $320 to the new full size Gitzo Series 4 Systematic 6x 5-section model for $1300 (ouch!).
Nevertheless, a quality tripod is not just a luxury. It's an essential piece of gear and needs to be considered as a key part of your nature photography gear budget. If you have thousands of dollars in equipment sitting on top of a tripod that's really not sturdy or isn't comfortable and efficient to use, what have you gained by saving a bit of money? As someone who has owned a number of tripods over the years, I can tell you honestly that your best strategy is to buy a tripod that you think will serve you well for at least a decade. If something new with the latest and greatest comes out in the interim, sell your tripod and go for it. But if you consider the lenses you're likely to purchase over the next 10 years or so and choose a tripod accordingly, you'll be set.
For me, this is where Induro came in. I had seen their tripods for the past few years and been intrigued. As the quality of Induro products (and the prices of Gitzo tripods, the popular wisdom gold standard) continued to increase, Induro became even more attractive as a high quality but lower cost tripod alternative. After deciding it was time to upgrade my tripod and to add a small ballhead to my bag for landscape and macro work, I had decided on Induro. I was lucky enough to land a sponsorship with Induro for my coffee table book project, and after talking with one of their tech reps, we decided that I should go with the two products reviewed here -- the CT313 tripod and the BHL2 ballhead.
That's full disclosure for you :-) As the review below shows though, I can state objectively that I've been very happy with my new tripod and ballhead.
A Brief Business Interlude
As always, if you enjoy this review and the Deep Green site in general, please consider making your next gear purchase through the affiliate links in the text of this review or at the bottom of this page. You pay exactly the same, and I make a little commission to keep things running. To learn more, click the "support the site" link above.
Please note that though I do earn a commission if you buy a product at B&H through this review and though I do enjoy a sponsorship arrangement with Induro, I do not slant my reviews in favor of a particular piece of gear. If I don't like something, you can be sure I'll note that in the review. I'd like to thank Induro for sponsoring my coffee table book project by supplying me with the CT313 tripod and BHL2 ballhead. That said, the source of the equipment has no bearing on the content or tone of this review.
The pictures in this review were taken by my son and budding photographer, Chris Basco. You can check out his work at his new website here. Chris used window light in our house and the equipment below to take the review pictures and then processed them using Lightroom 4. Thanks, Chris, the pics look great!
Pictured of course are the following Induro products:
My son Josh, who has a great eye for photo and video, shot the video for me. Josh used the following equipment:
The Induro CT 313 Tripod - General Impressions
The CT313 is the only tripod I've been using since January of this year, and I've been using the BHL2 ballhead for all of my photography in the same period save for some birds and wildlife where I use the Jobu Jr. head (review to come) with the 300 mm f2.8 lens and teleconverters. I've subjected the tripod to plenty of mud as well as sand and saltwater, and it's performed flawlessly so far.
I chose the CT313 over one of the 4 series tripods because my biggest lens is a 300 mm f2.8. I would be fully confident using this tripod with a larger 500 mm or 600 mm when needed but if I owned and regularly shot one of these lenses, I would be looking at the Induro CT 414. The other option I considered was the Induro CT314, which is very similar to the CT313 but has 4 leg sections. Since I don't fly internationally very often with my gear the shorter folded profile (24.2" for the CT314 vs. 28.1" for the CT313) of the 4 leg-section CT314 wasn't a big deal. I figured that 3 leg sections might be just a bit more stable than 4 leg sections, so I went with the CT313. Whether that assumption is true or not, I can't say. In all likelihood, there is very little differnce between the 3 leg-section and 4 leg-section models.
So, though I've gone with the CT313, here are my thoughts on the other two tripods from Induro that are worthy considerations for nature photographers.
If you don't see yourself buying a 500 mm or 600 mm lens and travel regularly by plane with your gear then the CT314 would be a great choice.
If you currently have or see yourself buying a 500 mm or 600 mm lens, you'll want to go with the CT414.
The CT313 tripod is well-built, very light, and comfortable and efficient to use in the field. Here are the manufacturer's specs:
- Load Capacity 39.6 lbs (18 kg)
- Maximum Height 73.1" (185.8 cm)
- Maximum Height w/o Column Extended 62.6" (159 cm)
- Minimum Height 25.1" (63.8 cm) Folded Length 28.1" (71.5 cm)
- Weight 4.9 lbs (2.2 kg)
- Material Carbon fiber
- Leg Stages/Sections 3 Leg Lock Type
- Moisture and dust-resistant locking grips
- Independent Leg Spread with three position stops
- Spiked/Retractable Feet Removable--included
- Center Column Center Column Type Grooved--rapid
The Induro CT313 is truly a joy to use in the field. Setup and takedown is quick and easy as is disassembly for cleaning (I took everything apart and washed the parts off in the shower of my beachfront hotel room a couple of months ago after a session photographing bioluminescent algae and subjecting the tripod to plenty of immersion in saltwater). The built-in padding on the legs makes carrying the tripod comfortable, even on long hikes. In sum, with great build quality, great features, light weight, and a very competitive price of around $550, the CT313 is definitely a winner. I don't plan on using any other tripod for a long long time!
Below are a number of pictures that show off the features of the Induro CT313 tripod.
The CT313, top view showing the mounting base with standard stud for attaching any kind of head.
A closeup view of the mounting base.
The center column has a grooved channel on one side to ensure that the column does not twist or rotate. The column adjustment ring is beefy and easy to use.
A nice view of the magnesium alloy "spider" that holds everything together.
The padded upper leg sections do make a difference when carrying the tripod over the shoulder -- nice that they included these!
I've never been a fan of twist leg locks but these are easy to use -- a flick of the wrist one way to loosen and the other way to tighten!
The detachable rubber feet. I see a lot of Gitzo tripods on my tours, and we always find at least one missing Gitzo foot on a trip. I've not had any issues with the Induro feet yet.
Another nice inclusion is the accessory loop, here holding the included tool kit.
A closer view of the accessory loop. I actually clip a Storm Jacket raincover pouch on mine when I'm out in the field. You never want to be caught without rain protection for your camera and lens in Costa Rica, and this is really handy!
Ah, the glorious tool kit! Seriously, this is such a cool thing to include.
Just open it up and...
...you've got everything you need for maintenance in the field!
Another very cool inclusion is the tripod bag (I snagged mine on a thorny vine and messed up the stitching a bit, boo hoo!).
Add the included shoulder strap, and you're ready to go.
The Induro CT 313 Tripod - Two Minor Complaints
There are only two minor complaints I have about the tripod -- the center column and, even though it's a really nice inclusion, the tripod bag.
The Long Center Column
I hear many photographers complain about center columns because they allegedly compromise stability. I've talked with a number of photographer friends (including some who know a lot about tripods and even review and sell them) and the consensus seems to be that this is a silly argument. As long as you don't raise the center column while shooting with a telephoto lens, you'll be fine. So, I actually like the inclusion of a center column because it can be a quick way to adjust height if doing landscape or macro work and using a cable release (which I always do) or the camera's timer function. What I don't like about the Induro's center column, however, is the fact that it's only one length. So, if you want to get low to take advantage of the 90 degree angle leg spread, the center column will be getting in the way. You can reverse the center column so that it hangs upside down but then your camera is mounted upside down too. So, reversible locking center column is certainly a feature, but I don't think it's one that many of us will choose to use.
Many Manfrotto tripods have a detachable center column whereby you can easily screw off the main part of the center column, leaving just the mounting base, which is great for low angle work. It may compromise stability a bit but I think the extra flexibility is well worth it. After all, when you're raising the center column, you shouldn't be using a big lens or working in windy conditions anyway so any extra stability gained by having a one-piece center column is not a big deal in my opinion.
There is a solution -- the short center column. This relatively inexpensive item replaces the standard center column that comes with your Induro tripod and allow you to do super low angle work. I'll be picking one up soon.
As you can see, the length of the center column will not allow for utilizing the full leg spread if going for a low angle shot.
The Not Quite Wildlife Photographer-friendly Carrying Bag
I really feel quite bad complaining about the tripod bag; most tripods don't come with a carrying case at all, and Induro includes a very very nice one. The only issue I have with it is that it's not quite big enough to accommodate a gimbal type head. This isn't a big deal, as for my style of shooting and increasing interest in wider fields of view, I use my ballhead more than I use my gimbal head. The included tripod bag works beautifully for carrying the legs with the BHL2 ballhead attached. Nonetheless, if you do most of your shooting with a long lens, having a bag that would fit your tripod legs with your gimbal head attached would be very handy. The Kinesis tripod bags at the NatureScapes store will likely fit the bill if you find yourself in this situation.
The tripod packs just perfectly with the BHL2 ballhead but you can't fit a gimbal head.
The Induro BHL 2 Ballhead
I previously used the Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead with a Wimberley Sidekick. When gearing up for my coffee table book project toward the end of 2011, I was taking a good look at my equipment and where I could improve things to maximize my image quality and cut weight for the long hikes the project sometimes entails. One obvious place for improving image quality was with the Sidekick for my telephoto work. While I think the Sidekick is a very nice product, and I enjoyed the flexibility of popping it off and having a ballhead ready to go, I became convinced that having all of the weight of a telephoto lens hanging off a side-mounted gizmo could not possibly be as stable as working with gravity and having the weight rest on a flat horizontal surface. To be honest, I never fully trusted the sidemount arrangement (same goes for the Mongoose). So, I sold the Sidekick and bought the Jobu Jr. head, which I'm loving.
When one has a dedicated head for telephoto, one needs a ballhead for all of the rest. The Really Right Stuff head is a great piece of equipment; I have no complaints about it at all. But, I simply didn't need to have so much weight and money tied up in a ballhead (the BH-55 costs around $450). Since I wanted to shave some weight on the ballhead front, I could have gone for one of Really Right Stuff's smaller offerings but I actually am not crazy about the next size down, the BH-40. It just feels too small and weak, especially for the price (about $375). So, I decided to go with Induro for both the ballhead and tripod.
After talking with an Induro tech rep, I decided on the BHL 2 ballhead from their new line. I couldn't be happier with the performance of this head and its small form factor and light weight. It performs well with all of my cameras and lenses (I even used it with the 300 mm f2.8 the other day, and though I wouldn't do it on a daily basis, it worked surprisingly well). The controls are well thought out, the head tightens well, and I quite like the integrated tension knob in the main control. This last feature eliminates one of the three knobs on most ballheads, making it easier to quickly find the main and panning knobs.
After nearly half a year of use, I can honestly say that I have no complaints about the BHL2 ballhead. At a weight of just 1.1 lbs. and a price of $270, it's a great purchase. I plan on this being my ballhead for the foreseeable future without question.
Below are a number of pictures that show off the features of the Induro BHL2 ballhead.
The sexy, elegant styling of the BHL2 ballhead.
Looking good mounted flush on the CT313 tripod. Note the degree markings for pano shooting.
The bubble level right in the ballhead's quick release slot is nice. Note that there's a bubble level on the tripod itself so if you get that level and then level the head, you're set for most panos.
That silver knob inset in the main control knob controls the tension. I've found it quite easy to use.
The quick release slot has a nice safety feature. To loosen the quick release clamp, you turn the knob to loosen but then have to pull the knob away from the clamp to continue with the last couple of turns. This makes it hard to accidentally loosen the quick release clamp and knock your camera off.